Written by Shawn Bourdo
It’s like the last few miles of the marathon. Up in the morning and you feel like you’ve hit the proverbial wall. Breakfast brings a bit of bacon-fueled energy but the lack of sleep and constant push of the crowds have worn this man down at bit. But like that first beer after a hangover, it only takes the first view of the Convention Center to get my blood going again and I’m all-in for my last day of the 2012 Con.
COMIXOLOGY OPEN DISCUSSION – This panel discussed everything to do with the current state of digital comics and a look into the future. Cofounders of Comixology, David Steinberger and John D. Roberts were on-hand for discussions. It’s always interesting to hear how businesses were formed and evolved. This company was formed in 2006 by two people with business backgrounds and no real computer-based talents. One was looking for a new way to catalog his comics and the other was looking to figure out what books were coming out each week so he wouldn’t miss one for his collection. By 2008 they had developed Pull List that was originally a website for consumers to denote what books they wanted each week and have it uploaded to their nearest participating retailer.
Then the iPhone changed the world. This provided an outlet that was portable and where people might want to read their comics. In 2009, they launched their online comics business with 100 comics. And 75 million downloads later they are the defacto kings of the online comic industry. Their app in #1 in spending every new comic day and in the Top Ten every other day of the week. By the end of this year they will finish in the Top Ten highest grossing apps.
It’s interesting to hear the questions from the crowd. I expected more of a mixed reaction from retailers and readers. On the contrary, it was all positive testimonials. Older readers saying that it got them back into reading comics on a regular basis. The numbers don’t show that it has decimated the print versions of the comics as they are up 20% for the year. The thing it is changing is the way comics are read. The guided reading on the smartphone apps would seem to be a negative but it was hailed by the crowd as a huge advantage that they liked. The iPad has moved the needle even quicker as it seems to be the perfect size for reading the comics as intended. The high resolution displays and the upcoming new Windows have kept Comixology improving their product. They’ve been called the iTunes of comics and it seems that most of the improvements to come will make them look more like an iTunes clone with “playlists”, etc.
The future will be told soon when they have passed the initial excitement of readers buying one or two comics to try out the app. Will they be able to keep new business rolling? Their expansions are targeting the often forgotten crowd – men and women that read the more literary graphic novels. They promised a key announcement later that day and as I predicted in my notes it is that Fantagraphics is coming on board this year starting with some Love and Rockets books.
LOCKED AND LOADED – Sometimes you just get stuck in your seat. I was at the previous panel in this room and I wanted to attend the one after this one. So I thought I’d stick it out and eat my snacks and play around on the iPad while waiting through a panel I knew little about. Turns out the title refers to authors of alternative military-history books. I gathered it’s like a Civil War novel where someone travels back in time from World War II with tanks and machine guns. Or the Iraq War being fought where both sides have dragons. Every book needs either love or danger. And war is certainly the pinnacle of danger and often there are love stories in these titles. I shouldn’t have been surprised to see how many people are into these books. I don’t even recognize the names of the authors and yet the crowd was very enthusiastic about the details in their books. There is a passion amongst the authors to base their novels within historical reality and then take them in fantastic directions. Glad I could see another side of fandom that I never knew existed.
SID AND MARTY KROFFT – This makes the third time in three years that I’ve seen the brothers. They have a great rapport and put together an interesting hour-long panel. It’s almost a companion piece to the Filmation panel as both groups were pushing the boundaries of Children’s TV in the Seventies and Eighties. Both were doing it with a commitment to producing family-friendly fun. I hated to hear them apologize for the third year in a row for the Land of the Lost film. They know it went wrong by not being aimed at kids and promise to do something about it. I hope they can let that disappointment go – I don’t blame them and I appreciate their guilt but it doesn’t have to keep going.
I have read books about Sid and Marty and heard them speak a number of times and yet I keep learning new things about them. The host of the panel, Chris Gore, did a good job of keeping them talking and telling stories. Last time they told the story of the inspiration for Lidsville and this time they admitted that there just might have been a little pot involved in the creation of H.R. Pufnstuf. I’m also interested in a unproduced script of a movie about their lives. It could be a real blockbuster in my opinion. Both brothers led incredicble lives before getting involved together in television and the stories of the first few years of their shows is the kind of story that just doesn’t happen anymore.
The stories are the reason I see older creators like this. Sid tells a story about growing up and not having enough money to see movies. When he finally had some money as a kid, his first film was The Wizard Of Oz and his second film was One Million Years B.C. The influence of these two on him was huge and you can see it in the creation of their most successful show, Land of the Lost. At the time, they scooped up writers from Star Trek that had just been canceled including the writer of the famous “The Trouble With Tribbles” – David Gerrold, who was in attendance. It was a huge boost to see Will, Wesley Eure. The show had real Sci-Fi cred, despite the low budget (the Sleestaks had to move slowly because there wasn’t room to run on the soundstage). It’s amazing to realize that it was drawing a 10 rating on Saturday mornings. That would be a Top Ten Primetime network show today.
The DVD relases have slowed down because they want them to coincide with new film releases. The current rundown of films in production (all with extensive help from Sid and Marty) include a Pufnstuf film, a Sigmund and the Sea Monsters film and a full musical animated film version of Lidsville from Dreamworks with many famous Broadway musical writers involved. These guys are full of energy and I don’t doubt we’ll see all these make it to the big screen soon. I hope to keep touching base with them at Comic-Con for years to come. The best brother act in San Diego.
WILL EISNER AND THE GRAPHIC NOVEL – This was another panel that was part history and part biography lesson. It was moderated by Paul Levitz and included Klaus Janson, Denis Kitchen, and Diana Schutz, all who had worked with Will Eisner or in the format in the case of Janson. Will had been famous in the comic world since the late 1940s. He had worked in all kinds of art fields from daily strips to comic books to instruction manuals. By the 1970s he could have just retired with a successful career. He used his freedom to tell the stories that he might not have been able to under a major publisher. Does this sound familiar? Like artists are still discovering today, Will Eisner laid the groundwork by pursuing his own creator owned projects.
Will was energized by the Underground Comix movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s including the work on Zap! Comix. But he was also an astute businessman. He knew that if he wanted to tell the type of stories he wanted to do that he needed to get it into established bookstores. He’s credited with inventing the term “graphic novel” and writing the first one. He did neither. In fact, he would have prefered the term “Sequential Art” but he knew he had to push the word “novel”. His release of A Contract With God in 1978 was important because it did open up a whole new outlet for creators through major publishers, not just the comic-book publishers. Today, almost every press has a selection of graphic novels. And Will’s book Comics and Sequential Art is the primer for all artists and writers looking to work in the field.
Discussions of the graphic novel and its current status were not what I had hoped would come out of this panel. I don’t mind hearing stories about Will Eisner. I was lucky enough to hear him speak at a convention in Chicago back in 1994. He had a much different view of the industry based on his experiences. It’s very different from the landscape of today with online sales and digital comics. I don’t doubt that he would have embraced the DIY mentality of artists today. Most of the philosophical discussions centered around the conundrum that calling these Graphic Novels poses. They all end up being shelved in one category called “Graphic Novels” despite their varied genres – mystery, science fiction and literature among others. For some, this melting pot of stories is a great thing while others envision a day that the books with pictures can exist next to the books without on equal terms.
BEING HUMAN – I entered right at the last half of this panel on the Sci-Fi show. I don’t watch it or the U.K. version (yet) but like the Spartacus panel, I was happy to see a very enthused crowd. The chemistry wasn’t forced either, I didn’t feel that awkward vibe that I did in the Arrow panel and that convinced me even more that the CW show was in trouble.
SHAMELESS – I’m a huge fan of the U.K. version and the Showtime version of this show. This was the U.S. version to be discussed with Mike O’Malley hosting William H. Macy, Emmy Rossum, Justin Chatwin, and Jeremy Allen White. I enjoyed seeing them in person but it’s also an illustration of why I don’t usually go see my favorite TV shows anymore. They haven’t filmed much of next season so there is nothing to show or tell us and so the clips they showed were from the season I’ve already seen. The stories were interesting but short because of the number of people on the panel. Worst of all, it got turned over to the crowd for questions too early. If there’s one thing that holds for every panel – the crowd should not be put in charge of questions. We ruin it. Every time. The questions were either not questions but compliments or questions about things in the future of the show that I wouldn’t want to know even if the cast did. It was enough to make me leave before the Glee panel.
FABLES – I ended the Con like I ended it last year. With the entertaining world of my favorite comic Fables. It was sad to hear upfront that this would be the last year for the panel for a few years because Bill Willingham was taking the crew on the road next year to other Cons. Because it’s the 10th Anniversary of the book – the creators and artists each picked out favorite moments from the series. Like a clip show, it’s interesting at first but wears thin by the end of the hour. We did hear just a few hints at what’s to come in Fables and Fairest and a new graphic novel. The panel does have the best giveaways of all the panels with a beautiful oversized print.
Most missed panels of 2012 – Archer, Dexter, Firefly, The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Childrens Hospital, Community, Mythbusters, Quentin Tarantino, Iron Man 3, Kevin Smith and True Blood.
So that was the bloated review of my Con experience in 2012. In some ways I’ve become better at attending the Con over the years. I felt like I maximized my Wednesday – Saturday experience more than I ever have – attending a maximum amount of panels and seeing the whole Convention floor for the first time in years. I’m happy that my Con experience had an overriding theme. It’s the importance of freedom to the creators here. We’re all here amongst our tribe members because other people have the freedom to tell the stories we want to hear. They can express ideas to make us think and they can inspire us to look at the world with wonder.