Wonder-Con 2011, part 1


“Shaking memories by the mile” the couplet goes. That’s from Calexico. Look it up.

Finally decided to attend Wonder-Con this year, which was not an automatic thing. I know, it’s odd as Wonder-Con 2009 was the single best show I’ve ever exhibited at. But then the year after was just about the worst, both in terms of traffic and income/outgo ratio. Bad placement (outside alley) and running the whole thing on Easter weekend combined to make it a terrible, terrible weekend, minus the company of tablemate Alex Sheikman.

And in truth, I was looking at walking away from the whole mess for a time. Expensive, energy draining and while conventions are fun, I’m also away from the family. This all added up to not doing a lot of shows this year and likely missing the boat on shows this year. Up until about three weeks ago, I wasn’t even figuring on going to Wonder-Con this year, which would’ve made the first once since 2003 that I’ve missed. So I decided to go at the lat minute, which means no pro registration.

It also means sellout crowds. Sellout crowds are great, right? That means there’s a healthy interest in the material and everyone’s going to spend money and float the business. Well, yeah, if you pre-ordered your tickets like we’re encouraged to pre-order books. Tougher to walk up to the door and get them spur of the moment (comics or con tickets – not enough demand and your store likely doesn’t even order the book in question, too much demand and you can’t get into the show.) These are not inclusive approaches, though I suppose they’re good at bringing in the short-term dollars. I can’t argue the approach in these times, though it does seem a natural outgrowth that if you aren’t already in the loop, it’s even harder to get in than it used to be. At least in the real world.

So the sellout situation was presented to me as I attended a super secret dim-sum meeting of the cream of the comics internet crop, where we all decided what ideology to lockstep into over the next year. And yes, I know that people will quote that verbatim and miss the point. Go ahead. This stuff is only dangerous when taken internally. Or seriously.

Dim sum, by the by, was fantastic. The roasted pork belly was a particular standout. Ain’t no bacon like Chinese bacon.

Luckily, while there, after hearing about how Saturday was a sellout and they were throttling numbers on the floor, etc etc, I was able to land a badge from a friend (which, let’s be clear, I’d have been more than happy to buy at the door but could not. And yes, let’s be clear that I’ve been spoiled by going to shows as a pro/exhibitor for some time. It was my supermarket scanner moment.) So, hooray for my friend who could get me through the door.

Saturday? Busy. Getting past any of the major booths at the head of the entryway was a difficult process. Did it feel like San Diego? Yes, yes it did. The only difference was the relative airiness and brightness of Moscone center, well that and not having any of the giant studios with a direct presence on the convention floor, with all of their blaring soundsystems and giant video screens and the like. Still, difficult to move around up front.

And even difficult to move around in places like Artist’s Alley. I don’t know if all that translated to sales for the artists in question or not. Most folks I talked to seemed to agree that sales were “decent” but not barn-burningly hot. I can’t speak for the straight merchandise sellers or the toy folks. But it did seem as if the whole pop culture marketplace was out in full force.

Oh, bootleg video sales? Yeah, they’re still there. Names will not be named, but it’s pretty clear that people are still skirting around that particular rule. If I knew that the production companies/artists involved were getting cash kicked back, I’d regard it with less of a fisheye, but I’m pretty sure that’s not happening.

My first stop on the floor ended up being the Stuart Ng Books booth. That Spanish-language collection of Jordi Bernet’s work? Yeah, couldn’t pass it up. It’s a thing of beauty with its satin-finish pages and rich blacks. That and the collection of the Italian western comic SUNDAY, which I have yet to go through, but how could I pass it up?

Or the 50% off MARVEL VISIONARIES volumes. I’m a sucker for those. Even if they do have glossy pages and didn’t tweak the older coloring to match. The difference between those and, say, DC’s FOURTH WORLD collections is startling. I know, people whine about the newsprint-feel of the pages in the DC collections, but the old colors look so much better on them.

So yeah, within an hour I’d acquired what felt like twenty pounds of books to drag around. I’m an idiot. But I was an idiot who was going to see Frank Quitely’s spotlight panel. Not a lot of surprises to report there. No thunderbolts from the heavens. Though I did hear that the FLEX MENTALLO collections are being recolored by the same artist who colors SHAOLIN COWBOY and the like, so I have faith that they’ll look good. That and there’s going to be some ten or so pages of additional art in the WE3 collection (was vague if it was going to be an ABSOLUTE-size or just a deluxe hardcover) so that’s nice. As were hints of him doing some creator-owned work.

Mr. Quitely himself was an unassuming guy who seemed genuinely surprised at the reception that he was getting in San Francisco. This belies the fact that he’s one of the most quietly insistent innovators in mainstream comics art. He’s not flashy or demanding or boastful, just a guy doing the work and showing off what only comics can do. We could use more like him (but no copycats, please. I know, we all start off copying someone at first, but grow into your own style. No more biting.) Besides, people can copy Mr. Quitely’s physiques and open style as much as they like, and they still won’t have his sense of design or space, so they’ll just look like copyists.

Headed back to the floor, mostly to poke around Artist’s Alley some more. Still hard to get around. Still felt like a smaller SDCC. Still had aisles that were deserted at the edges of the small press area. I’m thinking that the money saved on a small press table really doesn’t help out exposure in the long run. Or the short one.

At any rate, caught up with Paul Friedrich of ONION-HEADED MONSTER fame (recommended if you need a little pick-me up of absurdity laced with wonder) and chatted a bit. He did me the solid of stashing my all-too-heavy books at his table for the rest of the day. If I’d been really smart, I’d have dropped off my satchel too. I was’t.

Wandered, talked with Carla Speed McNeil, she the writer/artist of FINDER, which people have no excuse not to read now that it’s at Dark Horse (not that you had one before.) Hell, there’s even a convenient one-volume collection of half the FINDER material in print (companion due next year or so I hear.) You’ll be all caught up everything. If you’re not reading it, you’re missing out on one of the most unique voices in comics today (it’s all in the lettering…)

I did notice that to a cursory glance, Dark Horse has joined the DC/Marvel club in that Wonder-Con was a place to show off what people could buy, but not actually buy direct. This in opposition to publishers like IDW and Image, who had plenty of merchandise on sale to go along with their signings. Now this might have had to do with a smaller convention footprint. At SDCC, Dark Horse usually has a fully-stocked store on the convention floor and perhaps there wasn’t room here. This is just an interesting observation and not a statement of anyone having nefarious plans or whatever you might think. Watch this gets quoted out of context too.

Marvel’s booth had plenty of talent and a few promo items, but mostly it was about the movies coming up, and the video games to go along with them. DC was in a similar place, though they had a mind-boggling variety of Green Lantern material/toys to go with it. GL is one of those characters that I simply didn’t get. A fun, perhaps consummately comic-book comic book concept, but rarely having enough character to hang my interest on (minus the odd presentation like WILLWORLD and the like.) So all of this GL frenzy is completely lost on me (consequently, as is much of what DC’s leaned on editorially since about 2005 or so). But the movie looks as if it might be perfectly entertaining. Well not perfectly, but acceptably. Doesn’t mean it’ll be good. There’s often chasms between that which is entertaining and that which is good.

Put a wrap on the show for the night around then. Just dinner out with friends at the Italian place on the corner of Second and Howard. Nice place, though I probably shouldn’t have ordered the sorbet while I was sitting there out on the sidewalk and in the cold. Topped things off with a quick visit to the Cartoon Art Museum and looking through what was up on the walls. Wandered back to the room and finished my skim of the Bernet book, passed on the Isotope party for Mr. Quitely as there was no way on earth I was going to be up for staying out until 3am, which is about as long as it would have taken to park my car in Hayes Valley on a Saturday night.

Part two…sometime…

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