Pipeline: Kids on Comics, "Before Watchmen" & Cons

Tue, May 1st, 2012 at 12:58pm PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

THE COMIC SHOP THROUGH A THREE YEAR OLD'S EYES

I took my daughter to the local comic shop this weekend. It is, I believe, only her second time in there. The first time she was so young that I was carrying her in a car seat. I ran in for some bags and boards in an effort to organize my sprawling mess of a "collection," but I also thought it would be interesting to see what she thought of a store full of comic books like Daddy has.

The first thing she pointed to, with a mix of wonderment and disgust on her face, was a recent "Superman" cover. You've seen it: Superman with a brightly colored octopus type creature coming out of his mouth. Not wanting to deal with nightmares at nap time, I tried steering her elsewhere.

She asked me to pick her up so she could see what was on the top shelf, which happened to be a six foot stretch of Batman comics.

"I like the green one, Daddy," she said pointing to a Grant Morrison "Batman" collection with a Frank Quitely cover. So my daughter picks out comics based on the overall color treatment of the cover. Keep that in mind, editors! I wonder if she'd like the DC Go-Go Checks, too? Maybe a purple gorilla?

Or maybe my daughter is a Grant Morrison fan? She didn't get that gene from me. . .

"There are a lot of bad guys on those books," she said when looking at the seemingly never-ending lineup of Batman books, filled with grimacing muscular men in tight costumes. I'm not sure how this worked itself out, exactly, but the next thing she did was say "Batgirl!" while pointing to a Batgirl cover. Granted, the character was on the cover and the book was amongst a sea of Batman titles, so I supposed it's not a huge leap for her to pull that name out of her brain somewhere, but I didn't think it would be so obvious. I was impressed.

Later, while walking up to the counter, she asked me where the Barbie comic books were.

"They haven't made those in twenty years," I told her. I know I should have pointed her at the Archie section or something, but I was just looking to get out of the store at that point.

When we have more time, I'll bring her in for a more thorough browsing of the store and we'll see what gold we can mine from such an experience.

Side note: There are different bags for "Current" comics versus "Modern" comics? They've really shrunk that much. If I may paraphrase Obelix: Comics is crazy.

BEFORE WATCHMEN

J. Michael Straczynski recently wrote about how every creator's earliest contracts are awful. Alan Moore's contracts were no different, but he worked his way up the industry ladder to better contracts. That post was followed by a renewed wave of internet shrieking. I don't want to get caught up in all of that. I read it and my mind went in a slightly different direction.

I think you have to take most opinions from the point of view of the person expressing them. Straczynski comes from the Hollywood world, where everything is structured very carefully and according to rules agreed upon by producers and creators. Stracaynski created an entire television series/franchise and still got screwed on it, financially.

Hollywood is completely unionized and that still happened. For all the people thinking that a comic creators union could prevent such unpleasantries, think again.

At this point, the best way to avoid these issues is to self-publish or go through Image Comics. That's a whole different set of trade-offs, of course. Such is life.

WWDC and SAN DIEGO

Yes, it's time for another amazing parallel between the comics world and something else completely unrelated. This time, we're talking about Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference. Let's start with some backstory that might sound familiar to comics fans:

Apple is a company that just over a decade ago was on the ropes. Famously, they were less than a year away from bankruptcy when Steve Jobs returned to the company in 1997. Their fanbase was loyal, vocal and active -- and painfully small. They were an afterthought in the computing world.

But times change and a few moves -- most famously a move into the music arena with the iPod -- turned Apple into a trendsetter and a tastemaker. All of a sudden, thanks to this connection with the outside media industry, Apple was at the center of things.

Feel free to draw the parallel to that and the comics world, where in the mid- to late-90s, sales were horribly low, Marvel went bankrupt, and the fanbase shriveled. Things boomed shortly thereafter for many reasons, and the mass market realization that comics still exist is spurred on by Hollywood's mass adoption of comic book characters to make the biggest blockbuster movies of the last decade. (Mark my words: "The Avengers" will be the next billion dollar movie.)

Apple runs an annual conference called the Worldwide Developer's Conference. Every June, they take over the Moscone Center in San Francisco and sell tickets to programmers (both Mac and iOS) to come to the show, sit in on informational sessions, see a keynote announcement of new products, socialize in the halls, ask questions of Apple engineers, and party all week long. In the last three years, it's sold out. Every year it's happened quicker and quicker. This year -- just last week -- it sold out in less than two hours. Tickets were gone before residents of California were likely even awake.

Apple doesn't announce when they plan on putting the tickets on sale. They never pre-announce the weekend the conference will be held. One morning, they publish a press release to their website and open up registration. Everyone rushes to the servers to order their tickets before it's too late. And then they still have to book airplane tickets and hotel reservations at a relatively late (and thus expensive) date.

If you thought San Diego was a tough ticket, imagine all of that. At least Comic-Con gives you a year's notice for when the show will be. At least Comic-Con gives you notice of when tickets will be on sale, and at a time when both the east and west coasts of America will be awake.

Hotels are easier to find for WWDC, it's true, though the short notice might mean you'll wind up paying more. Total attendance is also only a fraction of San Diego (5,000 versus 125,000).

But the ticket system is starting to incur the wrath of Apple developers, for reasons that might seem very familiar to those who've tried to get to San Diego for the comic convention. The fact is, the venue is only so large, Apple can only run a show of a certain size anyway, and the rapidly growing popularity of the platform means more and more newcomers want to get in on the fun. It's not quite like the movie fans are crowding out the comics fans, but the sheer numbers are starting to overwhelm the Apple faithful. The core are being pushed out by the newbies.

Predictions for fixes are starting to surface:

Isn't Comic-Con basically a lottery system right now? Even if they are processing orders as they come in on that fateful morning, being one of the first 100,000 to log in and order your tickets is practically a lottery. Your odds of getting through the checkout process faster than person #100,001 is basically random at that point.

Some have proposed that more established developers should get tickets first. That might be by the date of their first app submission, or original membership into the Apple Developers Program, or their annual attendance to previous WWDCs.

Comic-Con general admission tickets are wide open, but their system on the other side of the table rewards long-term vendors. Basically, so long as you keep your booth year after year, you get it the next. If you're a newcomer, you need to hope they expand the booths available somehow, or someone drops out to make room for you.

As time goes on, I'm sure we'll see vitriole aimed at the newer developers. Some of it is not exactly wrong-headed. There are snakes out there looking to win the lottery and often polluting the well along the way. Those are the ones who use shady moves to push their app up the rankings through rip-off apps, in-app purchase craziness, search engine optimization tricks, etc. In the end, though, they're still developers and just as qualified to attend a developers conference. There's just too many people trying to cram into too tight a space.

What about creating multiple shows from one?

Imagine this idea for Comic-Con International. Having one pass that lets you get into the panel rooms, but a separate one being needed for the show floor? Those people who show up at Comic-Con to camp out at Hall H couldn't idly wander through the convention hall. Of course, that goes against the mission of bringing comics to the masses, and probably won't help traffic flow too much. The panels are great ways to divert the crowds off the show floor, after all. We don't need the floor to get more crowded because more tickets are sold specifically for it.

The idea of simulcasting panel sessions has been raised before. Right now, I think the only time that actually happens is with the masquerade, where the overflow of spectators are moved to other rooms and can watch a live video feed there at the convention center. But maybe there's a revenue potential for CCI there: streaming Hall H activities on the internet to those who'd pay for the access. Imagine watching the convention via your Roku box or Apple TV in your living room.

The WWDC is a different kind of conference from Comic-Con International, and so not all the parallels will hold up. Still, the ones that do exist made me shake my head while watching all the drama last week. We've been there before, and now a new group of people are feeling the pain. It's not fun, and I hope Apple and the developers find a way to work it out. For now, the WWDC ticketing problem seems to be another case of Apple being a victim of its own success: There are things they can do to appear more "fair" and to allow a few more developers in, but there's no way they'll ever be able to make everyone happy. And, kids? Life ain't fair. Your mother wasn't kidding you with that.

LINKS

AND IN CONCLUSION

Check out the first link below for fireworks pictures from DisneyWorld and the shots I got from the recent Space Shuttle Enterprise flyover in New York City. Both were very cool.

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TAGS:  pipeline, superman, dc comics, batman, batgirl, before watchmen

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