Wrap-Up: San Diego Comic-Con 2013

Well, I’ve returned from San Diego Comic-Con and I’m starting to get back settled in. As you probably know, Oyster War didn’t win the Best Digital Comic Eisner Award, but I had a blast at the show nonetheless and I’m really, really glad I made the trek. Here’re a few thoughts:

San Diego – I really like the San Diego. I had a beautiful view of downtown from my hotel room balcony. It’s walkable. It’s on the water. There are tons of nearby places to eat and drink. There’s some really great architecture on display. And, of course, there’s the weather—low humidity, warm but not hot days, cool evenings.

PANO_20130719_092739(View from my balcony)

Scale – This isn’t news to anyone who’s attended SDCC, but the scale of everything is just stunning—the sheer size of the exhibition floor, the number of off-site events, the crowds everywhere. For someone like me who’s more used to comics events like Heroes Con and SPX it’s pretty overwhelming.

DSC_0221(Midnight Friday: hobo jungle of people sleeping out for the next day’s Hall H events)
IMG_20130720_144041_1(In the halls of the convention center)


Getting to wander around – I’ve only been to SDCC twice before—2005 and 2006, if I’m remembering correctly—and both of those times I spent the bulk of my time behind the SLG Publishing booth. This was the first time I’ve been able to wander the floor freely, get to off-site events, and catch programming. I had much, much more fun this time around because of this. I think the “scheduled signing at a publisher’s booth and doing a few panels” model at a show like this would be vastly preferable to manning a table solo for the duration of the show.


(Life sized Iron Man made of Legos)


(SDCC exclusive My Little Pony with Swarovski crystal-encrusted sunglasses)

Cosplay – I absolutely loved seeing all the great costumes people had on. I’ve never had the cosplay impulse myself, but I think it’s great any time there’s a strong community built up around a creative endeavor. Likewise, I’ve got full-on respect for anytime someone sets out to do something creative and then does it really, really well. I don’t generally take pictures of con cosplayers, but I couldn’t help myself when I walked by this amazingly well pulled-off Dave Cockrum Phoenix costume:

Panels – I won’t go through every single panel I went to, but they were all reasonably well-attended and well-moderated. That said, they were all solidly in the “four people with microphones and a moderator” mold. I’ve harped on this before in relation to the Heroes-Con “Mega Panel” that I participate in each year, but I think there’re a lot of possibilities out there for breaking out of this mold and certainly CDCC, the country’s biggest (and I’m guessing best-funded) comics-related event, would be a great place for this.


(Eric Reynolds, Gary Groth, Diana Schutz, Gilbert Hernandez and Xaime Hernandez at the Tribute to Kim Thompson panel)


(Blurry but hilarious: note from Thompson to Chris Ware. From the same panel)

[Text from the above image: Would it irredeemably mar JIMMY CORRIGAN if, whenever you used the name Superman, you put it between quotation marks and hyphenated it? “Super-Man.” (The way it was on the newspaper in #1.) This might prevent Warner Communications from having us eviscerated. Just a thought.]

One of my favorite panels from the event was the Digital Color for Comics panel with Brian and Kristy Miller of Hi-Fi Color Design. This was a nuts and bolts tutorial/demo on digital coloring with Photoshop. I really wish there was more of this sort of material in comics event programming. Unlike a lot of professions, there’s not an annual industry conference for comics folk and I’d love to see an institution like SDCC begin to take on this sort of role.

I attended only one non-comics related panel—a presentation on some new Adult Swim cartoon—and the difference between this event and the comics events I went to was pretty stunning. The room was packed, the crowd was enthusiastic, the moderator and guests were funny and lively. That’s not a complaint—I think it’s just a natural reflection of the fact that different types of people are fans of different types of things—but I found it interesting.

Comics, comics, comics! – As I’m sure has been the case since basically forever, there were several high-profile articles this year about how SDCC isn’t about comics any more, how it’s been taken over by Hollywood and video games. I don’t know enough about the show’s history to really comment on this other than just to say that I spent three full days there and filled all those days with things comics-related (well, other than that one panel mentioned above). I’m sure the film/TV stuff has really exploded of late, but there’s sure no lack of comics stuff to do.


(Original art for sale: by Dan Clowes, Seth, Gilbert Shelton, etc.)


(Lone Wolf and Cub Manga legend Kazuo Koike, signing at the Dark Horse booth)

Comic-Con Everywhere! – It’s pretty amazing to see how much Comic-Con stuff is everywhere and on everything in San Diego over the weekend. It seems like there’s not a surface in the city that hasn’t been covered in something pop culture-related. Even my hotel room key card had an image on it from some upcoming Batman video game. After a while it gets a bit overwhelming, though. And comics/fantasy-related or no, they’re ads. It’s like They Live, except you don’t need the sunglasses.


(San Diego light rail)



(Street signs in Dothraki)


(When you play the Game of Thrones you ride or you die)

Kids at the con – In a few years my daughter will be old enough that I might consider folding a family vacation to San Diego around my visiting SDCC and I had that in the back of my mind as I walked the floor, being nearly crushed to death every once in a while. I’ve heard there’s a “kids’ day” on Sunday and I’d be curious to know what the story is with that. As it stands, though, there are certainly some things about the event that make me wonder where kids’ attendance factors into con thinking. For example: the omnipresent “booth babes” (my concern here isn’t about kids seeing some skin, but rather is just from the perspective of someone with a daughter)  or even the blood-splattered lanyards that came with the show passes, which were advertising Dexter–apparently at TV show about a mass murderer. Clearly, this show isn’t lacking for growth, but the kids thing is something to think about…


(One of several Monster High display cases)


(Sanrio/Hello Kitty booth, at the Petco Ballpark Comic-Con area)

Talking to people – It’s great that we live in an era where you can contact almost anyone, anywhere, anytime via email and/or social media, but there’s nothing that beats an actual face-to-face introduction/conversation with someone. Given that a significant number of comics’ movers and shakers are at SCCC, it’s a great time to talk to people “IRL,” tell them what you’re working on, hand them a card, and see if anything clicks down the line. I met/was introduced to several editors, talked face to face for the first time with an agent I’ve emailed back and forth with, etc. This alone made the trip well worth it.

Hanging out with people – Similar to the above: it was really nice to see folks in person who I don’t usually get a chance to, since I tend to stay on the East Coast. Among others, I went out for a great dinner with Phil Nell (of recent Crockett Johnson/Barnaby-related fame) and his wife, along with comics scholar/writer Charles Hatfield and his family. The following night a bunch of folks went out for Thai food in the Gasslamp Quarter. There were a ton of comics people there including Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko, who I yak with online a bit but have only met once before in person.

The Eisners – I really enjoyed what an effort was made to make the Eisners a classy affair: a nice venue, buffet dinner for nominees/VIPs, high caliber presenters, even the little custom Eisner Award take-home boxes of hard candy that were at each place setting. If we want the comics medium to be respected, then we should have more overtly respectable events like the Eisners. Enough with the, “Aw shucks, we’re just a bunch of comics nerds” bit.

Related to the above: I was surprised to see so many folks—well, OK, I’ll say it: so many guys—at this event who were dressed like they wandered over to the event after changing the oil in their F-150’s.  If you’re down in that VIP section of the awards, you received an email about the event that specifies “cocktail attire.” That’s an actual thing. Look it up.

People seemed to really love a lot of the celebrity presenters. I don’t really watch much TV so I didn’t know who most of them were, but if they were famous people who dig comics and showed up to present Eisner awards, that’s awesome.

I didn’t expect Oyster War to win and indeed it didn’t. In fact, I didn’t think there were a lot of really huge surprises as far as the eventual winners went. I was, though, really delighted to see The Carter Family: Don’t Forget this Song split an award with Joe Lambert’s Helen Keller book. Those are both fantastic books that were among my faves from 2012. Seeing Michael Kupperman win was great as well—especially in a category not specific to humor. I was glad to see Tom Spurgeon finally get a win in the Journalism category. He’s been nominated something like five times. I don’t believe there’re many self-published things that have won Eisners, so it was really cool to see Becky Cloonan’s self-published The Mire take home an award.

Wonder Women: On Page and Off: Somewhat lost in the SDCC hubbub was this amazing exhibition at the nearby Women’s Museum of California that showcases a ton of original art by women cartoonists—the bulk of it from Trina Robins’ personal collection apparently. I showed up expecting just to see a few pieces on display and was pleasantly stunned to find out that Trina Robins, Mary Fleener and Ramona Fradon were all there in person doing a Q&A. It was a really delightful surprise and a great discussion. Bonus: I got to meet Ramona Fradon!

IMG_20130718_193650(Original Marty Links Emmy Lou strip)


(Unused Ramona Fradon superhero concept sketches)


 (Ramona Fradon with some of her original pages)

A decent phone/connection is a necessity: T-mobile’s data speeds while I was in San Diego were the slowest I’ve ever experienced on any carrier. Once I entered San Diego airspace, my data speeds slowed to a dial-up-like crawl. I know there’s an extra 125,000 people in town, but this was straight up ridiculous. You’re probably thinking, “Boo-hoo, your phone was slow.” These days, though, I feel like a functional smart phone is basically a necessity. I had difficulty making plans with people I was supposed to meet because of slow/dropped texts, had difficulty navigating the city because of Google Maps timing out, etc. At least at the convention center I was able to access free wi-fi, sponsored apparently by a remake of Teen Wolf. Seriously.

One final thing: Here are some paintings of cats dressed as superheroes.


 (Paintings by Jenny Parks)


1 ping

  1. 2013: The Year in Review » Ben Towle: Cartoonist, Educator, Hobo says:

    […] never attended as a  ”civilian” and been able to take in all the activities. I did a big write-up about the event here, but in short: I had a blast and I’m hoping I’ll be able to attend again this year […]

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