SDCC 2009 (05) – THE CRUSH OF KNOWING
Friday, breakfast. Three coconut pancakes, eggs over medium and bacon crispy but not blackened. And coffee. Just a little of that. I can get up early, I just don’t like it very much.
I’m pretty sure that it was either Friday or Saturday morning that I made the crack that almost got me thrown out of my shared motel room, something about how the “Celestial Madonna” storyline in THE AVENGERS was “just okay.” Men have their limits, and I should understand that there are some buttons that you just don’t push that casually. That’s understandable. I feel the same way about “The Headmen” storyline from THE DEFENDERS, even if I never got to learn what that freaky little dwarf with the gun was all about.
Anyways, all was eventually forgiven, though I’m sure Jeff regarded me with a more suspicious eye from there on out.
First stop this morning was the DC booth, where I wanted to chat with a couple of the WEDNESDAY COMICS artists, Ben Caldwell in particular. You know that his WONDER WOMAN strip is my favorite in the whole thing, right? It is. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing the big art from the other artists, but Mr. Caldwell is actually doing something interesting with the page. So is Dave Bullock, presenting the whole page as a single panel instead of simply a really big comic page (not that there’s anything wrong with that.) But really, I’m just happy that the project is even happening, even if I’m waaay behind in my reading. I even took a moment to personally thank Paul Levitz for letting WEDNESDAY COMICS see the light of day. Granted, it’s not really his project, and he said as much, but I’m pretty sure he could have stopped it if he had even half-wanted to.
The morning after that was taken up with the ComicsPro panel on “Selling More Graphic Novels.” Y’know, I’m interested in selling more graphic novels, and I sell mostly into the direct market, so yeah, It’s worth my while to attend something like that. And I was in good company, with reps from Dark Horse, Boom!, First Second, and a whole host of others in the audience. Lots of folks from smaller houses, too, not unlike me. The fundamental takeaway was that comics retailers want publishers to drive people into comic stores. And it’s a worthwhile goal, but at the same time, it’s very much a chicken and egg thing. If I, hypothetically, as a small publisher work to build my own audience on the internet (because that’s the easiest place to do so), then what’s the impetus for me to point people anywhere but my website to buy my books?
Marvel and DC and the larger publishers all have a heavy investment in the direct market. They’ve got a vested interest in keeping driving audiences into comic stores. But when independent publishers are met with resistance and pushback and questions about audience in the direct market, there’s suddenly a dis-incentive to start with the DM. Please note that I’m not in that position. I’ve sold more books in the DM than outside of the DM, but that figure won’t stand unchanged forever. I’m interested into selling into stores where people are looking for comics. Really, I’m interested into selling into markets where people are looking for good stories, western or horror or otherwise.
Again, I eagerly await being misquoted out of context. It was an informative panel, even if I feel like I’m constantly pushing uphill in the snow. Both ways. Thanks to the guys from ComicsPro from putting it together (unfortunately I had to miss the cookie social next door due to a lunch date.) Speaking of which, I was late already. And I don’t like being late to BBQ. The Kansas City BBQ across Harbor Drive is well worth a stop. I especially recommend the onion rings, which have a crispy, almost a tempura batter and perfect blend of greasy and crunchy. The pull pork is good, too, though I’ll fess up to having had better. Maybe I should do the brisket next time.
And then all of a sudden I was in a hurry again. Where was I off to? Oh, yes, the WEDNESDAY COMICS panel, which was pretty well-attended. I wish I’d been brave enough to ask Mike Allred if I could have a look at his GIGANTIC pages from WEDNESDAY COMICS. I bet they were pretty keen. The panel was a nice look at the process behind the project and how different artists took different approaches to their chunks of real estate, pagewise. Nothing hugely relevatory, but perhaps that’s expecting too much. I did like how Amanda Conner said that in the presence of the other artists on WEDNESDAY COMICS, she didn’t think she could outdo them drawing-wise, but she could out-cute them. So the cuteness on SUPERGIRL gets turned up until the knob snaps off and you’re left in sugar shock. This is not a bad thing.
Interestingly, some audience members reported that simply reading the book out in public was enough to get some interest drummed up from people who hadn’t read a comic in ages. I’ll also note that noted comics retailer Mike Sterling has reported similar results in his store. Just leaving it out and open where people can see it and get clobbered by the size of the artwork. And as I noted earlier, this is a feeling that won’t be replicated by reading it on the iPhone or computer. That said, I’ll be interested to see how well things turn out, if orders tick up over the life of the project. And this is one project where trade sales aren’t going to cannibalize the serial sales. Though I’ll continue to argue that double-dipping isn’t something that publishers or retailers should continue to depend on, no matter how much they might want to.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy the oversized pages. Just as soon as I get to a store that actually has issues for sale.
The Vertigo panel followed, in the same room, even, so I didn’t have to run around. That was kinda nice. The cookie and diet coke were beginning to burn their way out of my system, so sitting in place for awhile wasn’t the worst idea in the world. I’ve gone to the Vertigo panels for about as long as there’s been Vertigo panels, maybe even before, if there was such a thing as a SANDMAN panel. The funny thing is that I don’t read a lot of the imprint’s output. Sure, SCALPED is one of my favorite books currently, and a lot of my favorites over the years have come out of Vertigo (or led to it), but I don’t pick up a lot of the monthlies they put out. Nothing personal, just a lot of it doesn’t end up being my thing. But I go to these panels and they always make the books sound interesting.
Though, really, isn’t it about time for another SWAMP THING book? Give it back to Josh Dysart, or find someone new to write it. I mean, it is the book that launched Vertigo, much more than SANDMAN. Bring the big green back or let him go play in the DCU. But then I’d kill to see a good AMETHYST series now, and no I’m not lying. If done right, you could rope a whole bunch of new readers into either the DCU (more likely) or even Vertigo books (though the idea of a vertiginuous AMETHYST is a little unsettling.) That said, the new book by Moon and Bá sounds pretty good. And I do keep meaning to get into MADAME XANADU.
Of course, it was also during the Vertigo panel that I suffered this moment of creeping, crushing existential despair regarding writing and actually even coming close to getting anywhere with it. The succession of perfect pitches and intriguing projects that were being tossed at me triggered it, somehow. The room went kinda cold and aloof and I allowed myself to get sucked into this vortex of doubt with a thousand voices asking me exactly how far I’d gotten in the last several years of actual attempts to break in. There were years that I’d “tried” before, but man, those were so amateurish as to be laughable. I think it hit me about the time that the new continuing Mike Allred series hit. Which is weird, because I like his art a lot. Freak thing, I guess.
But I didn’t manage to shake the disease, not after leaving the panel and not even at dinner with friends. Felt adrift and swarmed with niggling “who the fuck am I even trying to fool here” kinds of thoughts. And no, I hadn’t been drinking, for precisely that reason. You don’t fuel stuff like that. Just a bad idea.
So yeah, remember how I once said that the X-Man I most identify with is Scott Summers, and I mean long-ago Scott Summers, consumed with doubt and alienation and still managing to soldier on? Well, more the consumed by doubt part. But I’d definitely hit my funk. Which seems to happen once or so at SDCC. There’s plenty of ups, plenty of cards flipped over that might help you fill that inside straight, but somehow the dealer always manages to get his due. Yes, the next STRANGEWAYS story revolves around a poker game, why?
Turned in early. That was about the only help for it. That and getting up the next morning to keep playing the game.
Oh, and as I was walking around last night, I realized what panel I’d forgotten. Or what two panels, really. One was the Darwyn Cooke spotlight, which I kinda hit out of reflex. Wasn’t much new ground to cover, though I was interested to see if there was going to be any new information on the marketing and support for THE HUNTER. And you never know what questions are going to be asked. But in the last fifteen minutes of it, not a lot of new ground was covered.
Then there was the Graphic Novel panel that was being chaired by one Tom Spurgeon, featuring the likes of Jason Lutes (for whom I’d rather have seen a spotlight panel, really), Lewis Trondheim (who also stood in for Brian Lee O’Malley), Seth (who is kinda like the anti-me in nearly everything), and someone else who I’m totally forgetting. I couldn’t stay for the whole thing, and like I said before, I’d rather listen to Jason Lutes than just about anyone else on the panel. Maybe he’ll rate his own spotlight thing someday. In the meantime, I need to get caught up on BERLIN (which sells better in Germany than it does here, go figure.)