While the show is as big and as bursting with attendees and new events as ever, there is concern over San Diego Comic-Con’s future. Many comics professionals are openly concerned that Comic-Con is simply becoming too big for small publishers—indeed many believe the show is already too big.
Artist Alley exhibitors and longtime Comic-con exhibitors Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett, creators of the Boilerplate series of books, told PW that this was their last year as an exhibitor. “There are just fewer and fewer people who come to buy the kind of books we’re putting out,’ said Bennett.
Bennett said she has “issues with all the big Cons,” but noted that “Comic-Con in particular is too big, overwhelming, expensive, and diffuse, spread out.” She lamented that “the big cons have increasingly become ‘general audience’ shows,” and the fans they attract are not necessarily attending to buy books.
Retailer Peter Birkemoe of The Beguiling, Toronto’s premier comics bookstore and cosponsor of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, expressed similar concerns about Comic-Con at the Drawn & Quarterly booth, where he typically works during the show selling artwork for the house and helping with D&Q book sales. Although D&Q had a great show, as always, and sold out of Jillian Tamakis’ new graphic novel, Super Mutant Magic Academy and D&Q’s huge 25th Anniversary anthology, Birkemoe had the same sense of apprehension over demographic changes at Comic-con as Bennett. “It’s harder to get in, and the audience isn’t necessarily here to buy books,” he said.
One of this year’s big changes was the use of the San Diego Central Library, a short walk away from the convention center, as an official off-site venue for SDCC. From Tuesday through Saturday, the library held an array of programming aimed at librarians, educators, fan groups and kids. Programming included presentations by Comic Book Legal Defense Fund executive director Charles Brownstein on the role the CBLDF played in addressing censorship situations, like the Chicago Public Schools' ban of Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and Rio Rancho High School's review of Palomar by Gilbert Hernandez.
Diane Nicoll, who handles special events for San Diego Central Library, was pleased with the library's role in SDCC. Besides providing off-site space for additional SDCC programming, she said, the Central Library building venture "connects us with publishers, it connects us with community; it connects educators and librarians together”
However, the new venue may need better promotion. Despite quality programming and a state-of-the-art facility, comic-con attendees—the library venue is open to anyone with a comic-con badge—seemed reluctant to make the trek. Some sessions at the library, including Brownstein’s and the podcaster panel, for instance, had very low attendance.
Although Comic-Con is known for its showbiz presentations there was plenty of publishing news: DC announced Robin Wars, new initiative built around the venerable Robin character; a second series of Grant Morrison’s reality-shifting Multiversity series; and solidified some of the details of the return of pioneering African American comics imprint, Milestone Comics, to be called Earth M in the DC Universe. Writer Brian Azzarello and artist Klaus Janson were revealed as collaborators for a third volume of Frank Miller’s Batman series, for The Dark Knight: The Master Race.
While there have been concerns over Miller’s health in recent years, DC’s co-publisher Jim Lee assured the crowd at the Eisners ceremony that Miller is healthy and vital and mentally sharp. DC’s Vertigo imprint also announced 12 new series, including one by Love & Rocket creator Gilbert Hernandez and popular DC veteran Darwyn Cooke, continuing the imprint’s reputation as a place to experiment with more offbeat material.
Indie comics house Dark Horse announced a second series of Joelle Jones’ Lady Killer, about a glamorous housewife who’s also a hitwoman; and a new series for Matt Kindt, Dept H, which picks up where his MindMGMT spy series left off. Dark Horse plans to extend its popular Avatar the Last Airbender animation/graphic novels series in the form of a new graphic novel series based on The Legend of Korra with the animated show’s co-creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko involved. The Avater graphic novel, series, written by Gene Yang, has been a best seller, and the sequel should gain a lot of attention as well.
Image Comics announced a bevy of new titles a few days earlier at Image Expo, but despite the absence of Robert Kirkman—he was home recuperating from minor throat surgery—his Skybound imprint celebrated its fifth anniversary with a Walking Dead Spin-off, a new Cinemax series for Outcast, and AIR, the first Skybound film.
Marvel had a relatively low-key show, with no presentations for its film properties, and announced only a few titles, among them a resurrection of vampire hunter Blade as a female character.
Echoing reports on the manga market in general, Viz Media executives Leyla Aker and Kevin Hamric had nothing but good news at the show, reporting continued sales growth overall; increased shelf-space at Barnes & Noble (the retailer is doubling the space for manga) and cited the addition of new spinner racks, and increased manga sales at the Books A Million chain (“They get it,” Hamric said). Aker reports selling out of new manga series Tokyo Ghoul and Ultraman. “Back orders are bigger than the first printing,” Hamric said about Tokyo Ghoul. “It caught us by surprise.”
French comics house Dargaud used Friday’s Publishers Weekly panel on “The French Invasion” to announce the fall launch of EuropeComics.com, a promotional, online licensing directory and English-language consumer retail website organized by a coalition of 13 French and European comics, that includes Dargaud as well as publishers from Spain, Poland, Italy, the U.K. and Belgium. Indeed all of this follows in the wake of French comics publisher Delcourt’s pre-Comic-Con announcement that it will offer 151 English-language French comics via Comixology for the first time.
On the digital side, Hoopla Digital, the mobile app and digital content service for libraries, recently added DC Comics titles to its inventory. The service is essentially an e-book subscription service that offers access to thousands of comics and graphic novels via its app to anyone with a library card. Hoopla’s Ken Balog told PW the service will be adding Image comics to its list in the near future with more publishers to come. We also talked with Jordan Plosky, founder and CEO of Comic Blitz, an all-you-can-read e-comics subscription service offering access to “thousands” of comics—he said Valiant among others was on board—for a monthly fee. The site is in beta, Plosky said, and announcements about when it will go public are likely to be made at the Boston Comic-Con at the end of July.
At Diamond Book Distributors, v-p Kuo-Yu Liang, pointed to the growth of middle grade and YA graphic novels for kids, citing titles like the forthcoming Camp Midnight by Steve Seagal (Image), and Shadows of Alabaster (Oni), from publishers distributed by DBD. “As for diversity,” he pointed to fast growing Image Comics “it is about as independently diverse as you can get.” Liang also pointed to international markets, noting that the “hottest emerging markets for us now are Malaysia, Indonesia, South America, the Middle East and India. We just hired 2 new sales reps – one for India, and the other for Africa.”
As always the cavernous Hall H, where the studios showcase their forthcoming films, was the epicenter of both studio publicity and fan anxiety about getting inside. A new wristband system intended to guarantee fans access to the Hall while also discouraging all night sleepovers outside the hall, seemed to have the opposite effect. Unsurprisingly the Star Wars presentations made the biggest splash, following up with new footage from December’s The Force Awakens and an onstage reunion of stars Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford; in addition to a concert of Star Wars music played by the San Diego Orchestra and led by the venerable movie score composer John Williams himself.
And of course, Warner Bros’ trailer for the 2016 superhero blockbuster Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice also got people talking as did a presentation for Marvel’s eccentric superhero Deadpool, which will feature Ryan Reynolds portraying the satirical “merc with a mouth.”
Diversity and rising sales for comics aimed at young readers are trends reflected at both this year’s San Diego Comic-Con and at this year’s Will Eisner Comics Industry Awards. A record number of books by and for women scored wins at this year’s Eisner awards ceremony, perhaps best signified by the two awards that went to Boom! Studios’ bestselling Lumberjanes, which won both Best Publication for Teens and Best New Publication.
Indeed, the moment marked a new level of diversity in content as well as for creators and co-creators Shannon Watters, an editor at Boom! and artist Noelle Stevenson literally cried with joy as they accepted the awards.
Additional Reporting by Rich Shivener
Update: Added information about digital services Hoopla and Comic Blitz.