Increased security was the word at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con International. Held July 20-25 at the San Diego Convention Center, the annual pop culture summit was marked by an increased police presence in light of recent world events, and a new RFID system for badges which resulted in far fewer counterfeit badges.
The new badges, which required attendees to tap in and out of the show floor each day, cut down drastically on the number of fake badges – meaning perhaps as many as 10,000-15,000 fewer people were on the show floor. This was one reason cited for what many thought was a calmer, less frantic show—a comment expressed by many exhibitors--than in recent years.
Many exhibitors reported lighter sales and crowds than in past years. While the expulsion of fake badge holders was one reason for the relative calm, another frequently cited culprit was the ever increasing proliferation of off-site events which required attendees to stand in line for hours to see things like a Mr. Robot VR adventure, a South Park art exhibit or a Suicide Squad jail habitat, located outside, but near, the convention center.
The show floor sales downturn was far from universal however. IDW launched a larger booth that now incorporates Top Shelf. Sales were up sharply from last year, according to v-p, marketing Dirk Wood, and IDW was riding high on Rep. John Lewis’ Eisner winning March Book Two, and a new Bloom County collection, Episode XI: A New Hope from Berkeley Breathed. Oni Press also said sales were up from last year and used the show to launch a reformatted 6-inch x 9-inch print editions of Bad Machinery, UK cartoonist John Allison’s mystery webcomic/print series, for younger readers. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund also reported their biggest sales ever.
Kuo-Yu Liang,v-p Diamond Book Distributors, which distributes 50 comics houses to the book trade, said sales so far in 2016 are, ahead of last year when sales were "outstanding." He credited strong books, more retail outlet and libraries, and expansion into new international markets.
DBD’s parent company, Diamond Comics Distributors (which services a national network of comics shops) revealed midyear statistic at its retailer-only luncheon, and they reflect slowing in sales in comic shops for the year. Overall sales for the year (combined graphic novels and periodicals) were down 5.9% through June (following sales troubles for DC and Marvel Comics), with periodicals down 3.8% and graphic novels are up 6.6%. However, Diamond noted that 2016 sales still remain up 6.8% compared to 2014 and recent comics events – DC’s Rebirth and Marvel’s Civil War II – sparked a boom in June, with the biggest initial orders since 1996.
As PW previously reported, the comics category (graphic novels and periodicals) is on a growth curve with more than $1 billion in sales in 2015, led by a 23% sales growth for book format comics. DC’s sales rebound has been led by graphic novels (which are credited with bringing in new readers). The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland, the classic 1988 graphic novel that marks the Joker’s origin, sold "hundreds of thousands of copies," DC copublisher Jim Lee said. Marvel’s Civil War II series has sold more than 425,000 copies of issues #1.
In another example of a robust comics marketplace, new comics imprints at Papercutz (Charmz), S&S’s Gallery Books (Gallery 13), IDW (It’s Alive) were announced in the run up to Comic-Con. St. Louis-based comics publisher Lion Forge, launched in 2012 as digital publisher only, announced about six hires on the eve of this year's Comic-con, including Rich Johnson, a former DC v-p, who was named Lion Forge v-p of sales, marketing and business development. Lion Forge is ramping up “to be a full service publisher. We’re looking for original creator-owned material, media licenses and foreign licenses,” Johnson said.
Girl power continued to be a dominant theme in sales and in attracting new readers. DC used the show to promote the 75th Anniversary of Wonder Woman as well as a dizzying assortment of Wonder Woman publications, graphic novels and promotions. The publisher also held a massive signing for the hot Super Hero Girls line. Other companies have also had big girl focused hits: Boom! Studios’ v-p Filip Sablik reported that they have sold more than 500,000 copies of their popular Lumberjanes series in various formats.
Manga sales also continue to rebound. Viz Media marketing v-p Kevin Hamric said Viz sales were up 20% in 2015 and sales in the first quarter of 2016 are 8% over the same period in 2015. He pointed to the Tokyo Ghoul and One Punch Man series, the top selling manga titles and to the Pokemon Go craze which is driving sales of Pokeman manga, published by Viz. The Pokemon manga are the first book titles, Hamric said, let along manga titles, to go on sale in Nordstrom. Digital distribution continues to grow in retail and libraries. Viz publishing director Leyla Aker said the library response to manga launched on OverDrive has been “tremendous, librarians are thrilled. Of the 6,000 titles in our backlist, 3,000 are now available in digital.”
Acclaimed Canadian author Margaret Atwood was perhaps the brightest star at the fest, as she promoted her Angel Catbird series (Dark Horse)—an animal lovers informational source disguised as an eccentric superhero adventure—while wearing cat ears.
As always, there was controversy as well: a screening and panel for the new Killing Joke animated film led to a confrontation between writer Brian Azzarello and a journalist who heckled him over the film’s depiction of a sexual encounter between Batgirl and Batman shown in the film. Many consider the scene a further demeaning of the Batgirl character in a story where the Joker cripples her in an effort to taunt Batman.
While Hollywood’s presence at Comic-Con has shrunk a bit in recent years, both Warner Bros. and Marvel presented star-studded panels on Saturday; in addition to the Wonder Woman trailer, footage from the first Justice League movie showcased a more light-hearted tone, much to the relief of many who found director Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman too dark. And Marvel showcased the Black Panther film cast and confirmed that Brie Larson will play Captain America in a future film, and showed some footage from Guardians of the Galaxy 2.
Additional Reporting by Deb Aoki and Brigid Alverson