Dean Butters attended San Diego Comic Con. He travelled further than most people to get there.
The last time I was at San Diego Comic Con was five years ago, even then it was huge and busy, nevertheless this time around I felt like I was standing in lines more often.
Not that there weren't lines back then, they just seem to be longer and more prevalent this time. Where once you could just walk into a DC or Marvel panel, just before it began, now there was a long line to wait in, and disappointingly some of the bigger DC and Marvel panels reached capacity and people missed out. Now on one level this degree of interest is great, what was really disappointing about this though, was that next door there was a bigger room that could have facilitated the crowd, however that room went the panels on film, television and games. Now obviously those panels are also popular, however the convention is still called Comic Con.
I had one pro tell me that he though that within three years they will have changed the name. Now while that is only speculation, it does give you a feel for how some in the comic community feel about the direction of the San Diego Comic Con. I think in some ways we've all forgotten what Comic Con should be about. In part this years con was about me reminding myself.
It seemed so much like the comic fan experience has been consumed by everything else. Indeed consumed in many ways by our own need to consume. Half the lines on the con floor are people lining up to buy a limited edition action figure, or the like, that some of them will then on sell for profit. This seems to be a mood that permeates into the comic community, indeed Jimmy Palmiotti joked at one of the DC panels early in the show that it was nice to discover who the actual comic fans at the show were. He then went on to recounted a story of how the guy sitting next to him on the airplane was also coming to Comic Con because he had heard "it was the place to be" and he wanted to get some free stuff, and according to Palmiotti that was about the breath of his knowledge of Comic Con.
The following morning I saw paparazzi chasing down cars in the street, trying to snap photos of celebrities as their cars pulled up to the Omni Hotel, it was hilarious, surreal and ridiculous all at once. I'm reasonably sure however that it was Hollywood starlets in those cars rather than say Mike Mignola (not that I would wish such an experience on Mignola).
It was about half an hour after this that I began to remind myself of the beauty of Comic Con, when I found Mignola sitting at his booth, there wasn't even a line, I could just walk up and say hi. One of the things I was most excited about when I first came to Comic Con about 10 years ago, was getting a Mignola sketch book. Just like then I could get a Hellboy print for $50 and Mignola's latest sketchbook for $25. Now I won't claim that this realization of what Comic Con should be about hit me like a revelation, it was the slow burn of finding one cool thing after another, but that is the beauty of Comic Con, getting to meet cool writers and artists, people that you love the work of and getting to say hi. That will always beat out standing inline for hours for a limited edition action figure, that you are planning to sell on eBay – it is just unfortunate that I have to wade through all those lines of people to get to the cool stuff.
As well as being an amazing colorist Dave Stewart also prints all the Hellboy prints for Mignola. The reason I mention this is that he does a really nice job in printing them. A lot of people won't have the experience to notice the difference, but as a fine arts photographer I really appreciated the quality of Stewart's printing. One of the things that gets under my skin at Comic Con is the terrible quality gleece prints on canvas that a number of dealers sell for thousands of dollars. You've probably seen them; they are all icon superhero images by Alex Ross, Jim Lee and the like. They are terribly printed. Out of professional interest I was curious about the print process and what led them to look so bad, so I attempted to find out more about them by speaking with one of the dealers, but he knew nothing about how the products he was selling were produced. So if you are ever tempted by such a print, turn around and go buy a page of original comic art, or an artist produced print, chances are it will easily be better quality and it will cost you a fraction of the price.
So what was else was cool? Scott Morse is a really friendly guy, always worth saying hello to and always has great stuff for sale; I got a cool watercolor painting of a creature from him. These days he has moved out of the convention centre to Tr!ckster, there were a heap of cool sketchbooks and prints available. So for the comic book experience, Tr!ckster and then artist ally were a must. One thing people often don't realize is that the inker gets a third of the pages from the books that he works on. So, if you are a fan original art, it is always worth seeing what they have on offer. On that note, Mick Gray is always one of my favorite people to visit; he is such a nice guy and has work available from some of the great artists he has worked with. Following the chat with Grey I had an interesting conversation with Joshua Middleton about the line between innocence and exploitation.
One of the most interesting conversations I had was with Sean Murphy about his new book: Punk Rock Jesus, the new Atheists movement, and Christian Fundamentalism in America. It was one of those likeminded conversations were the more you talk about it more you find your interests on the topic line up. I read the first issue when I got back to Australia and it is a really good book that lived up to all the expectation I had coming out of our conversation.
Later that day I got to meet Gabriel Bá and Fábion Moon. I think Daytripper is one of the best comics of the last 10 years, so it cool to meet them and pick up signed copies of some of their earlier work. Then right next to them was Becky Cloonan with 2 self-published books for $5 each, a bargain at twice the price. They were both enjoyable books, and in talking to her I discovered she was keen to write her own stuff; someone should really take her up on that. Next I got to meet Rafael Albuquerque, another artist I love (seriously how good was this booth). Also at the booth was Jill Thompson and Andy Belanger, I don't own much of their recent work, but they were also both really nice. Finally they were joined by Murilo Martins, another Brazilian artist, who was at Comic Con with his first work translated into English, titled Love Hurts (extra points for him because he was wearing a Sonic Youth shirt and they are my favorite band)
One of the beauties of being at Comic Con for Bleeding Cool, was that I got a few things for free, books that I might have otherwise missed. I got given an ashcan for March, a future graphic novel from Top Shelf. It tells the first-hand account Congressman John Lewis' involvement with the civil rights movement. While that might sound a bit dry from the 13-page preview the book is a really compelling read and something I can't wait to see more of when it comes out in 2013/14. The Book is co-written by Lewis and Andrew Aydin, and drawn by Nate Powell.
I also met Joseph Remnant, I hadn't been exposed to his work previously, but I told him I was excited to see Harvey Pekar's Cleveland, which Remnant illustrated. He then handed me a copy of Blindspot #2. Well I've just read it, and it was really enjoyable and if you enjoy Pekar's work you should really check it out.
I came across Kevin Tong's work, which I had never seen before; he is a really nice illustrator and had a heap of great posters on display in his booth.
Eidon Fine Art, represent a number of comic artist also working in the fine art field. My favorite thing they had on offer, other than getting to see the original art being shown, was João Ruas' Minion, a replica of one of Ruas' sketch book, it really looked just like the original, it was so cool I had to buy one. Also if you a fan of Ruas' work, Eidon are producing an art book of his work with a signed, tipped in print, it is an experiment they are trying, it will only be able to be ordered for a two week period in August and they will then edition it to only what is ordered, so jump on their website to find out more.
I caught up with Jeremy Haun, who I first met when he was starting out. I first came across his work in a friend's bathroom in Springfield, Missouri (it was the only comic she own, and she had it because she was friends with his brother). I got to listen to James Robinson talk about comics for an hour at his spotlight panel, I met Darwyn Cooke after his, and was reminded how funny Jim Lee actually is at his panel. I had a great chat with Viktor Kalvachev about his process on the Blue Estate, said g'day to all the Man of Action guys am grabbed The Red Diary/The Re[a]d Diary from Seagle. I Got signed prints from The CBLDF. I met and got the latest sketchbooks from Mark Schultz, Dustin Nguyen, Jim Mahfood, Tony Daniels…
And that is what San Diego Comic Con should be about, it is random and it is rapid fire, it is long days walking around the convention center and going to panels and getting to meet people whose work your read and loved for years.
As one final note I thought I'd share my favorite overhead conversation. I was standing at a retailer booth when a fan of The Walking Dead TV show came up and was asking about the omnibus editions, upon flicking through the first one he was greatly surprised to discover that omnibus editions were in Black and White. He then pointed at the stack of the trade paperbacks bagged together and asked about them.
To which the dealer said 'yes, the trade paperbacks do come in color.' Seriously? How many copies of #100 did they sell again?