I had a wonderful time at San Diego Comic Con International 2016… it was my 27th year at the show. But, whenever SDCC gets mentioned there are a host of people on the internet who come out of the woodwork decrying it as “not about comics”. “It’s all Hollywood!” they say. Well, I hate to break it to these people but that’s just not true.
What people need to realize is that comics are a niche interest. Given a choice between focusing on celebrities, movies, and people in costumes vs. comics and comic book creators, the media is going to go with the flash every time. Even among the comic fans I know, they go to some comic book panels, but they also split their time and attend/enjoy Hollywood panels and stand in lines for exclusives toys. It is the ‘nature of the nerd’ to embrace all of these things. On the other hand, the 90% of the attendees who are JUST there for Hollywood and toys don’t have any interest whatsoever in comic book related panels.
So it’s true that from the outside looking in SDCC can appear to be all Hollywood, cosplay, and people standing in lines for panels featuring celebrities or lines to buy show exclusives. People love that stuff. Some (most) attendees likely come to SDCC just for the non-comics stuff. But for the show to be “not about comics” it would have to be the case that there is not comic book content there for people who are actually looking for comic book content.
Guess what? Because the Comic Con International folks are not-for-profit and are comic book fans at heart, they make sure there is a TREMENDOUS amount of comic book content for the people who want it!! Other cons? I have gone to many where there might be 4 or 5 pure comic book panels at the entire event. SDCC had over 200 comic book related panels this year, more than 50 every single day of the show! There were hundreds of comic book creators there interacting with their fans. There were literally millions of comic books for sale on the show floor; old and new, mainstream, indie and small press alike.
I’ve said it before and will say it again: Every person going to this show can have a completely different experience. It speaks to both the breadth and depth of content at SDCC that there are so many options for attendees. Want Hollywood? Tons of that! Like books without pictures? They’ve got you covered. Sci-Fi? Cosplay? Video games? Cartoons? Check, check, check, check. And Comic books. More comic book content than any other convention in existence.
To demonstrate the tremendous amount of comic book content at SDCC I decided to spend my con doing comic book related things and ONLY comic book related things. In doing so I skipped a bunch of panels with friends that were non-comic related but I had a great time in attending my comics-oriented choices. In fact, at many points I had 2 or 3 comic book panels I’d have liked to attend at the same time. By the end of the convention I attended 25 comic book panels, I’ll run down the list and you decide if these sound like things I could have done at a show that is “not about comics any more”:
1) Spotlight on Peter David: I’m a long time fan of the “writer of stuff” and he has written many definitive comics runs I have enjoyed, including my favorite Hulk story of all time “Future Imperfect”.
2) Spotlight on Howard Chaykin: One of my favorite writer/artists who I have been following since the late 1970s.
3) The Business of Creativity: Can Comics Find the Balance? Paul Levitz gave a very informative panel on the business behind the comics with some insights into the ins and out of both traditional corporate-owned comics and other models.
4) Image Comics: Creating the Zeitgeist: with Chynna Clugston Flores, Kieron Gillen, and Marjorie Liu. I learned that Chynna was one of the key influences for Kieron Gillen.
5) Making the Leap to Creator-Owned Properties: Wendy & Richard Pini, Mark Shultz, Terry Dodson, Frank Cho. Wendy & Richard were rightly credited for being creator-owned/self-publishing pioneers for their work with Elfquest and the creation of their own publishing house WARP Graphics.
6) IDW’s New Formats for Classic Comics: covering their Artist’s Edition line, Library of American Comics, and Yoe Press, I was happy to hear that we’re going to be getting Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four as an Artist’s Edition next year, in what is the 100th anniversary of Kirby’s birth.
7) Vertigo: Covering their existing series, as well as announcing a few new series.
8) Spotlight on Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: Archie’s CCO and writer of Afterlife with Archie & Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. If you told be 5 years ago I’d have these 2 Archie books as some of my top favorites I’d have told you that you were crazy. But this guy did it. I’m an Archie fan.
9) The Official Aspen Comics Panel: I’m digging the new series Revelations, probably in part because of co-writer Josh Fialkov, one of my favorite comics writers. And everyone attending the panel got a nifty Lola XOXO art book.
10) Walt Kelly and Pogo: I’m always interested in learning more about characters from before my time that are particularly revered and considered influential by so many creators. Hosted by Mark Evanier (I learned his girlfriend is Walt Kelly’s daughter), foundational fan and comics journalist Maggie Thompson, film reviewer Leonard Maltin (who is a huge Pogo fan), artist Scott Shaw!, and comics historian Michael Barrier.
11) Twisted Roots of Comics: Pulp Magazines and the Birth of the Modern Comic Book: Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson (author and granddaughter of the man credited with creating the modern comic book, as well as the founder of DC) as well as Michael Uslan (noted author, film producer, comics historian, and teacher of comics)
12) An Hour with Terry Moore: Say no more. This man is one of my favorite comics creators.
13) IDW Publishing: The Main Event: A focus on IDW’s future plans, there were a LOT of ROM fans in the audience… Everyone in attendance got a free copy of Rocketeer Adventures Treasury Edition. Some really great stories reproduced in this oversized comic.
14) 28th Annual Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards: The Academy Awards of comics. You don’t get more comic-book focused than this event.
15) March: Featuring Congressman John Lewis: Volume 3 just came out completing the trilogy. Volume 2 won an Eisner for best reality-based work the previous night.
16) Spotlight on Daniel Clowes: Another of my favorite creators. His Eightball series is brilliant.
17) Overstreet: 46 and Counting: A panel of long-time fans and Overstreet advisors (including patron saint of fandom, Maggie Thompson) talking about what the guide has meant to them as fans over the years. Founder of CBCS Steve Borock was also there to chime in a bit from the monetary angle of comics collecting, though he too kept most commentary fairly fan-oriented.
18) Archie Comics Forever: 75 Years of Storytelling: Archie is hot right now, putting out some of my favorite comics, both in their ‘horror’ line as well as with the revamped Archie (by Mark Waid), Jughead (by Chip Zdarsky) and Betty and Veronica (by Adam Hughes). Hughes was on the panel along with the Archie top brass. Everyone in attendance was given a copy of the Franceso Francavilla variant cover edition of Betty&Veronica #1.
19) Spotlight on Jamie McKelvie: Excellent examination of Jamie’s career in comics.
20) Oddball Comics Live!: Scott Shaw!’s annual celebration of bizarre comics covers, with a running commentary. Highly recommended for anyone who has not seen it before, fell flat this year as it was covering material Scott has presented previously, so it felt like a rerun to me, down to the jokes he was telling about the covers. I LOVED it the first time or two I saw these same covers/jokes, not quite as special after 4 or 5 times.
21) That 70s Panel: Host Mark Evanier talks with classic comics creators Howard Chaykin, Paul Gulacy, Elliott S! Maggin, and Marv Wolfman. Lots of comic history and insider stories.
Some of the covers examined at this year’s “Cover Story” panel
22) Jack Kirby Tribute Panel: The annual celebration of the King of Comics!
23) Spotlight on Matt Fraction: This guy is hilarious! If you ever have a chance to see him do a panel, jump at it.
24) CBLDF EC Lives! Live Art Jam: Watch as artists draw sketches using a projection system that shows the work come to life as the drawing progresses, they also talk about their drawing process and give out their drawing tips and tricks. At the end of the panel they auction off the sketches to benefit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Theme this year was EC comics (horror, suspense, sci-fi, war).
25) Cover Story: One of my favorite panels year in, year out. 5 covers, chosen at random, are put up on the screen and the artists discuss what they like (or don’t like) about them, as well as a bit about their artistic process that was used in creating them. This year’s artists were: Jonathan Case, Howard Chaykin, Paul Gulacy, Scott Shaw!, and Babs Tarr.
You can see I attended a lot of panels about comics. I met and personally chatted with ~50 comic creators both after panels in the hall as well as at their booths down on the show floor. SDCC not about comics? Hardly. That said, you can easily have an SDCC experience totally devoid of comics if you choose to. On the other end of the spectrum you can have one that is 100% comic-books, like I did, if you want to.
- The March Panel with Congressman John Lewis had about 200 people lined up when I got there 40 minutes before it started (it was the 1st panel of the day on Saturday). This was at least half consisting of the 3rd & 4th grade classes of a local school and their chaperones. By the time the panel started the line had doubled in size and every seat in the room was full during the panel.
That said, if you want to go to any of the Hollywood panels or the BIG panels from Marvel/DC, be prepared to wait in line because those are the same panels that the other 95% of attendees ALSO want to go to. There’s an advantage to being focused on mostly creator-owned comics and comics history types of panels. No lines. That’s in addition to hearing stories and inside stuff you’ll probably hear nowhere else. The Hollywood stuff is cool, but it’s nothing you’re not going to be able to find on the internet probably almost as soon as the panel is over.
The one thing that is a fair criticism of SDCC is the difficulty people have in getting tickets. More people want to attend than there is space to accommodate. The majority of those people are primarily pop culture fans who don’t read comics, but revel in the things that are derived from the IP created in the comics. This is a bummer to the comic fan who wants to get a ticket but you have to ask yourself before you throw a stone: If you got a ticket would you attend a “pure comics” con track like I did, or would you want to slide in some panels where you get to see the premiere of the trailer for that latest cool movie or TV show.
SDCC has grown to include these other things because comics fans typically ALSO like these things, but in doing so they have also opened the door to hordes of people who ONLY like those ancillary things. For my own part, I am fine with the Hollywood content. It does not affect my convention experience. I’m really happy that SDCC continues to offer up loads of comic book content for those of us who want to partake of it!
Bob Bretall: firstname.lastname@example.org
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