San Diego Comic-Con(fidential)

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Despite the fact I’ve sworn I would never return, this past weekend marked my tenth year of attending the San Diego Comic-Con. Things have changed a lot over the past decade, and to call the event a madhouse would be both a disservice in madhouses everywhere, as well as an inadequate description of the insanity that runs rampant through Comic-Con. And while I once looked forward to attending the show, I now find myself feeling like Jesus when he went to the temple and found it full of merchants and lenders.

It hardly seems like it’s been ten years since my first trip down to San Diego for Comic-Con. I debuted the third issue of BadAzz MoFo (the legendary Asskickers issue) at that show. One of the things that stands out about that year was that the issue was still at the printer the day before I was to fly down to San Diego. Back in those days I was working with a small printer whose shop was in his mother’s basement, and I recall helping collate and bind that issue so that it would be ready to go with me on the plane. It was brutally hot that summer, and Rob was working the press in nothing but a pair of shorts, while his business partner Scott and I assembled the magazines and sweated our asses off. At one point my friend Ron came over and helped, and somehow we managed to get enough books put together for me to take to the convention. But most important, it was fun.

That first year was a success, followed by a run of three or four great years where I had a bunch of fun and made a bunch of money. Eventually things changed, most notably the size and scope of the convention itself. What you have to keep in mind is that when I first started attending Comic-Con the Spider-Man movies and the X-Men movies and all the comic book-related movies that have been fueling Hollywood for the better part of the past six years had not been released yet. The combined success of various comic book-related movies, as well as films the like Lord of the Rings series and Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, helped create a frenzy that directly impacted Comic-Con. For decades this was the gathering place of the fans who loved the sort of films and related merchandise that was now generating billions of dollars in revenue. The direct result was an incredible growth spurt at Comic-Con that started five years ago with the ever-increasing presence of Hollywood pimping films and television to the captive crowd of pop-culture junkies.

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For nearly thirty years Comic-Con was a place where die-hard fans of comic books and related pop culture mediums would gather. But as those mediums have become increasing lucrative to the enterprises that run the entertainment industry, Comic-Con has gone from being a gathering place for fans to a tradeshow where film studios and toy companies go to launch their new product and give consumers a glance at where their “disposable income” will be spent over the coming months. And while all of this has been going on, the role of small independent creators such as myself has become more and more tenuous.

My role at Comic-Con took a dramatic turn several years ago when for the first time I didn’t break even financially on the cost of being there. Normally, I would make back the cost of airfare, hotel and renting a space at the convention center all within the first two days of the four-day event. But during what would be my last year as a vendor, I never broke even (which was especially sad because I was sharing space on the floor with someone who wasn’t charging me).

Don’t get me wrong, because I recognize the hypocrisy of my desire to make money at Comic-Con, while simultaneously blasting huge entertainment conglomerates with the same agenda. Honestly, I’m not upset with huge companies like Warner Brothers for dominating the massive space at the San Diego Convention Center, because if I had the money and the product to pimp, I would do the same thing. My problem with the big corporate pimps at Comic-Con amounts to little more than petty jealousy over their financial resources.

The big problem I have with Comic-Con is more with the people who attend and the organizers. With regard to the organizers, I understand that the big companies are the cash machine that keeps Comic-Con running, but what about the comic book part of the convention? At time it is easier to find action figures, video games, t-shirts, DVDs, and Suicide Girls trading cards than it is to find comic books. At best, comics are an after-thought at Comic-Con, and at worst a necessary evil required to keep from changing the name to San Diego Pop Culture and Hollywood Whoredom-Con. And while mainstream comics have been pushed to the side in favor of other mediums that generate higher revenue, independent comics have really been forced to back of the room. Some of the best talent working in mainstream comics came from the world of independent comics, but little is being done to nurture that world.

My problem with the people who attend Comic-Con is the fact that only a very small minority support independent creators. There is nothing wrong with spending your money on corporate product, but there is a lot to be said for exploring independent product as well.

So why do I still go?

That’s the question I keep asking myself. Part of it is because I want to maintain a presence, as diminishing as it may be, and remind people that BadAzz MoFo is still around. Even though I haven’t had a table at the convention for the past three years, people still stop me on the floor and ask when the new issue is coming out, or what new projects I have in the works. A lot of time this year was spent reconnecting with fans and letting them know that the website was really up and running.

The other reason for going to Comic-Con is to network with other creators (not to mention visit with friends I only see during the convention). Unfortunately, this year “networking” amounted to either small groups of people bitching about what the convention has deteriorated to, or people blowing smoke up my ass.

There were, however, a few great moments. I did get to spent time with Gary Phillips, Lloyd Kaufman, and Ken Foree, all people whose work I admire. In the case of Lloyd and Ken, I’ve had the opportunity to work with both. With Gary, I hope to some day work with him.

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The highpoint of Comic-Con was that I finally met George Romero (above), director of such classics as Night of the Living Dead, Martin and Knightriders. Romero is one of my favorite filmmakers of all time, and easily the one who has influenced me the most as an artist. I interviewed him once over the phone, but always promised myself that if I ever met him I would not turn into a blathering fan with nothing intelligent to say. Sadly, I turned into a blathering fan with nothing intelligent to say. But when I told him about Black Santa’s Revenge, starring Ken Foree who was in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, he seemed genuinely interested (or at least he faked it really well).

Looking back, I realize that what I hate most about Comic-Con is not how much it has grown, or what a den of thieves it has degenerated into. In all reality it was always a den of thieves, and there has always been pimps peddling their wares. What bothers me most about Comic-Con, and this is hard for me to admit, is how little I have grown or changed over the years. Walking the crowded floor of the convention center I was forced to reconcile both my inability to adapt as a business person, and my shortcomings as a creative force. After ten years, I should have more to show for my efforts, both creative and financial, than what I currently have to show. And while I stop short of calling myself a failure—for in fact I am not a failure—I am becoming increasingly aware of my failings. Fear and doubt and the over-reliance on other people have allowed me to sit back and make excuses when I could have been moving forward with my career and creativity. Despite all of the things to distract me at Comic-Con, none were able to distract me from myself.

I can say that I don’t really like Comic-Con, but it wasn’t always that way. The reality is that I don’t know if I can ever go back to loving it the way I did when I first stepped on to the convention center floor ten years ago. But I was a different person then, just as Comic-Con was a different event. Everything changes.

Like the last two or three years, I spent much of the weekend vowing to not return to Comic-Con. But then I asked myself what was it that I hated most about the convention, and the brutal answer was that I hated seeing other people basking in the glory of their creative endeavors, when I know I have more to offer creatively than many of them. Sure, that makes me sound like an egomaniacal asshole, which is exactly what I am.

So, I guess it is time for me to put up or shut up. I either need to be one of those whiny motherfuckers who hates on everything while claiming he can do it better, or I need to rock out with my cock out and prove what I’m made of. Instead of thinking about all of the projects I want to do, or talking about the projects that I am doing, and just need to shut the fuck up and get my shit out there.

Consider this either a warning or a promise: I will be at Comic-Con in 2008, and I will be bringing with me a collection of completed projects that will fuck people up. See you there.

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2 Responses to “San Diego Comic-Con(fidential)”

  1. Adam C. Says:

    Good luck with all of your projects. I know how it feels to be face with a “put up or shut up” situation. I have been stuck in a rut for several years now. This post inspires me too to get off my ass. Now hopefully I have the balls to actually do it.

  2. R. George R. Says:

    I look forward to being fucked up by your projects!

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