Looking Back at San Diego Comic-Con

I’ve been meaning to write this recap of San Diego for days but kept putting it off. In short, it was a terrific experience.

The last time I attended the con was three years ago. I won an award and celebrated my birthday out there so topping the experience was going to be tough. Being treated like a celebrity for all of two hours made it close but not quite.

Since I was last out west, the show has overflowed the confines of the convention center, spilling across the lawn towards the Hilton and across the street into the Gaslamp district. You could spend hours checking out the restaurants and stores and events that were sponsored by cars, movies, and television programs. The trolleys were wrapped in genre advertising and pedicabs were made to resemble Once Upon a Time chariots or Arrow motifs. On my first afternoon out there, I managed to snag enough free food just walking the streets that I didn’t need to buy lunch. Clearly, stepping out of the convention center meant leaving comics behind and entering the larger world of genre product.

As a result, this portion of the city now has a festival feel to it and thanks to private security and police; the traffic was controlled so people could safely cross from one side to the next.

Inside the convention center, it took several attempts but by Sunday morning I finally managed to check out every aisle at least once. The dealers’ area seemed mostly the same size as the recent past although if you wanted to find this week’s books, it was a struggle. For publishers without booths of their own (Valiant and Dynamite come to mind), you were hard pressed to buy their latest releases, which is a shame since panels are busily promoting the product which you should be able to find.

You had to scan the hanging signs carefully to find the small spaces dedicated to webcomics, fantasy illustrators and even Artists Alley, which was remarkably small. I spent a good deal of time down at the AA end, catching up with many friends, like Wendy and Richard Pini, whom I have not seen in quite a number of years. A real treat was finally meeting artist Ramona Fradon in person.

Much as I wanted to spend a lot of time at various panels, I dutifully stood on line for several only to be shut out. I was stunned to see how many hundreds of fans couldn’t get into the Warner Archive event, indicating a really strong interest in the Filmation Shazam! series from the 1970s which has been restored and will be out later this year.

Other than the After Earth commitments, my only other panel appearance was filling in for Jeff Mariotte on the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers Scribe Awards panel. I got to read the nominees and winners, which was cool and it was nice meeting some of my fellow media tie-in authors.

By Saturday afternoon, I had met with a variety of people in my professional networking capacity, all requiring follow-up when I got home. I actually spent the majority of the day having extended visits with people rather than the usual 30 second convention conversations. I had a terrific lunch with publicist extraordinaire Jeff Walker and his wife, the photographer Kim Gottleib Walker. Soon after, I met up with former officemate Barbara Kesel for ice cream and then drinks with Mark Verheiden and his wife Sonja. A few hours later there was a nice group dinner organized by Dan Jurgens and Ron Marz. I was most definitely feeling relaxed.

Sunday I was done with work and networking and I wandered the aisles, chatting with people which was really nice. I did not see everyone I wanted to but had some nice unexpected run-ins. As the show was in its final minutes, I was talking with Maggie Thompson when Mark Evanier walked by and invited me to a dinner with Charlie Kochman at Abrams ComicArts. The show ended in a most convivial manner.

Still, looking back, I sought out the themes of the weekend. Online, it was clear that people sifted through the announcements and there was plenty to excite them from Man of Steel footage to the new wave of cool sounding books from Image. In 2011, most of the big news was released in advance to stay ahead of the con news cycle and this year there was some of that. Notably, Marvel Now was generally known, clearing the way for the company to focus on Iron Man 3 and the 2013-2014 films.  Other than the Neil Gaiman back on Sandman news, DC had pretty much leaked their plans in advance.

Is the con no longer about comics? Look at the programming and the vast majority of booths and I would argue it is very much still about comics. But, Hollywood (movies and television) and video games have such larger budgets that they are flashier and make more noise and bring in the larger name guests so they get the media attention. Yes, that also means they steal the spotlight and you question the validity of showcasing the cast of Glee at a comic book convention. Still, look at the costumes worn by fans and the overwhelming majority was based on comic book characters. The buzz remained about comics, characters, and creators.

Has San Diego Comic-Con grown too large?  You could argue that it has, although the city loves every nickel spent and encourages the growth. Preview night has become as packed as a regular day so the show really has grown to five days in length and maybe the time has come to rethink the floor plan to emphasize the comic book publishers and the creators. Similarly, something needs to be done about programming so people aren’t allowed to claim seats in a room hours before the event they want to see; perhaps actually clearing the room after each event so everyone has a chance to see the program they really want.

PR man Dave Ganzer still talked about growing pains this year which is a testament to a 40- year old event. Buying tickets, securing hotel rooms, and other issues definitely cry for adjustment but a top to bottom rethink isn’t out of order, either.

When will I get back I have no clue since I wasn’t expecting to be here this year and it’s gotten very expensive. We shall see.

5 comments

  • Glad you had a good time, Bob. I’ve not been since 2010. Hotels are too expensive and it costs a fortune to get there from over here and I can’t help feeling that the show is now about greed, rather than comics. I heard that they randomly stopped people to check their ID and passes too. If I’m coming thousands of miles and have supported their show for years, then if I was stopped, I would get the first plane home;)
    thanks for pledging on the book,by the way…

  • Tom Galloway

    Pretty much every year at Talkback, people suggest ways of better utilizing H/20. The reply is always a variant on “Do you know how long it would take to clear the room, or a significant portion of it? We’d have to cut programming there by half”.

  • Jen in Oz

    Having recently experienced a VERY POORLY organised comics convention locally, where I missed two of the panels I wanted to see on the first day due to the length of lines and the fact that they closed the doors due to being at capacity but continued to sell tickets to others at the same time (!) I can state that clearing a room after each event might work IF they don’t run all the panels back-to-back. The second panel I missed at OzComicCon (apparently there’s no connection to SDCC) was because the previous panel finished at 2pm and Stan Lee’s panel also started at 2pm. By the time I joined the line for it, they had shut the doors already.

    I’m hoping to be able to attend SDCC in 2014 (I figure once my son is over 21, I don’t HAVE to be home in Oz for his birthday!)

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