The Truth Behind the Complaint “San Diego Comic-Con Is Not About Comics Any More”

SDCC Image Booth

The largest and longest running comic convention – Comic Con International: San Diego (still affectionately known as San Diego Comic Con or simply SDCC by fans) is in a few weeks.  That means that it’s time for people to start decrying it as “not about comics any more”.  This year this common complaint seems to have been fueled by long time retailer Mile High Comics decision to no longer attend the show, coupled with a much shared and not at all complimentary Blog by Mile High Owner Chuck Rozanski. By the way, if you want to see a great rebuttal to Rozanki’s gripe about his freight delivery at SDCC last year, check out the latest Blog by Douglas Paszkiewicz, who shares some great insight into how deliveries work at large convention centers (they are out of the hands of the convention organizers, BTW).  I’ve seen similar complaints from vendors about delivers at numerous conventions over the years, so this is really not something unique to SDCC, and has zero bearing on whether the con is about comics or not anyway.

Let’s take a moment to examine the actual truth behind the claim that SDCC is “not about comics”, and then we can talk about some things that ACTUALLY ARE TRUE, and are likely the root causes behind the shorthanded complaint that the convention is not about comics.

The real question is what does it take to be “About Comics”?   If they have to focus on comics as their main thing, then yes, this is true.  But it is also true about every other “Comic Book” convention of any size.  In order to grow past being a small show, any convention needs to include many elements of Pop Culture that ultimately take the spotlight away from comic books because frankly, the number of people who primarily care about comic books is small.  More importantly, I think, to being “About Comics” is to continue to offer lots of content that is about comics and not let the comic book content be REPLACED by Pop Culture.  A convention can continue to have a lot of comic book content even if that is not the thing that gets all the media attention.

SDCC and Comics

There is a lot of pure comic book content at San Diego Comic Con.  More than enough to put the lie to any claim it’s not about comics by the definition of “about comics” that means having lots of great comic book focused content.

Panels: There are literally hundreds of pure comic-book related panels that run Thursday through Sunday.  I have examined the schedule for this year and there are about 60 panels about comics that I’d like to attend.  Unfortunately I cannot attend all of them, some are scheduled against each other, others will likely have huge crowds that I’d rather not have to contend with.  Even taking that aside, I have a personal schedule with about 35 panels on it that could keep me in panels from 10am until about 7 or 8pm every day Thursday thru Saturday and 10am through 4pm on Sunday.  There are more comic book related panels on any single day of SDCC than I have seen at the entire show of most other comic conventions.

Publishers: Pretty much every publisher that I buy comics from is at the show.  The “Big 5” from the front half of Previews (Dark Horse, DC, IDW, Image, Marvel).  The main 2nd-tier publishers (BOOM!, Oni, Titan, Viz) as well as a bunch of the smaller guys that I get books from (2000AD, Abstract Studio, Action Lab, Aspen, Black Mask, Drawn & Quarterly, Fantagraphics, First Second, Hermes, Humanoids, Kodansha, Lion Forge, Red 5) plus lots of small/medium press comics publishers that I’m not naming here.
The ones that are missing: AfterShock, Dynamite (who has never done SDCC), and Valiant.  There are not many conventions that can boast the roster of Publishers that San Diego has.  New York Comic Con probably can, maybe a few others.

Pros: There are 100s of pros at the convention.  From people I’d consider legends to today’s hottest names in comics.  They will be speaking on many of the panels I’ll be attending, as well as signing at Publisher booths, their own booths, or in Artist’s Alley at various points during the show.
There are quite a few conventions that can boast great rosters of comic book guests, so SDCC is certainly not standing head and shoulders above the rest here, but the real point is that they have plenty of comic book pros in attendance to qualify them as being “about comics”.

Comics: Even with the loss of Mile High, there are still dozens of vendors at the show selling comics.  There are 33 vendors listed in the “Gold & Silver Pavilion” which is where the vendors of older comics congregate.  There are lots of other vendors outside this area that sell newer comics, or collected editions.  That said, there is legitimately a downturn in vendors that sell stuff that can be easily purchased online, and with the cost of a vendor space at SDCC, it really is not financially feasible to focus on “50 cent bins”, so that is something that is not represented strongly a the show any more.  What they do have a lot of is harder to find, older, more expensive books that fans can buy and actually see what they are getting (which is a main detractor on getting some of these rarer books online.
There are also quite a few Original Art vendors, for people who are into that.
The bottom line here is not to make a claim that SDCC has more or better comic book dealers than any other specific con, but that they have more than enough to satisfy the bar of being “about comics”.
Personally, I think comics dealers are not really in the “sweet spot” of any larger con any more.  There are too many other things vying for the attention of attendees.  I think that there are quite a few smaller regional shows that specialize in comics and comics dealer that do a much better job at this than the big shows.

Bottom Line: There is a great deal of comic book content at SDCC.  So much so that when I attend I do nothing but comic book related stuff.  I spend all day every day from Thursday through Sunday, and there is far more than I can experience.  The important thing to remember is that comics are there if you look for them.  Just because there is a TON of non-comics stuff does not mean that there are no comics.  These are not mutually exclusive things.

Legitimate Gripes

The Main Focus of the Con is not Comics: I will give people this one.  From the outside looking in, the media focuses mostly on TV Shows/Movies and Cosplay.  If I just watched the news, I’d think everyone was wearing a costume and every panel was about a TV Show/Movie and what everyone came to see was Hollywood actors.  This is unfortunately just the way it is.  Reading comics is a tremendously niche hobby.  Most people don’t like to read, they like their entertainment to be delivered to them in a different way.

I also think that most of the attendees of the con are there for stuff other than comic books.  I just look at the lines for the panels with the Hollywood stuff and compare that to the number of people in the “pure comics” panels I attend (usually with less than 100 people) to understand this is 100% true.  Most people I know who are comics fans split their time at con between comic book panels and ones focusing on Hollywood stuff.

What is true is that the vast majority of the public does not care about comic books themselves but absolutely LOVE the things that have spawned from comics and grown in other media.  Having a lot of focus on these things is just giving people what they want.  In fact, if you look at pretty much ANY ‘comic book’ convention out there and see what they are advertising to sell tickets and pull in attendees, it is typically not comic books.  Cons advertise the actors they have coming to boost ticket sales all the time.  It’s just business.

The difference I see at SDCC is that even though the comics are not the main draw for ticket sales, they still host a tremendous amount of comic book related panels that have fairly small attendance.  What I have seen at other cons I have attended is a drop off in the comic book panels in favor of panels that have more interest to the vast bulk of the attendees.  Less comics, more “other stuff” as time goes by.

Long Lines: Yes.  Lines are brutal.  When you have more than 125,000 people there are going to be lines.  And guess what?  The longest lines are for the most popular things!  That makes sense.  What are the most popular things?  Things related to Hollywood, actors, and big/hot super-hero projects.  If these are your main interests, I’m sorry, but it’s going to suck.  There will be lines.  You may not see everything you want to see or get to meet every person you want to meet.  I think the same thing will be true at any convention that has very popular things that lots of people are interested in.   I think this is actually the goal (or perhaps the unintended consequence) of any convention that wants to have really cool guests/events and a very healthy attendance.  Rooms are only so big, actors/creators can only meet and talk to so many people over the course of an hour or two.  This one kind of “is what it is”.

I Can’t Get Tickets!: Yes.  See “Long Lines”.  When far more people want something than the available quantity, some people will not get what they want.  The convention center is HUGE, but there is still an upper limit to the number of people that can attend.  More people want to go than there are tickets, and tickets usually sell out in an hour or 2.  The limited nature of the tickets causes a lot of “sour grapes” griping from people who couldn’t get tickets.   They cannot get a ticket so make themselves feel better by focusing on how the show “sucks anyway”, is too crowded, and is no longer about comics.

(Vendor Complaint) Sales Are Down and it is Not Worth It: This is one of the things Chuck Rozanski was complaining about.  Totally legitimate. There is a tremendous amount on online competition to ANY physical seller.  If you are not offering something unique that people cannot get online, why is it surprising that people are not bothering to buy from you?  Rozanski runs a huge online comic selling operation himself.  There is also a LOT of stuff competing for the attention of any attendee.  They can be meeting creators/actors, talking to people at the Publisher booths, attending panels where they hear from people they do not normally have access to, or go across the street from the convention center which is like a huge pop culture fair with all kinds of “experiences” and cool things to do.  Why do they want to be digging through a back issue bin getting something they could get from their desk at home any day of the year?  Add in the fact that at least 50% of the attendees of SDCC have never read a physical comic in their life and have no desire to read them.  This is not to say that there are not some people who will come to shop for comics, but it should not be surprising if you’re not swamped with customers if you are not offering some kind of unique experience or product that cannot be had online.

Artists Alley is Marginalized: This is another one I will give to critics of SDCC.  The convention organizers seem to think it’s a good idea to put Artist’s Alley way down at the south end of the Convention center about 3 city blocks away from the comics publishers and 5 city blocks away from the comics dealers.  You have to run a gauntlet of Media booths and aisles crowded with 1000s of people who want to get a look at some star of a TV show or get some free giveway from a studio that they’ll either sell on eBay or will end up at the back of a drawer in 6 months time.
There are lots of conventions that treat Artist’s Alley far better than San Diego and as a result have far better Artists Alley experiences for both the fans and the pros.  I think this is the weakest link in their comic book content portfolio.

Comic Conventions are Changing

Comic Cons are changing across the board.  There is a focus on non-comic things at any con when it grows to a certain size.  I would argue that in order to grow beyond a small size any convention must modify itself to offer lots of things that are not directly comic books.  This is because the size of the audience that is interested in reading comics is very small PLUS people who like to read comics usually ALSO like those other things.

The important thing is whether, while growing, a convention holds onto “pure comic book content” as they begin to grow and add things that are not comic books.  The thing I love about SDCC is that they have succeeded in doing this.

A Round of Applause for SDCC

Even though SDCC is huge and comics are legitimately not the main draw for attendance, they still offer a lot of solid comic book content for anyone who comes seeing it out.

And for that, SDCC deserves a round of applause from all fans of comic books.  For holding onto their roots and keeping a core of love for comics alive within the much larger non-comics beast that the convention has grown into.

Opinion by: Bob Bretall  (bob@comicspectrum.com)
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2016 Favorites of the Year: Bob Bretall

It’s time for the last installment where the four regular ComicSpectrum contributors for 2016 have each shared their “Top 10” list for 2016.

We are not declaring our favorites to be magically the “best” things produced, but rather just  what they are, our favorite things. As I look at the Top 10 for each of the four of us (Adam Brunell, Al Sparrow, Bob Bretall, Shawn Hoklas), there are only 2 shared items on our lists: Adam and Shawn both named Marvel’s Mighty Thor series and Bob and Shawn both named DC’s Wonder Woman series relaunched as part of Rebirth. 

Looking at how very different the favorites are for four people that have been collectively reading comics for over 80 years, it  drives home just how silly it is to put any stock in a “best of” list published by anyone in absence of a clearly defined set of criteria that is used to judge something as the “best”.  All of those “best of” lists are really just people’s personal favorites that they attempt to lend greater credence to by declaring them best.

I have my Top 12 favorite ongoing series on the ComicSpectrum website, so I tried to make this list somewhat different. I widened the scope beyond just straight comic books and also made use, in many cases, of groupings of books that I have enjoyed or things that are either not strictly comics or are not ongoing series, and as such wouldn’t fit into the Top 12 on the website.

I present these in alphabetic order, not in any precedence of enjoyment.  I’ve really loved all of these things over the course of 2016, and in some cases for many years previous to that as well.


CREDIT: Marvel Comics

Amazing Spider-Man – Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy (Marvel)

I’ve been reading spider-Man since 1970, it’s what got me into comics collecting.  There have been ups and downs over the years, I even stopped buying the title at various points (during the Maximum Clonage era as well as when J. Michael Straczynski was weaving his tale of a Gwen Stacy impregnated by Norman Osborne).  I have been a fan of a lot of the interesting twists and turns Dan Slott has been introducing over the last several years because, to me, they feel like they’re built on a solid base of existing Spider-Man lore and don’t feel disrespectful to stories that have gone before, though I’m certain there are people who feel quite the opposite.  But that’s why it’s my personal favorite and not a declaration of being the best Spider-Man comics in decades, though I am enjoying Spider-Man more in the past year or two than I have at any point in the past 25 years.
I’m particularly fond of the recent Dead No More/Clone Conspiracy storyline.  Slott has woven a tale that makes a lot of sense to me as a logical progression from comics I enjoyed long, long ago, and it’s also fun seeing lots of dead characters brought back to life in a way that makes sense and is “fair play” in the context of the story.

CREDIT: Archie Comics

Archie Comics Reboot (Archie)

I read the occasional Archie comic when I was a kid (under 10 years of age) but they were never something that really appealed to me.  When Archie re-tooled itself with the horror line spearheaded by Afterlife with Archie and then added Chilling Adventures of Sabrina I was hooked.  I was reading Archie comics and loving them.  But those comics suffered only from an exceptionally infrequent publishing schedule.  When Archie gave its core universe a modern facelift with writers like Mark Waid, Chip Zdarsky, and Ryan North and artists like Fiona Staples, Veronica Fisk, Joe Eisma, Erika Henderson, and Derek Charm I had something new to love.  While Betty & Veronica (written & drawn by Adam Hughes) comes out very infrequently (though worth the wait), they have been getting out issues of Archie and Jughead on a monthly basis and I have been enjoying them immensely all year long.

CREDIT: IDW, DC, Marvel, Dark Horse

Artist’s Editions (primarily IDW Publishing and Dark Horse)

I really really love Artist’s editions.  I’m showing just 3 of the volumes that came out in 2016 that I purchased, there were several others. These large books that reproduce original comic book art at original size and in full color are something that I consider beautiful, seeing art at full size as it was originally drawn, with the color scans showing any corrections, blue-lines, margin notes, white-out, etc. is something I think is very special.  The format was pioneered by Scott Dunbier at IDW and he has deservedly won multiple Eisner awards for these books.  Other publishers have imitated the format and put out their own versions (Dark Horse, Dynamite, DC) and while they appear pricey at $100+ per volume, this is really not that bad when you take into account that in most cases, even a single page of the art reproduced would cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

complete-peanuts

CREDIT: Fantagraphics

The Complete Peanuts (Fantagraphics)

In 2016, Fantagraphics published the final volumes of a series it has been working on since 2004, publishing 25 volumes with every Peanuts comic strip from 1950 thru Schulz’s last in 2000.  In October they released a 26th volume that collects art, storybooks, comic book stories and other things related to Peanuts that Schulz created that were not the daily comic strips themselves.  Schulz drew every single strip himself, no assistants or help of any kind over 50 years.  This is a fabulous series and a fabulous achievement reproducing one of the masterpieces of the American comic strip art form.

CREDIT: Hard Case Crime, Titan Comics

Hard Case Crime (Titan Comics)

Titan Comics gets a huge thumbs up from me for bringing the hard case crime genre to comics in 2016 in a couple of excellently executed comics (Peepland & Triggerman).  I even followed the author of Peepland (Christa Faust) back to the Hard Case Crime paperback imprint and read her 1st ‘Angel Dare’ novel, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  I’m now picking up various paperbacks from this imprint to read every month or two.  I really enjoy this genre and the comics are firing on all cylinders for me.  I look forward to whatever they are going to produce next in this imprint.

CREDIT: John Allison + BOOM! Box

John Allison Comics (self-published + BOOM! Box)

I fell in love with John Allison’s portrayal of a quirky group of college kids in the UK in 2015 thanks to the series from BOOM! Box.  IN 2016 I upped the ante by buying the 1st 3 self-published issues directly from Allison’s website, in addition to getting turned on to his wonderful series Bad Machinery, a webcomic that follows a group of UK school-age kids.  Better still, Oni Press will be bringing us pocket-sized hardcopies of Bad Machinery starting in Mach 2017!  I’ll be picking up these volumes as they’re published!

CREDIT: Marvel Studios

Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (Marvel Studios)

I have loved each Marvel movie that has come out so far that has been a part of their shared cinematic universe.  2016 kept up the pace with 2 movies that were off the charts enjoyable for me.  Civil War had my favorite portrayal of Spider-Man on the big screen to date and has me eagerly anticipating 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.  Doctor Strange did a great job of integrating magic into the cinematic universe and had a great use of 3-D.  At least for me, Marvel has the magic.  They make extremely enjoyable movies that I can watch over and over.

CREDIT: Abstract Studio

Rachel Rising (Abstract Studio)

2016 saw the conclusion to Terry Moore’s horror epic that has played out over the course of the past 5 years.  Set in his Moore-verse along with the romantic dramedy Strangers in Paradise and the sci-fi Echo, this is another eminently re-readable story and is one of the few series I double-dipped on.  I read the monthly issues, which all worked for me as periodical installments, but then re-read the entire series in Omnibus format and it worked in that format as well, allowing me to pick up on connections and cross-references that I missed along the way as I read it played out over 5 years.  Moore is a master story-teller and I highly recommend any of his work, including his current psychological dramedy “Motor Girl”.

CREDIT: Marvel Comics

Vision – limited series (Marvel)

This series played out perfectly across 2016, with issue #1 cover-dated Jan 2016 thru #12 cover-dated December 2016.  My absolute favorite piece of work from writer Tom King to date and my #1 favorite thing from Marvel in 2016.  King did a great job of adding layers and nuance to a character I’ve loved since I was a kid (my first comic with this character was Avengers #106 in 1972 and he quickly became my favorite Avenger).  But it’s been a long time since I’ve really enjoyed the character (probably since the Busiek/Perez run on Avengers that kicked off in 1998).  Thanks to Tom King and artist Gabriel Hernandez-Walta for bringing the character I loved for so many years back to a form/interpretation I love again.  This is typical of a lot of super-hero series.  New teams love to shake things up and over the years I’ve often gone through long periods where I no longer cared for a particular interpretation of a character I once loved.  Eventually yet another re-interpretation occurs that puts the character back in my sweet spot, and that’s what happened in 2016 for this beloved character.

CREDIT: DC Comics

Wonder Woman: Rebirth (DC Comics)

This is on my “Top 12” list of ongoing series and is one of the very few DC super-hero titles I am currently enjoying.  It stands head and shoulders above all the other DC books for me as my only “top of stack must read” DC comic.  I wanted to give it special attention by calling it out on this list as well as my regular Top 12.  When presented with the bi-weekly schedule, the other DC writers went on ahead and wrote their story arcs, living with the fact that artists would have to be swapped out in mid-arc since most artists cannot complete 2 entire issues of a comic per month.  Greg Rucka did something different.  He lined up 2 artists: Liam Sharp and Nicola Scott.  Then he told 2 parallel stories, one in the odd numbered issues and one in the even numbered issues.  This allowed him to tell 2 stories with a consistent artist on each.  I really appreciate this and would rather get the issues spaced out the way he has done it than to have the jarring art style change in the middle of each story arc that drove me away from many other DC Rebirth bi-weekly series.  Bravo to Rucka, Sharp, and Scott for bringing me back to Wonder Woman after a several year lapse.


There you have it.  Four ComicSpectrum contributors and 38 different things we all loved in 2016.  Not a lot of crossover, but tons of variety which I think is really an accurate reflection of the taste of comics fans.  Everyone likes different stuff and there’s a tremendous amount of thing to choose from to like.

My thanks to Shawn, Adam, and Al for helping balance out the ComicSpectrum site throughout 2016.  Shawn is our go-to “DC fan” and is getting back into Valiant Comics as well.  Add in his love for back issues, horror comics, and knowledge of CGC and he provides a great resource to round out the overall coverage we provide.  Adam is our go-to guy for X-Men, Inhumans, and a lot of generally popular mainstream Marvel books.  Al provides a wealth of knowledge on the manga, ‘bad girl’ comics, and the crowdsourcing/small/independent press front, as well as being an all-around expert on all things Supergirl.

I am thankful on a regular basis for having them all contribute to the site!  Thanks guys!

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2016 Favorites of the Year: Shawn Hoklas

It’s time for Shawn Hoklas’ list of favorites as the regular contributors to the ComicSpectrum site each share their “Top 10” list for 2016.

We are not declaring our favorites to be magically the “best” things produced, but rather just  what they are, our favorite things. We were not constrained to any specific categories this year.  Each contributor was asked to pick 10 things they really liked that hit the stands in 2016.  Whether they were individual issues, series, trade paperbacks, books about comics, comics related toys, whatever. 

Take it away, Shawn!


dcureb_cv1_ds_300dpi_cropped_5743b270aaaae3-39723701

CREDIT: DC Comics

 1. DC Rebirth
Last year I had DC’s Convergence on my Top 10 list. It was definitely not on there for the story, but for the simple fact that it had all of DC continuity matter again. This year, we got Rebirth which acknowledged much of DC’s missteps while moving the DC Universe forward, and bringing back legacy. We got Wally West and Ted Kord back, but also have DC’s New 52 all working together, at least for now. The Watchmen tie in was a shocker for almost everybody and although that storyline remains to be played out, I’m excited for all the possibilities! I’m really enjoying most of what DC is offering right now and it all kicked off here.

p27

CREDIT: Image Comics

2. Fade Out
This one may not “officially” count for comics that came out in 2016, but I read most Image Comics in trade and the final trade of The Fade Out came along right at the beginning of the year so I had to add it. The Fade out is a look back at the Golden Age of Hollywood and follows two Hollywood screenwriters looking to find a starlet’s killer while trying to live within a world where they truly don’t belong. Creators Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser may be one of the best teams in comics and it shows with their work here. This is definitely my favorite series these guys have created yet, and may be the best thing I read all last year.

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CREDIT: DC Comics

3. Superman
Back in my 2015 list, I had commented that I was happy we had the original Clark Kent and Lois Lane back.  Superman was my favorite series of 2016. For so long, both DC and Marvel have gone away from relationships and marriage, arguing that the character is more interesting when they’re not “tied down”, allowing more potential story opportunities. Superman has proven that theory wrong by showing Clark, Lois and son Jonathan as a family team, not just a heroic team with Superman and Superboy, but a team for everyday life. The issue where the family spends a night at the carnival was just as strong as the multi-issue battle against the Eradicator. This is what I’ve missed about DC for so long and can’t recommend this series enough.

mighty_thor_vol_2_1_dauterman_variant

CREDIT: Marvel Comics

4. Thor
I have to agree with Adam’s choice of Thor this year. For all the reasons he mentioned, but also for Russell Dauterman’s art. Dauterman fills each and every page and panel with characters and backgrounds that are each as beautiful as the next. I also love the fact that for the most part, Thor stayed away from Civil War II and allowed Jason Aaron and Dauterman to maintain their vision for the series and spend the time growing Jane Foster as a character.

ww-cv3_ds

CREDIT: DC Comics

5. Wonder Woman
It’s been a while since I’ve read and enjoyed Wonder Woman. The last time was probably when Greg Rucka was writing the character so it’s no surprise that I’m loving the character again. Rucka definitely has a handle on the character and artists Liam Sharp and Nicola Scott are a powerful one-two punch on the visuals. As much as I’ve enjoyed the storyline in the present, it’s Rucka and Scott’s take on the character’s origin that I love! I really can’t say enough good things about their take on the character from her learning how to speak the language, to her innocence in a modern world. This is a DC series that really shows the potential a rotating creative team can have on a series, and could be a model for other DC books that can’t pull this off as well. I’m happy I’m reading a Wonder Woman book again…it’s about time!

spider-woman-5-cover-e1458295489549

CREDIT: Marvel Comics

6. Spider-Woman
This may be my surprise pick for 2016, I was surprised at just how much I loved this series. Dennis Hopeless didn’t have Jessica Drew’s biggest battle be fighting Hydra or some cosmic baddie alongside the Avengers.  Instead her biggest fight was raising a baby on her own. With gorgeous and colorful art by Javier Rodriguez, Spider-Woman at times was my favorite looking book in certain months this past year. While at times, crossovers like Spider-Women and Civil War disrupted the book’s simplicity, it still did its best to remain true to focusing on Jessica and how her whole life has changed now that she’s a different type of hero…a mom.

wrath-of-the-eternal-warrior-9-2016

CREDIT: Valiant Comics

7. Eternal Warrior
This past year I caught up on most of what Valiant has to offer and Eternal Warrior was my favorite of them all, and that’s saying a lot. Writer Robert Venditti made me love this character as he showed just what happens when an immortal character dies, and how he keeps coming back. Not only that, but there was an exceptional storyline called Labyrinth with stunning art by Raul Allen that shows how a villain attempts to trap an immortal, killing him over and over agin to try and find the secrets to eternal life. All of this while showing a softer side of the character I hadn’t seen before. Although I’m saddened to see this series end in 2016, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s fourteen fantastic issues that you need to read and I’m sure it will be back with a new #1 soon enough.

dc-comics-aquaman-premium-format-300218-04-1

CREDIT Sideshow Collectibles

8. Sideshow Aquaman
I was beyond pleased when Sideshow picked up the license for DC a few years back. Since the Bowen and Marvel partnership seems to be over, I’ve been buying more and more statues and figures from Sideshow and Aquaman was my favorite this past year. He’s part of their “premium format figure” line so he’s a pretty big piece (that’s a normal apple next to it). Although these carry a hefty price, they’re worth it for collectors since this statue has plenty of detail from the scales on his shirt, to the intricate waves on the base. You also get multiple heads, including one with a beard and a harpoon hand if you’re a fan of Peter David’s run on the character. I prefer the classic version though, and hope to have the entire Justice League soon.

descender_12-1

CREDIT: Image Comics

9. Descender
It was hard to limit myself to just one Jeff Lemire book this year. Moon Knight, Bloodshot, Thanos…all great and that’s not even counting Black Hammer which I loved! I was going to choose just Jeff Lemire as a “favorite thing”, but I forced myself to pick one book and that would have to be Descender. Tim-21 is a robot boy living in a world that has rebelled against robots and it’s a visual treat with art by Dustin Nguyen. With Sony picking up the rights to this comic, I feel as though this could make an amazing movie. Jeff Lemire is firing on all cylinders right now, and this is probably my favorite work of his this year…or maybe it’s Black Hammer, or maybe it’s Bloodshot….or… well the list goes on and on.

carnage_vol_2_6_classic_variant

CREDIT: Marvel Comics

10. Carnage
As surprising as Spider-Woman being on my list was, I was even more surprised that Carnage made my list! Carnage? It’s a fun and smart comic that doesn’t take itself seriously and embraces some wonderful and quirky characters from Marvel’s past. Gerry Conway is writing a modern day bronze age Marvel horror book that always surprises me with just how much I enjoy each issue. I know that a Carnage book may be a turn off for most fans just because of the titular character, but it isn’t anything you’d expect…it’s better!


Thanks for sharing your favorites with us, Shawn!   We’ll wrap up this series of ComicSpectrum contributor favorites next time with what tickled Bob’s fancy in 2016!

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2016 Favorites of the Year: Al Sparrow

Al Sparrow now adds his list of favorites as the regular contributors to the ComicSpectrum site each share a “Top 10” list for 2016.

We are not declaring our favorites to be magically the “best” things produced, but rather just  what they are, our favorite things. We were not constrained to any specific categories this year.  Each contributor was asked to pick 10 things they really liked that hit the stands in 2016.  Whether they were individual issues, series, trade paperbacks, books about comics, comics related toys, whatever. 

Take it away, Al!


2016 was a crazy year all around. I don’t think I have to tell anyone that. It did, however, give us some great comics to read. Here’s a few I really enjoyed:

blastfurnace

CREDIT: Ryan Browne

Favorite Book to Silence Anyone Who Says They Can’t Make Comics:
Blast Furnace: Recreational Thief! By Ryan Browne. (Crowdsourced)

Browne’s method for making this book is outlined right on the cover: One Hour Per Page + Zero Planning = One Sweet-Ass Story.  This book makes almost no sense, jumping from ridiculous plot point to even more ridiculous plot point. Yet it may very well be the most entertaining book I’ve read in the past few years, mostly because of that semi-organized chaos. Simply put, if Ryan Browne can devote an hour a day to create something this much fun to read, the rest of us are out of excuses.

slichman

CREDIT: Rapoza + Warren

Favorite Book for Anyone Who Played Dungeons & Dragons in the 1980s/1990s:
Steve Lichman, Vol. 1 by David Rapoza and Daniel Warren (Crowdsourced)

Ever wonder what all those monsters who dwell in the dungeon of your favorite RPG do while they’re waiting for your intrepid party to show up and do battle? Wonder no more…they live lives just a hair’s breadth removed from our own. They support (and ridicule) each other just like we “normal” humans do. A must for anyone tired of all the vampires showing up in our funnybooks these days.

monstergirl

CREDIT: Seven Seas

Favorite Book for Anyone Who Ever Wondered How to Have Sex with a Gargoyle: Monster Girl Encyclopedia Vol. 1 by Kenkou Cross (Seven Seas)

Not so much a comic as a…well, an encyclopedia (says so right in the title!)…this lavishly illustrated and meticulously thought-out book is chock full of information on pretty much any type of monster girl you could imagine. This being only the first volume, I’m guessing the author’s imagination might stretch a bit further than mine, so I’m interested to see what beastly femme fatales show up in volume 2.  A good companion book for anyone heavily into Monster Musume or the numerous other monster-girl books hitting the stands these days.

shgirls_finals

CREDIT: DC Comics

Favorite Book Designed to Sell You (or Your Children) Toys:
DC Superhero Girls: Finals Crisis by Shea Fontana and Yancey Labat (DC)

Make no mistake, this book (and its follow-up “Hits and Myths”) are out to get you to go the store and buy dolls, action figures, playsets, etc. It’s not the first comic to do this, and it certainly won’t be the last. That it’s able to be as charming as it is can (almost) make you forget its mission. Labat’s stylized artwork ties in nicely with the animated series as well as the toys themselves. Fontana, meanwhile, crafts fun all-ages stories that even the most disgruntled fanboy can enjoy. When was the last time Crazy Quilt was this much fun?

swords

CREDIT: Dynamite Comics

Favorite Book for the Superheroine Fans of Yesteryear (and Today!):
Swords of Sorrow: The Complete Saga by Gail Simone and more! (Dynamite)

They had me at Gail Simone overseeing a host of the comic worlds best writers and artists. They kept me with the characters these creators would be tackling: Red Sonja. Vampirella. Dejah Thoris. Ms. Masque. Lady Rawhide…all mashed together in a multi-issue epic. I resisted the temptation to pick up the individual issues because a crossover of this magnitude pretty much demands a collected edition. You can simply drool over the amazing artwork Dynamite has become known for, but with writers like Simone, Nancy Collins, and G. Willow Wilson at the helm, you’re doing yourself a disservice to ignore how well the stories all tie together.

insexts

CREDIT: AfterShock

Favorite Book to Scare the Hell Out of Male Chauvinists:
InSEXts by Marguerite Bennett and Ariela Kristantina (Aftershock)

It didn’t take long for Aftershock to become one of my favorite new publishers and this book is one of the two reasons why (the other one is a bit further down the list). Two women with a very dark, sinister secret trying to survive in oppressive Victorian England? Written by Marguerite Bennett? Yes, I’ll have some more of that, please.

thisdamned

CREDIT: Dark Horse

Favorite Book for the Air Guitarist Inside Us All:
This Damned Band by Paul Cornell and Tony Parker (Dark Horse)

In my younger days I played bass guitar in a number of bar bands you’ve never heard of, so I’m very critical of any comic that involves rock and roll but treats the bass player as an afterthought (or worse, doesn’t even include a bassist in the band). Alex Lodge, the troublemaking bassist for Motherfather, the titular “damned band” in this book, is my new hero, and Cornell and Parker are my heroes for giving him life. If you love “The Song Remains the Same” but wish it’d had a bit more Satan in it, pick this one up.

superzero

CREDIT: AfterShock

Favorite Book for the Hero-Wannabe Inside All of Us:
SuperZero by Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, and Rafael de Latorre

I mentioned earlier that I had two reasons to put Aftershock down as my favorite new publisher. This is the second reason. Dru Dragowski doesn’t just have the desire to get superpowers and save the world…she’s putting her dreams into action. How hard could it be to get a radioactive spider to bite you? What harm could there be in hiring a hitman to kill your parents so you’ll become the next Batman? If Kick Ass is the rude reality of becoming a superhero, SuperZero is the fun flipside to getting there.

CREDIT: DC Comics

Favorite Book(s) from the Not-So-Distant Past:
Daring New Adventures of Supergirl Vol. 1 and Supergirl Vol. 1 by Peter David (DC)

Thank Rao that the Supergirl show on CBS was as successful as it was, because we’re seeing more and more of her comic-book adventures from the past getting the trade paperback treatment. Two in particular made me quite happy this year. Daring New Adventures collects the early 1980s run with artwork from Carmine Infantino, and was one of the books I loved reading in my teenage years. The Peter David run from the 1990s remains one of my favorite takes on the Maid of Might and it’s my fervent hope we’ll see the entirety of that run get chronicled.

tokyoesp

CREDIT: Vertical

Favorite Book about the X-Men Without an “X” in the Title:
Tokyo ESP by Hajime Segawa (Vertical)

While this series began publication in Japan in 2010 and stated US publication in 2015, each new volume released in 2016 immediately went to the top of my reading stack. Quite simply, it does the X-Men better than the X-Men do the X-Men. The war between ESPers (nee Mutants) and humanity is an ongoing struggle between those who want to use their powers for good and those who’d rather do evil. Sound familiar? Perhaps, but this series blends enough amazing writing and artwork to make you forget all about the word “Snikt!”


Thanks for sharing your favorites with us, Al!   Next time we’ll see what tickled Shawn Hoklas’ fancy in 2016!

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2016 Favorites of the Year: Adam Brunell

To close out the year we wanted to take an opportunity for each of the regular contributors to the ComicSpectrum site to share a “Top 10” list for 2016.  Since I have a strong aversion to calling my favorite things “best”, we’ll probably be one of the few comics site on the internet not declaring our favorites to be magically the “best” things produced, but rather what they are, just our favorite things.

 None of the contributors were constrained to any specific categories this year.  They were asked to pick 10 things they really liked that hit the stands in 2016.  Whether they were individual issues, series, trade paperbacks, books about comics, comics related toys, whatever. 

Kicking us off for this year is regular reviewer Adam Brunell.  Take it away, Adam.  Tell us what you loved from 2016!


ste

CREDIT: Image Comics

  1. Seven to Eternity

Events in comics came and went like usual, but when I was trying to think of my top 10 items released this year that had to do with comics, all I could think of was, “Seven to Eternity”.  Writer Rick Remender has delivered an awesome story since the first issue. Everything read like a Dungeon and Dragons campaign with your friends sitting at the table. The art by Artist Jerome Opeña, dialogue and story are all easy on the eyes, and every comic released in this series has kept me captivated on every page.

animosity

CREDIT: AfterShock Comics

  1. Animosity

After Writer Marguerite Bennett got me hooked on specific comic titles I hadn’t been interested in since the early 1990s, I had to check out this comic. The high praise throughout the comic reader community, stunning story, writing style and art by Rafael de Latorre made this series a must have for me. Requesting the series late was my biggest concern, and it took me several months to acquire the first issue locally, because everyone kept selling out. Aftershock Comics is now on the 5th print for the first issue, and for good reason.

mightythor

CREDIT: Marvel Comics

  1. The Mighty Thor

 Jason Aaron is well known in the comic world for his awe-inspiring writing skills, but nothing really stands out to me more than when Jane Foster became the Goddess of Thunder. Though the story started in 2014, Aaron keeps giving us more and more with this new Thor. When Jane Foster is not wielding Mjolnir, she is fighting cancer in her mortal form. The only issue that exists with crossing back and forth between from Thor to Jane Foster, is that Mjolnir destroys any chemotherapy coursing through Jane’s body. In recent events, it was revealed to readers that Mjolnir is actually an ancient storm with a personality trapped within the hammers structure. Artists Russell Dauterman and Steve Epting have provided astonishing works of art for each comic they have had a hand in. With a never ending fascinating story and art, this series had to make my list of favorites.

 obi-wan

  1. SDCC 2016 Exclusive Star Wars Black Series Obi-Wan Kenobi Figure

 I was not lucky enough to go to the San Diego Comic-Con this year, but numerous figures and comics were exclusive to the Comic-Con. Certain websites would have some of the exclusive deals as well, but certain items went faster than others, and if you weren’t quick with your purchase, you lost the item. One of those figures released at the Comic-Con was Star Wars the Black Series Obi-Wan Kenobi. I was not lucky enough to get this item when it was released, but a friend was and he made sure to let me know he had it. The figure is well detailed to resemble the late Alec Guinness who portrayed Kenobi in the first original Star Wars trilogy. Included with the Kenobi figure is a lightsaber and a plastic replica of the stone table in Kenobi’s home with a little blue figure to represent the Princess Leia hologram asking for his help.

predator

  1. SDCC 2016 Exclusive NECA Alien vs Predator Cloaked Scar Predator Action Figure

 I own this figure, and how I own this figure was out of pure luck. I have a friend that knows a guy that went to the SDCC 2016 Comic-Con, and old debts that were owed were brought into play for a good deal on the item. The figure isn’t transparent, but it’s a pure white Scar Predator figure to resemble the cloaked Predator from the first Aliens vs Predator movie. Being a big fan of the Predator and Alien movies, acquiring this figure was a blessing. Regardless of the figure being one color, the sculpture design of the figure is well detailed and clean. Included with the figure are several weapon accessories and a little colored structure to resemble the temple hologram in the movie.

renew

CREDIT: Marvel Comics

  1. Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows

 I hadn’t touched a Spider-Man comic since 2007 when the events of One More Day and Brand New Day had taken place. I didn’t have good feelings for the story after that, and I still don’t. During the recent Secret Wars event this title came out, it was an alternate universe where Mary Jane and Peter Parker stayed together and had a daughter. This angle had shown what would have possibly happened if the events of One More Day had gone differently. Writer Gerry Conway and Artist Ryan Stegman deliver a captivating story with fantastic dialogue and intense illustrations.

 

superwoman

CREDIT: DC Comics

  1. DC Rebirth: Superwoman

There were many titles released for the DC Comics Rebirth event, but the only one that stood out above the crowd for me was the Superwoman title. We are given a couple of fresh heroes just learning their powers, but they are long time characters in the DC Universe. Lois Lane and Lana Lang have acquired the abilities of a fallen Superman, so they are now super powered, but this much power is too much for their human bodies to handle. Writer and Artist Phil Jimenez along with Artist Matt Santorelli bring us a dramatic action packed story of two dying heroes who would rather power up and let their abilities kill them than to sit idly by and let innocent people suffer.

southernbastards

CREDIT: Image Comics

  1. Southern Bastards

This multiple award-winning comic shouldn’t need an introduction, Writer Jason Aaron and Artist Jason Latour leave little to the imagination with this series. With everything feeling chaotic in the Southern Bastard world, there is crime, mayhem, sports and just all around bastards everywhere.

secretwars

CREDIT: Marvel Comics

  1. Secret Wars

 Though the title started in 2015, it ended at the beginning of 2016, which left the Marvel Universe changed. Heroes from alternate realities were pushed to different realities to form one Primary Universe. There are still alternate realities, just not as many. By the end of the Secret Wars we lost the Fantastic Four, because Reed Richards is now a cosmic God with his wife Susan and their children beside him in the heavens. Johnny Storm was left behind and is a liaison for the Inhumans, and Ben Grimm is now a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy until recently when they were stranded on Earth because of the second Civil War. Miles Morales and Peter Parker are in the same reality now, and Old Man Logan was pushed into the main Marvel Universe where the previous Logan had died. Remnants of faded realities are popping up all over the place, this series used a lot of different realities to answer a lot of “What if?” questions, but some also were just confusing. With all the side comics that were part of the Secret Wars, it wasn’t just one writer and artist to give credit to; I thought all the comics were great reads.

alien

CREDIT: Kotobukiya

  1. Kotobukiya Alien Warrior Statue

 Being a fan of Kotobukiya statues in general and anything from the Alien franchise in specific, this gem is a prize on my shelf. The statue is very detailed, and includes some plastic pieces to make an open grate like box to hang the alien warrior from the walls or upside down. Being a statue it lacks in joints to pose the figure, but what it lacks in being able to be posed it gains in detail and structure.


Thanks for sharing your favorites with us, Adam!   Next time we’ll see what tickled Al Sparrow’s fancy in 2016!

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Baltimore Comic Con 2016: Comics Still Reign at this Con

baltimorecon2016

Baltimore Convention Center

Living in California, I’ve been to many cons in the western US, but had never been to an east coast convention before, and I had heard nothing but good things about Baltimore and Heroes Con from  east coast friends.  My job had me, in a pleasant coincidence, working in Annapolis, MD on the Monday thru Thursday  right before the Baltimore con this year, so I thought: “I’m in the neighborhood, I should stick around for a couple of extra days and check out this convention!” and I’m certainly glad I did.  I’m going to describe my experiences, all positive, along with a few cautionary notes and suggestions to the people running the con in this Blog.

Comics still take a very visible front row seat at this convention, which is a rarity at “comics” conventions nowadays.  Many cons spend much more energy and devote much more panel and floor space to things that are Hollywood related or general pop culture, because those are things that draw in bigger audiences than the comics themselves.  Walking around and overhearing snippets of conversation over the course of several days, I got the feeling that there are definitely more “pure comics” fans, by percentage, than at other cons I have attended.  I heard a number of people talking about print comics; about issues and stories they had read and enjoyed, past and present, as well as their desires to “buy comics”.  One person I overheard was very focused on this, saying he only came to this show to buy comics, and WOW!  There were lots of comics dealers at this show to sate this individuals desire for comics.

On the flipside of that, there were also plenty of people whose conversations focused more on the media gusts and other pop culture topics, with little focus or interest in comics.  This is certainly not a bad thing, but the cautionary note is this:

I have been attending the San Diego Comic Con since 1990.  That con used to be focused on comics.  Over time, they shifted in public perception because Hollywood, video games, etc. took up more and more of a visible role, to the point that now to those on the outside looking in, SDCC is no longer a comics oriented show.  On the inside, for those who love comics, this can be seen to not be the case.  There are just as many comics dealers at SDCC (if not more) than at Baltimore, it’s just that they only take up a fraction of the show floor as the other stuff has taken on a life of its own.  The number of pure comics-related panel content at SDCC dwarfs what is available in Baltimore, there are 10x the number of comics panels at SDCC.  But even with all this content, people still say SDCC is “not about comics”.  This is the trap you fall into as a convention organizer when you start ramping up the number of Hollywood celebrities.  It’s the best way to grow attendance and it is ALSO (unfortunately) the best way to shift the focus of your convention away from comics.  This is not a knock on Baltimore Comic Con, but a warning as they spend a lot of energy promoting actors like Sean Astin, Candice Patton, Hayley Atwell, and “the guy who played Hodor on Game of Thrones”.   San Diego was once right where you are, and they let this get away from them.  If you genuinely want to be the “comic lover’s comic con”, don’t let this get away from you too.

bcc-yearbooks

Baltimore Comic Con Yearbooks 2012-2016

Baltimore does a superb job promoting comics artists.  The most creative way of doing this is their yearbook with lots of attending artists contributing an illustration focusing on the theme of the year, which was Archie comics this year.  They still had the books available from previous years, so I purchased them back to 2012, and each one is a fabulous artifact.  The creativity then gets taken up a notch by their concept of a scavenger hunt for artist’s signatures.  If you get 20 signatures in the book, you get 2 of 5 prints of images that didn’t make it into the book.  If you collect 40 or more signatures you get all 5 prints.

archie-prints

Baltimore Comic Con Archie scavenger hunt prints

Always up to a challenge, I collected 43 signatures and got the full set of prints.  The good part is that those people participating in the scavenger hunt have to talk to a lot of artists.  I spent hours completing the task because I chatted with most of the artists.  Sometimes if they were deeply involved in a conversation with someone else I’d get the signature and move along, but for the most part I talked to most of the artists.  I had great conversations with Carla Speed McNeil, Ramona Fradon, Howard Chaykin (I learned he used to have a home a few exits up the freeway from where I live!), John K. Snyder II, David Peterson, Barry Kitson, Mark Wheatley, Mark Waid (who told a great story about going back to the visit the house he grew up in only to be asked if he was a “revenuer”) and more!   I ended up getting sketches or other artwork from a number of them:

barry-kitson-avengers-1-1-prelims

Avengers preliminary art by Barry Kitson

ramona-fradon

Wonder Woman sketch by Ramona Fradon

redsonja-by-franco

Sketch cover by Franco

“5 minute sketch” by Barry Kitson

visionscarletwitch-by-katie-cook

Vision & Scarlet Witch by Katie Cook

rafer-roberts-carpool-buddies

“Carpool Buddies of Doom” sketch cards by Rafer Roberts

I have no doubt that I’d not have had the same interactions with as many artists had I not been doing the scavenger hunt.  When I got to Barry Kitson’s line he was doing free “5 minute” sketches, where he’d have a clock running.  He was also doing $60 head/torso and $130 full body sketches which were awesome with not only full inks, but also full color!  While in line I watched him do a fabulous Judge Dredd as well as an awesome Star Sapphire.  He spent 30-40 minutes on each paid sketch.  I would have gotten a paid one, had I not felt sorry for all the people waiting in line, making them wait an extra 30 minutes or more, so instead I bought some of the preliminary artwork Kitson had for sale while contenting myself with a 5 minute sketch of Cap (see above).  If I go to another con that Kitson is at, I’ll make a point of going to his table straightaway to get a full blown sketch.  Another cool thing (for me) was being recognized by another person in line: “Are you in that video on YouTube for having the World’s Biggest Comic Collection?”; which provided a topic for conversation for quite a while as people around me in line asked questions about comics storage, organization, and interfacing with the folks at Guinness.  Only the 3rd time I’ve been recognized by someone for this, so it’s still a novelty for me.

woosuh-excited-to-meet-bob

Similarly, when I was at the Valiant booth, complimenting Fred Van Lente on his latest series Generation Zero, Valiant’s Director of Sales pointed out to Fred that I was the world record holder and given I’ve read about 100,000 comics in my lifetime, I have some legitimate context when declaring a comic among the best that I’ve read.  A Valiant fan standing nearby got very excited hearing this and wanted to take a picture with me…you can see that he’s inordinately excited to meet me.

In addition to my interactions with artists and other fans, I dove into what Baltimore seems to excel in…diving through the bins of back issues at numerous dealers.  Even with a limited back issue budget that prevented me shopping for any of the key issues I was lacking, I was still able to score quite a few nice books to fill in gaps in my silver age DC collection for very reasonable prices.

I also picked up one of the X-Men issues I was missing (the last new issue before the title switched to reprints) as well as an EC comic that I got for $9… and I couldn’t pass it up at that price.

wonky-comics

…finally, I found some wonky books in a $3 box.  The only one of these I had seen before was the 1st issue of The Peacemaker, which is frequently featured in Scott Shaw’s “Oddball Comics panel at the San Diego Comic-Con.  Peter the Pest is a Marvel humor reprint title that I had never even heard of, and I loved the guy playing with action figures of Blue Beetle, Peacemaker, and others on the cover of Charlton Premiere #3.

Bottom Line
Baltimore Comic Con is a great show for people who love comics, with offerings for people into general pop culture as well, though I hope that stays at the current level and does not rise up and turn this show into a clone of many other cons that have grown by including Hollywood celebrity at the expense of comics content.  If you like old comics there are plenty of back issues to buy.  If you’re a fan of comics art, there are LOTS of artists to meet, talk to and buy prints, sketches, comics, etc. from.  If you enjoy trying new things Baltimore has one of the most comprehensive Artist’s Alley sections I’ve ever seen with a lot of up-and-coming creators who have all kinds of new and different works for sale.

If you’re a comic lover anywhere near Baltimore this show is well worth your time.

Bob Bretall: bob@comicspectrum.com
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Bob’s Top 10: San Diego Comic Con International 2016

SDCC by Night

Outside the Convention Center at night

I did so many great things at Comic Con International: San Diego this year!

I went out of my way to focus on comics and only comics, so I had a different experience than almost anyone else there, since even the most die-hard comics fans generally mix some Hollywood action into their convention experience.  There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, I like the Hollywood stuff as well, but after 27 years of attending the convention I find that most of the “show exclusives” end up in boxes in my garage and the Hollywood panels reveal information that I’m able to see on the internet, and it’s not like I’m being invited to have one-on-one interactions with any of the celebrities.  Being seated several hundred yards from them in a massive room where I can only see them on the big screen in the room is not much better, for me, than just watching them on a screen after the convention.

Comics panels, on the other hand, are typically much more intimate affairs with anywhere from 30 to a hundred or so people in the room (as opposed to thousands).  The ability for direct interactions with the panelists is a very real thing.  I was able to ask questions and get real responses (not just a ‘stock’ answer approved by a marketing department) in a bunch of the panels I attended.  I talked to comics creators after their panels in the hall, or at their booths/tables and was able to thank them for the entertainment they have provided over the years.

I attended 25 panels and did lots of other stuff so it’s hard to boil it down to just a top 10, but people seem to like Top 10 Lists, so I’m going to give it a shot:

WicDiv Cosplay

Jamie McKelvie & Kieron Gillen with Wicked+Divine cosplayers

10. Spotlight on Jamie McKelvie
McKelvie was joined by his long-time collaborator Kieron Gillen who served as moderator/interviewer as he led us through McKelvie’s early days, breaking into the business, artistic influences, and musical influences (since music plays such a key role in many of their projects).  It was fascinating to get the behind-the-scenes view of a creator I’ve enjoyed for so long, and seeing the two of them interact it was clear they were great friends as well as collaborators.  After the panel they posed in the hall for pictures with the people in attendance cosplaying as characters from their current fan-favorite series The Wicked+The Divine, and they were genuinely nice and unrushed with their fans.

Overstreet

Overstreet: 46 and Counting Panel

9. Overstreet: 46 and Counting
This panel started off on a bit of the wrong foot with a video featuring lots of comics dealers talking about the Overstreet Guide and how it helps them make money by seeing what they can charge People who know me know that the monetary aspects of comics collecting are not my favorite thing.  There’s nothing wrong with making money off comics, it’s just not my thing, and I would not enjoy listening to an hour of talk about how to make money off of comics.  Thankfully, as soon as the short video was over and the panelists started talking, they really focused on the comics fandom aspects of the Overstreet Guide.  Using it as a reference tool to see what issues and series existed, what were key events, what were reasonable prices they would need to pay to get a comic for their collection.  They reminisced about the early days of the guide and coming off the “wild west” days of not really knowing what was out there and what were reasonable prices to pay.  There were stories of dealers who would take a guide that was a few years old with them when going to buy collections (so as to pay less) but always having the latest one for when they would sell.
I must admit that I have always been leery of dealers who charge at or above maximum prices, but that’s basically how we see rising prices/values.  If there are recorded sales above guide price, then the guide rises to reflect those prices, so dealers are always looking to test those limits of how much fans will pay to get that desired collectible because it will raise the value of their stock for future sales.

Bob+MaggieThompson

Bob with Maggie Thompson

The highlight of this panel, however,  was meeting Maggie Thompson afterwards, having a short chat with her.  I read The Comics Buyer’s Guide (edited by Maggie and her late husband Don) for over 20 years and particularly enjoyed it when it was in the old “weekly newspaper” format that came to me via the mail.  This was our ‘internet’ for fandom before there was an internet.  I’d read the letters column ‘Oh, So?’, Peter David’s ‘But I Digress’, Bob Ingersoll’s ‘The Law is a Ass’, and Tony Isabella’s ‘Tony’s Tips’ column, and many more.  Meeting Maggie and letting her know about all the comics joy she brought me over several decades was the highlight of this panel for me.  I truly consider her to be the patron saint of comics fandom.

Matt Fraction

David Brothers (moderator) & Matt Fraction

8. Spotlight on Matt Fraction
For early on Sunday morning, Matt Fraction was certainly “on”.  The man brought his A game throughout the panel, animated and engaging with the audience.  Jokes and witty quips throughout, he was extremely engaging as Brothers took us on a tour of Fraction’s comic history.  Getting behind-the-scenes on seminal works like Hawkeye and Casanova, as well as his side of working with Howard Chaykin on Satellite Sam (a series that everyone should have a look at).  If you ever have a chance to see a Fraction panel, jump at it, this guy has it down.

Twisted Roots

Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson, Gerard Jones, Nathan Madison, Brad Ricca, Michael Uslan

7. Twisted Roots of Comics: Pulp Magazines and the Birth of the Modern Comic Book
A wealth of comics history knowledge on this panel: Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson is co-writing (with Gerard Jones) a biography of her grandfather, the man credited with creating the modern comic book, as well as the founder of DC); Gerard Jones among other things, wrote Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book; Nathan Vernon Madison is a scholar who wrote Anti-Foreign Imagery in American Pulps and Comic Books; Brad Ricca is author of SuperBoys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; and Michael Uslan is a producer of the Batman movies and was the first instructor to teach an accredited course on comic book folklore at any university, he has also written a number of comics and has an autobiography called The Boy Who Loved Batman.
You just cannot get this amount of sheer information about comics most places, listening to these folks talk about the origins and history of comics for an hour was a real treat.

Shadow 1936
The highlight of this panel for me was when Michael Uslan pointed out that the Batman story in Detective #27 “Case of the Chemical Syndicate” is directly lifted (the plot as well as some dialogue and captions duplicated word for word) from The Shadow pulp, November 1936: “Partners of Peril”.  Spot illustrations from the pulp are also lifted for some panels of the comic (with Batman in place of The Shadow, of course).  So….Batman’s 1st appearance is partially plagiarized from a Shadow pulp!  I did not know this!

Chaykin

Howard Chaykin

6. Spotlight on Howard Chaykin
Chaykin held the microphone and just walked around out by the audience.  No moderator, this was pure Chaykin.  The man is extremely talented and seems to be his own harshest critic, but is very entertaining to listen to.  From his earliest days to his latest work, as well as working with other professionals and publishers, Chaykin covered it all in a very entertaining hour.

Chaykin art

Original Art by Howard Chaykin purchased by Bob

Chaykin also slid in a plug for his table down in Artist’s Alley.  Everything he was selling was original art, even the above pieces that might, on first glance, appear to be character studies or sketches.  Chaykin explained that he likes to do the figures like this and then composite them together with backgrounds and textures in Photoshop nowadays.  He’s clearly a master of design and I love the way he draws clothes.  In fact, he admitted that he doesn’t like to draw skintight costumes and would much rather draw ‘regular’ clothes.  I also got the scoop on the tape you will frequently find on his original art.  It turns out that he uses Scotch Blue matte finish tape for corrections (there are also green and red varieties of the tape, named based on the color of the boxes they come in).  The Blue, he explained, is great at taking his pencils and inks.  He’ll often use it in areas (faces, hands, etc.) where he wants to get some detail just right.

JimmyP+Bob

5. Kickstarter Dinner
While not on the formal SDCC schedule, I was invited to a Kickstarter dinner where they were getting together backers and people who had run successful Kickstarter campaigns.  It was an information gathering/sharing event held at a very nice restaurant in the Gaslamp district.  Being a backer of well over 100 projects, holding the Guinness Record for largest comics collection, and being on the Press list for SDCC combined to get me my invitation.  I was seated between Jimmy Palmiotti, who has run a number of very successful Kickstarters for original comics, and Scott Rosenberg, Chairman & CEO of Platinum Studios and (in 1986) founder of Malibu Comics.  There were a number of other artists, writers, publicists, etc at the dinner and it was fascinating talking to them all, but I had the most fun with Jimmy and Scott.  I have a lot of respect for Jimmy’s body of comics work and we chatted about a lot of it, as well as completely non-comics related stuff.   Scott started out in comics by running a mail-order business when he was 13!  He’s a huge fan of comics and we had great fun talking about all kinds of comics.  I think he was surprised that I could rattle off so many titles from Malibu, Adventure, Aircel, and Eternity that I had read back in the day.  I loved the Ultraverse titles before Marvel bought the company and swiftly ran the Ultraverse into the ground.  I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to network with all the people who were at this event.

4. Hanging out with Friends
This one is a recurring favorite for me year-in and year-out.  Typically in the Top 5, save for the really outstanding moments at con that make me go “WOW!”  I’m always amazed that with the sheer number of people at this convention that I always seem to bump into a number of people I know on the floor.  Given that I was only on the show floor for a total of less than 4 hours Thursday thru Sunday, I’m amazed that I bumped into anyone, but actually spent time with 5 or 6 people, putting my “bump into” ratio around 1.5/hour.  Add to this attending panels with people I know (thanks to Comic Con’s MySched app, I can see friends schedules and they can see mine) and then having dinner with people I now every night, I was truly blessed to have so many folks to spend time with.

Kirby Panel

3. Jack Kirby Tribute Panel
Mark Evanier, long time friend of the Kirby family and Kirby historian/biographer, opened up the panel this year with a sentiment I have expressed myself in the past, only to be shouted down by Kirby zealots (to be clear, I have been shouted down by the zealots, Evanier was not, there was an odd silence after his opening monologue).
So what did he say that was so packed with truth, yet sop potentially controversial?  In a nutshell (I’m paraphrasing, but have the general gist of his message intact, I believe):
“Jack Kirby now has co-creator credit on all the things he created with Stan Lee.  His name is on the movies and in new printings of the comics.  Whenever there is a collaboration of two creators it generally says ‘created by X and Y’.  There is not a percentage attached on who created what parts or who created more than the other.  It is quite clear that the characters created by Jack and Stan were created by both of them.  At this point there is nobody who could accurately attribute a percentage to either one, so let it stand and accept the ‘created by Lee & Kirby’.  Kirby fans have got to let go of the vitriol they typically direct at Stan Lee.
There was certainly more than this in his talk to the audience, it went on for at least 5 minutes and he quoted various people he had spoken to who had worked at Marvel back then who all agreed that both men had contributed to the characters.  For my own part, I only have to look at the characters themselves.  The things created by Stan & Jack are unique.  They are not like the things Stan created outside the collaboration with Jack.  They are not like the things Jack created by himself or in collaboration with others.  There is a certain spark in the Lee/Kirby (or Kirby/Lee) creations that does not exist elsewhere.  They are collaborative creations and worrying about the exact percentages to attribute to either man is not only unknowable, but also kind of a waste of time and energy.
Later in the panel, during the Q&A session, a man asked the question: “What percent of the various characters do you think Jack created?  He created more than Stan, right?”  Evanier, nonplussed, responded “You weren’t here at the beginning of the panel, were you?”  No, the man was not.  Evanier gave an abbreviated retelling of the “Let it go!” speech and moved on.  BRAVO, Mark!!

March Panel

John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

2. March: Featuring Congressman John Lewis
John Lewis is AWESOME.  He is a National treasure and I wish everyone would read his March Trilogy and learn more details about the Civil Rights movement, from the lunch counter sit-ins all the way up to the 1965 events in Selma, Alabama and the signing into law by Lyndon Johnson of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  Hearing Congressman Lewis speak is inspirational.  His co-creators Andrew Aydin (the man who convinced Lewis to make this graphic novel trilogy) and artist Nate Powell were pretty great also.
I sat next to several 4th grade girls who were at the convention as part of a field trip to see this panel and meet the Congressman.  They had all read Vols. 1 & 2 of March in school and were able to speak about it with me.  They were all going to get copies of Vol. 3 after the panel at the IDW booth.  That these books are part of school curricula is wonderful.  That kids are learning this stuff should be applauded.  That there is a teacher (and a school principal and school district that allow it) bringing kids to comic con to meet John Lewis is something I’d never have dreamed of as a kid.  This year’s panel was fairly similar to last year’s panel, but still inspiring and I still loved it.  Now that March is complete, it may be Lewis’ last year at comic con, so I’m glad to have been able to hear him speak.

Barrowman at Eisners

John Barrowman hosting the Eisner Awards

1. 28th Annual Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards
There were a number of reasons that this made my #1 spot this year.  It combined elements of a number of other favorite things all into one star-studded evening celebrating comics best.  The Eisner Awards are the Academy Awards of Comics.  While there are not a lot of standard super-hero comics nominated (in much the same way that summer blockbuster action movies are typically not a strong presence at the Oscars) there were a lot of deserving nominees.  I had read a decent percentage of the nominees and feel that the ones I had read were all well-crafted and great examples of the comic book art form.

Bob+Trev+Conan

Bob, Trev, and Conan at the Eisner Awards

Now let’s add in the friends element.  I was invited to sit at one of the tables in the VIP section; reserved for sponsors, nominees, and their guests.  My ticket in was Conan Saunders from MyComicShop.com, and I’ll thank him again for inviting me to his table!  Conan was at the show alone this year and shared his half-table with a friend of mine, Trevor, who knows and lives near Conan in Texas, as well as myself and tow other friends Andrew and Lisa.  We got a fairly decent buffet dinner and decently close seats for the show.  We chatted the evening away over dinner before the show and between presenters, as well as after it was over.  The table seating made this an Eisner ceremony to remember.

John Lewis Eisner

John Lewis accepting his Eisner for best Reality-Based Work

The ultimate?  At the end of the ceremony, as we were walking out of the ballroom, we walked right by John Lewis, who was standing with several other people getting ready to leave.  I stopped and congratulated him on his Eisner, at which point he turned to me and shook my hand engaging me in conversation.  I was able to tell him how much I enjoyed March, how inspirational I found him, etc.  He’s very good at making you feel you have 100% of his attention, if only for the minute you’re interacting with him.  I’m sure this has served him well in his career as a politician, but it’s no less impressive when you experience it first hand.  I’m a bit (a lot?) starstruck by the man.  He has helped make so many changes to this country for the better and his work is far from done.

Summary
Comic Con International: San Diego 2016 (aka San Diego Comic-Con, aka SDCC) was an awesome experience for me as a comic fan.  I’m sure it was awesome for many other people for many reasons, and there were probably others who were just turned off by the lines, the crowds, or any number of other personal reasons that didn’t really affect me.  Personally, after 27 years I’m still loving this show.  The challenge in getting tickets is the one real problem that can manifest itself at any time and prevent me from continuing my attendance streak, and if/when it does, I’ll be sad.  Until then?  It’s a show I look forward to every year and I really believe it’s the number one comic-book oriented show anywhere.  If you want comics and comic book content, and look for it, you’ll find FAR more here than anywhere else.

Bob Bretall: bob@comicspectrum.com
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