I had a GREAT time at San Diego Comic Con International 2015. It was my 26th year at the show and this time around I really focused on attending panels instead of buying stuff down on the show floor (though I did by a few things…)
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 this con that there are so many options for attendees. That said, a lot of people like to complain about the con. They’re free to do so. If you want to do the exact same thing as 50,000 other people then there is going to be a problem that usually manifests itself in long lines. That’s a challenge faced by people who go to the show for celebrity sightings and watching movie trailers. Fortunately for me, I was there exclusively for comic book content. That put me in the company of probably less than 10% of the attendees, as a result, I didn’t really wait lines. The benefit of having fairly eclectic tastes, I guess.
I waited in line exactly 3 times:
- On preview night I wanted my Life & Times of Scrooge McDuck Artists Edition signed by creator Don Rosa. I got there about 10 minutes before the signing started, was the 1st person in line, and waited 10 minutes for Don to show up at which point I had a really nice conversation with him along with the other 2 people in line. Most people were probably in line buying exclusive toys somewhere.
- I wanted my Elfquest: The Final Quest HC signed by Wendy & Richard Pini. I showed up for their signing at the Dark Horse booth about 10 minutes before it started and was about #8 in line. Wendy & Richard showed up about 5 minutes early and chatted with all of us in line while they were setting up. This was pretty cool, Elfquest was my first indie comic and I started with issue #6 in January 1980. Wendy & Richard were delightful and very forthcoming with their fans, holding what amounted to an impromptu Q&A and panel with everyone in line.
- When I showed up for the “Art of the Cover” panel on Sunday I wasn’t able to walk directly into the room because the previous panel in the room was for the Children’s Hospital TV show. Had to line up for about 5 minutes until that panel ended and the room emptied out. Then the 50 or so people who had queued to see 5 comic artists talk about their cover art filed in and had a good selection of seating in the panel room.
My goal for the show was to attend 25 panels over the 4 days Thursday through Sunday. That was well more than I have ever attended before and in the end I attended 27 panels. I also walked 22 miles over the course of the convention (4 miles short of a marathon!) and the experiences I had while walking that distance were priceless. I talked to a lot of comics professionals – Sergio Aragones, Tom Yeates, Wendy & Richard Pini , Mark Waid, Richard Starkings, Tula Lotay, Jimmie Robinson, Buzz, Don Rosa, Victor Gorelick, Jon Goldwater, Scott Dunbier, Chip Zdarsky, Dan Schkade, Douglas Paszkiewicz, Nate Powell, Chris Staros, Kevin Freeman, Batton Lash, David Dwonch, Steve Bryant, and I’m sure more that I’m forgetting. Having a chance to interact with pros is one of my favorite things about a convention.
I did so many great things it’s hard to boil it down to just a top 10, but people like Top 10 Lists, so I’m going to give it a shot:
10: Spotlight on Jeff Smith
Jeff is very engaging with the audience and provided a lot of great process talk. Smith talked a lot about many things, including how he came up with Fone Bone as a kid. He also did some in depth discussion of his latest project Tuki (including handing out a free signed copy of a collected edition of Tuki #1-3). Above are 3 pictures of the evolution of a page from Tuki. It was cool to hear Smith describing how he concentrates on faces and body language at the pencil step because that is key to conveying the ‘acting’ of the characters.
9: Spotlight on Jonathan Hickman
Hickman started out on the right foot by walking up to the microphone solo and announcing there would be no moderator because it adds a buffer between him and the audience that doesn’t add much value. He asked if people would prefer he do work for Marvel, do work for DC, or concentrate on his own stuff from Image then opened it up for audience questions, asking that each person preface their question by answering HIS question: Marvel, DC, or Image. Image was the overwhelming preference of the audience. For fans of #EastOfWest he confirmed it will run 50 issues and he knows how it ends including the last words.
8: Chuck Rozanski conversation
I’ve long taken issue with Mile High Comics home-brewed grading standards that allow for tears up into Near Mint condition. That said, ComicSpectrum reviewer Shawn Hoklas pointed me at some of Mile High owner Chuck Rozanski’s YouTube videos and in watching them I got some new respect for the man because he really seemed to love comics. When I had the chance to stop and chat with him at the Mile High booth at the convention, the guy who made those videos came to life. This man was the genuine article and over the course of a fairly long conversation where he positively oozed a love for comics, I now have a much better appreciation for how he does business. He pointed out to me that if he wanted to retire with millions of $$ he could just sell off his real estate and live the high life. If he can cover his business and living expenses and end the year owning more comics than he started the year with, he’s just fine with that. He’s happy to be a curator for a massive inventory of comics. He has a buying concept much like my own (though I want 1 of each unique item and he’ll snag up lots and LOTS of any single item): If he doesn’t have it, he wants it. That’s why you can frequently find really odd and hard-to-find items at Mile High. BUT, you won’t find him blowing out inventory at rock bottom prices. He thinks comics deserve the respect of having a fair monetary value attached to them. This can work against collectors looking for the cheapest possible price, but he definitely has the selection.
7: Meeting & talking to Don Rosa
Don is a great guy to talk to, we flipped through the Artist’s Edition and mine was the 2nd copy he ever signed (that was part of how he signed it, too!) He said he wouldn’t change a thing about the AE, and really thinks it came out nice. The AE includes not only the art, but also Don’s storyboards. It was interesting to hear him say that while he sells most of his original art to make the extra money, he knew the Life & Tomes story was going to be something special so he kept all that art, which made it easy to pull this spectacular edition together.
6: Chip Zdarsky panel
Zany is the best word to describe Chip Zdarsky. It’s no wonder he can create such wonderfully humorous comics, he seems to always be “on” at conventions. Mugging for the camera and generally seeming to be having a generally fun time with his fans. Chip is going to be working on the relaunch of the Jughead series over at Archie and this guy IS Jughead, so it’s a match made in comic heaven. Mark Waid (my favorite comic writer and currently doing the Archie relaunch among other things) was in the audience at this panel went up to ask Chip a question. I jumped in line behind Mark who I know from his days as Editor-In-Chief over at BOOM! where I’d interview him fairly regularly.
Mark: “Chip, who is your favorite member of the Justice Society?”
<< a bit of banter followed about characters like Mister Terrific & Dr Midnight, then >>
Chip: “Is Superman in the Justice Society?”
Chip: “Then, Superman!”
5: Archie Forever panel
Archie CEO Jon Goldwater is doing some great things with Archie. He’s willing to really shake things up and bring in top industry talent on relaunching Archie’s iconic teen titles while also treading new ground over the past couple of years with what has now become the Archie Horror line. Hearing the whole team talk about what’s in store for Archie was pretty exciting. If you told me 3 years ago that I’d not only be far more excited about what was coming out from Archie than I was for DC, but I’d also be buying and reading more Archie titles than DC, I’d have told you that you were insane. But here we are in 2015 and I’m buying and enjoying more from Archie than I am from DC. Your Mileage May Vary, but Archie is definitely worth checking out!
4: Unpublished EC 3-D Comic Revealed
EC did a few 3-D comics in the 1950s during the 3-D craze and one was created that was not published at the time because of the Comics Code and the resultant dissembling of EC’s avant-garde comics. Though published many years later in as regular comics, we got to see the 3-D originals spring to life thanks to the 3-D glasses passed out at the panel, and a 4th dimension of sound was added in the form of a full cast audio performance by Captured Aural Phantasy Theater. They helped bring the stories by Al Williamson, Reed Crandall, and Wally Wood to life! This goes into my “only at Comic Con” category and was wonderful!
3: The Super Type of Ira Schnapp
Getting schooled on the man who hand designed almost all of DC’s silver age logos by Arlen Schumer. Schnapp also designed the DC house ads and letters on a lot of public buildings in NYC, as well as the Comics Code seal. This was a real eye-opening lecture delivered with Schumer’s signature enthusiasm that revealed a lot of information about an unfortunately little known man who played a key role in the Silver Age of comics. I’m really happy that I attended this panel and would heartily recommend that anyone hear Schumer speak whenever they get a chance. He has a passion for what he talks about and mixes entertainment with learning wrapped in a really eye-pleasing package that keeps the audiences attention from start to finish.
Schumer had a whole section on DC’s house ads that was really an eye-opener. I know I’m going to be paying closer attention to these gems the next time I crack open a DC back issue from the 1960s.
2: The Zone Show – Jack Kirby Interview
In the early 1980s Ray Zone had a cable access show in Santa Monica, CA. In October 1984 he interviewed Jack Kirby and it was broadcast once in November 1984. I cannot imagine it had that large an audience and it has not been seen since. Discovered in a garage among Ray’s effects, the show was transferred to digital media and was shown at the con, seen by an audience for the first time in over 30 years. This was a cable access show and was done on a shoestring budget. The production values were really pretty laughably cheap and the comics being superimposed on the screen didn’t match the topics being covered (though they were at least samples of Jack’s work). The thing that couldn’t help but to shine through was Jack Kirby himself, the King of Comics. Hearing Jack talk about his art, his history, and his work ethic was a real treat. Hopefully this will be made available where more people will be able to see it.
1: March w/Congressman John Lewis
March is something special. It’s my favorite work of long form graphic fiction from the past couple of years. It’s both a moving personal history and a socially significant work. Everyone should read it, and it gets my unreserved endorsement. The opportunity to hear Congressman John Lewis speak? I was all in! This panel was on my “must not miss” list. Congressman Lewis is an exceptionally moving speaker.
He received a standing ovation from the crowd as he stepped up to the podium. I was touched by his words, I was touched by his work, and I am grateful that he put this story down on paper (for which, I discovered here, we have his co-author Andrew Aydin to thank). Congressman Lewis was cosplaying: he was wearing a replica of the trench coat and backpack he wore 50 years ago in Selma. Aydin himself (who works in Congressman Lewis’ office) has a bright future in politics, if his public speaking here was any indication. He had to follow Congressman Lewis, which was no easy feat, and he handled it admirably. Finally, artist Nate Powell took the podium and talked about working on the project. He finished off with an anecdote about watching Congressman Lewis on the Daily show that brought a tear to my eye. In fact, all 3 speakers had me tearing up. That’s not something that is a normal occurrence at Comic Con, but it was a good thing. This was a unique panel. Congressman Lewis finished it off inviting the audience to march with him down to the show floor. With a group of third graders up front with him he led a mass of people down to his signing at the Oni Press booth. Congressman Lewis and the entire team from March “won comic con” in my eyes. This panel was truly the highlight of the show for me.
There we have it, my “Top 10”. There was a lot more I really loved at con this year. I attended several great creator spotlight panels that didn’t quite make it in the top 10 featuring Eric Stephenson, David Petersen, David Aja, Terry Moore, Richard Starkings. And there were a number of other really unique and enjoyable experiences all related to comics. Not the exact same experience someone else would have, but it was mine and I loved every minute of it.
Bob Bretall: email@example.com
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture