Convention Recap: San Diego Comic-Con International!
We Came, We Saw, We Survived...
well, just barely...
Hey B-Squad buds,
As a lot of you know, we went to San Diego Comic Con (#SDCC2016 if you're into that) and many of you have asked:
"OMG! EBEN!?! HOW WAS IT?!"
And, of course, I should take the time to update you all on all these massive B-Squad events and affairs (which speaking of, if you haven't gazed at the B-Squad events calendar, do it, we may be near you sooner than you think!)
We left on Tuesday morning and caravanned down to San Diego via the 99 as close to light speed as Mike Finn's over-laden Honda Element would allow.
Claire (of Nerd Scouts) and Sean (of Relicblade & B-Squad) joined me in the second car. In & Out burgs and Quaker granola bars sustained our bodies while our minds were filled conversations of Pokemon Go, reptilian conspiracies, future hopes of B-Squad, religion, politics, shop talk, and meandering random noises from being on the road too long.
Awestruck and Dumbfounded
San Diego Comic Con is massive. I don't just mean from an attendance perspective, but also from what's going on every day and what is going into grabbing the nerdy attention walking about the downtown area. As a small press independent comic, I knew we were going to have a challenge for attention span when the biggest brands in the world dominate the show floor. However, there is no real preparing for the bipolar sensation I felt as I was overtaken by the sense of awe and wonder for the elaborate installations each of the major companies and how quickly that was coupled with by a sense of dread while wheeling in our luggage carts with the stacks of our books to our teeny 6 foot table. How were we going to get anybody's attention in this sea of clustercuss?!
Every day of SDCC, Mike and I would get to the convention center around 7am to stroll around and really gawk at the installations when nobody else is there. It was amazing private and VIP feeling. I loved that part of the day. It afforded me some visits with friends like Melissa Pagluica of Above the Clouds comic, Andrew Farago of the Cartoon Art Museum, and our new friend booth buddies like Ben Costa of Shi Long Pang and Rickety Stitch & the Gelatinous Goo, Leen Isabel of Pole Dancing Adventures & Nguyen Dong of Dark Productions, artist & sculptor Shing Yin Khor, and Eric Dean Seaton, creator of Legend of the Mantamaji.
All in all, working the table every day and talking to thousand people out of 150,000 about our comic book was equally exciting and exhausting. We encountered a good deal of people excited to talk with us about a new comic book series, but were also met with a surprisingly large contingent of people who met our exuberant pitches with "Oh, sorry, I don't read comics."
I don't begrudge those folks one bit, Comic-Con long ago morphed from a place for comic creators to meet their fans and into a multi-headed hydra with something for any taste. In fact, many of the late night closing down the hot tub conversations we had with attendees, almost everybody was going for great big panels or larger signings.
While we ended up selling an amount of books far lower than we expected, I still have to give it up to Michael, Sean and Claire for their diligent work. Without their tireless support, I certainly could have been crushed by this and was glad I had friendship to carry me through what ended up being disappointing sales.
And truth be told, money is just paper with value we assign to it. The cost of going to Comic-Con is high, but there is a limitless amount of possibility within it's hallowed nerdy halls.
We all had amazing moments at Comic-Con that will be treasured for a long time. Bonding over a week like this, meeting luminaries and heroes, seeing the spectacles in person. Good example, Sean Sutter casually met his artistic heroes like Mike Mignola, Kim Jung Gui, and the Shiflett Brothers. And each of those he said, he just waltzed up to with no line to wait in.
I've been saying this a lot to close friends. San Diego Comic Con as a small press exhibitors was very much like a MasterCard commercial. The expenses and costs that go into exhibiting at SDCC are ultimately trumped by the truly magic moments I wouldn't ever trade. Here are a just a few of the priceless moments in no particular order.
"Can I Get A Picture?"
There are few writers & creators I admire as much as these three. Dan Harmon (Community, Rick & Morty, et al.) has been a big influence on me for many years since way back when these guys did Acceptable TV and getting the opportunity to meet him alongside equally tremendous experience of meeting Justin Roiland and Ryan Ridley. This was a spectacular treat for me.
Awhile back, I made a Tapigami sculpture of Dan, and after a recording of his podcast in LA, I was able to give it to him in person. He told me the sculpture sat on the writer's room table for the entirety of Season Six of Community. Justin and Ryan equally enthusiasm the Rick & Morty made of tape that sadly went to the ephemeral plane as they tend to droop and sag after a few months.
After a tough day of flagging sales at the booth that Saturday, this was easily a major bright spot for me and I was able to gift them some bottles B-Squad Blonde Ale, socks, and a few copies of the comics which were graciously accepted.
So when I found out that Ben Edlund, creator of "The Tick", would be doing a signing alongside the voice of the Tick, Townsend Coleman, at the New England Comics booth I hoofed it over to share Little Wooden Boy with them.
They flipped about the Little Wooden Boy. It was pretty freaking great and made me so giddy. Ben dared to ask how long I'd had the Little Wooden Boy and after a brief count on fingers and toes, proclaimed, "Well, he's a little wooden man now."
Nothing really could prepare my heart for the booming declaration of SPOON! that Townsend Coleman bellowed and I was further treated by Ben's invitation to have me bring B-Squad over for him to check out after giggling at the wacky premise.
Things like this are why I went to Comic-Con.
When I was a 16 year old kiddo in high school, one of my favorite cartoons was the The Tick - I loved the show a ton. One day while bored in a stagecraft class, I built a Little Wooden Boy in honor of one of my favorite episode (Season 2 Episode 1... which is bootlegged on YouTube if you're into that scene). I carried it everywhere I went and one year it even got found by a janitor and went on a trip to the East Coast that was heavily documented in photographs before it was returned to me in a shoebox under mysterious circumstances.
Ever since, he's gone with me throughout life, hanging out on shelves and mantles. A friendly face and fixture reminding me I'm truly never alone.
Friendly Faces I Haven't Seen in Forever
Some of the other major bright spots were seeing people who I hadn't seen in years or people who I'd never met in person and finally got that in person face to face time.
One of the biggest ones for me was meeting Jason Tudor. He was one of the most supportive fans of Eben07: Covert Custodian, and many times Dan Bethel and I would his a creative wall and know at least Jason was reading. Meeting Jason in person was a huge honor and I'm very pleased he took the time to come visit and that the lord of kismet granted us a meeting. Jason has also been inspired to create his own webcomic series Vorpal: Shoot Between Heartbeats. Check it out.
I also got a chance to meet Gary of Fleen.com, who popped by the table and quickly praised our "B-Squad. It's like Suicide Squad only funny and better" slogan we used all week long. It's always a pleasure to meet people who have supported the comic work since the early days. I still sensibly chuckle at the articles on Fleen to this day - a website that has covered webcomics longer than anybody else on the internet as far as I can tell.
Scott C. of Great Showdowns, whom years and years ago I had the pleasure of tabling next two at APE, was there and I was able to say hello again. I don't think I'd been at a show at the same time as him since that APE.
Being able to pass a bottle of B-Squad Blonde to the folks at The Devastator was great too. Ever since we met years and years ago at APE, it's always been a sincere pleasure to bump into Geoffrey and Amanda at conventions and watch their work grow. Speaking of which, if you want a funny book to show up in the mail, you should check out the Skull & Books Society.
There were just all sort of these first time meets, rekindling and assorted, WHOA! Hey! You're at COMIC-CON, too!?!
Spotted the owner of Big Brother Comics more than a couple times, visited briefly with David & Chris from Ghost Thunder Collective as they worked the Skybound booth, Michael Dorman popped by to say whats up! on the way to a panel he was a part of, Lady Beaver - who officially was the first B-Squad cosplayer - made time to give us a high-5, Hilton Collins, who did a video interview back when B-Squad was a wee baby thing and now writes for Bleeding Cool, there was Armand Gutierrez of Nerd Culture Show, Jason Martin of Princess Star Thief, Jeramie Clark of Idiot's Array, a brief encounter with John Cryer from Two and a Half Men... and an high school colleague, Faith Cheltenham, who now advocates for bisexual awareness and was at the Prism Comics Booth all week. These were just a encounters were just freaking marvelous and lifted our spirits up quite a bit.
Don't get me wrong. When I called SDCC a bipolar experience, that may sound a bit harsh. It's difficult to characterize what I mean, but I had an outstanding time and I hope I can do it again. I left inspired and deflated. Creative juices are flowing, but pockets are full of moths again. I left optimistic about new ideas and new journeys, but pessimistic about the realities of making those viable financially. I'm sure B-Squad is still in for banner years and we'll take on SDCC again. I feel like I have a greater understanding of the nature of the comics industry as a whole right now and how to better find the audience for B-Squad with and without the help of SDCC in our convention lineup.
Comic-Con is an utterly outstanding amount of fun, stress, and terrible foot pain that's barely alleviated by hot tub jets.
I didn't get a ton of time on the show floor, but the hours here and there were certainly spent well. I snagged me a new copy of Comic Book Lettering from the fine folks at Comicraft, got a tiny pissed off kitty from Kyle Starks in my copy of Sexcastle, was shocked to learn Dark Horse Comics only packed three copies of Space Mullet... which is understandable from one perspective as insiders at both Dark Horse and Oni Press told us they only really were able to move their licensed materials at the show. Which - again - is understandable. People love to like what they know already and Comic-Con is full of that popular arts. Hell, I bought into the Rick & Morty comics and the lovely starter pack of first issues is full of comics I already read (Letter 44, The Sixth Gun, & The Bunker) so that's going to become a great loaner book for me. I also snagged a copy the CHEW board game, these great light sticks that use forced perspective to make laser vision and light sabers in pics, and a ThinkGeek Convention-Edition of their popular Bag of Holding.
I've heard from countless colleagues over the years that nothing can really prepare you for how massive of an organism San Diego Comic Con has become. For my comic creating peers that haven't attended, I'll echo that. If you're like me and have never been in recent years, I would highly advise going as a guest or a professional before you booth at SDCC. This is ABSOLUTELY my biggest wish/regret/oversight. I feel like I could have gotten so much more out of this opportunity had I gone in 2015 or even 2016 as a professional.
My main piece of feedback to Comic-Con International would be to really help out that Small Press Pavilion. Now that APE isn't part of their schedule, I would love to see CCI continue to make the Small Press Pavilion a curated area of the show, and prop it up a little more as an exciting place to see new emerging storytellers and meet them in person without a line. The experience we had with flagging sales and difficulty drawing people into the Small Press Area was echoed by many colleagues in the area. As the convention has just began to expand official programming out into the neighboring hotels, the small press area felt sparsely trafficked and most attendees have little to no idea what makes that area compelling or interesting from the rest of the show. Ultimately it's on the people manning tables to lure people in and convert those interactions into new fans, but in a sea of louder voices... you've really got to stand out.
San Diego Comic Con already plays host to the Eisner Awards, Inkpot awards, Icon Award, and many others. My proposal would be to challenge the Comic Con organizers to really continue in the tradition of supporting small press and creating a sort of juried distinction for the small press to use in their promotion efforts. Make it more of an achievement to be selected for exhibition in these places. These independent creators could use a little help and attention, and it would only bolster the comparison that Comic-Con is like film festivals like Cannes and Sundance.
With any luck, we'll see you next year, San Diego! Tah tah for now!