We’re now at the peak of comic book convention season. San Diego’s wrapped last month, Chicago’s just ended, and New York’s is currently gearing up. And these are just the biggies. This onslaught can be nirvana for pop culture nerds. But hordes of designers also flock to these events. This can appear puzzling, considering how media reports mostly emphasize the Hollywood hype, endless queues, cos-play nonsense and such. So let’s take a closer look in this comic-con guide.
I’ve written about how graphic designers such as Seymour Chwast and Chip Kidd have been significantly influenced by comics, which you can read here. I’ve also interviewed comics artists about how they utilize design aesthetics in their work, which is here. But why should designers also spend their time at what looks like a ten-ring circus of crass commercialism?
Personally, I hate hobbits, dragons, and the walking dead. And video and Thrones games. As for any interest in Superman v. Batman, I’m Affleck-less. It’s also against my religion to stand in line for anything for more than a couple of minutes. And I view all “collectibles” as needless clutter. Nevertheless, I’m a Con-aholic.
I had my first taste at the appropriately titled “EC Fan Addicts Convention” way back in 1972. Kurtzman, Elder, Wood, and the rest of the 1950s comics giants were guests. I’ve now been hooked for more than four decades. Occasionally I go as a speaker, but mostly for pure pleasure.
So after SDCC, the world’s largest, I gathered personal perspectives from other professional visual communicators from various fields. They each have reservations, but they also continue to make reservations.
Peter Kuper is a political, social, and Mad magazine cartoonist. He regularly occupies a premium location in Artists’ Alley, where he sells his art and books. As co-editor of the new World War 3 Illustrated anthology he not only chose the most visually stunning examples from the past 35 years but he also devoted at least as much effort into the book’s subtly refined design.
Peter Kuper: In recent years it’s hard to see much difference from one Comic Con to the next. A change took place many years ago that moved conventions from small gatherings of 99% guys to mega-events with more than a few women. Reading comics once equaled a level of nerd-dom we wore like a badge of honor even when it came along with a literal or figurative ass-kicking. But beginning with the introduction of Star Wars in 1977, festivals moved beyond an inner circle of fans who loved comic books.
Now there is nothing more mainstream than comics, at least as they appear on the screen. Slowly over the years, other non-genre based work broke into the mainstream too, which thankfully included masterpieces like Maus. There was also a wave of alternative comics that demonstrated the potential of the form beyond tights and capes and helped bring graphic novels into bookstores and libraries.
Illustrator and printmaker Scott Gandell’s artwork, which ranges from pleasantly soothing to viscerally kinetic, has been featured in a variety of publications, including right here on Imprint. For the past seven years he’s commandeered the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles booth, where he promotes the organization and provides a convenient congregation point and oasis of tranquility for attending SI-LA members.
Scott Gandell: My history with “The Con” stretches back nearly two decades. But that’s nothing compared to the two attendees I met on different days—unrelated to one another—that were each carrying their original early 1970s badges.
This year SI-LA initiated live podcast interviews conducted by Santosh Oommen, Marketing & Communications Chair, and myself, VP Development Chair. We were able to cover the fields of comics/graphic novels, animation, children’s books, video games, gallery, film/television, and the US Air Force Art Program with short, insightful interviews of top talents.
You’ve laughed with J.J. Sedelmaier’s animations for MTV, Saturday Night Live, Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, and the Colbert Report. You’ve also enjoyed his visually delightful feature pieces for Imprint. And for his take on SDCC, he’s included a series of recommendations and advice.
J.J. Sedelmaier: This was my third time attending San Diego Comic-Con and I think it’s time for me to finally acknowledge that as much as I hate the crowds—it’s not unlike Christmas shopping at Macy’s on December 24th—and even though the endless costumed fans lose their entertainment value pretty quickly, it still remains an awesome adventure!
I was only there for Friday to do an Ambiguously Gay Duo merchandise signing, and much to my surprise I ended up wishing I could have stayed longer!creator, artist or writer and hit ’em with the questions you’ve always wanted to ask.
I was thrilled to see Bruce Timm sitting all by himself and grabbed the chance to say how much I loved his work and the spin on the classic superheroes he’s done.
Sedelmaier tip #2: You’re guaranteed to cross paths with so many folks that you don’t get to see otherwise, or frequently enough! I end up seeing more people from my home turf in New York when I’m there than I do when I’m home! It was great to see fellow New Yorkers Neal Adams, Robert Smigel, Bill Plympton, and Arlen Schumer. I also was able to reconnect with fellow “Imprintor” Michael Dooley, as well as Batton Lash, Geof Darrow, Sal Abbinanti, and Dean Yeagle.
The biggest thrill for me was to finally meet legendary designer and art director Michael Gross! He was was Executive Producer on Ghostbusters and designed the “No Ghosts” logo. We’ve been corresponding for a couple of years now, but we’d never met and I wasn’t sure it was ever going to happen. I was sitting on the convention hallway floor hanging with the raconteur Michael Dooley when Gross wandered by—with two characters dressed in Ghostbusters garb—and shouted “Michael!” We cracked up at the randomness of the chance meeting!
Sedelmaier tip #3: Where else will you have the opportunity to sit in on some really sick panels and presentations consisting of legendary talents?! I only had time to go to Who Created Batman?, but just the roster of ten panelists was enough to make you drool—including relatives of Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson!
One word of advice. It’s a good idea to plan your day with a schedule and acquaint yourself with the convention center. Work around the panels and presentations you want to see, but also be aware that many of the halls fill up and you might get turned away. This means that the time you may need to wait in line for one panel might necessitate you missing another. You just have to juggle you priorities.
Sedelmaier tip #4: Personally, I get burned out very quickly by the huge corporate booth extravaganzas. Seek out the small boutique companies. Happily, I located the booth of Sunday Press Books! They do absolutely beautiful compilations of vintage newspaper comic strips in all their glorious large Sunday Funnies format sizes. Check out their Winsor McCay and Gasoline Alley collections!
These are the types of companies I love to see present their wares!
Sedelmaier: As much as I may bitch about the crowds, costumes and bad skin, I have to say it’s totally worth the journey and the experience!
Gandell: I begin preparing for the next con on the last day of the current one. That’s what it takes. And I still manage to forget something. The convention experience is and has always been a positive one peppered with minor mishaps and challenges along the way. The Con is expensive. The Con is exhausting. That being said, it’s worth it.
Kuper: The kind of work I create and enjoy—outside of Spy vs Spy—still remains pretty alternative and often gets buried by the flashing lights, explosions and muscles on display at Comic Con. Nonetheless, there are other kindred souls that show up. And regardless of my annual mantra “This is the last time I’m attending,” I do find pockets of joy and quality work that keeps me coming back.
Unless otherwise noted, all above Comic-Con pics are by M. Dooley.
Here’s a list of more SDCC-related Imprint features for your reading pleasure …