As a Comic Book Salesman at this year's Comic-Con it was impossible not to feel the crushing presence of the latest and greatest bullshit Hollywood and beyond had to offer and I'm not sure why. Why did this year feel any different from last year, or the year before? Maybe I've gone to one-too-many Comic-Cons thus forcing me into a downward spiral of delusion and dread? Or maybe the mainstream acceptance sought by the comics industry at large is really a Trojan Horse? Regardless the cause, there were far too many injustices committed at this year's Comic-Con and yes I will be pressing charges in future Flog posts.
On the other hand, as a Long Box Cretin this year's Comic-Con was unquestionably winsome! Thanks to the lack of Back Issue Fiends I had plenty of elbow room to find great deals (Herbie #12 for $2 are you crazy!?!) and the lack of competition for elusive issues of weird olde comics was a very welcomed change.
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.
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.
I think we're all caught up on our Online Commentary & Diversions now:
• Review: "It's impossible not to love Jason's hapless cartoon characters; they're dog-faced descendants of Charlie Chaplin in that way, usually placed into situations far beyond their control or understanding... The five stories that make up Low Moon, Jason's newest collection of comics, hark back to the classic golden age of film... Each story reverberates with the little eccentricities that Jason has built a career on (instead of gunfights, the cowboys in the title story battle over long games of chess). Remarkably, none of them seem over-the-top or manipulative." - Paul Constant, The Stranger
• Review: "From Jordan Crane and Fantagraphics, Uptight #3. One of the best covers of the year and the last time, I suspect, that the guys in the crowd will read 'Back soon' and not feel that chill at the back of the neck." - Steve Duin, The Oregonian
• Review: "Sublife weaves a tighter, more focused narrative with intelligently ornate Chris Ware inspired design..." - Raina Lee, Lunch
• Review: "The current issue of theComics Journal (#297) has a wonderful in-depth interview with cartoonist Mort Walker, creator of Beetle Bailey, as well as a stable of other strips including Hi and Lois, Sam and Silo, and Boner's Ark that's a fun read." - Randy Reynaldo, WCG Comics
• Commentary: Looking at our recent spate of Special Edition releases at examiner.com, Spencer Ellsworth says "the notes, interviews and annotations give a look into some of the most innovative of the new generation of movers and shakers in the current comics renaissance."
• List: Industry news & analysis site ICv2 ranks sales of The Complete Peanuts at #3 on the list of "Top 10 Humor Properties Q1 2009"
• List: The Comics Reporter reports that at BEA a panel of librarians chose a list of "Hot Fall Graphic Novels," including our forthcoming titles Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 1 and West Coast Blues by Manchette & Tardi
Updates of Online Commentary & Diversions may be oddly timed for the rest of the week as we're eyeball deep in MoCCA preparations.
• Review: "[Harvey] Kurtzman and company aimed high for a more sophisticated humor mag than the competition... Fantagraphics’ package for it is bar none — handsome, sturdy and restored with great care... I was most interested in the behind-the-scenes story of Humbug and the creative process that went into it — not to mention doomed it — and the book’s introduction and exclusive interviews more than satisfy on that count." - Rod Lott, Bookgasm
• Review: "In a way, Humbugalmost feels like a goof-humor version of The New Yorker or something. There’s a lot of fairly serious political/social commentary, cloaked in wry rainment. It’s a blend as interesting as any cocktail, and it’s goddamn great to have this stuff easily available. Hats away!" - Byron Coley & Thurston Moore, Arthur Magazine
• Review: "...[U]nparallel parodists Kurtzman and Elder ran rampant for themselves when they published these 11 exceptional issues of comic art anarchy. This two-volume hardcover box set has been reproduced from the original art and digitally restored to make everything look even better than when it first came out in 1957. This long-overdue definitive edition of Humbug is an essential slice of satire from the masters of the genre." - Jeffrey Morgan, Detroit Metro Times
• Review: "Everybody Is Stupid Except For Me [is] a compilation of the notorious Seattle libertarian [Peter Bagge]’s politically (and sexually) charged comics for Reason magazine... It’s great. So colourful (always my favourite part of Pete’s comics) and acerbic and smart-ass, but with a heart and purpose behind the bickering and keenly observes caricatures... It’s too early to say now, but right now I’m thinking it’s perhaps my favourite stuff of his, full stop..." - Everett True
• Review: "Connective Tissue... make[s] for an engaging read... While Darla sounds like she could be a handful, she is a good and sympathetic protagonist, making her a modern-day Alice in a 21st century Wonderland." - Jason Borelli, Beyond Race Magazine
• Preview: Spotlighting comics shipping this week, The Comics Reporter says of Uptight #3: "The previous issue of this series from the great Jordan Crane was super, super strong." Likewise, Chris Mautner at Robot 6: "The latest issue in Jordan Crane’s very good series about ghosts and melancholy comes to town. I feel we should be doing all we can to ensure Crane keeps making comics, don’t you?" And Matthew Brady says: "I missed the second issue of this series, but the first one was great... Check it out if you see it on the shelves."
• Profile: My Adventure Is Your Advantage spotlights the design work of our very own Art Director Jacob Covey, calling him "the bees knees of design" and presenting previously unseen previews of the forthcoming Abstract Comics anthology
• Profile: "[Dash] Shaw's online and bound comics inhabit surreal spaces both cerebral and emotional, leaping from zombie love stories to futuristic set pieces without resorting to predictability... It's probably safe to say he has arrived." - Wired
• Interview: Publishers Weekly's Heidi MacDonald asks our own Eric Reynolds for his thoughts about Book Expo America and its value for comics publishers like us; The Comics Reporter's Tom Spurgeon comments on the interview; meanwhile, The Daily Cross Hatch's Brian Heater gets a few words from Eric on the show floor
And this is what Comic-Con looks like after all the fans, cartoonists and celebrities have left for home. Union guys are farting and shouting at us to hurry up and ship out so they can get their drink on. It's a blessed life (I mean that).
This Flog is dedicated to the workers.
Jamie Salomon of Drawn & Quarterly. This guy's taken a bullet for comics.
Alvin Buenaventura of Buenaventura Press puts the finishing touches on pallet.
Tom Devlin and Rebecca Rosen of Drawn & Quarterly pack up while sporting Canadian Plaid. (Please note formula: Northwesterner/Me = Plaid/Flannel Connoisseur)
• Review/profile: The Oregonian says that Most Outrageous by Bob Levin is "The most challenging and thought-provoking book I read last year... unforgettable... among the great essays on human frailty," and discusses how the commercial success of The Complete Peanuts enables us to publish more challenging work
• Review: Brick Weekly says of The Lagoon by Lilli Carré, "Carré’s cartooning is purely excellent, evolving nicely from her earlier work and pulling you into a world of vividly drawn characters and lush environments" (scroll past the video game review)
I may have witnessed one of the incidents of sexual harrassment at this year's Comic-Con described by our good friend and colleague John DiBello in his commentary posted on Kevin Church's blog [CORRECTION] on his hooved friend Bully's blog (oops, my RSS reader picked up the cross-post before the original post) -- either that, or I witnessed an incident in addition to the ones he describes. John's comments are right on -- I strongly encourage you to go check them out.
"I was at Bob Kane's funeral,"ť Mark Evanier said. "There were only four people from comics there: me, Stan Lee, Mike Barr and Paul Smith. A whole bunch of Batman toys were put into Kane's coffin and they were lowering it down. As Kane was being put into the ground, Stan turned around to me and said ‘Steve Ditko was the best inker Jack Kirby ever had.'"
This anecdote is so sad and poignant on so many different levels, it just breaks my heart. I don't think I've ever felt more empathy for Stan Lee. Link via Ian Brill, bless him.