I've seen a few bloggers link to my comicon post yesterday and say it's a huge red flag for the future of indie comics at the con. Re-reading my post, it probably sounds more dire than it could have. We actually had a pretty successful show. Not our best ever, but a solid one. I think last year was our most successful ever, and you simply can't repeat that every year. I had been steeling myself in advance for a major downturn this year given the economy and it simply didn't happen. We saw a minor dip, and although the economy likely played a small part in that, it was nothing like I was prepared for.
One thing I neglected to mention yesterday was that any talk of "downsizing" has as much to do with the increased costs of attending the show from year to year as our actual sales at the show. Every year, booth prices are raised, and with a waiting list of exhibitors that probably stretches as long as the lines for any of this year's Twilight panels, there's little incentive for Comicon to keep booth prices down, and I understand that and don't expect them to keep costs down for Fantagraphics' or anyone's sake if they don't need to.
Throughout most of the 1990s, Fantagraphics had eight booths at the con. Some time around the turn of the century, we cut that down to four due to the increase in booth prices. We also started to more tightly track sales, enabling us to prepare a better inventory, and reconfigure the space in such a way that allowed us to reduce our booth space by 50% without reducing the amount of inventory proportionally -- it was probably something closer to 25%, and the things we didn't bring were things we weren't really selling much of anyway. In doing so, we improved our bottom-line considerably. So we might talk about doing something similar next year, perhaps going down to three spaces instead of four, but it would be a minimal difference, and one that most attendees probably wouldn't even notice.
Why am I talking about this? I'm not sure, except that I think it's healthy to have some honest talk about how this year's show went, and what it means for the future, instead of hearing everyone jostle for position in the hype machine and meaninglessly declare the show a raging success ("bigger and better still!"). I know that this was the first year where I spoke to many of my peers in the small press who openly wondered whether they could afford to exhibit next year. This included publishers, artists, and retailers. I also noticed appreciably fewer cartoonists that I admire attending the show this year, simply due to hype surrounding the show's sellout status, hotel occupancy, and the fact that you have to register further and further in advance.
One suggestion that Tom Spurgeon made this morning that I wholeheartedly agree with is the idea to fold Artist's Alley back over to the North side of the convention hall, near the small press area we inhabit. This seems like a no-brainer to me. Having Artist's Alley at the opposite end of the floor makes little sense, especially when so many of the small press stands are essentially self-published artists. If you buy a 10' x 10' space, you are put in the north end with the rest of the comics. If you simply buy a table, you're in the south end near the toys (I think -- I actually never even remotely made it down that far on the floor). It's an arbitrary distinction that means many attendees completely miss one area or the other. When they moved Artists Alley a couple of years back, the Hernandez Brothers had a table. They ended up virtually abandoning it all weekend because it was so far away from Fantagraphics and its ilk; no one knew they were there.
• Plug: Certain Fantagraphics employees will be excited to learn that Noel Fielding of The Mighty Boosh is a fan of Daniel Clowes and Eightball, as revealed in Brian Heater's interview at The Daily Cross Hatch
• Plug: "You Shall Die by Your Own Evil Creation!, the second and final collection of Fletcher Hanks’ Golden Age superhero and adventure comics work, ...is a bunch more bat-shit insane weirdness and violence. Paired with I Shall Destroy All Civilized Planets!, You Shall Die will comprise a complete collection of Hanks’ small but potent body of work." - J. Caleb Mozzocco, Newsarama
• Plug: "Collecting the remainder of material (at least that we know of) by early Golden Age artist Fletcher Hanks, [You Shall Die by Your Own] Evil Creation is pretty much a must-buy for anyone who picked up and enjoyed the first volume, I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets." - Chris Mautner, Robot 6
• Plug: "Both books are really good: Sala’s Delphine is the one that will probably get the most attention since he’s the better known cartoonist, but you really should take the time to track down Sergio Ponchione’s Grotesque. It’s a surreal charmer." - Chris Mautner, Robot 6 (same link as above)
• Plug: "I’m always curious as to what other countries get up to, comics-wise, so I’m a bit eager to check out this collection of Danish comics [From Wonderland with Love]. A quick thumb-through suggests a wide swath of styles." - Chris Mautner, Robot 6 (same link as above)
Ace Hal Foster biographer Brian M. Kane (author of the forthcoming Definitive Prince Valiant Companion from Fantagraphics) just pointed out a fascinating fact to us: The Syndicate color proofs that we are using for the first time for our brand new edition of Prince Valiant have yielded at least one instance of a page that was originally toned down (presumably by the Syndicate) and has, in the 71 years since then, never been printed in Foster's original, unexpurgated, slightly more bloodthirsty version! Compare and contrast these two versions of page 50: While panel 3 is essentially the same in terms of narrative content (albeit described in a grislier fashion), panels 6 and 7 were changed from a more-or-less accidental oops-there-he-goes death to a Mister A-style execution by a wise-cracking Valiant. We like this version better ourselves! (Click the thumbnail images below to view larger versions of each page.)
We'll keep Valiant fans apprised if any more such changes come to light!
Every year when much of the staff heads down to San Diego, there are always a few poor souls who have to stay behind and (theoretically) hold down the fort, answer phones, get books out the door to printers, etc. But how much work really gets done? This year we installed hidden cameras and decided to monitor the emails of those who stuck around. It's not pretty:
If you see a sudden surge in sloppily produced books from Fanta in about three months, you'll know it was because the entire art dept (including Adam Grano, above) worked drunk during Comicon (side note: this also explains much of our output from about 1994-1999).
Anyone who thinks they spoke to Gary Groth on the office phone last week and wondered why he was slurring his words and going on and on about the ninja turtles might want to call back this week. Anyone who needs to speak to Jacob Covey soon might want to try the unemployment office.
I have no idea what's going on here but it clearly involves a level of frivolity not tolerated in the office. Jenny Catchings and Eric Buckler, start updating your resumés immediately.
Here's TCJ Editor Michael Dean looking into the security cam just before getting up to cover the lens with what appeared to be whipped cream; I don't even want to know what happened next and neither do you.
I intercepted this missive from Grano's email account with the subject header "backyard cosplay NOW".
Note to Kim: next time you leave town, lock the door to your office.
Between Mike Baehr's excellent tweeting all weekend, and Mike and Jason Miles' most excellent collection of photos from the weekend (which I'm sure you'll be seeing as the week unfolds), I don't feel compelled to write a proper con "report" but I do have a few observations. Although we had a good show and I personally had a pretty good time, this was the first year I felt the weight of Hollywood's cult of celebrity encroaching not only on the exhibit hall but also the sales of at least the independent publisher area we inhabited. The pre-show hype of advance ticket sellouts and hotel unavailability seems to have scared off a lot of the more casual comic book fans, many of whom I believe are the type who support publishers like Fantagraphics, Top Shelf, Drawn & Quarterly, Buenaventura, Sparkplug, Last Gasp, etc. Instead, you have more advance four-day passes being sold, leaving fewer available tickets for people who work Thursday and Friday and simply want to come down Saturday to do some shopping. Twilight and Avatar fans are a more rabid fan base, willing to tolerate massive lines that que up many hours in advance with no promise of even getting into events. Saturday's Hollywood programming clearly affected the exhibit hall floor, making for the slowest day of all for us on what is traditionally by far the busiest day of sales. I don't see this trend abating any time soon, and the result may well be a scaled-down presence for us next year. I like San Diego, and have thought prior to this year that all the myriad types of fans and exhibitors could coexist peacefully, but the only real way I can see for smaller press publishers to remain a viable presence in future years if these trends continue is to have the show move to somewhere that can accommodate more people, like Los Angeles, where sales of four-day passes wouldn't encroach on those who simply want to come down for a day or two and do some shopping. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't all doom and gloom by any means; we did well despite the oddly slow Saturday, thanks in part to a surprisingly robust Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday. But amongst virtually all of the retail and publishing exhibitors I talked to, there were some remarkably consistent and potentially alarming trends that could carry over to future years. There were noticeably fewer back issues dealers this year, and many reduced presences from traditional con stalwarts like Bud Plant. Personally, this disappoints me and doesn't bode well for the comics at Comicon. Many alternative cartoonists are passing over the show and focusing on events like MoCCA, SPX and APE, and it's not hard to understand why; you have to get your ducks in a row so far in advance to even attend Comicon that it's simply easier to focus on those other, smaller, more arts-friendly shows. They're also considerably less expensive to attend.
That said, it was simply awesome to see the wonderful response to a few of our new books, especially Prison Pit by Johnny Ryan and the second volume of Love & Rockets New Stories, our two bestsellers on the floor, as well as things like Prince Valiant, Humbug, You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation, The Squirrel Machine by Hans Rickheit, and The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book by Joe Daly. And to see folks like Jeff Smith, Matt Groening, Ray Bradbury, Joe Hill, James Urbaniak, Craig McCracken, and many others come over and wax enthusiastically about your books.
My camera died on Friday, before I even got started with pics, and I forgot my charger, so here's a very brief photo essay of Thursday and Friday:
Zuniga and Ajax run security at the Fanta booth. Fuck Lou Ferrigno, these are the guys you don't want to see angry.
'Beto and Naty Hernandez sign at the booth. A new comic every year by Naty has become one of the highlights of Comicon for me.
Ray Bradbury poses for a pic with our own Gary Groth and Monte Schulz. Mr. Bradbury stopped by to pick up copies of Schulz's new novel, This Side of Jordan, as well as the new Prince Valiant Vol. 1 by Hal Foster. Very cool.
Speaking of Monte, here he is, seeing his finished book for the first time. A happy camper.
Paul Hornschemeier carries the weight of Comicon on his shoulders.
Johnny Ryan is tired after signing many, many copies of Prison Pit.
Jordan Crane, Steven Weissman, and Esther Pearl Watson are always a welcome and calming presence at Comicon.
• Review: "...Jason elevates his skewering of filmic genres to a whole new level in his latest collection, Low Moon, which sees his unique takes on film noir, westerns and screwball comedy. All of the tales are informed by his signature clean lines, bright colors, sparse dialogue and taste for a particularly brutal brand of slapstick humor and occasional moments of dark, incisive brilliance that are often reached without uttering a word... Featuring tawdry sex, alien abductions, existential crises, betrayal, and a hundred and one different varieties of murder, this is a book that pretty much has it all." - Ian Chant, PopMatters
• Review: "...Jason's Low Moon... [is] a collection full of mostly wordless comedic pleasures." - Richard Gehr, The Village Voice
• Review: "A question regarding the title of Michael Kupperman's Tales Designed to Thrizzle Volume One: Does 'thrizzle' mean 'pee your pants a little from laughing so hard'? Because if so, it just about achieved its promise..." - Rod Lott, Bookgasm
• Review: "[Boody: The Bizarre Comics of Boody Rogers ] is one of the funniest comics I've ever read, and all I do is read comics... Just looking at his drawings makes me laugh... If you like Johnny Ryan, you should check this out. And they weren't fooling around with that title. These comics are as weird as hell... This book is essential. Get it or get out." - Nick Gazin, Vice
• Review: "[Uptight] doesn't come out often enough... Jordan Crane is an immense talent; I just wished he worked faster. He's one of the best new guys of the past five years." - Nick Gazin, Vice (same link as above)
• Review: "This is one of the greatest works of American art of the past century and fuck you if you were ignorant of this. Prince Valiant was and is one of the greatest comics of all time and most would agree that it's the greatest adventure comic... Reading Prince Valiant has the same thrill as reading Sherlock Holmes. He's smarter, handsomer, and a better fighter than everyone around him. Reading his adventures and watching him sneak around castles, swordfight small armies, and romance medieval bitches is more exciting to me than almost any other comic. I'm getting pumped just thinking about it... It's so beautiful. I want to be Prince Valiant and I want to be Hal Foster." - Nick Gazin, Vice (same link as above)
• Review: "Fantagraphics, the gold standard when if comes to collecting and reprinting newspaper strips, has released the first volume of Prince Valiant, covering the years 1937 to 1938 in all-new remastered color, the result is breathtaking! Foster is truly one of the great comic illustrators who ever lived but has never got his just due it seems because he didn't work in the traditional comic book medium. One needs only to read the first few pages of the book to grasp his incredible ability... This is graphic storytelling at its finest and a true treasure! Grade A" - Tim Janson, Mania
• Review: "The cover [of The Pin-Up Art of Dan DeCarlo] sums it up -- a man who looks disturbingly like Riverdale’s Mr. Lodge gazes lasciviously at a lingerie-clad young woman who looks disturbingly like a (very) bosomy Veronica. That is just so wrong... Breasts swell and sag with the weight of flesh, not silicone; thighs press firmly and meatily together, hips and butts strain against fabric, threatening plentiful wardrobe malfunctions. And the wardrobes!... The overall effect is -- well, I can’t describe the overall effect. Let’s just say that in trying to take it all in I may have stretched my eyes permanently out of shape." - Noah Berlatsky, The Hooded Utilitarian
• Review: "...Peter Bagge's new compilation of comics, Everybody Is Stupid Except for Me and Other Astute Observations... turns out also to be a rude form of local history... [H]is craftsmanship - in the tradition of Mad's Don Martin and Nancy creator Ernie Bushmiller - lies in his ability to reduce his drawings to the simplest possible details needed to tell the story. His rants are funny, but the frictionless gag-delivery systems of his panels are an even more effective rebuke to the willful obscurity of contemporary art." - David Stoesz, Seattle Weekly
• Review: "Collecting 10 years’ worth of cartoons originally done for Reason magazine, as well as a few odds and sods, [Everybody Is Stupid Except for Me] finds Bagge as sharp and irate as ever, and his art has improved while still being recognizably his own. Bagge is also, thankfully, still possessed of a great sense of humor, especially about himself—even the title reveals an element of self-mockery among all the self-righteousness." - The A.V. Club
• Review: "There are few comics in the history of the medium as universally beloved as Love and Rockets... The Palomar stories, while extraordinarily literate and often brilliant in how they straddle the line between magical realism and gritty serial drama, are complex narratives which benefit greatly from being read from the very beginning; Jaime’s lighter, simpler approach is probably a better place to start." - Leonard Pierce, The A.V. Club, offering advice on how to start reading Love and Rockets; here's our advice
• Interview: Robot 6's Tim O'Shea talks to John Kerschbaum about Petey & Pussy, self-publishing and other topics. Sample quote: "It’s what it would look like if Elmer Fudd REALLY blew Daffy’s beak off. But I’ve always felt that humor and horror are very closely related. That they naturally play off of each other. The funny bits make the scary bits scarier and vice versa."
• Interview: At The A.V. Club, Sam Adams gets Michael Kupperman to reveal some of the secrets of his comedy genius and the future of Thrizzle. For example: "Certainly I enjoy the outré and I enjoy artistic comics and surrealism in comics very much. But the decision I made and have stuck with and refined was the decision to try to be funny and communicate humor. Once you put that ahead of everything else, it resolves those other questions for you."
• Plug: Jog - The Blog spotlights 3 of our new releases from last week
While we were at Comic-Con, where Irwin Chusid's brother coincidentally works and stopped by to say hi, Irwin sent the following announcement about a new Jim Flora fine art print:
Jim Flora Art has released a limited edition fine art print of a 1960 tempera titled BIG EVENING. The hyperactive tableau depicts a cavalcade of misshapen, multi-eyed mutants with bonus body parts. People just like you!
Only 25 prints were produced for this edition. Details:
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