San Diego Comic-Con 2017 Recapon August 6, 2017 at 9:31 am
Ahhhh, Comic-Con. You wonderful, massive Nerd-Beast, you. I look forward to it every year, I dread it every year, and it’s a highlight of my year. The 2017 version of it feels like it was the best one for me personally yet.
There is often talk at the Con about how big it is this year, or how crowded it is compared to other years. I’ve been going since 2008, and while it’s changed and grown, it pretty much always feels huge. Wednesday “Preview Night” is less of a preview as much as “just another day at the Con.” It’s super popular with those folks looking to buy all the cool exclusives at the various booths, but it’s also just packed with people just there to soak it all up. The aisles are packed, and you get your first taste of the excitement in the air.
Honestly, though, this year felt like most other years with maybe one notable exception. All days are packed, but it seems that there’s a bit of a pattern happening on Saturday, according to a couple of artists I talked to at their tables. So much of the Con has spilled out into downtown San Diego, with nearby hotels, galleries, restaurants, and clubs all having their own events all day long, and Saturday has become a time for people to venture out to take a look at those. Several people noted that the floor traffic Saturday morning/early afternoon felt lighter than usual.
It’ll be interesting if this is something that affects sales for small press folks and artists. As a resident of San Diego, I often tell people just to head down to the Con even if they don’t have a pass because there’s so much to do there. You can have an amazing Comic-Con experience and not set foot in the Convention Center. That’s great for us nerds, but you have to wonder if it’ll be a detriment to people selling their wares. The Con obviously has all sorts of growing pains here and there; the fact that Mile-High Comics decided to call it quits after FORTY YEARS because rents got too high and the Con seemed indifferent to them is NOT a good sign.
So, to sum up my impressions of the crowds this year, let’s just say there were huge crowds. I’ll talk more about it later, but the Con floor itself holds less and less allure for me as the years go by, so my patience for huge throngs of slowly moving people grows increasingly thin. I don’t want to sound jaded about an event that some people crave all their life to get to, but I think if you go to enough conventions in ANY sort of line of business or life, the booths on the floor sort of all run together in a blur. There are great moments, but if The Doctor were to come by in the TARDIS and drop me on the Con floor from any of the past 10 years, I doubt I could tell you which year it was. The Con for me has become all about the people and the panels.
EVERYTHING IN MODERATION
It is a serious point of professional and personal pride that I’ve entered the world of panel moderation. I’ve talked about this before on the podcast, but if you told me 7 or 8 years ago that I would be walking up to a podium in a room filled with people, grabbing a mic, and leading panels with amazing artists and writers…and that I wouldn’t be terrified or throwing up…I’d never have believed you. I remember people saying about public speaking “that it gets easier the more you do it.” I did not believe those people. Usually I just wanted to slap those people with whatever blunt object I might have handy. But you know what? They were right. It really is easier with time, and I downright enjoy it now.
I’ve been truly lucky and excited to be involved with people from the educational world, moderating a number of panels on using comics in the classroom. It’s wonderful that graphic novels and comics have made serious inroads into schools to the point where the panels have gone from “why we think this is a good idea” to “here are the graphic novels you should be teaching and here’s how.” As a kid growing up in the late 70s and 80s, comics were still considered the bastard step-children of literature and would never have been used by teachers from that time period. It’s so refreshing that this generation of teachers, librarians, and school administrators see the value in graphic novels and comics.
This year, I also got a panel accepted on character design. Having gotten to know such amazing talented artists like Lucas Turnbloom (“Dream Jumper”), Lora Innes (“The Dreamer,” “Wynonna Earp”), Jeff Ranjo (Disney), and John Sanford (Dreamworks/Disney), I was thrilled to have this panel accepted. It was an honor to receive all sorts of behind the scenes art from them and get to showcase each of their unique talents. One of the larger panels I’ve done, and it got some very nice reviews from the audience members I talked to afterwards.
My last panel was more of a game show situation, “The Great Kids Draw-Off,” which is always a blast. Asked by authors and artists Jenni and Matt Holm (“Baby Mouse,” “Sunny Side Up”) to help out on a panel stacked wall-to-wall with famous kids lit artists, I chose kids from the audience to work with the artists on various challenges, kept things moving, and made sure the artists were always on their toes. It’s a great panel because kids get to work one-on-one with people like Raina Telgemier, Nathan Hale, Lucas Turnbloom, Victoria Jamieson, Matt Holm, Jarret Krosoczka, and Dana Simpson among others, and get to keep both the piece of art they make and a memory of a lifetime. Definitely one of those moments that reminds you where the real power and joy is in these conventions.
DRINKIN’ AND DRAWIN’
I stated above that the thing I look forward to the most at any comics-related convention I go to is seeing old friends, people I’ve interviewed, artists I know well and many I don’t. For the past several years, good friends Lucas Turnbloom and Francesco Marciuliano (“Sally Forth,” “I Could Pee On This and Other Poems by Cats”) have helped me buy a few rounds for people who want to escape the madness of the Con at a nearby hotel bar. It’s become quite the annual tradition, and my favorite thing. I’ve said many times that we should all be thankful for the world of the internet and social media, because it has given us access to our tribe of wonderful artists, fellow nerds, and kindred passionate souls. Growing up, I never had that sort of support or camaraderie, and the Drink and Doodle represents all of that to me. (I don’t have pictures of this for a couple of reasons…I’m too busy having a good time, I never remember to take pics, and really, it’s more of a personal event where I want people to just enjoy themselves and kick back!)
COSPLAY WITH A PRINCESS
Last year, I had access to a pretty good Jedi outfit, and I decided to dip my toes into the cosplay world, and I had a ton of fun with it, even as limited as my experience was. I thought about doing it again this year (or perhaps trying to be Henry Jones, Sr., as when I grow a beard, I have a Sean Connery thing going on), but honestly I was just a little too busy with panels and such to be worried about all the little things you have to deal with when you cosplay. (Trust me, even on a small level, it’s something that takes time, planning, and a lot of sweaty effort.)
My webmistress and great partner in crime, Irma Eriksson, decided to attend for the first time this year, and got the bug to try her hand at the cosplay world by dressing up as one of her childhood idols, She-Ra, Princess of Power. Irma is pretty shy by nature, so cruising around in a little dress with a headdress and a sword was a little intimidating to her, but she pulled it all together and had a blast. The cosplay world is very welcoming, and there’s no better place on the planet to walk around as one of your idols than SDCC. Dozens and dozens of photos were taken, and she felt like a star.
My video buddy Ben and I followed her around and got some fun shots, and it was just great to be a part of the cosplay world again. I might try it again, but like this year, I’m often fairly busy going from one thing to another, and I feel if you’re going to take the time to do this, it’s pretty much your entire day to do it right.
San Diego Comic-Con really is a contradictory beast of epic proportions. There are many negative aspects, and it takes a lot of criticism from fans and pros alike on various aspects of it. Many people aren’t happy with what it has evolved into over the years, many people hate the sheer size and scope of it, and many dismiss it as a pop-culture mash up that bears little resemblance to the comics world.
Taken individually, each of those points has real merit. And honestly, if I didn’t live in San Diego, I doubt it would be on my list of Conventions to attend. People can spend literally thousands of dollars to travel here and find a place to stay, let alone paying for the Con, food, souvenirs, etc. It’s my home-town Con, so that allows me a lot more flexibility and freedom.
Though I can understand many people’s reservations about it, and can empathize how far it’s gotten from being primarily comics-related, SDCC will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s become more like Nerd Disneyland, really. You just accept the crowds, and you bask in the wonderfully geeky nature of people from all walks of life who follow all sorts of fandoms. It’s sort of like what I loved about living in New York City; how you were surrounded always by noise, culture, vibrancy, art, craziness, excitement, and how it was both a giant pain in the ass AND the greatest city in the world.
I also think that though it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, the popularity and growth of SDCC has opened the doors for conventions in other cities to crop up and grow, and fill the void of being more comics-focused and intimate. Emerald City in Seattle, Heroes Con in North Carolina, C2E2 in Chicago, Baltimore, Denver, Phoenix…they’re all well attended and owe a lot of that to the notoriety and national press coverage of SDCC. There’s a con for everyone out there, and as artists, each one offers pluses and minuses to whether or not they’re smart to attend. A lot of small press people have moved on from SDCC, and that’s sad in a way, and possibly damaging to the Con in the long run; but at the same time, things change and we need to be fluid with them. If SDCC can help bring you larger notice on a big stage, then it might be worth the expense. If it’s not, then there are plenty of options out there that would probably be better for you. I think if you’re wondering about that professionally, there are a ton of resources and commentary from artists and companies that do this sort of thing every year. The market really does shift from year to year, and there are definitely trends to be aware of before you commit to any con.
I will always recommend SDCC to people from other cities as one of those “bucket list” things to attend, knowing that it isn’t easy, it isn’t perfect, but it’s a helluva ride. It’s great how it has spilled out into downtown San Diego, and you can easily get a fantastic Con “experience” and never once set foot on the floor of the show. (Anyone who lives in the San Diego area should take the trolley down there and just soak up the weirdness every year. We’re lucky to have it!)
More panels and fun await me in New York Comic Con in October, a convention I love for many other reasons; one that is superior to SDCC on some levels, but not close on others. (With the loss of the big Artist’s Alley at Javitz for the next couple of years while construction happens, NYCC loses some big points, and don’t get me started on the crappy little panel rooms there.)
The echoes of SDCC 2017 will stay with me a long time, I think, and it was a great, tiring, inspiring, exhausting event. As always.