San Diego Convention Center site of the Comic-con International 2009The annual San Diego Comic-Con International ended July 26, leaving 125,000 attendees—the unofficial attendance figure of the long sold-out convention—alternately dazzled and exhausted by the four and a half day marathon of comics, movies, panels, signings and parties. More than ever, the show has become the biggest marketing platform of the year for film and TV. But despite fierce competition from directors such as legendary Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki, Peter Jackson or James Cameron—all on hand to promote forthcoming films—or movie stars like Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr., as well as the Twilight sequel, comics managed to remain a connecting thread between much of the show’s goings on—though sometimes it seemed just barely.

Exhibitors contacted by PWCW seemed happy with floor traffic and sales—soldout 2 months earlier, the shows attendance has been capped by fire marshals at about 125,000; the show’s official tally is due in a few weeks. David Glanzer, spokesperson for the San Diego Comic-con International, said organizers were “pleased” with the show. And any worries about whether fans would spend freely in a difficult economy were needless. “People were spending money,” said Glanzer, “and publishers sold well despite fears about the economy.” Josh Hayes, associate director of sales and marketing for Diamond Book Distributors, said, “traffic was good and sales were okay.” In an interview on the floor of Comic-con, Hayes had cautiously optimistic news about the graphic market in general, pointing to strong sales of kids graphic novels and international sales (“good in the U.K. and great in Canada,” he said) as well as a growing serious interest in the category from independent general bookstores, a retailer segment that has lagged in embracing graphic novels.

[See PW's earlier coverage of the ICv2 Comics and Media Conference and first day coverage of the San Diego Comic-con international.]

Comics stole a few of the headlines from the movie studios with Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada’s announcement that they have acquired the rights to creator Mick Anglo’s Marvelman, a classic 1950s superhero character better known in the U.S. as Miracleman due to a variety of long-running and acrimonious trademark disputes . Although just what this announcement means depends on who you ask. Anglo’s character was later reinvented by Alan Moore and Gary Leach and published by Eclipse in a 1980s series that has never been reprinted and remains entangled in a legal battle between Neil Gaiman, Todd McFarlane, Anglo, and even more parties. Indeed, ultimately the book was forced to change its name to Miracleman for U.S. publication and the series remains far more famous for not being seen.

Other comics news coming out of San Diego included Scholastic's announcement of a new publishing deal with cartoonist Jeff Smith to produce new books and stories based on his bestselling epic fantasy adventure series Bone. And Del Rey announced plans for a graphic novel adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s odd-ball prose mashup sensation, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies—a surprise prose bestseller that has sold more than 500,000 copies—to be adapted by veteran comics writer Tony Lee and artist Cliff Richards. And Del Rey plans a manga-style adaptation of M. Night Shyamalan's forthcoming film The Last Airbender, written by Dave Roman with art by Joon Choi, in addition to a prequel manga to be created by artist Nina Matsumota. Indeed Matsumota, 24 years old and attending her first Comic-con, won an Eisner Award on Friday evening for best short story for the drawings she did for Bongo Comics, “Murder He Wrote.”

Not only did Dark Horse announce plans to produce new stories for the classic Gold Key line of 1960s comics, they have hired controversial publisher Jim Shooter, former head of Marvel Comics, to oversee the production of the new line of old comics. Books will include such classic series as Magnus Robot fighter, Turok, Dr. Solar, Mighty Samson and others. Dark Horse is making plans around its delayed publishing coventure with the superstar Japanese manga collective CLAMP and will release jumbo 800-page omnibus editions of Chobits, Card Captor Sakura, and Magic Knight Rayearth (see our manga roundup). And Dark Horse Entertainment, the house’s movie production unit, is planning to produce films based on Umbrella Academy; Fear Agent and such Japanese properties as Kurasagi Korpse Delivery Service and MPD Psycho.

Of course, the show seemed to revolve around a series of blockbuster panels—typically involving upcoming blockbuster films and TV Shows. On Thursday morning it was a panel for Twilight: New Moon, the feverishly film sequel based on Stephanie Meyer’s vampire blockbusters. Fans—overwhelmingly young and female—lined up overnight starting Wednesday morning for a chance to be among the first to get a seat in Hall H, a mammoth 6,500 seat room used to screen major movie presentations. Over a thousand fans spent the night in tents or on sleeping bags, some with parents in tow. The fans were rewarded with appearances by the film’s dreamy stars, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, as well as a series of nonviolent clashes with the more traditional male comic book nerd contingent, who were none-too-happy to share the con with the mobs of arriviste vampire-lovers. This was followed Thursday by a more traditional presentation for Cameron’s groundbreaking Avatar; and on Friday Japanese animation master director Hayao Miyazaki made his first ever Comic-Con appearance, promoting his film, Ponyo, on the Disney animation panel

Udon's Erik Ko shows off his Darkstalkers tribute volume at the Udon booth.

With the show sold out months ago; attendance capped at 125,000 and exhibition space sold out years in advance, the con is facing a crisis—there’s no way or no where to grow. Even simulcast transmissions are out said Glanzer, because “there’s no space to simulcast to,” he said. The show is experimenting with moving some events out of the convention center. Several big TV panels were held at the nearby Barfront Hilton, and several exhibitors had major attractions away from the show floor: Disney put up a video arcade for Tron and the SyFy Channel remade a diner into a space age eatery. Various empty lots became displays for Heroes, the upcoming Alice in Wonderland remake and The Prisoner. Glanzer said the show was pleased with this year’s Will Eisner Comics Industry Awards, which were moved to the Hilton. “They were happy to accommodate us and it seemed to work. As we do more events offsite people will become more accustomed to it,” he said.

Glanzer said the show would look into “limiting the traffic on preview night. We may have to look at adding more programming to draw people off the floor, wed is becoming the new Saturday, and we’re concerned about the crowds.” And while there weren’t a lot of complaints about this years show, there was some grousing about what was described as overly aggressive security that prevented some bone-tired fans from sitting on the floors near and along the walls in the lobby area; as well as preventing some fans from re-entering the center through the steps in the rear near the marina. Glanzer denied that there was a policy to prevent fans from sitting in the lobby, “it isn’t our policy and I saw fans sitting all along those areas,” he said. And he said he unaware of any policy to prevent fans from reentering the convention center from the rear entrances, but said he would look into it.

Rodenberry Productions' Trevor Roth (l.), next to Rod Rodenberry, talks about the Days Missing graphic novel at the Archaia panel.

With attendance capped Glanzer said “our income is flat and our costs increasing” and he said that there will probably be an increase in prices for next years show. This year a 4-day pass sold for $75. “I’m against it but we’ll probably have to increase our prices. How much? We don’t know right now,” he said. And he was quick to point out that a task force has been appointed by the mayor of San Diego to examine the feasibility of a billion dollar expansion of the convention center. “An expansion isn’t just good for Comic-con,” he explained, “it will allow the facility to hold concurrent events and the city will make more money on taxes.” The Task Force is scheduled to issue its report in September. “The mayor has said he will abide with whatever they decide,” said Glanzer. “We hope the city votes to expand. No one wants to see us move.”