San Diego Comic-Con is over and done, the streets have been cleaned and many words have been written about the convention; Hollywood has taken over, comics are not the focus, too much, too crazy. Let’s not forget that this focus from Hollywood is because of comics and the passion of the fans. This year it seemed that Hollywood was determined to take over the show – it has become the Cannes of cons. The money they spend is insane – so as a comic book publisher, how do you compete with displays that look like a theme park has been built in the middle of the convention floor? How do publishers and their comics get anyone to pay attention to them?
Is it the media attention we’re worried about? Did the mainstream media ever really cover comic con that way when it was just comics? Is there that much of a shift? It has always been difficult to get the mainstream media to pay attention to comics – do they pay that much attention to publishing in general?
Walking the floor, it seems that the publishers’ booths are just as busy as they used to be. I know that the retailers are saying that sales are down, but it is a much more expensive show to attend than ever before and we are in a recession. As for the long boxes of comics – I think the incredible amount of graphic novels and collected editions out there may also account for a drop in sales.
But back to the main issue of how Hollywood and the cast of Glee is taking attention away from comic books. Most of the publishers had traditional booths; large images of the characters on plastic banners, tables set up for signings and a few posters and maybe a bag to be given away to the fans waiting to get a book signed. Except for Marvel — they had a gigantic golden throne in their booth to promote the movie THOR. Nothing says “We’ve got Disney money!” more than a huge golden throne in the center of your booth. My first thought was -– boy, it seemed like just a few years ago when Marvel seemed to be exhibiting at fewer and fewer trade shows and now there’s a damn golden throne in their booth. I hope the expense was worth it.
Did having that golden throne bring more people to their booth? Did anyone see that booth and think -– “Now I’ve got to go see THOR because the booth looks awesome!” Or did anyone walk away saying, “I need to go read a THOR comic book right now! Find me one!” A lot of people seemed to be waiting in line to climb the golden stairs and have their picture taken on the throne, but it doesn’t mean they’re going to actually buy a ticket or a comic. Hell, I’ve seen people waiting in a line to get their picture taken with the Naked Cowboy in Times Square -– never saw anyone run out and buy a cowboy hat. Is the purpose of these types of displays to get you to buy something or just to have bragging rights? Is it the right way to promote anything?
Allow me to put on my Don Draper fedora for a minute -– the purpose of marketing and adverting is to persuade you to buy something. Maybe I’m jaded, but sitting on a golden throne doesn’t make me want to buy anything. Nor does climbing into a stasis chamber from ALIEN propel me to log onto to Amazon and pre-order a copy of the Blu-ray boxed set. It just makes me feel like a dork. So what would convince me to spend some money?
It was Saturday and I had a series of meeting and I needed some time in the afternoon to pack -– I had an early morning flight on Sunday and plans for dinner that night. I went back to my hotel and was sorting through all the things I wanted or needed to bring back with me. I was trying not to pick up too much stuff. I was happy I didn’t need to go back into the convention. I got out the trash can so I could toss some of the stuff I didn’t want to carry back. I had been to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund party and they had a bag they gave out with Hellboy on it -– he is one of my son’s favorite characters and I decided that he might like the bag. There was something in it and I emptied it out, fully ready to toss the contents in the trash to lighten my load.
A copy of the first issue of CHEW fell out of the bag. It had won an Eisner the night before and I thought I’d check it out. From the first panel I was hooked. I read the whole thing and I wanted more. For a second I thought of walking to the local Borders to see if they had a copy of the trade they advertised in the free comic and then I realized – I have to venture back into the convention center.
The entrance to the Gaslamp district is packed with what are called “street teams” -– their purpose is to promote whatever they’ve been hired to promote by shoving crap in people’s faces. The sidewalk was littered with dropped and discarded cards, pieces of paper, pins, tattoos and other assorted promotional material. I wished I had a super power that would encase me in a protective bubble as I made my way from my room at the Hard Rock over to the convention center. Either that or I wished that I could hire a street team to come and beat and drag away all the other street teams.
I first checked some of the vendors to see if I could find a copy of the trade of CHEW. I was striking out -– I was hoping that they were in short supply because of the Eisner win. I made my way over to the Image booth where I found the author (John Layman) and artist (Rob Guillory) sitting with no one around and a single copy of each of the two trades in front of them on the table. I wasn’t sure if they were selling them or not -– I walked over and asked if the trades were for sale. They said they were for sale and even signed them for me. I paid, congratulated them on their Eisner win and walked away.
I felt a little sad when I left; here were two guys who had just won the industry’s highest award sitting alone selling their own books. Then I realized they have something that the other exhibitors there didn’t -– my money. With all the shouting for attention going on at the show -– a mere whisper in the form of a free comic book, compelled me to put my shoes back on and fight through the street teams, the religious protesters and convention crowd to buy a copy of their book.
A few days earlier I felt like I had entered Hollywood Con and I was leaving convinced that I had been to San Diego Comic Con, all because of a free comic book. Maybe John and Rob should be the ones sitting on that golden throne.