CWR WEEKEND BLOG EXTRA: PHOENIX CACTUS COMICON 2006- SATURDAY
I’ve missed the last one or two Phoenix cons, so I was rather curious about the show going into this one. The con has previously been a one-day event, though the organizers have hoped for years to stretch it into a larger and more ambitious effort. Now, local fans were about to see the results of that ambition… and to discover that the show organizers are even more ambitious than many of us realized.
This year’s show displayed its ambition not only in becoming a two-day con, but also in its guest list. The previous one-offs had a small, but solid, list of pros on the bill, but 2006 promised far grander things. Arizona fans weren’t just getting one or two out of town guys and all the locals (like Mike Bullock and Raven Gregory); instead, folks like Mike Mayhew, Billy Tan, Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, and Josh Blaylock were going to show. That not only enhanced the con as a destination for future guests, but should also serve to draw a solid attendance number when badges are counted after Sunday closes
That isn’t to say, however, that all things were pulled off smoothly.
Mind you, there were plenty of things about the show today that were done very, very well. The dealer room was a highlight: it contained the guests and their tables; it was planned out with some solid thought (putting the guests towards the back so that con-goers had to walk past retailers to get to them was smart); and the dealers who focused primarily on manga were close together, giving those fans a dream row where they could spend their money. Also on that row were some manga artists, including the wonderfully talented Jennifer Quick, who was selling original art pages for $5! (I bought two, thanks for asking.)
And on that subject… the single best thing about the show: the incredibly high percentage of manga and anime fans. My friend Mimmo was astonished at the near perfect 50/50 ratio of male to female attendees and at the huge number engaged in cosplay. Unlike San Diego, the number of superhero costumes was almost pathetically small; 95% of those who showed up in uniform did so as their favorite manga or anime character, and they did so with fervor. It was amazing, and joyful, to see. In fact, the con was so dedicated to those fans’ experience that there was even a room where they could engage in anime theme-song karaoke.
Yes, it was a little frightening. But I digress…
So, for the large percentage of fans, the con management delivered a very solid experience. Mimmo was there for three hours and had a terrific time. I tip my cap to the planners. But…
There are things that need fixing. And quicker than I had imagined. Why? Because the 2007 con has moved up the calendar to January. That’s less than four full months before the machine gets fired up again, and special guests Mike Mignola and George Perez roll into town.
Now, on the one hand, this is brilliant planning. More folks from colder climes will be inclined to visit the Phoenix area in January and explore the show. But it gives little time to alter the internal planning. Or to fix the biggest problem the show has this year: Artists’ Alley.
Artists’ Alley was literally just about that. When you walked into the convention center and turned right, you were immediately in the dealer room. If you went left… well, you went down a long, winding hallway that had tables shoved off to the side and out of the way. That was the Alley. Now, if you went past them, you found the programming rooms, but those who weren’t interested in panels never knew those folks were over there. I did a quick survey in the dealer room at one point, and less than half the attendees I polled knew there was more to the con. Not a good way to treat those folks who paid their money to take their chances with the crowds.
The show might have been able to get away with that to a lesser extent, though, if they’d provided a map of the layout of the con. Even though I had explored the Alley-side of things, I still had no idea how to find the panel room I wanted to get a seat in. Plus, the con program was misprinted, with the first page describing programming the last one printed in the booklet. Assuming this was a late printing job that they couldn’t get fixed, I hope the organizers got their money back or a deep discount.
The sad thing is, even with the small size, Artists’ Alley had some solid talent sitting there. Paul Horn came over from San Diego to sell Cool Jerk goodies. Local boy Ryan Cody had the fourth and final issue of VILLAINS from Viper Comics on hand to sell, even though it isn’t in stores yet. It was worth your time to get there.
With some adjustments, this has the potential to be a top-notch show. Honestly, the Phoenix area deserves one. This is the 5th largest city in the U.S., and has a thriving local comics shop scene. It’s almost inexcusable that it took until the 2000s to finally put on an actual con here. However, the 2006 version, in summary, is all about the growing pains. It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how things turn out in January.
I caught a panel and a half, owing to my inability to locate the room, beginning with one on licensing and intellectual property rights. Participants included Brian Pulido, Josh Blaylock, Shannon Denton, and a local IP lawyer. The discussion was interesting and lively, as the audience seemed to be filled with people who are terrified of being ripped off by others. So much of the focus was on how to protect your property, and more so, protect yourself. Incorporation was discussed, as well as forming an LLC. What I found intriguing was how differently each person on the stage approached matters. Blaylock seems to be a man who has exercised some caution in building Devil’s Due, keeping himself nearly walled-off from corporate liability in any form while growing his farm. He also discussed why DDP doesn’t really do creator-owned material at this point, and while I philosophically might disagree with his decision, I completely understood it from his POV.
Pulido was almost amusingly crusty, having gone through hitting it big with books like LADY DEATH to the dissolution of Chaos, the loss of his intellectual property. He also offered the most practical advice: generate ideas constantly, because even though most of them may be crap, there’s always the right one waiting to be tapped. Agreed, sir.
The full panel I was able to make was Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti’s panel on “team writing”. Having interviewed Jimmy twice previously, he’s become one of my favorite people in comics, an honest-to-God “no bullshit answer” guy. Happily, along with the surprisingly witty and sharp Gray, there was no letdown in the session. Highlights:
- Palmiotti on why write with a partner: “It’s always more fun to do something with someone else… masturbation included.”
- Jimmy on his former partners Joe Quesada and Dan Didio becoming Editors-in-Chief: “It was a rough period, because neither of them wanted to look like they were being preferential to me. I had to re ‘break in’ in some ways.”
- Gray on pitching and getting rejected and how to improve your chances: “Ask why it sucks.”
- The duo discussed why team writers aren’t as prevalent in comics. One reason: they’re difficult to market.
- When taking over a title, they use peoples’ research about characters that they find on the internet, as long as it’s solidly and smartly done.
- Jimmy on not finding sales success every time: “It doesn’t matter if you fail; it’s still better than nothing happening. Do not be afraid to fail.”
- How does the duo resolve creative differences? “Talk it out- like a courtroom drama.” Palmiotti added, “Ego is not good,” and described previous battles about the location of names in the credit box.
- The pair works far in advance, as not to leave artists begging for scripts. They are currently scripting HEROES FOR HIRE #8, and only issue one has shipped.
- Start your guesses: responding to a question about their exclusive contract with DC, Palmiotti noted that DC knew that some artists who liked the duo would likely follow them in order to work with them again. The name Khary Evans wasn’t spoken, but ya gotta figure…
There were plenty of laughs, a terrific story about Palmiotti busting on Kevin Smith, and some insightful tales from Gray about his days as an intern for Marvel Knights along the way, and the 90 minutes passed by very quickly.
The only mega-negative aspect to the day was that the bleah feeling I’ve had over the past few days got worse as the hours passed, and it looks like I’ll be skipping day two of the con for bed rest.
That’s it for the CWR WEEKEND BLOG EXTRA. Tune in this week for site updates, and I’ll be back in this space next weekend for the regular reviews. And if you hit day two of the show, make sure you stroll through Artists’ Alley.