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Tue, February 8th, 2011 at 12:58pm PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

SAN DIEGO TICKETING

Well, that was fun, now wasn't it?

Tickets for the 2011 installment of the comic book convention in the greatest climate in the world went up for sale on Saturday morning. I've lost count, but I think this is the fourth time they've tried it. This time, though, it counted. A day later, the convention was sold out, five months before it begins.

It wasn't pretty, though. But the ticket distribution could have been worse. Diamond could have handled it.

No, wait, sorry. That's a mean and baseless thing to say. If Diamond had handled it, tickets would have only been sold to die-hard Direct Market superhero comic book fans, the kinds of people so devoted and dedicated to superhero comic books that they would know where a comic shop is. It would also mean a large uptick in the percentage of people who've ever read a comic book attending Comic-Con.

Seriously, the convention has a big issue on its hands right now. The sold-out nature of the show means that they sold something along the lines of 125,000 to 150,000 tickets for four days, right? The Direct Market, according to best estimates and guessing, only has 300,000 customers. Doing the math, go to your comic shop on Wednesday and ask everyone there if they're going to San Diego. The math would indicate that every other customer at your local comic shop must be going. Who else, besides Mad Comic Geeks, would plan things out this far in advance for a comic book convention?

Oh, right. "Twilight" fans.

If I were a dealer of comic-related wares, I'd be worried about selling my stock at the convention. It's clear now that the tickets are being sold to an audience that isn't necessarily pre-disposed towards buying comics-related ephemera. The takeover of the convention from Hollywood brings with it a different clientele that primarily wants its freebies, its gigantic booths, and stuff they've seen on TV or in the movies.

The annoying piece of conventional wisdom I see floating around about this topic is that the convention is really four or five different conventions in one. If you want a comic book convention, you can have one and still ignore the video games, the movies, the TV shows, etc.

No, you can't. It's impossible. The reality is, those other parts of the show clog up your comic book convention. You can't get from Point A to Point B without a ten minute walk. You can't get to the convention panel you want to see without zig-zagging through a maze of lines waiting to get into the next panel, which features some big shot from a Hollywood production who helicoptered in that morning to do the press line, spend 50 minutes with The Great Unwashed ("literally," he'll later joke to "Entertainment Tonight"), and then bathe in antibacterial gel on their way out.

I say it's time to segregate the comic book activities from the generic Hollywood activities, many of which feature the cast of this fall's doomed-to-fail televised genre dramas. It's time to off-site the Hollywood crowd. I hear Los Angeles has space. They'll appreciate it because it'll be closer to home and work for all of them -- they can appear on Thursday and Friday between scenes, instead of waiting for their day off on Saturday -- and it'll be much easier for fans to get a hotel room there, too.

Problem is, the organizers of the convention can't do that now. They can't scale back. The San Diego Comic-Con (now Comic-Con International: San Diego) is committed to keeping this growing beast fed. The city is kicking in to build out more hall space. And since comic sales don't seem to be increasing as fast as the convention space in San Diego, one has to wonder who the bigger crowds will come for -- Marvel's X-Men panel, or FOX's "Glee" panel?

So it is that while Comic-Con is growing, the comics will necessarily be shrinking.

The people I feel sorriest for in this weekend's melee are those who booked their hotel rooms last summer, and weren't able to buy tickets now. Those people thought they had the worst part of the process figured out. Now, I can only hope they didn't have deposits down that they can't get back.

And what happens at the convention center this year when tickets go on sale for the 2012 installment? Those lines will be even longer than the ones you see for Jim Lee at the DC booth. I wonder if the organizers can even commit to having that level of pre-sale ever again? Given the events of this ticketing cycle, I somehow doubt you'll see those pre-order booths going up this year at the convention, itself. They're not necessary anymore, and now they'll be potential safety hazards.

To be clear: I had no plans on going to San Diego this year. I was not personally affected by this ticket sales issue over the weekend. And I really hope that bookstore comic readership and digital comic readership are growing, to completely invalidate most of the points made above. And, no, I don't really think "Twilight" ruined Comic-Con. It's much bigger than that.

IMAGE COMICS

The Image Addiction blog recently asked the question, "Which Image Comics series do we need hardcovers of?" Thankfully, so many of the more obvious series have already been done, including "Savage Dragon" and "Spawn." But there are others:

"Savant Garde:" I've mentioned this one here before as being one of my favorite forgotten WildStorm books, and I'm pretty sure it was done while WildStorm was still at Image. Ryan Odagawa's art was great, and Barb Kesel's stories were entertaining. The book only lasted, what, six issues? We don't need this one oversized, but a standard size hardcover would be cool.

"Freak Force:" If you know me at all, you had to know this was the first book to pop into mind. It's 18 issues of Vic Bridges' gloriousness, drawn over Keith Giffen's layouts, with Erik Larsen's scripts. As a bonus, throw in that "Savage Dragon" backup story that Robert Kirkman wrote where I try to bring the team back together. I'm just that big an egotist.

"SuperPatriot:" While I'm in the Dragon-verse, let's mention the two Dave Johnson-drawn miniseries collected alongside the Robert Kirkman/Cory Walker outing. That's a dozen issues, isn't it?

"Tellos," thankfully, has already been done, but it was only the Mike Wieringo issues. There were plans and even a solicitation for the second to collect all the follow-up works, but it never saw the light of day, sadly. So I'd like that one, thanks.

"Groo:" Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier's series only lasted for a year or so at Image, right? So put just those issues together. Bonus points if the hardcover is made from mulch.

"Pitt:" Yes, the series was a mess, but the art was always what you bought the book for. I want restored, oversized and recolored art in this book. Yes, that will be time-consuming and expensive. If they could do it for "American Flagg," they can do it for "Pitt." (Yes that's a joke. I know the situations are different. I'm glad you finished reading this paragraph before sending me your hate mail.)

At Comic-Con International: San Diego 2010, Top Cow announced that trade paperbacks of the original series were in the works. Haven't heard anything about it since then. I'm still greedy. I want hardcovers.

"Leave It to Chance" Volume 4. I want it to match the first three brilliant oversized volumes of reprints for this series. This one's already been done (and oversized!), but I don't think the last batch of issues was ever collected. And since they're long out of print, it's time to go back to the well. James Robinson and Paul Smith's series was the perfect all-ages adventure story, and it's very much missed.

I'm kicking myself already for the obvious ones I'm missing. My email is at the bottom of this column. Drop me a line if you know which obvious one I missed.

MARVEL COMICS

There's a chance you won't be able to carry your entire order of Marvel Comics out the door of your local comic shop by yourself this week. If you mail order this stuff, your UPS man is no doubt cursing you right now. Have you seen the release list?

Omnibus editions of "Acts of Vengeance," "Atlantis Attacks," and "Captain America Lives." Two Marvel Masterworks hardcovers. No less than five more standard hardcovers: "Shadowland," a "Dark Tower" outing, "Marvelman Classic" Volume 2, Mark Millar and Steve McNiven's "Nemesis," and "X-Force: A Force to be Reckoned With.". The John Byrne "Namor" run gets its first trade paperback, as reviewed here a few months back. "Invincible Iron Man" gets a fifth trade paperback in the series. "Namor The First Mutant" gets a trade. And there's more.

Never, ever claim that Marvel doesn't have a spine. Marvel has several. And many of them are quite wide.

YEAR OF THE RABBIT

I swear I didn't realize it was the Chinese Year of the Rabbit on Thursday when I picked out "Usagi Yojimbo" Volume 8 to read. Purely coincidental, but I like it. Dark Horse recently printed new editions of its first three trades of the series (8, 9 and 10) to go along with Fantagraphics' recent Deluxe Edition of the first 7 that came out around Christmas time. Good timing.

Even though I have all those earlier trades -- some with sketches inside from Stan Sakai, having purchased them at his table in San Diego -- I still want to eventually pick up that hardcover. Until then, I dropped in with volume 8, mostly because I knew the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would be in there somewhere. And, sure enough, their appearance was pure magic. The look of confusion on their face to see walking and talking rabbits and other animals while Usagi saw nothing strange about it at all, just pointed out the absurdity of it all. Best of all, it showed a sense of humor about things that Sakai dribbles throughout the book. There's one story later on that's mostly wordless, telling of the time Usagi woke up to find himself surrounded by lizards, and unable to rid himself of them. It's a funny story with a dramatic moment or two. I even forgive it the moment where Usagi has to be seen losing in an almost unbelievable way just to force the plot along.

I'm not sure what else can be written about "Usagi Yojimbo" anymore. It's all been said, except not enough people are listening. When people write manifestos about creator-owned books that deserve more attention, this is the first one I think of. Sakai has a fiercely loyal and devoted fan following, but it's not nearly large enough. It's remarkable to me that such an amazing cartoonist is creating a monthly series by himself and so few people seem to notice.

The stories in this book were done in the early 90s. I loved the moments in the story titled "Shi" when Sakai draws a night battle scene and appropriates Frank Miller's "Sin City" style to highlight specific moments. Seeing Usagi drawn white around black instead of vice versa was a real kick, but also something that blended in with the story being told. It was experimentation that made sense.

Sakai has lots of tricks with his ink line that you might not notice on first view. The biggest one is the thickness of it. In one page near the end of the book, there's a montage, where young Usagi is large in the middle of the page and a series of smaller Usagis are seen around him tending to a garden. Not only does Sakai tell the story of Usagi's frustration with growing his seeds, but it does so in an economy of space, thanks to Sakai's inks. The background figures are all drawn in a very thin, almost sketchy line. The large figure has a thicker black line than usual. The difference is so great that you almost think there's some Photoshop filter applied to the smaller figures to push them back on the page, but it's not. It's pure pen-and-ink cartooning.

He uses a similar trick with a thin ink line when showing characters underwater, or through water. Just as viewing someone through water might make them a little less well defined to your eyes, Sakai imitates that by sketching out the character in a less defined manner. It's a simple, yet effective technique.

And if you study the book for long enough with an artist's eye, there's doubtless countless more lessons to be learned. Sakai puts on a Master Class in storytelling with each issue, and creates stories that you can drop in and out of at will without worry about missing so-called "important" storylines that "count." I've skipped all over the place in my reading of the series and I've never felt lost. You should feel the same. Pick up the book with the coolest cover to your eyes and go home with it. You won't be disappointed.

Next week: A European album gets translated, and more.

At AugieShoots.com, we have new Canon equipment announcments, why long lenses and wide angle lenses are so cool, how to freeze the action and lots more.

Over at VariousAndSundry.com, check out a three day marathon of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" before settling down to SuperBowl thoughts and the usual random utterances.

How to get in touch: Twitter @augiedb || E-mail || Pipeline Message Board

TAGS:  pipeline, marvel comics, dark horse comics, usagi yojimbo

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