02nd May2010

DC Comic-Con: Well, There’s Always Next Year…

by Will

So, today marked the 1st (annual?) DC Comic-Con. However, in this case, “DC” meant “Northern Virginia”, and “Comic-Con” meant “church bazaar”. I really had high hopes for this show. Established as a joint effort between Baltimore Comic-Con creator Marc Nathan, and the Laughing Ogre chain of stores, the show was poised to give the DC-Metro Area its first taste of a somewhat “official” comic book convention. Considering how great the Baltimore show has become over the years, this venture held a lot of promise. Unfortunately, something went wrong between idea and execution.

Now, I was actually supposed to volunteer for the show, as I first learned about it when I was in Marc’s store a few months back. He had a really good idea: he was already hosting a Free Comic Book Day signing in his store, so he figured he would just offer those guests an extra night’s hotel stay, and have them as his guests for the show. On top of that, he was going to make sure that all of the local shops had flyers available on FCBD, so that he could take advantage of the newcomers who might be flocking to stores. Considering his guest list was going to include Frank Cho (Ultimate Avengers 2, Liberty Meadows), JG Jones (52, Marvel Boy), Jo Chen (Buffy Season 8 covers), and others, it sounded like it couldn’t fail. Of course I wanted to be on board with that! He told me to show up early, and he’d put me to work. Well, fast forward to this morning, as I didn’t get to sleep until 7 AM because I’d been up working on restoring older entries to the site (I’ll explain that situation in another post). So, considering I wasn’t getting to sleep until about 3 hours before the show started, I simply muttered “Fuck that noise”, and went to sleep.

Over the past few days, I guess I lost most of my interest in the show when it didn’t seem like anyone really knew about the thing. I was in a comic shop yesterday, where I overheard someone talking about it, but their account of the thing was riddled with misinformation. On top of it, these were the retailers, themselves, and not just some fanboys standing around. So, it was becoming apparent that those flyers hadn’t made the rounds as planned. Also, the website was only updated intermittently. By Thursday, in total, there had only been about 5 update posts – none of which contained any major information, outside of the list of creators who’d be present. The only show-exclusive item was a variant cover of Witchblade, which would benefit the Hero Initiative. That’s good for the Hero Initiative, but the whole “Show Exclusives” part of the site looked pretty sad, as nothing else was being listed alongside it. It’s almost like, “Why bother?”

The worst crime of the site, however, was that it didn’t even list information pertaining to the price of regular admission. It stated that tickets would be available at the door, and not in advance (unlike the Baltimore show). Also, admission would be $5 IF you signed up for the e-mail newsletter. What if I don’t want to sign up? Well, there’s no information for that scenario. Guess I would just have to find out at the door…

So, I woke up around 11:30, and really debated whether or not I wanted to even bother with it. I had told Marc I’d volunteer, but it’s not like he really cared. He’d be OK. The main thing, though, was that I didn’t really know how to get to George Mason University. Sure, there’s Mapquest, GPS, and all that, but I hate the thought of trying to navigate a college campus. Cornell was basically the entire town of Ithaca. I knew GMU wasn’t that big, but I didn’t want to waste most of the day wandering around aimlessly. I checked the con’s site, only to see that they had uploaded a map of the campus, showing the location of the show, as well as the lot (Lot A) which was the only one open to con guests. Nice of them to post this…on May 1st. Yeah, they did it yesterday. The day before the show.

Honestly, though, I really just wanted to go so that I could finally meet one of my twitter pals. He’s one of the few people I can actually have a tweetversation with, and I think he’d be a cool “real life” friend. I knew he was making the trip from Baltimore, so if he could do that, then I could suck it up and drive to VA.

I headed down to GMU, but I was looking at the map on my phone, as I didn’t have the chance to print it. The Zoom option didn’t want to work, so I was flying blind. Once on campus, I couldn’t, for the life of me, find Lot A. Driving around Patriot Circle, the signs about the show/lot simply ran out. I ended up parking in the lot for a shopping center across the street from the campus. I didn’t want to risk tickets/towing by parking in the wrong campus lot, and I don’t mind walking. If I had found Lot A, it would’ve been a “5-10 minute walk” to the show. I’m not sure if that estimate was for the “normal” person, or for us geek types, who don’t have much in the way of cardio training.

I wandered through campus a bit, and actually walked past Lot A. It wasn’t much closer than the shopping center, so I didn’t feel too bad about my choice. Since the main campus seems to be configured in the middle of a circle, it wasn’t too hard to figure out the general direction of central campus. That said, all of the buildings, while nice and new, all pretty much look the same. Every now and then, I’d see a fat kid carrying a bag of comics, coming from the general direction in which I was headed, so that was an encouraging sign. Eventually, I just had to suck it up, and ask some kid where the Student Union was. Luckily, it was right around the corner from where I was. Keep in mind, this whole walk, which was in the CORRECT direction, contained NO signage to imply that I was headed in the right direction. I couldn’t have been the only one to experience this. Sadly, I arrived just in time to receive a tweet saying that my twitter pal had just left.

Anyway, once at the student union, there was nothing outside to indicate what was going on inside. No “DC Comic-Con Here!” sign. The only clue was that there were more slovenly kids with bags of comics, and a line at the ATM. Once inside, I realized that it wasn’t exactly a well-oiled machine. Admission turned out to be $5, so I guess the newsletter tactic was a bust. The problem was that, after I paid the money, the guy manning the table was more concerned with me filling out a raffle ticket than with giving me my wristband. People were bunching up around me, so once I was done, his partner tried to charge me another $5 before he’d give me the wristband. I told him I’d already paid, and the 1st guy co-signed it, so I got my wristband. That’s when I entered the “ballroom” where the show was being held…

You know your grandma’s church? The one that’s old and drab ’cause only old people attend? The one where they hold bazaars in the drab auditorium? The same auditorium which has a stage up front, as they sometimes use it to present the Christmas Cantata? Well, that’s exactly what this venue was like. It had a very “flea market” vibe to it. The entire room was filled with vendor tables, while something seemed to be happening onstage. I started to make the loop, but people were just in the way. This is a common problem with conventions, as everybody wants to bodyblock the longboxes until they’re done looking through them – very territorial.

As I’m walking through, I realize I recognize a lot of the vendors. After all, I used to frequent those little comic shows they hold at the Crowne Plaza in Tysons. Yup, there was the guy with one arm. There was the jerk from Columbia. There was the dude who always gives me the stink eye. The gang was all there. As I continued around, something became VERY apparent to me: the vendors had only brought their older comics OR their junk. So, if you were new to comics, your only options were overpriced yellowed books from the ’70s or a bunch of $1 bin books from the mid ’90s. I was kind of offended by this, as it implied that none of the vendors had taken the show seriously. Just as the place looked like a church bazaar, they were treating it as one. As I walked around, I overheard a lot of grumbling amongst the vendors, as the show clearly hadn’t met their expectations. Now, I’m not sure if they were unhappy with the turnout, or the lack of sales, but I have to lay some of the blame on the vendors themselves. Outside of the shitload of unnecessary Deadpool variant covers released over the last few months, the vast majority of vendors didn’t have any books published within the last five years. On top of that, it was a great show for anyone looking for cheap trade paperback collections, but the single comic offerings were piss poor. One guy was selling “new comics”, one of which was an issue of Amazing Spider-Man that came out six months ago. Now, considering that series comes out thrice-monthly, that book is basically a year and a half old, when compared to other comics. That’s not NEW.

I made about 5 loops around the room, and couldn’t find ANYTHING on which I wanted to spend money. It was all junk. Hell, I was so disgusted that I passed up the FCBD books that some guy had leftover from yesterday. I bought the DC Comic-Con exclusive Witchblade because it was the show’s ONLY exclusive, and I wanted to have proof of the show’s existence in case it’s never held again. It helped out the Hero Initiative, though I’ve never exactly been sold on that organization (look up its guidelines some time – there’s a a VERY narrow pool of creators who even qualify for its assistance).

The saddest part of the convention was the lone Joker who was skulking around the show floor. This dude looked terrible! I mean, his costume was good, but he just looked depressed, and I’m not sure if it was part of his cosplay. I think he just felt out of place, as he was the ONLY one in cosplay that I saw. They were granting free admission to anyone who showed up in full costume, but he’s the only one who looked like he may have taken advantage of that offer. In any case, I eventually saw him hiding behind a pillar, fervently texting someone. Maybe he was asking Batman to come and take him back to Arkham. After all, that HAD to be a better option than where he was at the moment!

Oh, remember the commotion onstage? Well, that’s where those big name creators were set up. It was so awkward, however, as they were elevated over the rest of the show floor. To add to that, any fans wishing to get signatures & sketches had to wait off to the side of the stage. When it was their turn, they went up, as if they were about to receive a diploma. I’m being overly dramatic, but it really looked like an elitist setup, as we were all waiting to “pay tribute”. I already had signatures from all of them, so I didn’t even give it a second thought.

While on Loop #5, I noticed one vendor, who also happened to be the only vendor who was even remotely friendly to me, had a bunch of old toys for sale. Really old toys. That’s when I saw them: the Hasbro figures from the Stargate movie. Kurt Russell as Jack O’Neill, James Spader as Daniel Jackson, and nary a trace of likeness rights between them. Despite looking nothing like the actors, I LOVE Stargate, and I couldn’t shake a stick at the price tag of $3 each. As I took Daniel and O’Neill to the vendor, he laughed and told me he would cut me a deal for all of them. There were 6 figures, and he said he’d give them to me for half price. Now, I’m normally a sucker for a deal, but I really had no use for Lt. Kawalsky and Horus figures. I mean, Kawalsky looked just like O’Neill, but had a different color shirt, and I don’t care about grunt soldiers from a defunct toy line. I could’ve had them all for about $3 more than I spent, but I just didn’t want more junk in my apartment. I’m gonna hang Daniel and Jack on the wall, like the kitsch that they are. I simply had no use for the others.

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The very second after I completed that transaction, I headed for the door.  I didn’t care about the raffle, or the door prizes, or spending another second in that place. I walked out the door, and didn’t look back.

While I had major problems with the venue, I think my main disappointment came from the fact that I had held such high expectations. It’s really a matter of semantics: this was not a convention, but a show. A comic convention is an experience. There are vendors, panel discussions, and it provides fans with the chance to meet their favorite creators. A comic show, however, is simply about selling. Vendors bring their backstock inventory, and hope to unload some of it to people who are trying to fill holes in their collections. Shows don’t always have guests, and when they do, they don’t tend to be “marquee”. This show definitely fit the latter definition. It was geared toward the collector, and the older collector at that. It didn’t serve as a proper introduction for the new fan, nor as encouragement to the casual fan. I’m a collector, and it didn’t even fit my needs, so I’m left to wonder what was the target audience for this show. It’s got some reputable names behind it, so maybe this was a case of “1st year mistakes”. I didn’t exactly have an amazing time, but fanboys are gluttons for punishment, so I’m not giving up on it completely. After all, there’s always next year…