BY HEIDI MACDONALD(Editor's note: The Beat is BEAT from San Diego shenanigans. This week's guest columnist is regular Pulse contributor HEIDI MACDONALD.)
Everyone knew it was going to be big, but no one knew exactly how to deal with it. There wasn’t a single conversation at this year’s San Diego convention that didn’t refer to the exhausting size.
This was the year everyone was there. This was made even more amazing by the fact that everyone WASN'T
there, but it was still a fact that everyone was there, from directors to movie stars to screenwriters, to comic book writers and artists to cartoonists to animators to fans, even.
Attendance figures aren’t in but estimates are that this year’s show was some 20% above last years. That would make attendance anywhere from 70,000 to 80,000, not counting all the pro, press and exhibitor badges, which are at least 5000 more. But what am I saying…that was in the olden days. I'm sure the Professional/Press list for San Diego on its own would surely be the fourth or fifth largest show in the country.
The line to get in on Thursday, traditionally the longest, went out past Sally’s, the restaurant at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. On Saturday, the day when the media had jumped all over the fact that Angelina Jolie, Halle Berry and Hugh Jackman
would be at the show, the line extended past Sally’s all the way into the Marina. Estimated wait to get in: 3 hours. At 4 o’clock the wait to get in was still an hour. Even for people with badges waiting to get in the morning, the line wrapped all around the hall.
The amazing thing, however, was that all these people weren't comic book fans. As Mile High's Chuck Rozanski
sagely observed, this may have been the first show where the civilians outnumbered the fans.
The hall itself was huge and exhausting. For the first time, it was necessary to write down booth numbers if you wanted to find them. Without a cell phone to find friends and dinner companions, you were sunk, As David Seidman, Claypool marketing manager put it in his remarks, “At one point, I couldn’t even find the DC booth,” a pretty strong statement considering the fact that it is usually the anchor of the show.
Wandering the hall was a hit or miss affair – you might find something interesting, like the Happy Tree Friends, or porn star action figures or Mark Schultz and Gary Gianni
…or you might wander aimlessly, lost in the Hasbro booth for all eternity.
While everyone has been saying for years that then show was more Hollywood than comics, last year and this year the effect has gotten even more acute. Con organizers said that some 60% of the programming was comics oriented, but you couldn’t help but get the feeling that comics were the dragalong. The big halls, 6AB and the legendary Ballroom 20 had been quietly set aside just for entertainment programming.
One thing's for sure: if indie comics want their day in the sun, it will come at MoCCA, SPX or APE. While everyone had a good show, and Top Shelf had a mere 4 copies of BLANKETS
left on Sunday, the indie comics presence was very subdued. There was no programming to speak of – although there were panels on self publishing and breaking in and other technical matters, the only indie cartoonist who got much of a spotlight was official guest Carla Speed McNeill
. Alternative comics were more clearly than ever a barnacle on the whale of mainstream entertainment.
Or maybe it was just the fact that Alternative Comics' Jeff Mason
wasn't there. It wasn't the same without him or his madcap crew, which was scattered to the winds of booths and hotel rooms.
While Fantagraphics, D&Q and Top Shelf had their own little area, the Small Press Pavilion was scattered into two different locations, East and West, both located at the back of the hall, and both attended in hit or miss fashion. As they say in real estate, location, location, location. First time exhibitor Kyle Baker was given a prime spot in the front of the hall and sold out of all but a handful of books. Had he been located in the netherworld of the room, there's no telling how he would have done.
And then there was Artist's Alley – or Artist's Ghetto, as more than one wag called it. "It's desolate," said one artist, surveying the chill, remote aisles, and cold concrete floor. Indeed, situated on the far eastern tip of the floor, on beyond Ballroom 20 even, a trip to artist's alley was like a ferry ride across the North Sea: suddenly the lush carpeted walkways and deluxe booths gave way to aisles full of guys at tables drawing. The fact that the aisles contained such peoples as Tim Sale, Lee Bermejo, Jeff Parker, Ale Garza, Marc Hempel
, and countless other mainstream artists made it all the more bizarre. All of the Wildstorm crew was set up in Artist's alley, and at one point Jim Lee
himself was set up there, with a line of about 5 people in front of him. Depending on your viewpoint, this is either what Comicon is all about, or a bizarre inversion of the pecking order. Artist's Alley used to be where all the action was, but now its seems almost pointless. There's talk of moving it upstairs next year (along with even more retailers) which should just about kill it completely.
The very last booths in Artists Alley were populated by small pressers Todd Webb and Josh Sullivan
. Their table was surrounded by nothing but a few dozen feet of empty space – it Artists Ghetto was the North Sea, this was the Orkneys. Webb and Sullivan tried to move to a table in the more populated regions but were told by the con that they couldn't. Although by Saturday they probably could have made a move, they decided to stay in the last aisle as a protest – and it seems to pay off with a lot of press attention – including the bit you're reading now.
The show wasn't just big geographically, but big time wise, as well. In addition to giving booth staff another half day to gear up for dealing with the public, Preview Night seems to be the “buying time” of the show – people come to get the hottest items soonest and money is no object. lot of money was changing hands, leading some to think that Wednesday sales may significantly be cutting into Thursday’s. However, Sunday was another big shopping day, as everyone who was tied up in Ballroom 20 got a chance to buy things.
In size of booths, DC was the comics winner. With as many as six signings going on at the same time, at times it was impossible to even get near the booth, let alone in it. One high level DC exec admitted "We'll need more room next year." At one point, when cast members of SMALLVILLE
were signing in the booth, DC personnel were heard to loudly bark "You have to move, you can't stand in one spot," meaning at times you can't even stand in the DC booth anymore.
Crossgen's both was almost as spacious, but nowhere near as busy, nor was Dark Horse's except for certain signings (Michael Chabon.) Marvel was represented in effigy – lots of Marvel licensees had Marvel-themed statues and artwork, and for some reason, the restaurant at the Marriott was decorated with particularly crude paintings of the Marvel characters as Simpsons characters – proving that if you're smashing one copyright, why not smash them all while you're at it?
While Marvel was conspicuously absent from the show, ironically, Artisan Entertainment, which Marvel is bidding to buy, had a large booth promoting next year’s PUNISHER movie, including poster and sticker giveaways. So if Marvel does buy Artisan, can we expect to see them stop exhibiting? The towering Punisher display was without a logo of any kind, but an Artisan marketing spokesman said that no one had had any questions about what the booth was for, which augured well for the name brand recognition of next year's movie. The same spokesman also pooh-poohed the New York Post report that Marvel had bid on Artisan.
The convention proved to be a complete barometer of pop culture zeitgeist. Nothing was more telling than the relative positions of the LORD OF THE RINGS Pavilion and the STAR WARS Pavilion. LotR had probably the primo spot in the show, with a huge, bustling booth smack dab in the middle of the floor. Star Wars, beneath a huge visage of an angry, armed Yoda, was way off in the 4000 aisle, where homeless Jedi and fleets of Boba Fetts roamed the aisles, looking about as current and hip as a Star Fleet uniform.
And speaking of Starfleet, looks like they lost the war. While Klingons of every shape and size were in abundance, very few Federation personnel were seen around. It's dead, Jim.
It reached the point where some people wondered just why the SciFi Channel even bothered to have a booth when they had canceled their most geek friendly show (FARSCAPE) already. In fact, that’s all anyone heard at the SciFi Channel booth all weekend.
News wise, DC took advantage of Marvel's reduced role to attempt to deliver a smackdown. While Marvel had their traditional Hospitality Suite, it wasn't the hot spot it was last night. DC countered with a hospitality suite throughout the show where editors could hold meetings with talent while giving them a free Diet Coke. As opposed to Marvel's diminished presence (Joe Quesada, C.B. Cebulski and Teresa Focarile were the official Marvel personnel), DC sent all their editors for the first time ever. In addition, DC threw a big dinner party on Sunday night for all their exclusives, which turned out to include merely people they would like to be exclusive. This level of wining and dining by DC hasn't been seen in many a year, and was definitely thought to be a direct challenge to Marvel.
Of course, the surprise announcement of Grant Morrison's exclusive at DC was the closest thing to shocking news at the show, with Loeb and Sale following the next day. Quesada was taken by surprise by the announcement, and confronted Morrison about it at the just before one of Quesada's panel appearances. Most observers agreed that the reason for Morrison departure could be summed up in three words: Marvel Boy 2.
Meanwhile, while the Hollywood invasion and the DC vs. Marvel feuding got all the headlines in the comics world, probably the biggest story of the show was taking place in the parallel world of manga. Viz, Tokyo Pop, Comics One and the rest all had huge booths, and huge crowds, most of them teenaged girls. Remember how for years everyone said girls just didn't read comics because of how they were raised, or their biological makeup, or just because they had cooties, or whatever? Well, guess what…THAT WAS ALL A LIE. Manga is what's selling in bookstores, and it's growing. The new readers are here…and it's not who you expected.
I'm exhausted just from writing this column. In part 2, just what it means, and who the tribes are – this one has it all!
(TO BE CONTINUED)