Thursday, July 28, 2011

San Diego Comic Con 2011... Through my eyes

Comic Con 2011, held this past weekend at the San Diego Convention Center, has come and gone. This was actually the first time I had exhibited at Con since 2005, so it was nice to actually get back 'in the game' of selling at the big show.

I was only there on Friday, Saturday and half of Sunday, but there was no shortage of things to do and talk about. I arrived in San Diego late Thursday evening, staying over at a friend's home for the weekend.  By Friday morning, as I made my way toward the Small Press area of the convention, the first table I stopped at was the one occupied by my good friends Jim Lujan (Ghettomation) and Jose Cabrera (Crying Macho Man):
This was Jim's (on the left) first time exhibiting at Comic Con, bringing with him 4 DVD collections of his animated shorts, dubbed 'Ghettomation' for their quick and sparse style of animation. Jim has already stated that he'd back again for next year's Con, most likely with another couple of collections.

Neil Segura and Ray Mendivil made their first Comic Con appearance as creators of FOREVER FRESHMEN, their comic book title loosely based on their High School years. It's always great to see new talents taking the big steps to set up at the Con.

Neil (left) and Ray making a stand for indy comics at the big show!

I was fortunate enough to be a guest at the Possum Press/Ultraist Studios table. Blair Kitchen (THE POSSUM) was manning the table on behalf of him and his brother Mike, creator of SPY GUY. When Blair offered me a spot at their table, I knew it was an offer I didn't want to refuse. I have know Blair for about 3 or 4 years, having read his first issue of the Possum and becoming a fan from that first day.

Among the numerous friends/fellow creators I ran into were Jason Martin, creator/publisher of SUPER REAL and Dan Mendoza (ZOMBIE TRAMP). 

A native of Portland, OR., Jason (left) and I had met several years ago at Comic Con, when we sat as neighbors in the Small Press area (ironically, it was in about the same spot Blair and I were sharing a table!). Jason's become a really good friend over the years, and he and I have actually exhibited together at various other shows. Dan's book is published by Jason, with ZOMBIE TRAMP proving to be a pretty strong seller for an indie comic.

Audra Furuichi, artist of the webcomic NEMU * NEMU, peeking out from her display:

Audra and her husband Scott (who was away from the table when I stopped by) hail from Hawaii. They work really hard at building their audiences and getting out to various conventions. It's people like them, and many others, that continue to inspire me to continually work at this whole self-publishing thing. Lots of hard work, and you have to keep finding what works best for your audience, but the rewards to that are unique to self-publishing. Anything goes, and you take pride in your efforts that succeed.

Jamie Baker (left) and Rhode Montijo have been sharing their booth at the same location for some years now. They seem like such a fixture of Comic Con! With their various comics and art prints and t-shirts, etc., they're like a corner store in the middle of the hundreds of vendor booths. 

For me, and the people I mentioned above, we attend Comic Con to exhibit our work, make sales, and connect with old and new fans. We create because we have a desire to tell stories, we produce our work to sell and make a living. But also, like most shows, Comic Con offers a lot more than just artistic fulfillment and a commercial venue.

This costumed gal passed by my booth and I just had to have a photo of her:

She dressed up as SQUIRREL GIRL! Never heard of Squirrel Girl? Well, she was created by artist Steve Ditko with writer Will Murray for MARVEL SUPER-HEROES SPECIAL #8 (1991).

For Friday night's dinner outing, a group of us went to the nearby Seashore Village. Afterwards, we split up and Blair and myself found ourselves at one of the new hotels that's been built in the last few years to deal with the tremendous upsurge in attendance. We found a pool table on one of the floors and decided to play a high-stakes game of pool. America vs Canada...with the fate of the world hanging in the balance! In short order, Blair slowly began to outmaneuver me, scoring on his shots while I missed mine by miles.

Blair's Grammy-Award air-guitar rendition of "O CANADA". And yeah, he put in those red eye contacts to add to the effect!

At one point I had missed a shot and sent the cue ball straight into a pocket. "I saw that!" came the voice from the escalator just overhead. We looked up and see Sergio Aragones smiling at my mishap! Yep, Sergio Aragones of MAD Magazine fame. The world's fastest cartoonist. And faster wit! 

Saturday at the Con was interesting. Traditionally, in my experience, it's always the busiest day of the whole weekend. More people streaming into San Diego and the convention center than on any other day.

My friend Michael Aushenker, whom I've exhibited with at so many other previous conventions, was found holding court at his CARTOON FLOPHOUSE table in Small Press. 

If Sergio's the world's fastest wit, Mikey has gotta be a close second. Times are always better with Michael around, whether we're doing time at a comic convention or bouncing around the Greater Los Angeles area. Michael's upcoming projects include the first trade-paperback collection of his classic EL GATO, CRIME MANGLER series. I'm super excited about that because not only am I a fan of that gonzo character, I wrote the intro to the furshlugginer collection!

Meanwhile, back at the Possum Press/Ultraist Studios table, I gave Blair an early Christmas gift:

Yep folks, it's a super special linmited edition El Muerto Mini Sketch Doll: Possum Muerto!! ( The Possum © and ™ Blair Kitchen, El Muerto © & ™ Javier Hernandez)
On one of my walkabouts, I ran into Michael once again and a lady named Mayra. 

Like the gallant knight I am, I introduced myself to yon damsel. Then I walked her over to my table where she was nice enough to buy my movie and a comic! If flattering such ladies to buy my stuff needs this approach, then I guess I better stock up on lip balm for next year!

A word about 'next year': I'm very grateful to have been invited by Blair to have shared a small spot at the table. While I've missed exhibiting at Comic Con for several years, I was eager to get back behind the table and do the 'Big Show' once again. I noticed a couple of things.

One: Not having my banner with me behind the table makes a huge difference. As a last minute invite, I certainly didn't want to clutter the table with my accessories, so I left it back home. But it does show me that people really do look at the large image and decide right there and then if they're at least curious to check out the table.

Two: I had several people over the two and a half days I was set up comment on the fact that they had seen the EL MUERTO movie. One person didn't like it (no problem, at this point I'm totally fine hearing all reviews of the film). One didn't finish seeing it and wanted to rent it via Netflix. Another liked it enough where he dressed up as El Muerto for Halloween. I asked him to please send me a photo if he could find one. Another guy walked by, saw the DVD, asked what it was about, bought it and whisked off! That was the quickest sale I ever made, outside of a button. 

Three: This last opinion of mine if just my own personal point of view. Saturday was by far my least productive day in terms of sales, a far cry from the traditional sales patterns for this show. I heard from other self-publishers that they also experienced slower sales. A retailer friend of mine, whose been selling back issue comics for well over a decade, told me his sales were not keeping up with his expense of doing the show.

So, if there were record number of people in the convention, where were our sales? I'm guessing that many of the new people attending Con are there for the various movie and TV-sponsored panels and presentations. Also, with the ever increasing presence of video game and toy companies, perhaps the 'traditional' comic buying fans are getting 'squeezed' out by the new crowds? I can't sell stuff to people who aren't interested/looking for/there for the type of things I make.

Let me share a link here, for those of you who are interested, in a newsletter by retailer Chuck Rozanski, President of Mile High Comics. He's one of the world's largest retailers of comic books, and has been attending Comic Con for 38 years. I think he's more than qualified to speak on the status of Comic Con and it's trends and future plans. Some sobering information in his report, that's for sure.

I will say that I am not harboring any anti-Comic Con sentiments. They also put on the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco and later this year I will be exhibiting there for my 14th year in a row.
But Comic Con is an expensive show to exhibit at (I'm including travelling/lodging expenses as well) and we each have to make our own decision as to whether we can afford to do the show every year. And of course one has to be creative in making one's presence known at Comic Con.

I'll say this, my experiences at Comic Con, first as a fan then later as an exhibiting artist, are always full of great, great memories. I've made some good friends here, have gotten many new fans, met some legendary creators from yesteryear. We held our panel for the EL MUERTO movie here, and in 2007 screened the film here as well. This is the biggest comic book convention in the country, bare none.

I'll have to think about my plans for Comic Con 2012. And soon, as exhibitor space sells out way quicker than it did a few years ago.

But I had a great time this year. And I expect I'll have other great Comic Cons in the future. 

A volunteer for the convention stopped by the table and asked Blair and I to sign his volunteer t-shirt.

See the Possum and Muerto drawings? I've always been a fan of the SPY VS SPY strip, from the pages of MAD Magazine. To be able to sign it, to add my character to that SPY VS SPY Anniversary commemorative souvenir, that's such a blast. As a comic book creator myself, it's just another of those little memorable, magical moments that make up yet another Comic Con for me.


Greenblatt the Great! said...

Terrific post, Jav! Wow, full of surprises: the Possum Muerto doll, the photo of Squirrel Girl (which totally delivered) and the fact that you had not been a Comic-Con exhibitor since 2005. That's 7 years ago! I guess I didn't realize that since you tend to come down for a day or two over the last few years.

It's great to have you back in the game and yes, next year, don't forget to BRING YOUR BANNER!

Thanks for the fun write-up!

Blair Kitchen said...

Great post, Javier. You've summed up my thoughts almost perfectly.

Javier Hernandez said...

Thanks Mike. There's an undeniable feeling of excitement sitting behind the tables at Comic Con, that's for sure. I always think back to the days that Small Press used to be in the front, right-hand corner of the convention center. Remember those days? Wow, seems like a century ago...

Blair: Actually, I hacked into your computer the other day and copied the original draft for your blog! I took the words right out of your Word document!!

Greenblatt the Great! said...

I like how Blair said you summed up his thoughts "almost perfectly." "ALMOST perfectly..." Close but no cigar...but not bad, Jav. A Rotten Tomatoes score of 92 or so. Ha ha! Just teasing, Blair!

The photo of you as the perfect gentleman in the company of Princess Mayra, well, they don't call you "Suave Jav" for nothing.

So ladies of APE, take note, this cartoonist is a charmer and he's coming your way in October!!!

(Sorry, Firebaugh, CA, and the gals running the Dairy Queen, you're too out of the way...)

Jason Martin said...

Great to see you there man!
and to see you had a grand time! ;)
The Aragones moment is classic Comic-Con!!! lol

And I'm sure we've spoken about this before, but yes, last year was the first concrete evidence that the con had changed dramatically...
As you say, Saturday used to be a day of chaotic traffic and sales, and last year, it was my worst day (by far)... and then this year, though much much better, was still beat by Sunday sales wise. The traffic in Small Press is noticeably down, and with attendance capped at 130k, it's not a lack of people at con, it's a lack of comic book people, plain and simple.

As you say though, it's still the king of shows, and for sure spectacle... but it is not even close to king of comic shows, in terms of sales or attendance demo, any more. For whatever that's worth.

Oh, and yes, I've been doing some different things with my banners, and they do make a difference! Indeed!

James Baker said...

Great report, Javi. Yeah this show gets more and more expensive with more attendees each year but the financial rewards have been at a plateau for me.. With a sharp down swing this year.

But it sure is fun to be there each year!

James Baker said...
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