The circus came to town, yet again: this year’s Comic-Con: International ran from Wednesday through Sunday, July 23–27 and brought 130,000 attendees, hundreds of exhibitors, and thousands of professionals to San Diego, Calif. This event was marked by changes in how badges were sold (to give more fans access, four-day passes are no longer sold) and how people lined up for big media panels (no camping, and a new wristband system to handle the lines). It was also notable for a slight drop-off in the number of the off-site Comic-Con events, which have been spreading throughout downtown San Diego since the show’s string of instant sellouts began. The result? A show that started out slow but picked up steam as it went on.
Among the convention’s highlights was the announcement of the recipients of the Eisner Awards, which honor the best American comics and graphic novels of the year. Winners included Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, the brothers responsible for producing the acclaimed Love and Rockets graphic novels series, which spans more than 30 years. As incredible as it may seem, the two had never won before. Jaime took home Best Writer/Artist for Love and Rockets New Stories, Vol. 6, and Gilbert won Best Short Story for “Untitled,” in the same issue. Other Eisner winners included Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples for Saga; Vivek Tiwary, Andrew Robinson, and Kyle Baker for The Fifth Beatle; and Rutu Modan for The Property, which won Best New Graphic Novel of the year.
Comics, the oft-forgotten component of the Comic-Con brew, got the show off with a bang, and, given the disappearance of some big studio participation, may have even won back some of the spotlight from the Hollywood crowd. Image Comics held its third Image Expo—a kind of pop-up media event for Image creators—on Wednesday and announced a dozen new series, from the likes of Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey; Becky Cloonan and Andy Belanger; Kurt Busiek; and Jeff Lemire. The event dominated the media for at least a few hours before preview night got underway the same evening.
Image Expo is also a bully pulpit for Image publisher Eric Stephenson, who uses events such as these to contrast Image’s focus on original works and new artists with the parade of licensing and movie deals and the revivals of decades-old characters that dominate conventional comics publishing. Stephenson loves to pick a fight, and his broadside attracted media attention and reminded observers that comics are still part of the mix at Comic-Con.
Indeed, comics announcements kept on coming throughout the convention. Dark Horse broke the first rule of novelist Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel Fight Club and told everyone about another big comics project at the show: Fight Club 2, a graphic novel sequel, to be drawn by Cameron Stewart and David Mack. (Palahniuk is interviewed about the project on PW’s More to Come podcast, which can be found at publishersweekly.com/comics.)
More big-time comics announcements followed. Marvel said it is picking up the Star Wars license previously held by Dark Horse (both Lucasfilms and Marvel are now owned by Disney), announcing a fresh mix of titles, including a Star Wars book by Jason Aaron and John Cassaday; Princess Leia by Mark Waid, Rachel, and Terry Dodson; and Darth Vader by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca.
DC Entertainment, in the midst of a long-planned move to the West Coast, was relatively quiet, with no major announcements. Bob Wayne, DC’s senior v-p of sales and marketing, and a well-liked senior industry figure, made his retirement official at Friday’s retailer lunch.
DC’s superheroes made the biggest waves during the movie announcements, however, when a snippet of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was screened at Saturday morning’s WB panel in Hall H. Director Zack Snyder introduced the one-minute scene of Batman and Superman looking aggressively at one another; following this, the cast members playing Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman—Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, and Gal Gadot, respectively—came onto the stage. It was the most tweeted-about moment of Comic-Con.
But let’s get back to actual comics. Among the independents, Fantagraphics announced a Vaughan Bode Omnibus; The Late Child and Other Animals, a generational memoir by Marguerite Van Cook and James Romberger; The Complete Eightball by Dan Clowes; and many other titles we don’t have the space to list here. D&Q announced Drawn & Quarterly: 25 Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics and Graphic Novels, a far-ranging history of its own pioneering role in independent comics publishing, as well as new works by Jillian Tamaki (a print release of her Web comic Super Mutant Magic Academy) and acclaimed manga artist Shigeru Mizuki. D&Q also plans to relaunch its website in August, with new content and e-commerce options.
Abrams ComicArts editorial director Charles Kochman had book designer/comics expert Chip Kidd on hand to announce The Art of Peanuts, a commemorative hardcover art book on the great Charles Schulz, which Kidd will write and design. Kochman also plans to publish Trashed, a new book on garbage by Derf Backderf, author of My Friend Dahmer, the award-winning nonfiction work, and Ghetto Klown, a graphic autobiography by actor John Leguizamo.
Terry Nantier, publisher of Papercutz and NBM, said that both his lines “did great” this year. NBM sold a “generous quantity” of Jim Benton’s Dog Butts, and Love, and Stuff Like That, and Cats. And Papercutz, the kids line, relaunched Neil Gaiman’s Tekno Comics, along with Rabbids Comics, an original series, “which got a wonderful reception.”
The manga market continues to rebound, but there were very few announcements—Comic-Con takes place between two big Asian pop festivals, Anime Expo and Otakon, and many publishers save their most exciting news for one or the other. In an interview, Viz Media’s Kevin Hamric and Leyla Aker both noted the resurgence of the U.S. manga market in print and digital, citing, in particular, the expansion of Viz manga onto every digital platform “except subscription e-book.” Viz is looking at e-comics for libraries, but the “library market is not quite there yet,” Aker said. “We want to look and see where it’s going.”
At the Titan Entertainment table, senior editor Steve White was showing off the company’s line of licensed French graphic novels designed specifically for the U.S. market. Titan has released four titles so far—among them, Michael Moorcock’s Elric, and Void, by Herik Hanna and Sean Phillips—and plans about six more this year. White noted that the publisher already has a success with Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette’s Snowpiercer, which is the basis for the eponymous film. “It’s a huge hit. We sold out all our copies,” he said, also noting that Titan is about to launch a new line of Dr. Who comics.
Near the end of the show, PW talked with Kuo-yu Liang, Diamond Book Distributors’s v-p, sales and marketing, at the Diamond booth, as usual, joining a meeting with a contingent of buyers from Kinokuniya, the global Japanese bookstore chain. The encounter offered a perspective on the global market for comics. Kinokuniya, long known for its large selection of manga in English and Japanese, is expanding its inventory of nonmanga comics in its stores around the world, and in its New York location, in particular, following the lead of its Singapore and Dubai branches. Graphic novels are the bestselling category in the Tokyo store, Liang pointed out, noting that the chain has made “a real commitment” to the category globally.
Liang said retailers at home and abroad want more pop-culture stuff—comics, games, toys, you name it. He said that Eason, a 45-store retail chain in Ireland, is adding “geek sections,” a pop-culture store-within-a-store concept. Eason plans to add 15 geek sections to its stores. “The same thing happened in Brazil so we’re taking the concept to other countries,” Liang said of the popular model. He also cited Comicave, a new 15,000-sq.-ft. comic shop in Dubai, the “first comic shop in the Middle East.”
It was just another indication that comics are not only still important to Comic-Con, but they’re also important to fans around the world, Liang said. “There’s no lack of interest in comics and pop culture. We’re looking to expand the market internationally. Publishers need to think globally. ”