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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Decade of Comic Con

Back home and recovering from another week at San Diego Comic Con. My tenth year as an exhibiting cartoonist was very successful, and I had a great time hanging out with my friends, meeting new fans of my work, making use of the networking possibilities, and seeing all the ridiculous spectacles.

(this amazing photo was taken by Shawn Cheng)

San Diego Comic Con has changed a lot since I started going there. Most seem to think it has changed for the better. Maybe it did for a lot of people. But to me it no longer feels like a place for the kind of art and comics that I want to do. Hollywood has taken over the festival, and it's dominant presence is pushing out what put the word "Comic" in Comic Con. It has become San Diego Movie Con. The comic companies still there use this as a trade show for promotion and to sell properties to film and t.v. producers. And I'm not interested in doing that.

I went into this year's SDCC already thinking that it would be my last, but I was on the fence throughout the show. I love Comicon and usually do well at this show, but the increasing cost and stress of going to the festival makes it very difficult to continue.
Before the show opened on Saturday morning, I walked the entire length of the convention floor while my headphones played Pajo's album of Misfits cover songs. The quiet mornings before the attendees start spilling in are usually the only time I can get away from my booth. While I enjoy seeing the spectacle of rampant commercialism and pop-culture excess on display, and I revel a bit of an "us vs. them" rebellious feeling of being a self-publishing artist in that environment, this show now feels alien to my personal feelings about making art and comics.
I had this sinking feeling that they won. But I don't want to give them that much credit. Maybe I've just evolved in a different direction, and I no longer want to try to fit in there. Like when I realized that the popular kids in junior high were assholes who treated me badly and I should no longer try to be friends with them. It's a little sad, but also liberating. I spoke to several other cartoonists and artists throughout the weekend, and it seems I'm not the only one that feels that way. SDCC continues to raise the prices for exhibitors every year. I don't know what the reasons for doing this are, but from my perspective it's just another factor that contributes to my feeling that this Con no longer wants independent artists like me anymore. I can't afford the Hollywood prices and it makes more sense to spend that money elsewhere. There are more small and independent comic festivals popping up all over the country every year. And for the cost of a booth at SDCC, I could attend four or more of these smaller shows. These festivals feel more like a celebration of comics, filled with people who love the medium as an art form, whereas SDCC feels like I'm at war with a system that wants to crush me.
But I really do love the clusterfuck that is Comicon. So, I'll probably come back next year without a booth. I look forward to seeing the show from the other side of the table.
Special thanks to Shawn Cheng for coming all the way from New York to share the booth with me. He's the best booth-mate I've had in recent years. Thanks also to Levon Jihanian for hanging out and helping with our booth, and bringing his great new mini-comic Danger Country. And thanks to everyone at Sparkplug Comic Books and Teenage Dinosaur for doing these shows with me. You are all the best. Sharing an apartment with some of my best comics friends all week makes it feel like some kind of bizarro Cartoonist Summer Camp. Which makes me sad that this was the last one...
One of my friends said "if you sell something to someone in a costume, you win!" A girl in a Robin costume buying a black metal poster is a rare thing. She said she was a big fan of my art and this was one of my favorite moments of the week:

Good-bye San Diego Comic Con.

7 comments:

George Salire said...

Sad to hear that. Comic Con is kind of like a pipe dream of ours here in my country. We'd love to have a con about comics that big right here, but alas the support isn't worth it. Sad to hear it's becoming sort of a chore from where you stand.

Still, good luck with the small press conventions you WILL enjoy going to this or next year!

Justin said...

Hi Tom,

Hey, it was nice to finally meet you at SDCC this year. I'm sad to see you go, but can't say I disagree with anything you've said. I wrote a similar post recently about being "SDCC'd out" and largely over it.

Thanks again for the books and I should have reviews up within the next couple of days either at www.thirteenminutes.blogspot.com or www.poopsheetfoundation.com

Thanks!

Justin

tom Neely said...

It's a little sad, but the more I think about it, the better it seems. I do better on a small scale at indie-minded conventions like APE, TCAF, SPX, MoCCA, Stumptown and Indy Euphoria. There are other small festivals like this around the country that I'd like to try as well. By not buying a booth at SDCC next year, I can do more of these smaller shows. I might also do a book tour when my next one comes out.

Also, the more I think about coming to next year's SDCC as an attendee, the more fun I think it could be. I can spend more time wandering around and seeing stuff, try to get work, and probably even carry a suitcase full of my books to show to people.

Anyway... end of an era, beginning of a new one.

Josh F said...

Tom, I agree with you in spirit here. Comic Con is more about major corporations and their money than ever. Its primary focus is not on the kind of comics/art we do.

But: they won a long time ago. If SDCC was about comics at any point in the past 10 years then it was about mainstream comics and the toy revenue they generate.

And despite the crassness and size and skyscraper ads for bad movies, there is still a place for good work there. This year there were spotlight panels on Vanessa Davis and Gabrielle Bell!

Also, when you talk about the cost of a booth at SDCC you are leaving out the fact that there is a small press area at Comic Con, very similar to the tables we buy at shows like APE, well-positioned in the comics part of the floor, and costing about the same as tables at small press shows (I think my small press table for SDCC was $350 this year).

I suppose that my comments sound argumentative but really, I would not blame you at all if you decided not to exhibit again. SDCC is a lot to stomach. Small press is truly a fringe element of the show. Still, it can be fun on the fringe and it would sadden me if all my pals decided to ditch for lack of feeling welcome. SDCC would be that much poorer for it.

tom Neely said...

Josh- yeah, I considered going back to small press or even those mid-range tables. But I don't know if it's worth it to me at this point. The cost was less of a decision maker than all of the other factors. I just don't feel like Comicon is the place for my self-published work anymore. Even the small press section only has a few people that I feel any kinship with.

There is still good work there, true. That's why next year, I'll still go as an attendee.

Annmari said...

That's my babygirl with the fabulous taste in art!

Christine Larsen said...

Wish I knew about you before the con this summer. I would have totally made a pit stop at your booth while I was wandering the floor. Your work is really great. Top notch funny stuff :)