San Diego! Land of perpetual 73-degree weather and $12 mixed drinks!
Like fellow blog bros Ben and Kevin, I made it out to Comic-Con International this year for work. I know that the general consensus from average fans or their moms is "Wow! That must be a lot of fun!" Conversely, the people in the industry I talk to's Twitter feeds are all, "And now I will lead this march into the jaws of hell!!!!!" In actuality, I think the show has some "crap I've got to do" to it, but that's totally drowned out by awesome adventures of drunken love of the artform revelry wrapped in absurd Hollywood promo materials and cosplay.
In other words, I had a great time. Maybe the best show for me in five years of flying out as a pro.
Here's everything I can recall of vague importance that would appeal to the CKT's readership of "People I hung out with at the show who are probably vanity Googling themselves right now." Let's do it!
* Randomly before the show, I got contacted by my hometown paper The Flint Journal, and they did a story about me going to the show. That was INSANE.
* Let this be the last time I tell this story with a twinge of stress in my heart: Comic-Con was already 45-times crazier for me this year since its early weekend meant it crossed over with one of my twice-annual, ten day graduate school retreats. I can't miss these retreats and still graduate on time, so I'm eternally thankful to my program head at Hamline University Mary Rockcastle for just being like "You should just fly out four days early! It's cool!" even though she probably should have busted my chops for it. Could not have survived the past two weeks without that.
* It was a super comics-y week at Hamline aside from the impending con. Not only have my job and proclivity to just say "Batman" as often as possible earned me the "comic book guy" label at school, but cartoonist Gene Yang was also at the residency for the first time as a full on professor. When I saw him, he was all, "Kiel...I heard you get to go to Comic-Con. No one told me there was a special dispensation, dude!" Apparently this is Gene's first miss in over a decade, but he was a rock star on campus all week, so I think it turned out.
* Of course, the night before I left it was my roommate's birthday part at a bar called The Happy Gnome. Of course, my flight to San Diego was at 7:00 AM. Of course, they didn't turn off the cabin lights the entire time we were in they sky. Of course, I was working ten minutes after checking into my hotel at 9:45 local time. Woof.
* On the up side, my father and younger brother Clint were at the show. 12 years ago, dad took me to Comic-Con for the first time as a high school graduation present, and this year, Clint wanted to do the same before he heads out to MSU. It was nice having them around on the CBR Boat and going out to eat at some weird British fish & chips place instead of hanging in the Gaslamp on Friday.
* It strikes me how much the con has changed even in my brief time coming when I think about how dad and I's trip in 2000 involved the Hollywood aspect where we saw a Kevin Smith panel and heard via a waitress the Angelina had bailed on a panel, but this year when I asked dad how his first day was, he said, "Great! We saw Anthony Bourdain AND McLovin!"
* Work went well. Despite my being at school in the whole runup to the show, the CBR staff was way on top of stories ahead of an at the con, which meant less freak out phone calls during the weekend and more partying. Props in particular to Jonah Weiland and Stephen Gerding – neither of whom made it into the show and onto the floor.
* But you know, when not making the show floor means you're on the boat all day, that ain't bad neither.
* My roommate Steve Sunu also did the all-star job of the Millennium covering for me and covering the show in general. You have to, have to, have to, have to, HAVE TO watch this first person video of Steve running the "Walking Dead" zombie course at Petco Park.
* Speaking of which, I found the above photo of Steve shaking Kirkman's hand at said event on the Facebook page for Geek Magazine, which I thought kinda funny.
* So happy I got to hit the comics blogging panel Thursday night hosted by Douglas Wolk with Heidi MacDonald, Andy Khouri, Rich Johnston and Tom Spurgeon. Sat amidst a packed room with Caleb Goellner and David Uzumeri. Perhaps the best parts were when Tom asked the crowd who there actually read their sites, and us and Brigid Alverson made up 50% of the respondents.
* But serial, at one point Heidi said she's stayed in comics this long because it has the nicest people, and the rows around shushed me for laughing too loudly.
* No but super serial, I thought it was really interesting how the default answer to Douglas' "Who do you write for?" question was "myself." I do a lot of writing for myself, but almost none of that involves my work writing. Maybe in selection of topic to cover do I get closer to writing for myself. But I always view my comics writing on CBR to be for consumers, retailers and creators...probably not necessarily in that order. (Okay, and I write for other journo-types a way higher percentage of the time than I'd care to admit). Not saying one is better than the other, but it was weird to feel in the minority there.
* If you're interested, here's a smattering of panels I reported live over the weekend: DC's Batman panel where I picked up one of the few giveaways I didn't lose – a Snyder/Capullo Court of Owls mask! Then there was the Ultimate Marvel panel and this Legendary Comics one and this DC graphic novel one and...oh hell, you get the idea. I've got to say that the panels for the big two came off as kind of rote this year. Part of that was a lack of big announcements outside of one or two things like new Sandman or Quentin Tarantino comics, but it's also because I just kind of felt like a lot of the standard bearers of these panels were a little off their crowd pumping game. No surprises even for the diehards, you know?
* That said, the fact that Marvel and DC have so many panels can kind of drown out the noise from something like the Image panel Saturday that seemed to carry a lot of energy and announcement weight. I suppose that the same can be said of how many books the big two release and how much of that sites like CBR cover what comes out, but I kind of feel like the pace that spaces out things in a regular news cycle fights against the wash of panels at CCI.
* So what I'm saying is, read that Image panel report.
* Okay, one more panel note: the DC Young Justice panel really gave you the feeling that between Scott Lobdell, Bobbie Chase and non-attendees like Tom Defalco, Bob Harras has just put his favorite lineup from his '90s Marvel band together on the Teen Titans comics like they never broke up. I imagine the readers of those books have at least a few genes in common with people who go to Credence Clearwater Revisited to hear "Down On The Corner" or whatever.
* I've always been a bit flummoxed by the costume people, but I can't admit that it's kind of fun to see what they pull out, and each year I seem to chat up at least one cosplayer who's terribly nice. This year, it was this girl dressed as Poison Ivy who sat next to me at the Batman panel. Every nerdy college student within five seats was trying to pick her up, and she dealt with it with aplomb.
* I was only on the floor of the show for 12 seconds on Friday, but I was happy that those 12 seconds were spent talking to Joe Keatinge. If you didn't already know, Joe is maybe the most ENTHUSIASTIC comics maker in the business right now. He's just so pumped about every project he picks up, and spoke to me in beaming fashion about his upcoming Thanos mini series at Marvel, calling the character one of his all-time favorites. I believed him. Also: Joe's Image series Hell Yeah! is severely underrated right now for how it riffs on comics history in a total non-obtrusive way, but that's going to have to be the subject of its own post at a later date.
* Also important: Joe knows everyone who's ever done a book for Image Comics ever, so if you meet him at a show, look around the group of people he's with and say "Who are your friends, Joe?" Then you get to meet Emi Lenox!
* One more observation from the floor: when you're a fan walking around San Diego and you see people in the biz chatting each other up, you may wonder what they're talking about. Maybe they're talking about the proliferation of comics culture in the world? Maybe they're talking about the profits and perils of digital comics? Maybe they're talking about some rad new series you won't see for another six months? No, I'm just messing with you. What they're talking about is "how much the other publishers booths suck balls compared to theirs, because you think our booth is the best one of the floor this year, right?" Booth envy. IT'S ACTUALLY A THING.
* Saw my friend and my O.G. comics industry mentor Ivan Cohen at the show too briefly (always too briefly). If you didn't know, he's writing issues of DC's Green Lantern: The Animated Series comic now. Sounds like some FUN stuff coming up there.
* Met new ComicsAlliance E-i-C Joe Hughes, who I instantly recognized from cons past even though we were never introduced. That seems like the best kind of person to be running a site like CA. Bumped into Joe maybe 45 more times over the course of the weekend. Excited to see what he does over there.
* Speaking of CA and Caleb as I was a moment ago, he's had some pages from what I think may still be a kind of secret comics thing on his iPhone that were so cool they made my eyeballs bleed. And THEN he told me the final would be in full color.
* Thursday night, I hit the CBLDF party, which has become a kind of annual tradition. On my way there, Sam Humphries sidled up on me like some kind of ninja, and it was the first of many times we laughed a lot that night. Sam and I talked about how Comic-Con has gotten to feel like summer camp – i.e. you kind of know where you're going in downtown San Diego after having to walk around that crazy mall on 2nd to get to the Westgate one night each year. It's like remembering where the old canoe launch is.
* Speaking of Sam, I can never tell how many of the core readers of big superhero books are blog savvy enough to be caught up on things like "Our Love Is Real," but anyone who didn't know him before the Ultimate Marvel panel probably wanted to buy his shit after. He speaks with a lot of knowledge and enthusiasm for his stuff in front of a crowd.
* Ditto Nathan Edmundson on that front, actually.
* Anyway, back to the party: it produced the above photo with myself, Douglas Wolk, Tom Spurgeon and the rad ladies of Fantagraphics: Jen Vaughn and Jacq Cohen. It was worth it for that alone.
* Let me be the 12,000th person to mention online that Spurge is looking GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD. I wish I got to talk to him in normal human ways more often.
* Highly Important: Finally met Tom's brother Whit – Comics Reporter super photographer. After flipping through his iPhone, I really get the feel Whit takes more pictures of CCI than both the ladies we had working for CBR combined. He also slides wonderfully into this hilarious, Jackie Mason-esque character schtick without ever overdoing it.
* The 35 minutes I spend with John Layman at any given CCI party rank amongst my most anticipated events at the show each year.
* Spent a lot of time talking to Chris Roberson and his wife Allison Baker over the weekend. Hot damn if those two aren't as smart and savvy as any people you've ever met in comics or elsewhere. The launch of their Monkeybrain Comics imprint has finally gelled a bunch of my opinions on digital comics together. Namely that I'm not sure the app model is the so-called "new newsstand" so many keep proclaiming it to be. Apps are still too specific and impermanent to be successful as general public sales platform like that. But they sure as hell fill the gap left by the modern direct market's inability to sell high end genre serials not published by the few standing players. In other words, Monkeybrain is to the 2010s what First and Pacific were to the 1980s.
* Comics writer, toy industry pitch man and A+ Wizard alumn Justin Aclin was my guide through Thursday night, and I couldn't have asked for a better one. He's got big things coming, this guy.
* Friday night was the super secret "Bros of Wizard" enclave where we plotted our imminent takeover of the entire industry (haha) while hopping from bar-to-bar. Attendees included Aclin, Diamond Select Toys' Zach Oat, Marvel TV's Todd Casey (and his lovely friend Mel), Archaia PR man and lovely friend Mel Caylo, Topless Robot's Rob Bricken, Kevin, Steve Sunu, Dark Horse Editor Jim Gibbons and...damn, I'm sure I'm missing someone. There are a lot of us! I love them all like brothers. No bullshit.
* Ended our night at the Marvel party where we collided with Ryan Penagos, and I somehow missed Ben while I was doing shots with Rosario Dawson (not really but kind of).
* Also got some real hangtime with my girl Josie Campbell at the show. Realized after many nights of balcony chit-chat that her boyfriend Marly runs the "JoJo" Remembered Heroes Tumblr, and now I have a crush on him.
* I don't know what was happening at this particular point in my Jeph Loeb video interview on the boat, but I'm pretty damn sure he and I were having a GREAT time.
* Surprise CBR Boat guest of the year: Jock. He is an extremely sweet man. Like, Stan Sakai levels of sweetness even.
* That aside, my favorite boat interview for the year was a toss up between fellow Michigan State Spartan and all around thoughtful dude JT Krul and unexpected guest "Foxtrot" creator Bill Amend. Watch for those!
* I used to do these goofy celebrity sightings posts from the show, but this year my Hollywood overlap was ridiculously low in the best way. So here's my randomly short bus list on that front:
* I met everyone in the above photo on the boat except Elija Wood, who I only ever see at Comic-Con at the bar late at night. They seemed like fine folks.
* At one point, a gaggle of Hollywood types came onto the boat, like they do. You can always tell who the PR folks are by their blazers and their six bags and their constant texting. And you can tell the talent because they're the pretty ladies in the tight green dress and the high heels. This time out, the pretty lady was this woman – who I'd never heard of before she left and I said, "Who was that?" But she talked to CBR Producer Remy Minnick for like 20 minutes about the business of DVR. I guess that's what Comic-Con is for some people too.
* The Marvel booth is always totally crazy at the show, but sometimes it's that crazy because your buddy Ryan is talking to Don Cheadle on camera while Robert Downey, Jr. re-embodies the role of Tony Stark amongst 45 little Iron Mans.
* My #1 celebrity moment came before I interview Joss Whedon in a little plywood room hidden in the middle of the Dark Horse booth. As a nice young lady from another website was finishing up before me, John Landis appeared out of nowhere looking for Mike Richardson (whom he referred to as "the basketball player"). Richardson was AWOL, so Landis just burst into the little room to shake Whedon's hand and tell him how much he loved "The Avengers." It was pretty funny to see a guy who causes nerds to freak out when they talk to him at the show freak out like a nerd because John Landis was talking to him at the show, let me tell you.
* On Saturday night, Ben and I embarked on the world's nerdiest, boringest episode of "The Amazing Race" ever when we tried to go out to eat with about a dozen Marvel staffers. 1.5 hours and seven restaurants later, we ended up eating alone in a diner with My Little Pony on the walls. Oddly, the only time I saw Bryan Lee O'Malley all show was when he was dashing through that diner towards the exit. Overall, best meal of the show. Thanks, Benny.
* Later, had the first ever event on the CBR Boat that I will qualify as a real, legit party. I mean, there's like a staff party early in the week, but those aren't ridic enough, you know?
* Somewhat related: MTV Blogs Editor Josh Wigler is a golden god. All that b.s. up there about me traveling at 5:00 AM? Chump change to how hard duder was going all weekend. * Talked to BOOM! Editor-in-Chief Matt Gagnon for a while. Really sharp in terms of how that company and their books function creatively and in the market. Example: he sees "Adventure Time" as both the kind of paying gig that can fill a comics-shaped hole in their commission work (a la the late "Nickelodeon Magazine") and also as a way to expose younger and more traditional comics readers to their other work.
* Best Eisner story I heard: upon winning the award for "Best Anthology" for Dark Horse Presents, Mike Richardson gave one of the three statues he got to his Assistant Editor (and my boy) Jim Gibbons. Not only is that a very cool thing to do, it also allowed us to declare "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, EISNER WINNER JIM GIBBOOOOOOOOOOONS!" all night long.
* Over the weekend, Chris Roberson made a great case for never going to the Hyatt and instead hitting the Hilton Bayfront that was equal parts "The Bayfront supports unionized employees" and "Aw, fuck the Hyatt, man!"
* That said, was at the Hyatt for 15 minutes late Saturday. Spent no money, though.
* First time I ever heard someone refer to it as "The Riot At The Hyatt." How have I been missing that joke?!?!
* For some reason, I only end up catching up with Kyle Higgins in the wee hours of the morning when the bar is closed and we're both crosseyed tired. But I'm sure he's just as much fun when I'm sober/well-rested.
* People I barely missed over the weekend: saw Allison Bechdel walking through the lobby of a hotel, but she has no idea who I am, so I let her be. Saw Archaia's Stephen Christy by the pool, but he was on his cell phone. Saw Darwyn Cooke on the street, but I was on my cell phone.
* Sunday, my version of kids day involved a lap on the floor catching up with some of the folks making kids comics for the traditional print markets: * NBM's Papercutz has a new PR guy who's very helpful. Jesse Post in the hizzouse! Fans kept stopping by their booth to get some kind of Power Rangers stamp that combined with others for a free t-shirt. Power Rangers fans kind of fascinate me.
* Spoke with a few bros at Capstone Books – the Minneapolis-based publisher that did those rad Art Baltazar "Super-Pets" books. They've got a number of kids comics coming out this year and were excited both for their offerings and because it turns out two of them go to the same university as me.
* Ape Entertainment has had a TON of Richie Rich product hitting over the past few weeks. Between that and the app they've been pushing, I hope they're finding the audience for that material. New Ernie Colon/Sid Jacobson stories, y'all!!
* Spent a while at that booth talking up Brent Erwin, Dave Hedgecock and Aaron Sparrow. They're stated ethos for publishing so many kids comics is "If we don't do it, who will?" I think that's a kind of a valid point, which is a little sad when you think about it too much. Still, they've gone from publishing creator-owned all-ages books like Scratch 9 to having a nice newsstand-distributed magazine dedicated to comics stories featuring one of the biggest animation studios in the world in a few short years without dropping much of anything along the way, so maybe not many others are meant to do it.
* Wrapped my show getting an autograph on my copy of Love & Rockets: New Stories Vol. 5 from Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez. They said they barely had time to do anything fun at the show until that day either because they were so busy. As it should be.
* I'm sure I forgot to mention someone awesome I spoke to at this year's show. Tell me I'm a jerk in the comments, gang! And thanks for the memories!