My San Diego Comic Con 2012 Think Piece. Such That It Is.

Photo by Nell Minnow

I’m currently in Los Angeles, staying with a friend, while slowly recovering my sleep patterns from the San Diego Comic Con. Some people have said this year’s show was about creator owned comics. Some about an industry trying, and partially succeeding to pull itself out of the miasma of spiralling down sales. Some about every company and creator trying to establish a digital foundation for the future. And some, about foam Dalek hats.

This is less of a think piece, more a collection of random thoughts in a random fashion. Still, this is Bleeding Cool, you’re probably used to that.

But if I had to discern one overall feeling from this year’s show, and specifically the coming book side of it, it was “hope”. The Eisner Awards celebrated innovation and diversity in a fashion rarely seen (and at a speed rarely seen either). Marvel saw their first post-Avengers movie big show deliver a new audience, willing to lap anything and everything up. DC saw an appreciative relaunch audience one year in, with the news that they had reversed their negotiation policy with Neil Gaiman to secure the Sandman Zero series long denied us. Image Comics announced their land grab on Marvel’s and DC’s traditional writers, in a similar way that had with artists twenty years ago, leading to much speculation as to what deal they had offered. And The Walking Dead ruled, in comics, in games, in TV, in watches, in obstacle courses, in people posing with Michonne statues, with a promise that we might get it all again in January for Invincible One Hundred.

In general, it seemed most publisher’s booths sales were slightly down year on year. But Artists Alley sales were up, people choosing to connect with comic creators directly rather than through their publishers, something the likes of Erik Larsen finally selling many pages of Savage Dragon, seized upon. It is possible that so many tickets for this year being sold at the show last year, kept the same audience coming back to the show – this year that wasn’t an option, so next year should see new blood and new dollars – and hopefully new space as the Convention Center expands.

But one of the major factors this year was how so many companies moved outside of the Convention Center. For years there have alwways been events held outside the show, with the local bars, restaurants and galleries being bought up, but this year set a new record and turned the city into an approximation of Angouleme, just with more corporate logos. Not only was it impossible to see everything inside the show you wanted to, but it was impossible to see everything outside you wanted to. And for those doing the show on the cheap, not having to buy a ticket to see lots of cool stuff, and getting free food, free water and in some cases, free under-the-stars sleeping arrangements saw what appeared to be more people outside the show than inside it. One of the most expensive comics shows for many, became the cheapest for some.

Bleeding Cool did our best to keep you informed occasionally¬†misinformed, and in a number of special cases, pre-informed, which saw us break our all time traffic records on Thursday, Friday and then Saturday in succession. I broke the Sandman Zero story, the Stephanie Brown story, a bunch of Marvel AVX stories and gave you exclusive news about the likes of David Lloyd’s new comic Aces Weekly just by being in the right bar at the right time. We had several writers running around the show reporting back and that seemed to make a big difference. Like rats, I think you were never more than six feet from a Bleeding Cool writer… and, yes, I’m sure that wasn’t the only comparison made. I think this is how we’ll always do bigger conventions from now on. San Diego, more than any other show, has more of your favourite programming, events, booths , creators and product than you could ever hope to go to, this time at least I was able to share the love.

Being introduced by companies to new staff, there was one significant difference this year. The majority of new employees in the comics industry I met at this show were black. This was such change from previous shows that I thought it worth commenting on. In many ways, comics has maintained a white-centric look, rarely out of overt racism, often a self-sustaining situation. Either more black people are applying to work in the industry, or the industry recognising that it has a problem and its work needs to be more reflective and aware of a more diverse society, has been recruiting in new ways.

The industry, as always, was very keen to show off the New and both IDW and Image excelled at that. Madefire especially has a bunch of big name creators talking to them about their new digital kinda-comics product, or as I coined with Liam Sharp, “comiques”. It would be mean to name them, but I think seeing a long meeting with Image publisher Eric Stephenson take place at the back of the booth is justifiable.

Then there was ShiftyLook, providing a new funding model for comics and cartoons that can be vaguely based on old video game concepts. And the quality of creators they have signed up was eyed enviously by some, and seen as a new way to experiment creatively – and get paid foir it – by others.

And for all the corporate control, it was still a show where I could come upon Steven Moffat and Sue Virtue off for an evening stroll one night, and express my love for all he’s done since Press Gang. Where I could suddenly be joined at dinner with Rob Liefeld. To find myself at a bar with Joe Quesada. To stay in a hotel two doors down from John Layman. And to end up in a late night conversation with Kristen Schaal. I licked Ben McCool’s face. And… this is not just me. I don’t have any special access. This is open to anyone.

I bought a tonne of comics, mostly from the small press tables, many from creators I had never heard of. I bought some Jim Lee art on behalf of my wife for my upcoming fortieth. But mostly I met with old friends, people who have become friends of late and made brand new ones. Lots of people thanked me for Bleeding Cool, some congratulated me on the new magazine and not one of them started a fight. Hell, I got hugged by Dan DiDio (and I believe there is photographic evidence out there). I also agreed a couple of new comic book publishing projects, so look forward to me annoyingly plugging them in a few months.

So, yes, there was hope. Combined with fear as well, of course, that the comic industry will screw this up as it has so much in the past. But, you know, it doesn’t have to. Anything could happen. It usually does…