On the heels of my initial thoughts about the subject, retailer-oriented blogs at sites like Mile High Comics and Comics 212 have been lamenting about comics' diminishing presence and influence at Comic Con, even while the industry maintains its reverence as the event's inspiration. Some commentators have already rung the Con's death knell, and while I share their frustrations I'm certainly not eager to agree whole-heartedly yet. Remember, I hope to remain neither optimistic or pessimistic but realistic on the subject; so, while the comic book as a singular entity may be inadvertently ostracized from its own convention, I contend that the spirit of science fiction and fantasy that birthed it will remain in those hallowed halls for decades to come. Just consider the following experiences I enjoyed as a fanboy at Comic Con.
The Clothes Make the Man-Child
First of all, you can take all of the comics out of Comic Con that you want, but you'll never take away the costumes inspired by them! Superman, Captain America, and multitudes of Storm Troopers and Klingons will forever remind the Twilight 'tweens of the future where Comic Con comes from. Now, one of the most frequent questions I'm asked when I tell people I go to Con is, "Oh, do you dress up?" I confess I've thought about it but recently decided that I enjoy wearing fresh clothes each of the four days I attend, and not one Guy Gardner costume four different times. I mean, wearing a costume at Comic Con must be like wearing a uniform to work, right? While you have it on, you must fulfill certain responsibilities -- namely, taking pictures with other geeks like me. It's akin to customer service; even if a patron grabs you on your way to the break room, you're obligated to help. Staying in plain clothes means that when I leave the Con, I can leave the Con behind, that I'm not wearing it on my sleeve -- that I can blend in with the crowd if I just want a coffee at It's A Grind. Still, these makeshift heroes may yet save Comic Con from itself, always reminding it of its roots by blurring the line between fantasy and the reality of San Diego's Gaslamp District for those four memorable days.
Sketch a Falling Star
Wolverine by Jeff Johnson
Another consistent Comic Con phenomenon is what I have dubbed the Sketchbook Spirit. Now, this spirit moves in mysterious ways and usually adapts to the host it inhabits. In some cases, the spirit demands compensation for even the smallest of signs, in this case a pencil or ink sketch. In other cases, grand miracles are performed sans payment, like this crayon-colored sketch from Tiny Titans artist Franco, on the heels of his Eisner win, no less!
Hyperbole aside, this was the first year I decided to visit professionals with a sketchbook in tow, and like some others I've witnessed I selected a theme -- karaoke, of course. I only solicited artists of personal importance to me, and none are more important than Erik Larsen, so despite his response to my weird Dragon-singing-karaoke request ("What the hell?"), he delivered beyond expectation. Generally, I was very pleased with the experience, as it gave my roaming on the floor some purpose, though as I eluded I was intrigued with the inconsistency between some lesser known artists charging for a sketch, while others poured their heart onto a page for free. The inquiry is in the artists' perspective. What's more valuable, the $15 for a sketch now, or an experience that might move me investment in your ongoing product?
It's Not the Size of the Press, It's How You Use It
As a former Small Press exhibitor, I spent a significant amount of time in that minimal section of the convention floor, and I was pleased to purchase a bundled set of mini-comics from Robot Publishing that I've admired for years. Artist Robert Goodin was kind enough to contribute to my sketchbook, too, and he epitomised the essence of that area; he let his Small Press merchandise speak for itself. His peers ranged from brooding isolationists, pushed as far back from the table (and any potential customers) as possible, to practical used car pitchmen, thrusting flyers or samples with the fervor of a Las Vegas porn peddler. Either way, when K.O. Comix had its own table in this venue, I quickly developed the understanding that my comic book will stay with the customer longer than my conversation ever will -- so it has to be good. The comic should make a reader come back to my table every year whether I talk to him or not.
Further, for some, Comic Con is often the only forum for their wares, yet it also pits them against powerhouses like DC and Image. Like artists feeling the Sketchbook Spirit, the question is, do Small Press publishers charge the true cost (plus moderate profit) of their low-run, professionally bound book at the risk of facing low to no sales at all, or do they eat some cost at an event like this for sheer exposure? Frankly, I finally bought those excellent Robot Publishing books because Goodin reduced their price. That's change I can believe in.
As a fledgling self-publisher myself, I sought to distribute samples of my first solo effort, Karaoke Comics #1, at the Con's token freebie table. When I handed the samples to a volunteer on Friday, he scrutinized them, asking, "Are they appropriate for all ages?" Now, the story takes place in a bar, boasts homosexual themes, and ends with me in my underwear, but it's all very subtle, so I was confident when I replied, "Oh, yeah, sure!" I didn't have a lot of copies to offer, so I figured the title would attract enough interested readers to deplete the pile before a child's wayward hand was even a concern. After examining the sample further, the volunteer said, "We'll work with it." I don't know what that means, but the exchange put me off, as I wondered why a younger twenty-something suddenly had control over whether my work would reach a broad audience. As a volunteer, he doesn't have a paying job to lose if some kid sees a crude drawing of me in my underwear, so . . .
In this way, Comic Con is a lot like karaoke. Some come to sing country, others rap, others rock 'n roll, just as some come for Twilight, some for sketches, others for comics and merchandise. Everything isn't for everybody, but anybody should be able to find something there they like. Who would sing a song they don't like? Who would find themselves in an area of the exhibit hall they can't appreciate? The experience is truly what you make it, as far as your inner child will allow. At this point in its career, Comic Con doesn't need to know you. You need to know Comic Con . . . and yourself.* Other karaoke sketches can be found here, and other Comic Con pics have been posted here!