Skip Harvey writes;
I wandered the Comic-Con floor, searching desperately for a credible (and cheap) souvenir for my good friend Joe. Joe's an old school fanboy of discriminating taste. He appreciates good writers over flashy artists, likes his heroes to be good and his villains to be evil, and he really, really knows his comics. I wanted my gift to be something a real fan would appreciate and we had just recently had a lengthy discussion about pre-crisis Batman and silver age X-men over a luke warm pitcher of PBR at our local blue-collar watering hole. When debating the giants in silver age artists the name Neal Adams inevitably became our common ground. Neal is the credible fanboy's artist. The Peter Davidson of the comics world, if you will.
After passing up some obnoxious Thor merchandise on the convention floor and pushing impatiently through the obscenely crowded end of the non-comics section I skirted a rather ordinary, rarely trafficked booth. If not for my formative years being bombarded by silver age DC artwork I know for a fact that Neal's table would have never caught my eye. It was quiet, it was far smaller than the pedestal fanboys have put him on, and it was quite frankly sad. No one had been to peruse his wares in quite some time, and it showed. I bought an ashcan from the man and had him sign it "happy birthday Joe", no waiting, no line. My heart sank.
This, I realized, was the way of things now. Gone were the days of comic book collectors meeting comic book creators and geeking out about comic books. We lived in the era of watching the movie, buying the toy, playing the video game…anything except reading the comic. Comic-Con was the largest pop culture celebration in the world, and comics were dead.
Chuck Rodanzki is the owner/proprietor of Mile High Comics, one of the largest comic retailers in the country. He's well acquainted with the ups and downs of the industry-long and short term -and is always good for a sound bite on the topic. Knowing that, I tracked him down on the Comic-Con floor to ask his impressions of this year's incarnation of the convention. Much to my surprise it was no easy task finding a slower or quieter area on the comic side of the exhibit hall. I was fully prepared to have a depressing conversation with Chuck, lamenting the death of our beloved industry, yet here we were fighting to hear each other and find elbowroom. What on Third Earth were all these people doing showing interest in comics at a comic convention? Chuck was just as shocked as I was, and based on the giddy grin on his face it wasn't just traffic.
"Two years ago I was debating pulling out," admits Rodanzki, "but now I'm thinking about expanding." Normally Mile High sees most of its sales at the convention move in the form of trade paper backs, graphic novels, and collected works of previously printed books but this year saw a huge upswing in the sale of actual single issue comics. In fact, Chuck was most surprised by the number of customers making their very first comic purchase. "It used to be that you'd come to Comic-Con to sit at the cool-kids table, but now people aren't just coming to say they've been here."
Whether it's the product of the often criticized "make the movie and they'll buy the book" strategy or, as Chuck theorizes, digital comics becoming the new grocery store spinner racks for those unfamiliar with the medium, sales were up. Big time. New readers are being created and genuine appreciation for the genre seemed palatable. "This year I brought 50,000 single issues," Chuck says matter-of-factly. "Next year I'm bringing 100,000 more."
The fanboy in me wanted desperately for this to be true; that Comic-Con was fully realized in the mainstream but that it wasn't losing its integrity. I wanted to believe that the periodical was coming back like vinyl, that Avengers was setting the bar higher for comics in media and not the last gasp, that Santa Claus was real… The guarded part of me knew it couldn't be so rosy, right?
Just as Chuck and I were wrapping up our gleeful discussion of The State of Things, a group of con-goers interrupted us and asked to take a picture of the crowd. We obliged the young men and scooted further into the concourse, deeper into the flow of traffic. That turned out to be impractical for a two people standing still and we decided to part ways. We both agreed it was too difficult to have a conversation in front of a busy booth, especially the Neal Adams booth in front of which we found ourselves.
Maybe there's hope after all.