Comic-Con International: San Diego
This is my "Con Report" for the 2001 San Diego Comic Con. (Or Comic-Con International as they've taken to calling it the past few years. Henceforth it shall be referred to as "The Con".) My goal is to describe what it is like to go to The Con for those that haven't been able to attend and, in particular, to those thinking of attending in the future.
If you are interested in comic books or anything related, Comic-Con International is for you. While it is called a comic book convention it has grown into much, much more than that. Anime, science fiction and fantasy movies, video games, role playing games, trading card games and numerous other things are all at The Con. There is something for everyone, the hard part is finding it.
If you haven't read my standard Con Report Notes, you might want to.
The Annual Pilgrimage
I've been taking a week off from work every year for The Con for as long as I've been working. I missed the one back in 1994 because of work but that is the only one I've missed since I started going every year. Living in San Diego made it a lot easier but I've been able to make every year since I moved away but it has certainly changed the experience for me.
For starters, figuring out the flight schedules and making the hotel reservations takes some time and planning and some money. Money that can't be spent at The Con since it is being spent getting to The Con. It also means that advanced planning has become much more important since my computer and comic book collection are now thousands of miles away instead of within arms reach every evening. Digging through my comic collection in the evening during The Con to see if I really do need a certain back issue just isn't an option anymore.
Since I'm not a big fan of traveling alone, I tend to go to The Con with a traveling companion. It is a lot more fun to experience The Con with someone else. An extra pair of eyes is always helpful while walking the exhibit hall floor. Back when I lived in San Diego, a friend from my college days flew out a few times for The Con. It was fun to hear his take on what he'd seen and who he'd talked to. Since it is completely impossible to see everything there is to see at The Con and it is growing every year, having someone to compare notes with at the end of the day is becoming more and more important for me. It is also convenient to have someone else walking the floor that knows what sort of things you are interested in and pointing out stuff you might have missed.
For me, the annual trip to The Con falls somewhere between an immersion into the fiction realm of the comic book universes and a research trip into the real world of the comic book industry. While there are a number of other comic book conventions, this is the one that comes closest to concentrating the entire comic book industry into one place for a few days each year. Just getting the "vibe" of the people in the exhibit hall each year can be a good way to judge how the comic book industry is doing from year to year. That having been said, never confuse the attendees of The Con with the comic book direct market. They are not the same thing. The attendance for The Con this year was in the realm of about 50,000 people. Only the top 25 comic books each month tend to have estimated sales in the direct market that meet or exceed that. Many of the people going to The Con don't read comic books.
The Flight Out
The flight out on Wednesday started out with a bit of turbulence when we got to the airport only to find that there had been a mix up with the tickets. Fortunately the person I was traveling with (who had made the arrangements) was able to work with the people at Southwest and get the matter quickly and easily resolved. The flight itself was fairly uneventful other than the pleasant surprise of being able to sit next to a friend also heading to The Con and chat with him on the way out. Once we landed in San Diego, we got our luggage and our ride was waiting for us. We dropped our stuff at the hotel and had time for lunch and to get settled into the hotel before Preview Night began.
One of the downsides to flying out on Wednesday was that I was unable to pick up my weekly batch of comics. Not that I would have had time to read them but I would have liked to have known what was going to be waiting for me when I got back. All in all, not a big deal but it did make me glad that I don't currently work at (or own) a comic book store. I can't imagine doing the weekly grind of incoming books and then getting on a plane to San Diego. Some of the people working at the store I shop at did exactly that.
This year my traveling companion and I stayed at the Gaslamp Hilton that is right across the street from the convention center. The room was facing the new expansion of the convention center and had a great view. While it would have been nicer to have a view of the older part of the convention center, we were able to see the west end of it and get a few pictures from our room. (Photo)
I've heard of a number of "hotel room theories" over the years. It seems that some convention goers manage to cram the better part of a dozen people into a single hotel room figuring that most of the time will be spent at the convention. Personally, while I can understand the financial advantages of doing that, it doesn't seem like it would make for a pleasant experience. I find it very helpful to have a nice quiet place to go to every evening to escape the crowds of the convention. This does come at a cost, especially given the location of the Hilton. The hotel bill is a major cost of The Con that I never had to deal with when I was living in San Diego. The trade off is not having to deal with parking.
The convention center was huge last year and they seem to have managed to clone it during the past year. When it is done, the expanded convention center will be well over twice the size that it used to be. Unfortunately, the people expanding the convention center didn't see any need to add more parking. According to information from the convention center website, there are only 1950 parking places beneath the convention center. Needless to say, they go quick.
Parking Advice: If you expect to get one of these parking spaces, get to the convention center early (like around 8am) and plan on killing some time before the exhibit hall opens.
These parking spots are well worth having if you are either exhibiting or planning on making a number of purchases. (One year I was heading back to the car around 11am Thursday morning with my first round of purchases. I was real glad I had one of these parking places.)
While I have no idea if it would even be possible, it would be nice if exhibitors could arrange to get a single guaranteed parking spot at the convention center for an additional fee. I'm willing to bet that most exhibitors would be willing to pay for this. The downside to doing that is that it could easily account for nearly half of the available parking spaces.
While it was nice not to have to deal with parking during the convention this year, crossing the street is not as trivial as you might imagine. The intersection of Fifth Avenue and Harbor Drive has been significantly impacted by the convention center expansion. (Although not as much as last year when the intersection seemed to change on a daily basis.) The crosswalks were being painted Wednesday afternoon (Photo) (Photo) and the traffic light was blinking red in every direction for the entire duration of The Con. There was a police officer directing traffic at times but he seemed to go off duty right as the exhibit hall closed.
After crossing the street, there are the additional obstacles of the trolley tracks (Photo) and the train tracks (Photo). In 1999, the crossing guards for the tracks seemed to go down every time the light turned green to let people out of the convention center parking. This seems to have been cleared up by moving the entrance/exit of the parking to the middle of the old part of the convention center on Harbor Drive.
General Advice: Be careful when crossing the tracks and don't do it when the crossing guards are down. Fifth Avenue is very close to the train yard. (Photo)
The first thing to do at the convention center every year is to pick up the badge holders. The actual badges are mailed out to you ahead of time. Pre-registration for The Con is highly advised, even more so now since only pre-registered attendees can get into Preview Night. By early afternoon people were already lined up to get into the exhibit hall for Preview Night. (Photo)
Advice to Attendees: Pre-register for the convention.
Advice to Attendees: Make sure you are in the line you need to be in. There are lots of lines during registration (and during The Con itself) and a lot of them are not clearly marked. Do not assume that the people in front of you are in the line they believe they are in.
My companion and I had arranged to meet with some artist friends of ours and go over to the convention center to pick up our stuff. Once at the convention center I let my companion get our badge holders and stuff while I took a few photos. My traveling companion gets into The Con as a Professional (Photo) which means that I get to tag along as a Professional Guest (which isn't bad work if you can get it). In addition, my companion was helping out at a few booths and as a result got us exhibitor badges (Photo). The advantage of the exhibitor badge is that you can get into the exhibit hall early and stay late. Mainly this is so you can set up and close down the booths before and after the convention but it made it a lot easier for me to get some of the photos I took. My sole contribution to the registration process was helping get us Press badges. All in all, it made for very colorful badge.
When you get your badge holder, you also get a bag containing the 100+ page Event Guide. It is an item of the utmost importance during the convention. It contains all of the information about the booths, the panels, the autograph area, the films and everything else about the convention. Always have it with you.
The Event Guide is the one thing that I wish that the people running the convention would post on the website a week before the convention begins. It contains a lot of information that is useful to have time to read and digest before the insanity of The Con begins. The map of the exhibit hall and the booth locations are becoming more and more important every year as the size of the exhibit hall grows. It is also handy to have some time to figure out what panels you feel you absolutely can't miss before you've already missed them.
My biggest complaint about the Event Guide every year is the production quality of it. The ink seems to come off in your hands. This is something to be aware of if you are going to be handling any original art or anything else that you don't want to leave inky fingerprints on. Given mass quantities that are produced in a fairly short time frame, there may not be anything that can be done about this.
Since we had exhibitor badge holder, my companion and I decided to look around the exhibit hall before Preview Night began. Since only the exhibitors were in the hall, not all of the lights were turned on. As a result, the photos for this section turned out a bit dark. This walk through of the floor will be some quick highlights with more details (and better photos) to follow.
We started at the west end of the hall in the Small Press Area (Photo) because that was the closest entrance into the exhibit hall. At this point in the afternoon, most of the small press people hadn't done much in the way of setting up but a few of them had. (Photo)
We then headed over to get a quick look at the mega-booths for this year. (A "mega-booth" is what my companion and I called the booths that are significantly larger than the standard 10 foot by 10 foot booth and tend to be productions in and of themselves.)
Marvel had the same basic layout as in past years for its mega-booth. (Photo) (Photo) I've got mixed feelings about the design of the Marvel booth. It is very clearly split into distinct areas that are not always visible from the other areas of the booth.
The next stop was the CrossGen mega-booth. (Photo) (Photo) While this was the same general design as last year, it was much bigger. All in all, it is a simple layout and a very effective one. I don't know who was in charge of the CrossGen booth but I think that they did a great job in terms of overall design and in how is was used during the convention.
The SciFi Channel has the same wall of video monitors as last year. (Photo) (Photo) Personally, I would think that it would be more effective (if less stylized) to have the entire video display visible instead of the portal motif that the wall has.
Even though the exhibit hall was set to open for Preview Night in just 45 minutes, the main lounge area at the end of Aisle 800 had yet to be set up with tables and chairs. (Photo)
We then headed over to the Del Rey booth (Photo) to say hello to some friends. Based on the light levels in my photos, I'm going to guess that additional lights in the exhibit hall were turned on between our visit to Del Rey and our trip to the Dark Horse mega-booth. (Photo) After that was a trip to the ArtFX booth and a quick photo. (Photo) (Photo)
We finally make it over to Artists Alley. (Photo) In previous years, Artists Alley was in the west end of the exhibit hall in Hall A. This year it was in west end in Hall D (which didn't exist last year). Just as in the Small Press Area, these are tables that are quick to set up so most of the area is empty at this point.
We decided to check out the mega-booth at this end of the hall: Dreamworks Studios (Photo) which was focusing on the upcoming Time Machine movie (Photo) (Photo) (Photo) (Photo) (Photo) (Photo) (Photo) (Photo) (Photo) and the Top Cow mega-booth(Photo).
By this point, we had easily walked over a quarter of a mile within the exhibit hall. To give things a sense of scale, here is a photo from the edge of Hall C/Hall D looking down the middle east-west aisle back towards the Small Press Area in Hall A. (Photo) When people say that The Con is big, they mean it. The exhibit hall was nearly a quarter mile across this year. Next year it will exceed a quarter mile if it extends into Hall E (currently under construction) as it is expected to do. Everything in Aisle 2700 and east (higher) was added to the exhibit hall this year. (The booths were new, some exhibitors were new and others have been at The Con before.)
Also in the new section was the Batmobile from the 1960's TV show. (Photo)
At this point we decided to head over to the DC mega-booth. (Photo) While this meant double back nearly two-thirds of the way down the exhibit hall, we wanted to do a quick trip around the rest of the floor before checking out the DC mega-booth. We enjoyed talking with Mike Carlin (Photo) and many of the other fine people at DC Comics. The other reason for saving DC until after a quick trip of the floor is that I knew I'd want to spend some time taking photos of the upcoming DC Direct toys.
On display were:
The fluorescent light in the center of some of the display cases made it challenging to get good photos of some of the figures.
During the initial set-up phase of the exhibit hall about all you really can do other than set up your booth is walk through the hall and get your bearing and say a quick hello to the people still setting up their booths. The level of activity in the hall during the set up is staggering. Forklifts are coming and going delivering things to the various booths and exhibitors are scrambling to get set up before the hall opens to the public.
This year, the people organizing The Con decided to do a few things differently. One of the changes was to hold the trade only Expo and ProCon after The Con instead of before as they have been in past years. (See the section on the Expo and ProCon for my opinions on these events and how the scheduling change impacted them.) Another change was to open the exhibit hall for a few hours on Wednesday night as a "Preview Night".
The concept behind Preview Night seems sound: let the people serious enough about attending to pre-register have first crack at the stuff in the exhibit hall.
Preview Night seemed to cut into the time the exhibitors had to set up. Since I'd only gotten to San Diego a few hours prior, I'm not entirely sure how the set up of the booths went this year. I heard reports that it was staged and only those with larger booths could get into the Hall on Tuesday to set up.
Once the exhibit hall opened by Preview Night, I headed back over to the Small Press Area to start my journey. My plan was to start there and then go up and down every aisle until I reached the other end of the hall. I had no delusions that I'd be able to go all of that, or even half of it, within the three hours of Preview Night. As it turns out, I didn't even come close.
Small Press Area
The first disappointment was that a number of people in the Small Press Area hadn't gotten set up by the time the hall opened. It wouldn't surprise me if some of them hadn't even gotten to San Diego by that point.
There were two types of tables for the Small Press Area: Fan and Intermediate. Fan table cost $150 and are for print runs under 500. Intermediate tables cost $300 and are for print runs under 3000. To qualify for either, an example of the publication needed to be submitted to Comic-Con International with the exhibitor application.
It didn't take long to go through the Small Press Area. (Photos are in the Small Press Area in the Exhibit Hall Photos section.) The tables I found interesting were:
While I have nothing against independent comics and small press titles, most of them aren't of great interest to me. I guess I'm one of those rare people that actually like super hero comic books.
One thing I noticed while going through the Small Press Area is that pitching a comic book series to a prospective reader is not a trivial task. As I went from table to table, I'd look at what was being offered and in some cases flip through one of the comics and ask what the premise was.
Advise to Publishers/Creators: When asked what your comic book is about, you should have a response ready. You should always start with a brief high-level overview of the title. Brief means 30 seconds or less. An ideal answer would be well rehearsed and last less than 15 seconds. Your goal should be to quickly determine if the title is of any interest to the prospective reader without investing a lot of time doing so. At this point, the prospective reader may decide that your work doesn't interest them or that it does and that they want to know more. If they aren't interested and decide to move on, thank them for their time and don't do a hard sell. If they want to know more, you should have a more detailed summary of the premise that only lasts about two minutes. The goal is to hook the potential reader, not to tell them the entire story.
Wandering the Hall
As luck would have it, I hadn't even made it all the way down the first aisle before I bumped into some old friends that I do dinner with every year. We talked for a bit and then decided to just "wander the hall" as we continued to talk. I enjoy their company so I opted to put off the structured aisle-by-aisle walk of the hall until tomorrow. We wandered over to 514: MGM Worldwide Television (Photo) to check out the Stargate SG-1 display. They had a miniature Stargate and a couple of costumes from the show. The booth was three standard booths widths wide and not big enough to be considered a mega-booth. If they had brought a full size Stargate, that might have warranted a mega-booth. As it was, the decision to go with a triple-wide booth was smart. The space was very well used and it was right next-door to 520: Lightspeed Fine Arts (Photo), the company that is doing the official Stargate SG-1 fan club. In addition to doing the fan club, Lightspeed Fine Arts has some absolutely amazing pieces of art. This is one booth that is always a must see.
After Lightspeed and MGM, we headed over to Del Rey to say a more relaxed hello to some friends there. By this point there was a decent amount of traffic in the hall but it wasn't too crowded. This photo was taken from the end of Aisle 1200 facing west along the back wall of the exhibit hall. (Photo) At this point, we'd managed to hook back up with our artist friends who wanted to head in the general direction of the Small Press Area. A short hike later we found ourselves at booth 201: Aaron Lopresti (Photo) / Terry Dodson (Photo). Aaron did great a sketch for me a few years back and I'm a big fan of his work. He is currently working on a Rogue mini-series for Marvel. Terry is currently doing Harley Quinn for DC and is an amazing artist.
By this point, the Small Press Area seemed to be a bit more populated than it had been earlier so I made another quick pass through it. This was also the side of the hall that the Art Show was in this year. (Photo) Unfortunately I never managed to find the time to go into the Art Show.
I decided to go ahead and try to get at least an aisle or two down during Preview Night so I headed down Aisle 100 and back up Aisle 200. An interesting thing to note was that the "Lounge" area at the end of Aisle 200 wasn't so much a lounge area as a Sobe booth. (Photo) It has sample drinks (Photo) and video games (Photo) (and a truck (Photo)). What it didn't have was a lot of tables and chairs. As a place to sit down and shuffle things in my backpack, it didn't meet my expectations.
Preview Night Recap
By the end of Preview Night, I had made it through the Small Press Area, aisles 100, 200, 300 and most of 400. All in all, nothing that really caught my attention and made me take notice. There was plenty of interesting stuff but nothing that really stood out from the rest.
I'm not sure if I'd consider Preview Night a success or not. It certainly wasn't a failure. Part of the confusion comes from not knowing what the organizers of The Con were setting out to accomplish with Preview Night. Having an additional three hours in the exhibit hall was advantageous but it felt as if the exhibitors didn't have enough time to be completely set up. This was underscored by the announcement at the end of Preview Night stating that only exhibitors could remain in the hall to either finish constructing their booths or to break them down for the evening. Had all of the exhibitors been fully set up when the exhibit hall opened for Preview Night, I think it would have worked better.
It was also hard to take full advantage of the early access to the exhibit hall since there was no way to know where to find whatever you might be looking for. As the exhibit hall grows, it is becoming more and more challenging to find things in it. The Event Guide was only available a few hours before the exhibit hall opened and it was over 100 pages. Having a list/map of the toy vendors, the publishers, the comic book vendors and the various other types of exhibitors in the hall would have been a big help. This is the sort of thing that should go up on the Comic-Con International website at least a week before The Con. This year, the only information about the exhibitors was an alphabetical listing that did not contain booth numbers or information about the exhibitors. There were also no links to the websites for the exhibitors. This qualifies as a major missed opportunity for all of the exhibitors.
After the hall closed, I hooked back up with my traveling companion and our artist friends and we headed out for dinner. By the time I got back to the hotel I was more than ready to get off my feet. I was amazed how sore my feet were given that the exhibit hall had only been open for a few hours. I knew my feet would be hurting by the end of a full day of walking the floor.
Thursday was the first day the most people could get into the exhibit hall. Only those that pre-registered in time for the badges to be mailed (June 6th was the cut off date) were able to get into Preview Night. As usual, there was a line forming outside the convention center full of people waiting to get in. (Photo) There was also a steady stream of traffic into the parking under the convention center. (Photo)
We got to the convention center around 9:15am and decided to wander through the exhibit hall and head up to the Mezzanine level to take some photos. On this level, there are a number of tables and chairs (Photo) (Photo) as well as two concessions stands that served lunch on this level. (Photo) The smaller rooms for the panels and the gaming rooms are also on this level. Most importantly, there is a bank of windows over looking the exhibit hall. It is a great place to take photos. (Photo) (Photo) (Photo) From this vantage point you can see a number of the mega-booths. The addition of large banners hanging from the ceiling blocked some of the view but not too much. (Photo) There is an excellent view down the length of Aisle 1400 from here. (Photo)
While I was here, I decided to test the zoom capability of my camera. I was able to zoom in on the Alex Ross Superman/Batman mural on the DC booth. (Photo) I also tested the telephoto converter for my camera. (Photo). It was a lot harder to get a clear shot with the telephoto converter as the photos become much more susceptible to blurring due to camera movement. (Photo)
The line out front of attendees starts in front of the convention center and goes up one of the escalators in the lobby and into the Special Events area under the sails on the top floor. This is where the badges, Event Guide and bag are picked up. Once through this process, people end up right by the tables of free stuff. The Autograph Area is also up there under the sails. From there, most people head down the back escalators and into the exhibit hall. If you do this, it is well worth the minor detour to check out the view from the Mezzanine level.
After taking a few photos from the Mezzanine level, I headed back down to the exhibit hall. Here is a shot of the first view of the exhibit hall that attendees get when entering from the bay side of the convention center. (Photo)
No sooner had I gotten into the exhibit hall to resume my walk of the hall then I bumped into my friends again. In past years we'd be lucky to spot each other at the Babylon 5 panel much less on the floor of the exhibit hall. To have done so almost immediately upon the hall opening two days running was amazing. Since Thursday is usually the lowest attendance day, they had their son with them. He seemed to be taking in the insanity of The Con fairly well. We confirmed dinner plans for Friday night and then I headed back to Aisle 400 to continue doing the hall and taking photos.
I managed to get through the rest of aisle 400 and all of aisle 500 and part of aisle 600 before getting hungry. I was able to get a photo or two of Mark Waid signing at 829: CrossGen Comics (Photo) (Photo) before leaving the exhibit hall in search of something resembling food. (Actually, I took two other photos but the auto-focus didn't work on one of them (Photo) and someone got between me and Mark Waid in the other (Photo).)
As luck would have it, I managed to meet up with people in the Mezzanine level for lunch. One of the really nice things about the eating area on the Mezzanine level is that it is small enough to easily find people. The downside is that it can be difficult to get a table because there are so few of them.
After lunch, I made a quick trip to Artists Alley and then continued walking the floor starting with the remainder of aisle 600.
I took some photos of the next wave of Spider-Man action figures at the Marvel mega-booth. (Photo) (Photo) (Photo) (Photo) (Photo) (Photo) (Photo) (Photo) (Photo) (Photo) As in past years, I was not overly impressed by the layout of the Marvel mega-booth. It seemed very compartmentalized. One side has the video games (Photo), another is used for the actors hired to portray various Marvel characters (Photo). The middle is used for signings. The action figures were almost hidden in a corner of the booth. What did impress me this year about the Marvel mega-booth was the amount of traffic. In past years it was possible to stand in the middle of the booth without risk of anyone coming near you (including the people running the booth). This year is seemed to have a steady stream of people in it.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Andy Hallett who plays "The Host" on the TV show "Angel" was going to be doing karaoke at the Inkworks booth. (Photo) I'm not a fan of karaoke but I thought it was a very clever way to do a celebrity appearance at The Con. There were a couple of times scheduled and I figured I'd try to make it to at least one of them.
At the CrossGen mega-booth, I noticed a couple of things. The first was that there always seemed to be creators at each of the four inside tables doing signings. The second was that there was a steady line of people waiting to talk to those creators. The layout of the mega-booth was very simple and made it very easy to see who was at the various tables without any problems. Having name cards for each creator was a smart move. It can be hard to figure out who is who sometimes at The Con. The only improvement I can think of on the idea would be to have the name cards behind the creator and above them so they can be seen better from behind the crowd.
Overall, I'd have to say that CrossGen probably did the best job out of all of the major publishers in the way they handled the signings in the mega-booths. There were always a lot of the creators in the booth and the traffic flow was smooth.
The DC Comics mega-booth had a layout that in some respects was a reverse of the CrossGen mega-booth. Whereas in the CrossGen booth the creators were in the center of the mega-booth looking out, in the DC Comics mega-booth, the creators were along the edges of the booth looking in. While this isn't a bad layout, it does make it more difficult to tell who is in the booth at any given time by looking around. DC makes excellent use of the video monitors located in the center of the booth using them to show clips from the upcoming Smallville and JLA shows. DC does a fairly good job of displaying the various items offered by DC Direct. My only complaint is that they put some of the action figures and statues in a case with a fluorescent light going up the middle of the display cabinet. It makes getting good photos much more difficult than it needs to be. They also have bases for the action figures that I haven't seen available to the general public with the DC logo on them.
Once again I lucked into bumping into a good friend that I hadn't seen for over a year at the DC mega-booth. This fellow, Joe, worked at the comic book store I shopped at when I lived in San Diego. We became friends shortly after he started working at the store. He had a knack for recommending new things for me to read. His picks were almost always on target with maybe one or two things that he recommended that I didn't care for. He somehow managed to recommend titles that I would like and hadn't noticed. Given how many comics I was getting at the time, I was impressed that he could do that. He knew what I was buying since he pulled the books for me every week but he also understood what I was looking for in those books. Every comic book store needs someone like that. Unfortunately it isn't a trainable skill and few people seem to have it. Most of the things Joe suggested were titles from smaller publishers. In some cases, I hadn't even heard of the publisher much less the title. I have nothing against the smaller publishers but the majority of my pull list is stuff from Marvel and DC. Partially because they put out the most stuff but partially because the smaller publishers are fighting an uphill battle. I'm not going to buy a comic book that I don't know about. Diamond Previews doesn't help the smaller publishers. They get buried in the 450+ pages a month. Somehow Joe managed to find some real gems out there and made sure that I gave them a chance. His friendship and his recommendations are among the things I miss most about shopping at that comic book store. The people I deal with at the place I shop at now are good but haven't had the string of good recommendations that Joe had.
After talking with Joe, I continued up Aisle 800 and headed over to the Diamond Comic Distributor mega-booth. There were lots of action figures and statues to take pictures of. Diamond usually has a fairly interesting variety of things on display and this year was no exception.
By this point, I was heading down the 20 foot wide Aisle 1200. (Photo) In previous years, this was the halfway point of the hall. This year it only meant that I'd covered the first third of the exhibit hall (having started on the west end with the low booth numbers). Next year, if they add yet more space to the exhibit hall, it might only be the end of the first quarter of the walk. If that happens, I'll probably start a campaign for commuter flights from one end of the hall to the other. At the very least, they should widen a few of the east-west aisles and let the bicycle-cabs operate in the hall.
On the way down Aisle 1200, I swung back into the DC mega-booth for a few more photos of the DC Direct items. As usual, DC had a number of black and white previews of upcoming comic books. I made a decision a year or two back not to read these previews at The Con. I sometimes flip through one or two that I'm not sure if I'll get or not but otherwise I'm willing to wait until the comics are published. For people that aren't familiar with the variety of the comic books that DC publishes, being able to flip through the black and white previews is handy.
I was very impressed by the Comicon.Com booth. By the time I got to this booth at 2:30 pm on Thursday, they already had a legal size handout of some of the convention highlights. With the ever-growing size and scope of The Con something like that can be very helpful. These guys do a great job with the Comicon.com website and I highly recommend checking it out. Since I was offline for the duration of The Con, I made a point of swinging back by the booth during on the following days to get the daily handouts for those days.
I managed to get a little bit further before my camera and I both ran low on energy. I'd taken over 400 photos so far that day and had pretty much gone through both of the batteries that I'd brought with me. The question was where could I find a place with a chair and a power outlet next to each other where I could kill some time. The answer was the Pro Lounge on the top floor. While my camera battery was charging, I went through the 100+ page Event Guide and tried to figure out what panels I was going to go to and which I could skip.
The programming at The Con is a mixed bag. Some panels are excellent, others are not. Most are somewhere in-between. The title of the panel can tell you a lot. Personally I tend to avoid what I call "Jeopardy panels" where the title is phrased in the form of a question. These tend to have a single question that may or may not generate a good discussion among the people on the panel. There are too many other ways for me to spend my time at The Con for what I consider to be a gamble on a good conversation. This year there were very few "Jeopardy panels".
There isn't a single target audience for all of the panels at The Con, nor should there be. It is the diversity of panels that make programming so impressive. The only way to know for sure if a panel is any good is to go and judge for yourself. There are over a dozen different panels going on at just about any given time during The Con plus the numerous films that are being shown. It is impossible to be able to go to all of the panels you might want to go to. To make matters worse, the starting times for the panels are staggered. There are almost always a handful of panels starting on the hour and half hour. Trying to go to part of one panel and then part of another panel at the same time in another room doesn’t work. Many panels are filled to capacity before the panel begins much less 30 or 45 minutes later.
Having recharged one of my batteries, I decided that it was time for a trip to the Autograph Area. I'm not an autograph seeker but it is interesting to see who comes to The Con and what they are like in person. This year, the Autograph Area was under the sails on the top floor. While this is a large area, I don't think it is the best place for the Autograph Area. It is too far from the exhibit hall traffic. If you aren't going to the Autograph Area, you certainly aren't going to wind up there by accident. At least one year the Autograph Area was in the exhibit hall and that seemed to work fairly well. The other problem I have with the location of the Autograph Area this year was the lighting conditions. This area is naturally and unevenly lit. A lot of people like to take photos of the people in the Autograph Area. Better lighting conditions would help. Overall, the lighting wasn't horrible but a controlled environment would be better.
I took a few photos in the Autograph Area and headed back down to the exhibit hall floor to resume the walk of the hall with Aisle 1300.
A lot of the booths in this middle section of the exhibit hall are some of the mid-sized publishers. Too big to be in the Small Press Area but not mega-booth sized either. In Previews some of these publishers got lost in the 450+ pages. At The Con, they get lost in the 700+ exhibitors. I really think that a lot of these publishers would be well served by having handouts describing what they have to offer. Given the cost of the booths at The Con, a free full-page ad in a companion to the Souvenir Book could be included. For that matter, a list at the end of each aisle of the booths in the aisle would be helpful at times.
In Aisle 1400 there was a bunch of caricature artists at Booth 1415, Rodent Studios. I considered getting one later in the convention. I never did make it back over there. From what I saw, they did good work and the prices seemed reasonable.
I looked around at the selection at the Tai Seng Video booth (3721) looking for any new Jackie Chan DVDs. Didn't find any that I didn't already have but still wanted.
The Astonish Comics booth (1520) had some interesting items. The sculpts of Herobear and the Kid looked great. (Photo) (Photo) (Photo) Last year I picked up Herobear and the Kid #1 having already gotten and read the second issue. Since then, issue #3 has come out and the first issue of Zoom's Academy for the Super-Gifted. Not much in terms of the quantity of comic books published but the quality is certainly there. Both titles are a lot of fun.
When I lived in San Diego, I'd usually pick up some books from Bud Plant (1600) but I didn't feel like hauling back a bunch of heavy books in my luggage this year. I can order most of the stuff that Bud Plant carries through my local comic book store. I looked around a bit but didn't buy anything. In past years I'd drop a significant percent of the money I spent during The Con at Bud Plant.
I didn't pick up any of the Star Wars action figures that I didn't have. I probably could have spent a small fortune on those if I'd been of a mind to do so. I already have a closet filled with action figures so I didn't really see the need to get more and have to figure out how to get them home intact.
I managed to make it part way through Aisle 1600 before my camera battery ran out of power again. That meant it was the end of taking photos for the day. I headed up to the Mezzanine level to find people. Once again I got lucky and found the people I was looking for almost instantly. We talked for a bit and then my traveling companion and I headed over towards the Lightspeed Fine Arts booth as we waited for a friend that lives in San Diego to call and meet us at The Con.
At the Lightspeed Fine Arts booth, we joined the Stargate SG-1 fan club. I've gone by the booth every year and have always been impressed by the quality and selection they have. Having just seen the selection a week or so prior at a smaller convention in Plano, Texas, I'd have time to figure out what I could actually afford to buy. While I had to limit my purchases to the smaller sized, non-signed prints, I was able to get a print for each of the four Star Trek casts and Babylon 5. The two on the list to get once they are available are the cast print for Stargate SG-1 and Enterprise.
Our local friend called and met us at the Lightspeed Fine Arts booth. I explained that I had dinner plans come up and that my digital camera was out of juice. The plan was adjusted for the two of them to go have dinner and to pick up another battery for my camera at Fry's while they were out.
From there we decided to head over to Artists Alley that was at the far end of the exhibit hall. On the way across the floor, we bumped into David, one of the people that works at the comic book store I shop at. David and I talked for long enough that my traveling companion and our local friend decided to continue on to Artists Alley without me. After that discussion, I made it over to Artists Alley.
By this point, it was getting close to when the exhibit hall was going to close for the day. This meant that it was time to find Joe and go have dinner. We had decided to meet either at Artists Alley at the tables my artists friends had or at the booth for the comic book store Joe used to work at. I waited around Artists Alley until it was fairly empty and then headed over to the booth for the comic book shop. I hung around that booth for a while as the exhibit hall closed figuring Joe would show up there. Since I'd shopped at that store for years prior to moving away from San Diego, I knew a lot of the people working at the booth. I explained to one of the guys that Joe and I had made plans to do dinner and if he knew where Joe was and he had no idea. After a while I decided to make one last pass through Artists Alley to be sure Joe wasn't waiting for me over there. After telling the people closing down the booth for the night what I was going to do and that I'd be right back, I made a quick pass through the now totally empty Artists Alley. Once back at the other booth, I waited around for a bit and then decided to wait in the lobby as the exhibit hall closed on the off chance Joe was out there. I waited out there until the entire exhibit hall was emptied out and closed for the night and still no sign of Joe. I made a quick trip to the top floor to see if Joe was up there for some reason but there was no sign of him. I enlisted a friend who worked security for The Con to help but he had no luck either. By this point it was about an hour or so after the exhibit hall had closed and my feet were killing me. Having no other ideas, I headed back to the hotel.
There are always things that afterwards I wished I'd done at The Con. This year the item that tops the list is not taking the chance at the time and finding a place to sit down at catch up with Joe when I bumped into him. In hindsight, Joe and I should have decided on a single place to meet and an exact time. The convention center is too big to not do that. More importantly, I should have written down when and where we were going to meet. As it turns out, I never did manage to find him again during The Con. We've traded a few emails since then but it isn't the same thing.
Once back at the hotel, I was able to start charging one of my camera batteries and get off my feet. Before I decided what to do about dinner, my traveling companion and local friend called and I was able to get them to bring me something from one of the regional fast food chains.
On Friday, I decided to start at the east end of the exhibit hall at Artists Alley and work my way down the aisles. I was still under delusions that I could finish walking the hall in a reasonable amount of time.
The problem with starting the day in Artists Alley when the hall opens is that it is fairly empty at that hour. A number of artists were already there and some of them were already working away on sketches.
The east end of the exhibit hall seemed to focus more on Hollywood than on comic books. While this isn't a bad thing, it does make the name Comic Con International a bit misleading. Many of the booths at this end of the hall are barely related to comic books. The Con is more of a popular arts convention than it is just a comic book convention.
The large crowd that the Mattel booth commanded with the display of new He-Man toys impressed me. (Photo) (Photo) Next door, TokyoPop also had a large crowd with a number of people dressed as anime characters. (Photo) I'm not well versed enough in anime to be able to identify most of the costumes. A number of the costumes were very well made.
I spent a little time walking around the Dreamworks mega-booth which was as big as the DC Comics mega-booth. The entire mega-booth was devoted to the upcoming movie The Time Machine. While the props from the movie look good, the mega-booth seemed sparse and almost too spacious. I'm curious if Dreamworks considers the time and money spent on The Con to have been worthwhile. It will be interesting to see if Dreamworks has a booth next year and what form it takes.
To promote the DVD release of the 1960s Batman movie, Fox Home Entertainment has the Batmobile from the movie and television show on display. Unfortunately it was only visible from one side because of the size of the booth. It seems like it would have been worth the additional money to get a small four booth island to park it in. Doing so would have allowed more people to see it at once. The various gadgets on the car were clearly labeled and the movie was playing on a screen behind the car.
Next to the Batmobile was the Irrational Games booth featuring the upcoming super-hero computer game Freedom Force. (Photo) They had a very visible backdrop and copies of the game running. It is a computer role playing game set in the Silver Age of super heroes. The graphics look good (Photo) and since The Con they have released a costume editor for the game and the game itself. I don't tend to play computer games that much but I'm enjoying this game a lot. I hope that Irrational Games decides to go to The Con in 2002.
The Parks Sabers booth had lightsabers with detachable "blades" that seemed to be reasonably sturdy but obviously not meant for any sort of sword fighting. They had a few different models for the handles and a number of different colored "blades". (Photo) The booth seemed to be fairly popular with the science fiction fans. It was somewhat surreal to watch Klingons shopping for lightsabers. (Photo)
I came across one booth that had plenty of copies of the early issues of Miracleman for sale. The booth had a large "Miracleman sold here!!" banner that was clearly visible.(Photo) It was nice to see someone making a landmark series such as Miracleman easy to find in the huge exhibit hall. There were probably other copies of the early Miracleman issues for sale on the floor but these were the most visible ones by far.
Unobtainium Ltd had an impressive booth filled with movie props. (Photo) There were a number of spacesuits from various movies and television shows on display.
The people walking this part of the exhibit hall floor in costume seemed to fall into three categories: science fiction fans (Photo), anime fans (around the TokyoPop booth) and the "are they in costume or just dressed funny" group. (Photo)
Hasbro has some of the Star Wars toys on display. (Photo) It seemed to only be the next wave or two of figures.
I was unimpressed with the XUPN booth. (Photo) The local UPN affiliate was apparently trying to push Special Unit 2 for some reason. Seems to me that Enterprise might have been more of a draw. I also thought that the television set might have been more useful if they turned it on.
I headed over to Artists Alley and wandered around for a little bit. From there I went up to the Mezzanine Level and took a few shots of the exhibit hall floor from there. (Photo) After that I continued upstairs to the Autograph Area. While I'm not much for the whole autograph thing, I bumped into author Kay Kellam and she enjoys getting autographs. She wanted to get some photos taken with some of the people in the Autograph Area so I helped her out by taking a few for her. After that I headed back to the exhibit hall floor. At some point between leaving the floor and returning to it I managed to grab a bite to eat.
Since I still hadn't finished the high number aisles, I continued in that area. I went aisle by aisle for a while. I slowed down when I got to Charlie Jackam's custom figures at booth S-1. (Photo) I've seen his stuff in past years but I always enjoy seeing the new additions. He does custom action figures most of which are in the style of the Batman animated series. The man has talent. The only thing I can't figure out is why he hasn't been hired to work on something like the DC Direct line of figures.
One of the booths that I should have spent more time (and money) at was the Japanime Co. Ltd./HowToDrawManga.Com booth. (Photo) Since The Con, I've gotten a couple of these books and been very favorably impressed by them. I've got a growing library of book on the creation and business side of comic book and these have been a welcome addition to that library.
This was about the point at which I started to get into the Golden and Silver Age Pavilion. To be honest, this is one of the areas of the exhibit hall floor that I don't find that interesting. The majority of the comic books in this area are either too expensive or so far removed from the current continuity of the titles that I read to make them irrelevant for me. This is not meant as any sort of slight against either the golden and silver age comic books or any of the dealers in this area. It is more a reflection of my interests than anything else.
The other thing that I don't like about this area is the abundance of "slabbed" comic books. I think that comic books are meant to be read, not graded and encased for eternity. (Photo) Of course, that is just my personal opinion.
Another booth that I wished I spent more time (and money) at was the Comics Conspiracy booth. (Photo) I've picked up a few of the comics since the convention and really enjoyed them. I've been having a hard time getting some of the others through my local comic book store.
Advise to Publishers: Make sure that your backstock is easily available through Diamond Comics at all times. I've tried to get my local comic book store to order some of the How To Draw Manga books and some back issues from Comics Conspiracy months ago and I'm still waiting. (And, yes, I'm confident that the problem isn't my local comic book store.) While I could order things directly from the source in both of these cases, it is better for everyone if I get them through my local comic book store.
Advise to Diamond Comics: When a local comic book store tries to place an order for backstock, do what it takes to fill that order and fill it as quickly as possible.
On another topic entirely, one thought I've never had while walking the floor at The Con is "gee, I really need a sword/ax/throwing blade". (Well, actually, there has been a time or two when having such a weapon might have been too great a temptation to use it in past years.) I've often been amazed at the amount of weaponry available on the floor. Most of it looks rather nice (for weapons) and presumably not meant for actual use in combat. Tempered Steel (Photo) and Hardcastle Metalworks (Photo) were two of the booths that had such weaponry.
After a while, I headed upstairs to the Creator Insight: George Perez panel hosted by Andy Mangels. I have been a big fan of George Perez's art work for many, many years. I'd been to a panel that George Perez did at a previous panel and found it enjoyable and educational. I'd also been to one or two panels by Andy Mangels in the past and found him to be both knowledgeable and a good interviewer. This is one of the few panels that I'd decided I would attend if at all possible and I'm glad that I did. (Photo) Andy walked the audience through the course of George's career and George spoke very openly about some of the career mistakes that he'd made and how those mistakes happened.
Following that panel, I went to the Spotlight: Mark Waid panel. While I haven't liked everything that Mark Waid has written, most of the time I enjoy his work. I consider him to be a very talented writer and insanely well read in terms of comic history and trivia.
Before Mark started the panel, he yielded the floor to Tom Galloway (Photo) for a few moments so Tom could plug the yearly trivia content held between a team of professions and a team of amateurs. Personally, I saw no particular reason that the trivia panel needed to be plugged but that's just me. The part that really bothered me was that Tom left after giving his plug. Just seems sort of rude to me.
Tom Galloway emailed me after he read the above paragraph. Apparently there was another trivia contest that was going on opposite the Mark Waid panel and Tom had written around the half the questions for. This meant the he needed to be there to deal with any issues that came from answers that didn't exactly match the answers he provided which was why he left Mark Waid's panel after plugging the professional versus amateur trivia contest. As for why Tom felt the need to plug the contest, apparently the people that run The Con do a count of the audience at each panel to determine which panels to keep and which to dump. The more people that attend the trivia contest, the more likely it is to be held the following year.
From my perspective at the back of the room, had Mark wanted to plug the contest, he probably would have done so himself or at least seemed a bit more enthusiastic about Tom doing it. I'm sure that Tom had no intention of being rude or inconsiderate to Mark or anyone in the room. I also have no reason to believe that Mark Waid took any offense to Tom's actions. (Mark, if you happen to read this, I'd be interesting in getting your take on it. Email me at ConReport@ComicBookPage.com)
Anyway, Mark proceeded with the panel and in response to a number of questions give an series of enlightening and candid responses. (Photo) He was remarkably humble about his work and open about what he thought worked and didn't work. He gave much more insight about what happened with the Gorilla imprint then he really had to. I've been to panels in previous years that Mark has done and I've always been very favorably impressed with how much of himself he puts into his work. I think a large part of why his run on the Flash was so well received was that Mark was able to identify with the Wally West character and have that guide his writing. In my mind, the Mark Waid version of Wally West is the "definitive" version of the character. During his response to a question (which quite frankly I've totally forgotten), I realized how much of himself that Mark put into his work on the Flash. This panel was one of the highlights for me during The Con.
That pretty much ended the day as far as The Con went. My traveling companion and I went out for dinner and then headed back to the hotel for the night.
I left the batteries for my digital camera recharging overnight and by morning they were ready for another day at the convention.
Once back over at the convention center, I started the day in the Mezzanine Level with a few shots of the floor. I had a little time to kill before going to a panel so I hung out and took photos of people that were in costume.
Before long, I was at the JLA/Avengers. In addition to Kurt Busiek and George Perez, Tom Breevort and Mike Carlin were on hand. I have high expectations for this mini-series and based on the people involved, I doubt I'll be disappointed. And, if I am, I'm sure it won't be because of any lack of trying on the part of these people.
I'd started at the low numbered aisles on Thursday and the high number aisle on Friday so I decided to go back towards the lower numbered aisle. Fortunately I found myself at the Inkworks booth when the karaoke with Andy Hallett started up. (Photo) Andy plays "The Host" on Angel. I'm not sure who had the idea of having Andy do the karaoke bit but it was a clever idea and it worked. He knows how to work an audience. I didn't get a well focused shot of her while she was on stage but this young lady (Photo) did an amazing job. She has clearly been on stage before. I expect to see her on television or in a movie someday. As time went on, the crowd grew and everyone seemed to have a good time. Andy even managed to get "Darth Vadar" on stage at one point. (Photo)
What would have made this work even better would have been a different booth set up. The booth was set up such that the crowd was outside of the booth. As the crowd grew so did the number of requests from the security people to keep the aisles clear. Unfortunately, the only place to be to watch the karaoke was from the aisles.
After the karaoke, Andy headed over to the Holzheimer's Distrubition booth (Photo) to give autographs.
I, on the other hand, went up to the Mezzanine Level for lunch. From there it was back down to the exhibit hall floor.
After walking the floor for a little while, I headed up to the Autograph Area to check out the line for Michael Shanks. He was one of the stars of the Stargate SG-1 television series for the first five seasons. (He decided not to continue with the show for the final season.) He seemed to draw a good sized crowd. The autograph session was well organized and moved along smoothly. Everyone, including Michael Shanks, seemed to have a good time.
Since I wanted to go to the Justice League panel, I headed in the direction of 6CDEF. The line for the panel seemed to keep going, turning corner after corner. As I neared what was then the end of the line, I bumped into one of the guys from the local comic book store that I shop at and he told me the other guys were already in line. They were camped out on the floor in line and we talked for a while. The starting time for the panel came and went and there was no sign of movement anywhere in the line. It seems that the previous panel was running over. I'm not sure what caused that to happen but I got the impression that it was because the previous panel have run long. Eventually someone came around and announced a new starting time for the panel. When it became obvious that it might be quicker to wait a few months until the show aired on Cartoon Network than to wait in line, I gave up.
I got back to the Autograph Area shortly before the autograph session for Michael Shanks ended and he headed out. I suspect he had a bit of writer's cramp due to the number of autographs he given out. Unfortunately, it seemed that one young fan had managed to miss the opportunity to meet Michael and get his autograph. She managed to catch Michael as he was leaving. While he would have been perfectly within his right no to sign any more autographs, he gave her one. There are a lot of people who would not have done that.
Over at the Marvel booth, I checked out some of the new actions figures that they had on display. (Photo) I watched as Tom Brevoort did a portfolio review. (Photo) (Photo) (Photo) (Photo) (Photo) Getting a portfolio review from any of the major publishers isn't easy. There is usually a line (Photo) and frequently the company requires that you attend a panel and sign up for a review time slot at that time.
I managed to practically stumble across the crew from Electric Playground as they filmed some of their coverage of the convention. Electric Playground is a half hour show on the Discovery Channel that covers the video gaming industry. It took me a few months to catch the segment. While it wasn't bad press for The Con, it wasn't in depth coverage either. Since Electric Playground isn't a show about comic books I didn't really expect too much from the segment.
In the middle of the floor, running the length of the hall from east to west, there is a 20 foot wide aisle. Standing under the Aisle 1200 sign, I took a shot to the west (Photo) and to the east. (Photo) Each of those aisle signs are 30 feet apart. I've heard that next year it is going to be even bigger.
That pretty much ended the day as far as The Con went. My traveling companion and I went out for dinner and then headed back to the hotel for the night.
The crowds at The Con are always larger on Saturday and Sunday. This is part of the line at 8:40am Sunday morning. (Photo) That was nearly an hour and a half before the doors would open.
On Sunday, the crew from Extended Play came down to cover The Con. Extended Play is a half hour show about the video gaming industry that airs on TechTV. The segment aired within a week or two of The Con and was fairly good. The episode also had a preview of the Freedom Force game and an overview of how action figures are made. Overall, this was the best coverage of The Con in the mainstream press that I saw. The people at Extended Play managed to do some coverage of The Con without making fun of it or the people that attended.
Hidden in the Image "pavilion" of booths was the Tidal Wave Studio booth. I managed to get a good shot of the booth while it was empty before the hall opened. (Photo) Note the poster sized covers and the stand-ups of the characters. Also note the stacks of comic books on the table. These guys came prepared.
Since I had a little time to kill before the exhibit hall opened, I took a few shots of the concession stand menu. (Photo) (Photo) (Photo) I did this as much because I had "unlimited" amounts of "film" for my digital camera as anything else. Eight months later, I'm glad I did. The person I'll be going to The Con with in 2002 is on a restricted diet and since I have photos of the menus at the various concessions at The Con, we'll know what options are viable choices. If I take similar photos at The Con in 2002, I'll try to focus them better. (The camera takes longer to autofocus then I thought.)
It is fairly rare for me to see something at The Con that looks like it would probably be expensive but it something that I've have to have. I really should have asked this guy where I could get a Captain America shield like his. (Photo) Of course, if I did, then I'd have to buy one.
I headed back over to the DC booth and took a few photos of some of the action figures before the crowds got too bad. I still contend that putting a fluorescent light in the middle of the display of action figures is a bad thing. (I think I've figured out how to get my digital camera to compensate for it but I'm not 100% sure.)
I'm undecided if using a flash helps or not when taking photos of people in costumes on the exhibit hall floor. In the hallways, a flash is required. The exhibit hall has a lot more light in it. Here is a photo with the flash (Photo) and without. (Photo) Most of the photos I took were without the flash and they seemed to turn out okay.
Sunday was the last day of The Con proper. It was also the first day of the Expo which continued on Monday. I still hadn't made it down a couple of the aisles on the exhibit hall floor. If anyone ever tells you there is plenty of time to see everything on the exhibit hall floor during The Con, don't believe them. The hall is too big and there are too many booths. I never did make it to the Art Show and I only went to three panels. I also didn't do much shopping.
I managed to finish the remaining aisles in time to check out the Art Auction. (Photo) I recommend checking this area out before the auction starts as there are usually some amazing pieces of art that are going to be auctioned off.
One of the familiar sounds to the exhibitors at The Con is this lady's voice. (Photo) I'm not sure what her name is but she does most of the announcements over the PA system when the exhibit hall opens and closes.
Before getting expanded during the previous year, the convention center used to end at the Aisle 2700 marker. With the expansion, this is now the halfway point and the hall bends slightly and continues to the east. From this vantage point, this is a photo looking west to the end of the hall. (Photo) (Photo)
While I tried to avoid taking photos of vacant booths, I felt obligated to take this one. (Photo) This booth was completely vacant by 11:45am on Sunday. Obviously, anyone that came to see this exhibitor Sunday afternoon was out of luck. I think that The Con has people that monitor this and they try to prevent exhibitors from leaving early but I'm not sure that there is a lot that the people running The Con can do about it. This sort of thing is definitely the exception to the rule and virtually all of the exhibitors stay until the hall closes on Sunday.
One booth that is fun to hang out at is the Hash Animation booth. (Photo) They produce Hash Animation Master which is a 3D graphics program. I haven't actually used the program but it seems capable of some fairly impressive stuff. I'm surprised that some of the other companies that make similar graphic programs don't get booths at The Con.
I managed to get a halfway decent shot of the line for the ATM around noon. (Photo) While the line for the ATM isn't always that long, it almost always has a line. Since it was noon, it was time for lunch so I headed over to the concessions on the Mezzanine Level.
After lunch I headed to the Inkworks booth for more karaoke with Andy Hallett. He did another great job. They really ought find some way to make this work as an evening event instead of doing it at the booth.
It can get very crowded on Saturday and Sunday. At times, it seems as if there is a sea of people trying to walk the floor. (Photo) Invariably, most of them are between you and where you want to be.
After the karaoke, I stopped by a booth that had a number of actors in it. (Photo) Somehow I had completely managed to miss this booth during the previous days when I went methodically up and down every aisle.
Every so often, while walking the floor, I've managed to stumble across something cool. This year I happened across Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics, talking to Will Eisner, author of Graphic Storytelling and Comics and Sequential Art. (Photo) These two gentlemen have literally written the book on the comic book format.
I headed back up to the Autograph Area to see who was there. There wasn't much going on so I headed to the Mezzanine Level to check out the view of the floor. I wasn't the only person with that idea. (Photo) (Photo) The floor was busy. (Photo) (Photo)
I was basically done walking the floor and I was tired so I headed to the Pro Lounge to sit down some place quiet for a few minutes. While I was in there, I took a photo of the whiteboard. (Photo)
At this point, as far as I was concerned, The Con was over and the Expo was starting. Overlapping the two events seemed to be a mistake. In my opinion, the people running The Con and the Expo seemed to almost be trying to kill off the Expo and Pro/Con, at least as an event connected to the Comic-Con International: San Diego.
I've attended some of the ProCon panels in the past and found them to be very interesting. I've played around with some computer graphics programs and find it very educational to watch a demonstration of those programs by someone who knows how to use them. Unfortunately I was unable to go to any of the ProCon panels this year because of when they were scheduled. In my opinion, it makes no sense to have any of the art panels during the final day of The Con. Why make professionals have to choose between being at a booth or interacting with the attendees and attending ProCon panels? This seems unfair to both the professionals and the attendees. It is also unfair to the people doing the ProCon panels as those panels aren't as well attended as they could and should be.
At the beginning of the DC Comics presentation to the retailers, Bob Wayne referred to the Expo as "almost certainly being in its last year" (or words to that effect). He then proceeded to make some very pointed comments about Marvel (without out and out mentioning Marvel) in what seemed to be a rebuttal of the Keynote speech given by Joe Quesada. The presentation then went on to include the usual information about DC's plans for the coming year. In what appears to be the standard operating procedure for the DC Expo presentation, virtually everything was heavily scripted and sounded too much like the advertising hype found in the Previews solicitations. To me, the presentation suffers from seeming too staged and rehearsed.
Out of the major publishers (DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse and CrossGen), only DC and Dark Horse did presentations at the Expo. (The Dark Horse presentation was before the DC presentation and I didn't go to it.) I'd recommend that the other publishers think about doing presentations at the Expo in 2002 but there isn't going to be one. (Or if there is, it isn't attached to the Comic-Con International: San Diego.)
After the DC presentation for the Expo, I met up with some people at the Mezzanine Level and we watched the booths in the exhibit hall being dismantled. The level of activity on the floor during this period is amazing. I'd love to see time lapse footage of this (and of the construction stage for that matter). We stayed and watched this for a while and then headed out for dinner with some local friends of my traveling companion and then headed back to the hotel for the night.
By Monday morning, most of the madness related to The Con had died down and there was only the Expo to deal with. This was good because I was exhausted. My traveling companion had arranged a breakfast meeting with an author we know. Actually, it was more of a brunch than a breakfast. We met him over at the Marriott (Photo) that is adjacent to the convention center and we ate there. After a very pleasant meal, we headed to the convention center for the Expo.
My opinion of the Expo this year started out negative. I was not pleased that the Expo was only two days and overlap The Con for one of those days.
Between the time the exhibit hall for The Con closed Sunday and the time the exhibit hall for the Expo opened Monday, all of the exhibitors with booths at both had to dismantle the booth for The Con and set up the booth for the Expo. In previous years the Expo had been held prior to The Con and exhibitors at both got to keep the same location so they didn't have to tear down and reset up. This year, the idea was to have a scaled down and "more personal" exhibit hall for the Expo. This seemed to be a move calculated to kill off the Expo.
In previous years, the Expo was held prior to The Con and lasted two or three days. Limiting the length of the Expo to only two days didn't bother me too much. Three days seemed to be too much time.
Moving the Expo to after The Con seemed very odd. It seemed a bit like putting the cart before the horse. In past years, I've been able to spend time during the Expo at some of the booths that are very busy during The Con. Having a chance to interact with the people at the larger publishers before the insanity of The Con hits is beneficial. It gives people a chance to ease into The Con and take care of some business face to face. I always liked getting a chance to walk part of the floor without having to deal with the crowds.
This year, the publisher presentations to the retailers took place after the presentations to the end consumers. While it probably doesn't make a huge difference in the long run, it just seems backwards to do things that way. The only publisher presentation I was able to make it to this year was the DC Comics presentation. The others took place earlier on Sunday afternoon and I needed the time on the exhibit hall floor. The DC Comics presentation was not as informative as it has been in past years. I'm not a big fan of the scripted presentations that DC does at the Expo. Too much of the script tends to read like the typical Previews hype. I decided to skip the DC presentation during The Con figuring that the same information would be presented during the Expo. Based on what I read on various websites afterwards, that doesn't seem to have been the case. I will give DC credit for coming to the Expo every year and doing a solid presentation every year. They clearly spend some time and effort every year to put together the presentation. It has been years since Marvel gave a presentation at the Expo and the last one was nothing more than a recap of the information that the retailers have already seen in Previews.
The other problem with having the Expo after The Con is that just about everyone in the Expo exhibit hall is pretty much exhausted from five days at The Con. I know I was.
The Expo Hall
All in all, I have to say that I think that the exhibit hall for the Expo this year was a major disappointment. DC shrunk down from a 3000 square foot mega-booth at The Con to a 400 square foot booth. The Marvel booth was under-whelming in an overwhelming way. Marvel shrank from a 2500 square foot mega-booth to a 100 square foot booth at the Expo. Most of the smaller publishers had a bigger presence at the Expo than Marvel did. The impression I got was that the reduction in size was the idea of the people running the Expo and not of the individual vendors. It was a bad idea.
Compared to The Con, the Expo was practically a ghost town. Since the Expo is for a much more limited audience than The Con, this is usually the case. Even so, attendance seemed to be way down this year.
One of the most noticeable things about the layout of the Expo hall was the location of the lounge area. Instead of being located in the back of the hall, it was located in the front of the hall giving the room a much more vacant feel. (Photo) It also seemed odd that about one-ninth of the Expo Hall was the lounge.
Since decided to start at the "high numbers" booths and headed over to the Pioneer Entertainment booth, (Photo) it was one of the five "big" booths (20 feet by 20 feet) in the hall. The others were Image, DC, Score and WizKids.
The Comic Buyer's Guide/Comics Retailer booth was along the front wall. (Photo) It was one of the fifteen double-wide booths. All of the other booths in the Expo hall were the standard 10 feet by 10 feet size.
Very few of the booths seemed busy. Many seemed vacant and dead. I think that a lot of that was due to the general lack of energy in the room. Instead of people getting into the swing of things for the largest comic book convention in the nation, people were exhausted from having just survived five days of the largest comic book convention in the nation. People were tired.
CrossGen has one of the other double-wide booths. (Photo) They had a mini-poster for each of the titles they were publishing. Samples of the comics were on hand and they seemed to have a decent level of activity at their booth.
Across from CrossGen was Lone Star Press. (Photo). Lone Star Press is a small publisher that is putting out some good comic books like Pantheon and Force Seven. If you aren't familiar with these titles, go check out the Lone Star Press website.
I was impressed with the Humanoids Publishing/D6 Legend/West End booth (Photo) and the amount of products available to look over. They seemed to be taking advantage of the opportunity to interact with the retailers.
The booth that made the biggest impression on me was the Marvel booth. Unfortunately for Marvel, it made a very negative impression on me. It was one that had to be seen to be believed. Check out the photos: (Photo) (Photo) That's right, Marvel Comics, one of the largest comic book publishing companies decided that a single 10 foot by 10 foot booth was all they needed at the Expo. And what did they decide to showcase to the retailers? Copies of Origin and Tangled Web. They did have some previews of things that hadn't been published yet as well. At least they had a number of people working the booth to answer questions and discuss business. Unfortunately the number of people seemed to be one. The Expo was one of the best opportunities for publishers to interact with retailers and get potentially valuable feedback from them. (This was even more true in previous years than it was this year.) The fact that Marvel didn't give a presentation to the retailers and had such a minor presence in the Expo hall seemed indicative of how they might view the retailer community.
There were a few booths that were even more minimalist than the Marvel booth. A prime example of that would be the Hash booth. (Photo) Apparently they decided that the Expo wasn't worth their time. Given the fact that Hash sells software and does not do so through comic book stores, I can understand this. What confuses me is why they had a booth at the Expo at all. I suspect that they paid for the booth at The Con the previous year before it was announced that the Expo would be after The Con. In previous years, not only was the Expo much bigger but many exhibitors got booths at the Expo to stake out a good location for The Con.
The Com*X booth wasn't bad but could be improved. (Photo) The backdrop is eye catching but it doesn't have any titles on it. I read a lot of comic books and I have no idea who the characters on the backdrop are. I suspect that most comic book store owners read fewer comic books than I do. A simple "Com*X: Publishers of ___, ___, ___ and ___." Banner above the backdrop could have been a big help. Still, these guys are doing a number of things right. They have a well staffed booth and plenty of material on hand for whoever goes to the booth.
The MRK Unlimited booth (Photo) was basically the same as it was during The Con.
Diamond Comics seemed to be pushing magazines heavily. (Photo) Personally, I'd like to see Diamond focus more on comic books since they are the exclusive distributor for most of the larger comic book publishers.
The Peter Four Productions booth (Photo) was well thought out. It was simple and efficient. What really got my attention both at the Expo and at The Con was that it was insanely easy to describe to someone. "It is the camouflage booth." Ironically, while it might have been one of the easiest booths to relocate between the Expo and The Con, it stayed in the same location and didn't have to move.
I'd have to say that the busiest booth in the Expo was probably the DC Comics booth. (Photo) In addition to handouts with sample pages of upcoming comics, there were plenty of samples to look at and lots of people from DC to talk to including Paul Levitz, Bob Wayne and Mike Carlin. DC doesn't seem to cut corners on their booth. If they do, they do was very intelligently and effectively because it never seems like they have cut corners.
All in all, it only took about 30 minutes or so do walk the hall and feel as if I'd seen it. I made a second round of the booths and stopped to talk to the people at a few of them.
After a while, my traveling companion and I headed back to the hotel to get some rest. We set an alarm so we'd have time to go around the exhibit hall again well before it closed at 5:30pm to go around the booths another time. It seemed like a decent plan.
I'm guessing that we weren't the only people that decided to get some rest and come back later. I have no idea exactly what happened (or didn't happen) but it got to the point that someone made the decision to close the hall early. While this might have been a justifiable move, it was a bad one. Those people coming back around 5pm were told that the hall was closed at least an hour early. Being one of those people, I wasn't amused. Not only was the hall closed, the booths were being dismantled and the carpeting rolled up. (Photo)
Given the size and attendance, the Expo seemed to be a waste of time for just about everyone involved. Ultimately it doesn't matter as the Expo is no more.