Was it A Good Year for Comics at San Diego?

A question’s been rumbling through the bellies of social media’s finest ever since San Diego Comic-Con ended last weekend: was this a good year for comics? In various pieces which have been flitting up on random websites ever since the last exhibitor wandered lonely out the doors of the convention centre, writers have been weighing up the two sides of this question.

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Photo taken by Jim Zub

On the one hand, San Diego was busy once more, and retailers were – to my knowledge, and from twitter – hailing their empty tables, all stock sold out. All companies, rather than just Marvel or DC, were saying that they’d done well at the convention, and that sketches/signings had all been a success for them. There were endless photos of people I know of interacting, which is always a delight and surprise – “hey, there’s Cameron Stewart hanging out with the writer of Fight Club!” for example.

And so on. The other hand, however, suggests that San Diego was a flop this year. That the movie announcements from Marvel and Warner Brothers were weak each time – the former announcing Hope Van Dyne as a character in their Ant-Man movie (where’s Janet?) and the latter showing us a photo of Gal Gadot dressed as Wonder Woman. Likewise, in terms of comics? Everybody seemed to decide this was the year that they’d pre-announce everything. So whereas traditionally Dynamite are the only company to reveal all their secrets in the year preceding the convention, this year every company seemed to be at it.

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Weirdly, this whirled up and caught even the publishers who didn’t technically have things to announce. Boom said they had “15 days of announcements” running up to the con, and offered several exciting-sounding things – that Roger Langridge, Mark Waid, Justin Jordan and Grant Morrison (among others) would all be working on Boom comics soon. But then when the convention came around and we all were expecting to hear details on these – we heard nothing.

It was a little similar for Image, who announced 12 new books at ‘Image Expo’ held the day before the convention, but vanished the next day as convention life washed the announcements into middle-distance. I imagine those announcements will refocus over the next few days, however, as people get a chance to revisit them.

So, the complaint about SDCC this year was that there were no ‘big’ announcements, as such. The argument for SDCC being a success is that there were some strong, solid books announced – Marvel offered Star Wars comics, Scholastic a special tenth anniversary edition of ‘Bone’, and IDW a big Transformers crossover event for next year. The argument against is that these announcements weren’t big enough, and certainly weren’t as many as at SDCC 2013.

I’d say that both sides are right. There’s an argument for each, and they’re both very convincing. So instead, let me by sly to the headline of this article and say instead: this was the year that SDCC became useful to comics culture.

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Dark Horse’s signing booth: photo by Josh Crews

Companies have learned by now that you can’t beat movie stars, and you never know if Benedict Cumberbatch might take his shirt off and win headlines for the next month. Time and again, comic companies have made announcements of big new things – and seen only the comics media talk about it, inbetween new lists about who might be Dr Strange. So what has happened instead is that they’ve changed the way they focus on conventions. Before it was about news: now it’s about culture.

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Babs Tarr drawing Batgirl: image by Isaac Orloff

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Cosplay of ‘The Green Turtle’ at the First Second booth: photo by SpeakGeekyToMe

So although we didn’t get to find out who Grant Morrison is working with at Boom, we instead got a big celebration of Lumberjanes, their mega-acclaimed all-ages series. We may not have had announcements of Marvel’s next movie – but there was a hugely busy meet-up of the ‘Carol Corps’, fans of the Captain Marvel revamp by Kelly Sue DeConnick/Jamie McKelvie/et all. Rather than photos of film stars and blurry new ‘issue #1’ covers, social media was filled with creators at packed signings, meeting fans, interacting with one another, and sometimes making out.

Which strikes me as a far healthier way of treating San Diego. Instead of being the start of the comics year, it has now become the finale – a chance for creators and publishers to celebrate their last twelve months with fans, shake some hands, and take some photos. If that means at the same time that “mega announcements” are halved (and I have a list of the 2013 announcements, so trust me when I say 2014’s list WAS half the size) then that’s probably an excellent thing all round for comics.

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Grant Morrison, Scott Snyder and Geoff Johns: photo by Scott Snyder

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Matt Kindt, a ‘Bloodshot’ cosplayer, and Jeff Lemire: photo by Matt Kindt

If you search for SDCC on twitter right now, the top few images are of movies, and tv, whatever – but very quickly they vanish entirely, and are replaced with artists smiling alongside cosplayers wearing their designs. You start seeing Oni Press’ ‘Monsterpalooza‘ drawing event, and people signing manga for fans. And then there’s the perhaps most dominant thing of all: crazy Grant Morrison gifs

Was it a big year for news? No. Because this year, for a change, it didn’t need to be.

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