More than 130,000 fans surged into the San Diego Convention Center for this year’s San Diego Comic-Con International July 18-22, along with tens of thousands more visiting scores of free installations and events held throughout the surrounding Gaslamp district in downtown San Diego.
Despite the usual mobs of fans the show had a different feel. Traffic was banned on Harbor Drive, a broad street that runs alongside the convention center separating it from the Gaslamp neighborhood, a long overdue safety measure. The long line of buses that shuttle fans from the hotels to the show dropped off attendees on the now-quiet Harbor Drive. And the service road directly in front of the convention center became a much-needed pedestrian walkway.
Inside the hall, crowds were heavy though generally in motion thanks to new methods of queuing fans into the hall. And despite the mammoth crowds, the show floor was, well, kind of quiet, thanks to a crackdown on exhibitor’s use of the earsplitting music and interactive sounds effects. The hall was oddly peaceful despite the throngs.
But the real change going on at Comic-con is being spurred by a new and diverse generation of creators and fans who demand a wider variety of comics content. Indeed in many ways the impact of the book trade and the popularity of book format comics--graphic novels—has reestablished comics publishing as the heart of the event.
To be sure, movies and TV shows still dominate the news coming out of Comic-con. DC showcased the Aquaman movie with appearances by star Jason Mamoa; its forthcoming Shazam/Captain Marvel movie trailer, and teased fans with photos and rough cuts of the Woman Woman movie sequel. The Marvel/Disney film studio was absent from the show altogether and Marvel focused on news about its superhero comics (including the return of classic X-Men writer Chris Claremont to the series).
The trend toward diversity and inclusion was apparent at this year’s Eisner Awards, dominated by the works of women, people of color and the LGBTQ community—including Emil Ferris, author of the surprise hit My Favorite Thing is Monsters, awarded the Eisner for best new graphic novel of the year. Indeed publishers big and small are responding with new lines, imprints, titles and creators as well as characters that reflect an audience of women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community.
At a panel on Saturday, Abrams ComicArts announced it will follow up its bestselling, Eisner Award winning graphic adaptation of the late African-American author Octavia Butler’s Kindred, with an adaptation of Butler’s Parable of the Sower by the same creative team of Damian Duffy and John Jennings. Abrams also announced a Fire Story by Brian Fies, whose graphic memoir Moms Cancer was on its first list in 2009. ACA editorial director Charles Kochman said the new book, “creates art out of tragedy,’ recreating the events around the loss of his home to the rampaging fires in Northern California in 2017.
The house, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2019, is also publishing a graphic title by Newbery Medalist and children’s author Jack Gantos (A Suicide Bomber Sits in the Library, with art by Dave McKean); and Zippy the pinhead creator Bill Griffith (Nobody’s Fool:The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead).
Startup comics publisher Lion Forge announced that star comics writer Gail Simone, a longtime advocate for inclusion in superhero comics publishing, will join the company to oversee its Catalyst Prime multicultural superhero line, and write a new series. LF also announced the acquisition of cartoonist Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer: A Memoir, a personal story that also serves as guide for family and friends about what a nonbinary gender identity means.
DC Entertainment unveiled more titles in its DC Zoom (middle grade) and DC Ink (YA) imprints for spring and summer 2019 as well as a new round of artists and an influx writers from the book trade who will bring both their skills and their prose fans into the world of comics. Look for Oracle: Rising by Marieke Nijkamp, a YA prose author praised for works that explore teenage grief and depression, Shadow of The Batgirl by Sarah Kuhn, a YA author known for novels with Asian-American heroines, and Truth of Consequences: A Jack Hyde Story by Alex Sanchez, an award-winning Mexican-American adult and teen novelist whose works have explored teens and sexuality. And it was much the same on the adult side: DC’s iconic Vertigo imprint is relaunching Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, using four artists—Si Spurrier, Nalo Hopkinson, Kat Howard, and Dan Watters--to write new Sandman stories and reintroduce the series to a new generation of readers,
Top Shelf publisher Chris Staros showed off Gumballs, a genial and informative graphic memoir about author Erin Nation’s gender transition. Staros also plans to republish the first two volumes of The Walled City Trilogy by writer Anne Opotowsky and artist Aya Morton, an illustrated graphic novel series set in colonial Hong Kong in the 1920s, first published in 2011. Top Shelf is reprinting the first two volumes, and releasing the never-published third volume.
Karen Berger, founding editor of DC’s noted Vertigo imprint, now publisher of Dark Horse’s Berger Books imprint, celebrated her induction into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame with a new round of acquisitions and fall releases. The house will release a hardcover of the late Anthony Bourdain’s Angry Ghosts, an anthology of ghost/recipe stories written by Bourdain with a variety of artists, in October. Berger has also recruited noted science fiction writer Nnedi Okarafor, who will write LaGuardia (with art by Tana Ford), a graphic novel set in an alternate universe in which space traveling aliens enter New York via an airport (spaceport?) very similar to the one in Queens.
Viz hosted a visit by superstar manga artist Kōhei Horikoshi, creator of the My Hero Academia series, who filled the hall for his panel and attracted long lines for autographs. The series, a superhero parody, is a global bestseller. Viz marketing and sales director Kevin Hamric told PW the series has fueled a continued rise in Viz sales. “We’re up 11% on the bookside, library sales are up for the seventh year in a row.”
Much lauded Montreal-based Drawn & Quarterly was showcasing one of the surprise hits of the show, Aminder Dhaliwal’s Woman World, a delightful comic narrative about a world without men that combines lighthearted feminism with a savvy reading of history. The house also announced new works for 2019 by Lynda Barry (Syllabus: Notes From an Accidental Professor), a series of gekiga (grim and realistic) manga by celebrated Japanese artist Yoshiharu Tsuge, acclaimed comics formalist Kevin Huizenga, (Ganges), and Keum Suk Gendry-Kim (Grass), that tells the true story of a Korean girl forced to become a comfort woman or prostitute for the Japanese army during WWII.
This is just a short selection of a long list of rich, thoughtful and entertaining book-format comics announced during the show with many more announced and forthcoming than can be listed here. At DC’s annual breakfast press conference, DC publishers Dan Didio and Jim Lee essentially declared a new era in comics publishing--including superhero publishers--emphasizing the importance of finding and targeting a broader audience for their titles.
“We’re searching for ways to find new fans and make them DC fans for life," Didio said. “We’re bringing in young reader and YA writers to Zoom and Ink [imprints] who have their own followings to do stories on gay characters and African American characters.” Lee echoed his point, “We know how to do mainstream superhero stories, but now we’re talking to Penguin Random House (DC’s distributor), people with book trade experience to learn what to do. These books will be different in every way.”