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Saturday, July 30, 2011

San Diego Comic Con 2011 (Sunday) Report & Review

SDCC 2011: 1-Day (Sunday) Report and Review
Now I haven’t gone to the San Diego Comic Con since before it grew into GIGANTIC proportions (around ’03 or ’04). I first went to Comic Con in the late 90s when you could pretty much see all the booths in a couple of hours; I’ve also been when the build-up was happening to its mass-market popularity so heading out to and experiencing Comic Con today was quite an experience (good  & bad).

GET YOUR TICKETS HERE
As those who experienced the hassle of ordering tickets for 2011 know it was both a major pain and chore just to acquire them. Online ticket purchase crash earlier this year on several occasions causing SDCC to continue to adjust dates when the public can try to order them. Those that took time off to try and purchase them during the first round got skunked since it wasn’t until many weeks later that ticket ordering kind of started. It was a Saturday morning that the final announcement that online ticket purchase was finally available, of course the site was hammered immediately and only those that managed to refresh their browsers over and over to hit an order screen were lucky. 

I was inquiring on some comic message boards if Sunday tickets were easy to acquire since I did not know if I had time to try and log on Saturday, forum responders said Sundays were slower and tickets should be available through the next day…thankfully I didn’t listen to them since Sunday tickets sold out within minutes of open registration. I was able to get two Sunday tickets after F5ing the browser for close to 5 hours. I was even told that some people’s friends who were in IT had commandeered their office servers to try and acquire tickets only to get one pass. 

I sure miss the days of being able to stand in line the same day as the event and still be able to get in.

LET’S ROLL TO SAN DIEGO
I knew that there was pre-paid parking now available on-line to order ahead of time, but when I checked the day before of course every pre-paid parking option was closed, so I hoped for the best for parking situations. In the past I was able to park in the Gas lamp District just a few blocks from the convention center about an hour or two before the convention started, and that was on Saturdays. This year I decided to head out early and arrived in downtown San Diego without any morning traffic. I hit Market Street and headed to the last open-air parking spot I remembered being able to park at. Behind the Metro Transit and hotel was the parking lot, of course half of it was roped off for trailers and containers for the event. There was a short line to get in and space was limited, thankfully getting there at 8:00 a.m. still managed to get a great spot…

Parking Cost: $30.00
Of course the cost of parking was ridiculously high, the highest I’ve paid, beating out daily rates in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The short walk across the railways was a plus though and well worth it if you needed to drop-off items in your vehicle in-between events.

THE LINE OF LINES
Getting out of the car and seeing the convention, you see throngs of people. Tons. So it was time to find the line entry, I remember being able to stand in line near the entrance back in the day, this time it was starting behind the Marriott hotel. When I say behind, I mean waayyyyyyy behind. The line for Sunday morning stretch from the entrance, the side, the back, the parking lot, the marina parking, the back of the marina and then wrapped again. It took about 15 minutes just to walk from the SDCC entrance to where the end of the line began. Once in line it was thankfully orderly and it started moving forward around 8:30 a.m. The march took roughly 20-30 minutes to get to the upstairs ticketing counter. Getting your badge pass was ultra-quick and took less than a few minutes to acquire. I remember when the computer ticketing (along with the manual book) was first introduced and the process still took a long time. 

Once badged-up, we received our convention book (now in Color!) and also got the cool daily Con report that was helpful if you wanted updated news just for the day. The freebie table was weak with just flyers and handouts, I still don’t know why people stand in line for that, just go online and get the same information.

There was a line to get in and spoke to another guest who said he was only able to get Sunday tickets. The line started moving around 9 a.m. to get into the Convention which amazed me since most Cons I’ve attended only open exactly at the time (the event time was listed to start at 9:30 a.m.). Went down the elevator and finally into the Convention hall and it is still huge. Since we were still early and I wanted to hit Artist Alley first to get some signatures I could not find an event staffer to ask where the location was. Once staffer said it would be on one of either side of the Hall….gee thanks. 

Other staffers were talking on their cell phone. Thankfully I had a staffer point out the location on our guide and point us in the right direction. Arrived at the artists alley and it was pretty empty with only a handful of artists already set-up, must’ve had a hard partying Saturday night! I rounded the artist’s alley a few times since it was the location where all the original art dealers were. 


ARTIST’S & THEIR ALLEY
Here’s my brief synopsis of the artists I was able to meet or at least pass by. I was disappointed that I missed because their booths were listed under a Studio name and not theirs so I didn’t bring any books for them to sign. I wanted to stop by some dollar book booths to try and root for comics for signature signings, but just didn’t have time to stop and sort with all the traffic going on.

I wish SDCC would give a larger font for artists or the booth vendors since I always had to stare pretty thoroughly to make sure the artist at a booth was the person I was looking for and not some assistant or someone else since I’m not familiar with their faces.

Jeff Smith- Saw him at his booth for signing between 4-5 p.m. when I came by at the start time the line for his signing was two booths long and I was just one person shy of the cut-off line. Since I had to see another booth before closing I knew there was no way I could wait in line for his signature so I ditched the line. I walked by around 4:45 p.m. on my way out and saw my place in line was still a good 15 minutes away from getting to the front.

Adam Hughes- No line at his booth when the convention started, didn’t know he was going to be there and I had no books on me. Didn’t know if he signed at certain times of if you could just walk up to him.

Jim Steranko- Also didn’t know he was attending, I just walked past his studio booth and saw this man all dressed up for a swanky night on the town.

Bill Sienkiewicz- Again also didn’t know he would be there and had no books on me.
Jim Califiore- Shared a booth with Mike McKone, friendly person and signed books. Stopped by his booth later the day and was chatting with one of the attendants there, ended up getting a Secret Six page for a really good low price. Would have loved to get a full team art page.

Mike McKone- Got him to sign a couple books, had some good sales on his remaining Sinestro Corps original art. Would have gone for some art but tapped out already.

Brent Anderson- Only saw his booth in artists alley at the end of the day, can’t believe I missed his listing since I have just picked up a good run of Astro City books. Checked out his OA pages but I was priced out from acquiring any of them.

Sergio Aragones- Had an actual booth at the back of the convention near the food alley and not artist’s alley. Was away from the booth when I walked by. Stopped by later the day and waited about 20 minutes in line to get him to sign a book. His booth allowed up to 3 free autographs otherwise it was suggested to donate $1.00 per additional books for donation to the CBLDF. Sergio signed and made little quick sketches on each book. Books were cover price and you could get a poster. A gentleman purchased an original Groo page and Sergio did a quick head sketch and colored it as well. He was intrigued when I presented him with the pop-up cover Mighty Magnor comic I just got, asked if he can pop-it up and I said yes and he proceeded with his Swiss-army knife to cut the top so we could see the pop-up cover in action.

Cliff Chiang- Saw him at his shared booth doing an interview, again another artist I have been following recently and didn’t know about was appearing. Missed trying to get one of his preliminary cover art pieces that I could afford, but his booth was packing up early (4:45-ish) so I didn’t have a chance to buy anything from.

Jerry Bingham- Another friendly artist accommodating the signing of one book I brought. I didn’t get to bring Son of the Demon TPB since it was the over-size format and didn’t have room for it.

Zander Cannon- Did a quick signing of books for me and showed me three of his available Top 10 OA he did  with Gene Ha, great pieces out of my price range. Had a good amount of Smax art for reasonable prices as well.

Tony DeZuniga- Legendary Filipino artists, was able to get him to sign my Adventure Comics with the first appearance of Black Orchid which he is a co-creator of.

David Finch- Popular artist with a slight line-up at his booth. A good amount of fans awaiting sketches, thankfully his wife separated those of us only wanting signatures so we didn’t have to wait long while he sketched for others…that’s the way to do it!

Ale Garza- Got two quick signatures on some Teen Titans books, don’t know if it was a tough day or not but he was the only artist I met that didn’t say anything to me when I asked for his signature.

Scott Hampton- Was able to get my dog-eared Books of Magic TPB and a couple books signed. Scott didn’t have a stirrer for his coffee in the morning so we were watching him stir it with one of his markers. Another accommodating artist, his original art portfolio was great and I wish I could afford one.

Chad Hardin- One of the very first artists readily available in artist alley in the morning, wish I had his new Zatanna comics on hand. He and his wife were enthused when I had him sign the slightly older Countdown to Mystery series. I got to remember to bring the entire series for signing next time since it took me a few years to track down all the issues.

Jamal Igle- Was able to get him to sign a couple books as well.

Ron Lim            - I couldn’t find his area in artists alley that day, anyone see him there?

David Mack- I’m so glad I brought a few Kabuki comics, I remember seeing him years ago and never having anything ready. So this year even though I didn’t see his name on the website (I didn’t remember his studio name) I brought a few comics in case (I also brought some Rob Liefield comics but didn’t see him there). As he signed my comics he asked me if I read his new series, I told him I was just getting back in comics after over 10 years out of the loop and he was kind enough to give me 3 comics for free. I do wish I stopped to ask for a quick Kabuki head sketch, drats!

Todd Nauck- His booth was pretty busy throughout the day so I had to skip him signing a comic. Thankfully he pretty much hits every So. Cal convention I’ve been at so I’ll catch him next time.    
Dustin Nguyen- Was setting up his booth in the morning so I waited a bit so he got all his settings squared away. Asked if I liked the Streets of Gotham series and I of course said yes.

Peter V. Nguyen- Saw Peter at Long Beach Comic Con earlier this year and after finding out he did a Secret Six comic brought an issue for his signature, told me it was his first D.C. comics gig.

Whilce Portacio- A mainstay of local So. Cal conventions, able to get him to sign some comics. Always attracts a good contingent of fellow Filipino fans.

Philip Tan- Went passed his booth in the morning when it was empty, but later that day I could not find his location at all.


ITS SHOWTIME- THE FLOOR
After the brief walk-around artist’s alley (now about 9:30-ish) I headed back to circle the entire convention floor room. I was going to try and hit the Supernatural panel in Hall H, but a person in line said that the line started way early in the morning for all the Hall H shows and pretty much impossible to get in now. Once 10:00 a.m. hit the convention floor booked-up, I’ve never seen this much traffic even during the Saturday SDCC events in the past I attended. I had to navigate the booths with my elbows out to keep people from running into me since it was so tight. There was only a couple aisles where traffic was light, but once you hit the middle of the convention floor, the perimeter or the opposite end of the artist’s alley, video game area foot traffic came to a stop. Every major booth, especially those with exclusive items (i.e. Hasbro, D.C., Nickelodeon, etc.) had lines stretching within minutes of the door opening. I remember the last time I was in line and that was when Hasbro was selling Pimp-Daddy Destro.

This was the first convention where I did not stop to check out the booths since my main goal was to see the entire floor, and with the amount of people and space there was no way I could look around at each booth in detail and walk the entire floor. I even missed out on checking the upstairs signing booths to see all the B & C-level actors/models since I did not want to trudge upstairs again to see what was going on.

Timeframe to walk entire main showroom floor: 9:30 a.m.- 1:30 p.m. (4 hours) going at maximum pace.

It was tough to take pictures of items in booths or have your photo taken with the statues/life-size figures since there just wasn’t a lot of breathing room or break in foot traffic for good clear shots I thought.  Any booth that had a line of more than 5 people I stayed away from since it meant that the booth would have snaking lines where I wouldn’t be able to bust through (talking to you D.C. & Walking Dead booths!).

WHERE MY COS-PLAYERS AT?
When I overheard other attendants and even other coverage reports I knew that I wasn’t mistaken that there was not tons of cos-players on Sunday. I was used to seeing costumed people every 10 steps from before, but this day it was rare to see a steadily streaming costumed folks, heck even nearing the end of the Con along the outside lobby I didn’t see anymore cos-players to take photos with. The usual roving Star Wars or Anime groups I did not see at all.

SHOW ME THE COMICS
I was pleasantly surprised to see a fair amount of comic booths at the show after hearing their near demise. Still the comic book booths were fairly limited and in my opinion accounted for less than 25% of the booth-types at the show. Saw the usual costume, cable tv, clothing, swords & sorcery, small-publishers, toys, and tons of anime-related items mostly.

Of the comic booths available, the main chunk were those catering to golden/silver/bronze age fans with a sprinkle of booths selling key, moderns and trade paperbacks. While the vintage and modern comics were retailing at their usual guide or cover price, come Sunday there were a fair batch of booths selling their TPBs from 50% to 60% off cover price. 

With my handy-dandy Evernote on my phone, I was tracking the booths that had modern comics for sale around .50 cents to a dollar; though I only noted less than 5 booths with cheap issues and usually only averaging 2-3 short boxes of which there were people already circling like vultures around. Though I circled back there just wasn’t an opening for me to look through the boxes or have space to even take a peek. 

I’m hoping Long Beach Comic Con rocks out later this year since I’m still looking for some issues to fill in my runs without needing me to go online.

HUNGRY!
Took a break around 1:30 p.m. to drop-off the signed comics (I took too much since most of it filled my backpack) in the car and lighten the load off my spine. Thankfully the air conditioning and the cool San Diego weather was good that day and the usual July heat was not in effect that day. Walked into a CafĂ© for lunch but was turned away since they were closing, along with pretty much every restaurant and dive near the Gaslamp District for some reason. I didn’t want to walk too far off so we walked a few blocks trying to spot open food places and those that were still open had lines up the whazoo. 

Ended up taking a break at a Deli across the street from the Sprint tent and ordered some sandwiches ($8.00 a pop). Ate outside to people watch and saw all the peddle cabs with their Comic Con themed rides (Game of Thrones seat, Captain America wheelcaps) along with tons of trucks, motorbikes, bicycles pulling advertising for upcoming movies, tv and other fun things. Anyone see the lady peddle-cab driver dressed up in a schoolgirl outfit? How come no one was taking that bike for a ride around town, come on fellas!?

FINAL COUNTDOWN
Finished lunch and headed back to convention center for a last couple hours before the close of the day, this time had an agenda to get some final signatures from the artists that were not at their booths earlier. 

I spent the rest of the day picking up some original comic art and checking out the booths selling OA and animation cels.  Since it was Sunday, I knew this was probably the best time to get deals (one of the reasons I chose to go on Sunday besides not hitting Saturday crowds). I was able to shave a few bucks off some purchases just by asking the sellers what their best price for an item was. I was even able to get a discount just by inquiring if there was any more art available to view.

IT’S A REAL ART-A-FAIR UP IN HERE
Since I’ve been checking out original art this year and SDCC is pretty much the only major game in Southern California to see a good amount of art dealers in one spot. I’ve preferred to purchase original art directly from artists in order to definitely confirm that the artwork is original as well as properly answer if a piece is pencil, ink over pencil, ink over blueline, with or without stats, preliminary, etc., but most of the pieces I’ve been looking at were being repp’d by OA Dealers. 

If you stayed without a few aisle radius of the artist alley then you would have seen the bulk of the OA dealers. There were several scattered dealers across the show floor on the opposite side (i.e. Anthony’s Collectibles, etc.). I was surprised at some OA dealer booths where the bulk and focus of the artwork were Silver Age or earlier pieces along with older comic strip art with nothing more modern (aka Cheaper priced).

It was nice seeing some Jack Kirby pieces, but with their prices starting around $3k I didn’t stick too long at those booths. I was able to pick up a Filmation Hawkman cel that I’ve been wanting to acquire at a really good price, for some reason eBay prices for Hawkman’s cartoon skyrocketed this past year. Stopped by Anthony’s Collectibles and his booth had tons of art to go over. 

I had time to go through only several folders and ended up getting a nice Paul Gulacy piece that I’ve been trying to acquire from a couple different sources. I probably would’ve picked up more at this booth but some pieces listed on his online store were just recently bought. Good deals though if you purchased multiple items. Passed by Cool Line Artwork’s booth pretty fast as well as a smaller booth that had a Mark Bright page from Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn II (too $$ I thought for a so-so page).

Booths 4200-4400 had the big grouping of original art dealers together. I know that Romitaman.com and Splash Page Art were in that batch. Lots of nice items to look through and not very heavily trafficked so you had a good chance of browsing through the lot of art without too much of the hassle of people side-by-side. It was pretty laid back at their booths as I was pretty much rummaging through the files and no one asked me if I had any questions at all. I did have some OA pieces I reserved from Mike Burkey (Romitaman.com) and was able to pick up a couple Green Lantern: Emerald Twilight pages (one of my favorite storylines) as well as a dramatic Spider-Girl page by Pat Oliffe (I’ve never read the comic yet but the page looked nice).
Wish tons more OA dealers showed up more at local cons as those that set-up in San Diego.


FINAL IMPRESSIONS
Wow, that is one busy, congested and stress-inducing comic convention. Sunday’s event was overwhelming, I can’t even imagine how it was on Saturday when all the heavyweight events were happening. Got to see a ton of things that I don’t even remember since I was too busy zipping by. Met some artists in-person who were very cool. Spent too much money I know I will regret. My legs and back ached afterwards, but it was still an interesting and worthwhile event.
Would I go back again to San Diego Comic Con? No, because the event has grown so large and so crowded that while fun, it was stressful as well. Just the act of acquiring tickets to the event was a chore that took me half a day for which I will not be doing again. 

Maybe if the convention center expands to give more aisle room for foot traffic, non-site crashing ticket buying and banning people with strollers (parent’s with newborns and small kids, leave them at home if you need to push them in a stroller, its not worth it to jam up people all around you especially if you stop in the middle of the floor to gawk at things). 

It’s probably a lot more fun to attend SDCC if you attend the entire 4-day event so you’re not rushing around to see everything like I did, though you can expect to pay TOO MUCH for the hotel room, overnight parking and hiked-up food prices during the show dates.

See you Comic Con, I’ll check you out online for the foreseeable future.

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