After a disappointing first year in which the convention was dwarfed by the venue, the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo (or C2E2 as it's known) had a strong sophomore effort, with attendance up 24% to 34,000, from 2010's 27,500.
The extra 6,500 attendees all fit into a new hall which was better configured for the show, according to ReedPop vp of books, publishing and pop culture, Lance Fensterman. He also noted that a new logo which emphasized the "comic and entertainment" part of the show better reflected the contents. Local marketing efforts included hang tags featuring Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern on supermarket Pepsi displays, which targeted the mom demographic to create awareness for the show. Everything paid off with much better local ticket sales through comics retailers.
The event kicked off on Thursday with Diamond Distributions 2011 retailer summit, a 1 ½ day event which reflected some of the difficulties in the retail segment – attendance was down from last year, and some of the energy had been left behind at the ComicsPRO retailer meeting just a few weeks earlier. Many presentations began with "As we told you at ComicsPRO" – and attendees of that event were still talking about it.
Diamond's confab still made some noise and dealt with key issues, however. It kicked off with a panel exploring their recent move into digital comics sales at which it was announced that Marvel would be joining the program. Attending retailers were vocal in investigating the program's implementation, leading to a lively back and forth.
At a Diamond talk back session, which PW reported on earlier, year-end totals for various segments were discussed. Perhaps the biggest reaction from retailers was the news that an unpopular form of packaging that led to more damages would be retired.
The afternoon was taken over by roundtables by Marvel, Viz, Archaia, Dynamite, Radical and game publisher Wiz Kids. Marvel's senior v-p, sales David Gabriel answered retailer questions about late shipping titles, explaining that a variety of external factors had made it difficult to stay on schedule. However he revealed that there would now be more consequences for editors whose books ship late. "We know it's a problem, and we will fix it, but eventually it will creep back," he said.
The manga publisher Viz announced a big push for their 25th anniversary, including a series of thick omnibus editions for popular titles including Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, Kekkaishi and Full Metal Alchemist.
The first Viz original comic is coming out in 2011, Meet Mameshiba!, a series for ages 5-7 about some cartoon dogs who have adventures and repeat interesting facts. Viz is looking at different ways to market their books in the coming year, such as promoting the title Vampire Knight at Twlight conventions, said Moneka Hewlett, sr. director, publishing sales & retail development.
Archaia's big news is A Tale of Sand, a graphic novel based on an unproduced screenplay by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl. Henson worked on the story for almost a decade – it's a strange tale of a man being chased by weird creatures in the desert – but never got it to work, said Archaia's Stephen Christy. "This is the most special book we've ever worked on," he said "and it's an honor to bring to life a lost piece of Jim Henson's legacy."
The publisher, which recently got a round of funding from local Chicago investors, is looking at some other marketing moves, such as a simultaneous English/Spanish release for Feeding Ground, and, for the first time, publishing some of their books in paperback. Although their hardcover-only line is reasonably priced, putting out paperback editions will reach an even wider audience, said Christy.
The Dynamite presentation was more of a rap session between CEO Nick Barucci and gathered retailers. Barrucci says all their books based on the John Carter of Mars series are doing very well. Barrucci spent much of the presentation PW attended talking about his wish to join Diamond final order cut-off (FOC) program which allows retailer to adjust orders closer to print time. "Tell Diamond," he urged attendees. In response to retailer complaints that they put out too many variant covers, he challenged them to order heavier on single cover issues. After the first issue, Kirby Genesis, a much–anticipated reworking of concepts by the late comics master Jack Kirby, will have only one cover, said Barrucci. "If it sells more than 7000 copies, we'll do more single cover books. If it sells under 7000 we will be reticent to do only one cover."
The final comics presentation was by Radical Publishing, a company that has yet really get on the radar for many retailers. That may change, however as the presenters outlined plans to spend $350,000 to market their comics and drive customers into comics shop,with plans for POP displays, author signings, and contests such as a recent one which sent a reader to the Coachella music festival. Upcoming projects include Jake The Dreaming, a fantasy about a boy who travels the dreams of others to rescue them; and Damaged, a concept developed by actor Sam Worthington. As if to show that Radical's money may be well spent indeed, during the Q&A session that followed retailers kept bringing up books that Radical does not publish.
At the next morning's breakfast session, IDW confirmed that they are joining the FOC program. Retail marketing director Dirk Wood laid out plans for such licenses as True Blood, Transformers and Godzilla, as well as IDW's homegrown Infestation event which crosses over various licensed characters—the series has already been a huge hit at retail.
Dark Horse is another company celebrating its 25th anniversary soon. V-p of marketing Micha Hershman made a presentation on the importance of the Star Wars franchise, pointing out that Dark Horse has sold over 5.7 million copies of their Star Wars titles, 12% of their entire line, and urging retailers to order their top two backlist Star Wars titles, Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Volume 1, which he said remain perennial sellers.
At DC, the emphasis was also on media tie-ins, with a big push for the upcoming Green Lantern movie. The graphic novel Green Lantern: Secret Origin by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis has been designed as a good jumping on point for the character, with a photo cover of Ryan Reynolds and plenty of copies are being printed in advance so stores have them on hand for the movie's opening – something that hasn't always happened with previous comics movie tie-ins.
Overall the Retailing Summit didn't have any big news or surprises, but gave retailers a chance to talk about the current climate. Digital is no longer the boogeyman in the room, and retailers are definitely interested in getting into digital themselves – according to Comixology's David Steinberger, 100% of the retailers he surveyed are interested in at least finding out about selling digital comics.
The only down note in the proceedings was a lunch deficit on Thursday – normally a publisher sponsors a lunch for participants, but this time only cookies and chips were provided, leading to a rather subdued afternoon of roundtables, as attendees counted the minutes to the Dynamite/WizKids-sponsored pizza party. A Diamond rep pointed out that time had been provided for participants to purchase their own lunch, but few wanted to leave the schmoozing in search of ham.
C2E2 itself kicked off with three hours of industry panels, including Heralds of Change: Comic Books, Libraries, and Innovation, presented by Toby Greenwalt of the Skokie library. Greenwalt offered a detailed presentation – viewable online here – of how to expand the YA section of libraries with graphic novels. He noted that although in the Adult section graphic novel circulation is just behind SF/fantasy, in the children's section it is the #1 genre at his library. The American Library Association had a strong presence at the show, and the library/comic connection is growing – this years summer ALA show in New Orleans will include an artist's alley for the first time.
A Saturday panel called "State of the Comicverse" with Steinberger, ICv2's Milton Griepp, retailer Patrick Brower of Challengers Comics, and creator David Gallaher engaged in a wide-ranging conversation over various aspects of the industry and how digital comics will affect them. The panelists all feel that digital is a great way to expose more people to comics, but Brower noted that it is still incumbent on publishers to create good stories that people want to read. And even then, there are some people who will never take the bait, he said. "Years ago, I gave one young woman Animal Man and The Question, books which I thought were universally accessible, but she said she liked them but wasn't going to read any more."
As the show went on, it was evident that the Great Recession is still affecting collectors in the Midwest. Sales were strongest in Artist Alley, where books and prints sold out with regularity. However, in the dealer/publisher section, sales were more modest. "It's a good show, but it's still very expensive to exhibit at," said Top Shelf's Chris Staros. Graphitti Design's Bob Chapman noted that he had had good sales but the jury was still out on whether the event would develop into the giant Midwestern comic-con that the industry needs.
But as usual, excitement over the amount of creative energy on hand – whether from comics creators or cosplayers – couldn't help but rub off. Artist Jill Thompson, a multiple Eisner winner, noted that she had gotten excited hanging out with so many of her fellow creators. "I'm all pumped up and dying to get working."
Retailers who had gone to the Diamond summit stuck around to soak in the sights and reflect on the climate. Portlyn Freeman of Brave New World in Newhall, Ca. and Tate Ottati of Tate's Comics in Lauderhill, Fl. agreed that getting new customers into their stores and getting them to spend more is always a challenge, but even though money is tight, comics sales remain strong. "My sales went up double digits last year," said Freeman. "The bottom line is you can sit behind your counter and wait for sales to come to you or you can go out become part of the community, get things done and have some fun.”