I decided to do a report on my San Diego Comic Con experience as I get asked a lot about it for a number of reasons. One is that I have not been to one in nearly 10 years so many people want to know how I see the change as it descends into Hollywood madness and away from the comics aspect. And secondly, although I didn’t have a specific agenda, I was attending the con for various reasons---as a creator, as a publisher, as a former retailer, and as a show promoter (Detroit Fanfare). And it was also worth it to me on a personal level as I have a daughter that lives in San Diego and another that lives in Los Angeles, just a couple hours drive away.
For the report, I’m following Tom Spurgeon’s format that he posts on The Comics Reporter as I always find his the most interesting. He just posts his day with some notes and so I’ll follow suit.
I decided to go just a couple of weeks prior to the con so everything was rather last minute. That meant scrambling for flights, hotel, and meetings to get everything coordinated. My original thought was to stay with my daughter but she’s in Ocean Beach which would require transportation considerations. I knew Dennis Barger was going and we both had the same philosophy regarding hotels. Get a room close to the con thus eliminating transportation concerns and to reduce the exorbitant costs the hotels charge at comic con (for example, a Comfort Inn with regular rates of $39 a night bumped their con dates to over $300 a night. Really? A Comfort Inn?). After all, at Comic Con, a hotel room is used for sleeping after you can’t go on any longer, a place to take a shower, and store everything. Outside of that, it really doesn’t matter about the room since I spent no time there. So, we shared a room and hung together for the convention.
Dennis is a retailer in the Detroit area (Wonderworld Comics in Taylor) and is the head organizer for Detroit Fanfare. When I came aboard for the first convention, I was primarily a consultant at first but now am embedded as a co-organizer of the convention and Dennis, along with the third co-organizer, Tony Miello, have become friends. For those who know Dennis, his boisterous presence can mask his astute knowledge of the industry. We were also joined by Tim Brown, a local who used to be the web guy on the Detroit Fanfare site when he lived in Michigan but recently moved to San Diego. Tim had a car and would drive in on the days he came to the show.
Dennis was also with Gretho, a fan from our area who was making his first visit to the con, and in fact, his first plane flight. As we boarded the flight early Wednesday morning, we saw quite a few Detroit area folks on the same flight including David Finch and Dirk Manning. We played musical chairs with hotels and went from one in the Gaslamp district to one by Little Italy until we finally got into the Omni. Ironically, the Omni was the cheapest and by far the nicest and of course, right across from the convention center. During that time, we grabbed lunch at a small deli which had great sandwiches and seemed to be filled with locals. I always prefer the small local places rather than the chain restaurants and we adhered to that for most of the con trip.
Once the hotel situation was settled, we got ready for Preview night which started at six. Dennis uses the trip to find items for his customers and to gather up exclusives so I split as soon as we entered the con. The con was crowded, much more than I had anticipated even though I was told constantly how crowded it would be. You just have to be in there to really appreciate it. Most of the center where the toy and Hollywood studios were just stopped with walls of people and getting through was nearly impossible. I spent the entire con traveling on the outer rows which moved faster but you never could walk at a normal gait…even there it was pretty much a shuffling, zombie like walk. I decided to head to a far wall, it didn’t matter which one, and eventually work my way around the con. I found myself near Bregyent Marketing who are doing the Deadworld trading cards so got a reprieve by stepping into their booth. I met Tom and Steward for the first time although I had communicated via phone and email quite a bit over the last few months as the card set is nearly ready to roll out. Got a chance to see some of the cards and they gave me some Deadworld t-shirts and hats that they’re producing.
Following Dennis’ prediction that the less crowded spots of the con would be where the comic folks are (which unfortunately was very true), I decided to head towards Artist Alley which was along the opposite wall. But with all the exclusives and impact the middle of the con were providing, it would give me a chance to avoid the crowds. I remember thinking that I couldn’t take the crowds and I had been at the con for less than half an hour. It was going to be a long convention.
I weaved over to Artist Alley and again figured I’d start on one end and work my way through. Even though it wasn’t nearly as crowded, the aisles in Artist Alley were incredibly tight so there was no hope for personal space. The first creator I stopped at was Jim Calafiore who got his start at Caliber a very, very long time ago. Like many creators for the Big Two, once his exclusive contract expired, the shift went to new talent and so Jim is embarking on a new creator owned series. I was always surprised that Jim managed to work all those years for the majors as when he broke in, he had a unique style perfectly geared for creator owned and independent appeal so it would be good for him to show off his talents. I came across local (Detroit) artist, Bill Pulkvoski who was sitting next to Felipe Echevarria who I’ve known a little bit from the convention circuit. They were in the first aisle and had double the aisle space so it became a haven for me a couple of times during the convention.
Between the hotel and convention, I didn’t really connect with too many people although I talked briefly with Dirk Wood, marketing guru from IDW and met Jim Sokolowski, known mostly for his managerial role at Marvel but just recently signed up with Archie Comics. I had met “Ski” previously but never chatted with him in a non-business way. It’s always entertaining to talk with someone who’s been around for awhile to get their perspectives on the industry. I then met with a producer who I was supposed to meet with on Saturday but he had come in early so we had a chance to have a talk which would resume when his partner came in on Saturday.
I milled around a bit the con and we all left before the mass exodus would flood the exits. We headed over to Trickster which got a tremendous response last year but they were forced to move this year. I was disappointed since it was a small place, very noisy (music was blaring), and very hot. We hooked up with Richard LeParmentier, an actor who has done some 50 films including the first Star Wars. The upstairs bar closed very early and that would be my only trip to Trickster. I had planned to check it out again but never had the chance. I did hear from some others that it got better as the con went on but I don’t think it was the best venue with the caveat that they probably had limited availabilities. We stayed for a couple of drinks and I think the travel day was starting to catch up to us.
That exemplifies one of the problems with the people up north (LA) coming down. A lot of the local establishments were taken over and became private club areas which were either invite only parties or took on a club atmosphere which means cover charges, expensive drinks, loud music, etc. I just have little tolerance to attend those things.
It was only the three hours of the Preview and already I was dreading going back into that room because of the crowds, the vast majority who knew nothing or cared nothing about comics. I fully understood all the reports from previous years complaining about the convention. And yet, it you can look past all the non-comic aspects which dominated the show, it was still the major COMIC con, you just had to apply some creative sorting. So with that attitude and adjustment, I just took the con for what it was---still the biggest comic convention but just jammed full of “other stuff”.
For dinner, we found a small Italian restaurant in Little Italy that you had to enter via a deli. Great food, great portions, and great prices.
Next: Thursday, the first full day of the convention.