Leading Questions: To SDCC or Not To SDCC, That Is The Question

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on July 21, 2016.


Pictured Above: (Back Row) Chase Magnett, Justin Giampaoli, Daniel Elkin (Front Row) Paul Brian McCoy,  Jason Sacks, Ryan Claytor

Every week in a new installment of “Leading Questions”, the young, lantern jawed Publisher of Comics Bulletin Mark Stack will ask Co-Managing Editor Chase Magnett a question he must answer. However, Mark doesn’t plan on taking it easy on Chase. He’ll be setting him up with questions that are anything but fair and balanced to see how this once overconfident comics critic can make a cogent case for what another one obviously wants to hear.

So without any further ado…

Why am I going to SDCC?

It’s strange that the most attended convention in all of comics also seems to be the most bemoaned. This is a question you hear every year from creators, journalists, and other pros right before they descend onto the city of San Diego. I’m pretty sure the only person in comics who approaches San Diego Comic Con each year with unrestrained enthusiasm is our Publisher Emeritus, Jason Sacks. SDCC plays like some sort of Sisyphean joke where everyone knows what to expect, but they keep making the trip anyway.

There’s a lot of truth to the complaints and frustrations that surround the convention too.

SDCC is overcrowded. The convention center is not well designed for this sort of event. It’s a series of long halls all connected by a single hallway and outside strip. Traffic (of both the human and automobile variety) is jammed together in a lurching mass. Getting anywhere quickly is impossible, especially once Friday arrives. San Diego is a small city and the convention crowd absolutely consumes it. The entire downtown area is effectively part of the convention; you have to travel miles to escape it. That leads me to my next point…

SDCC is a nightmare to plan. Have you heard about this hotel lottery? I’ve heard jokes comparing it to the Hunger Games, but they aren’t really jokes. I’ve been stuck with a 45 minutes commute and a room at triple its capacity with a sizeable bill both times. Making sure you’ve got your passes and airfare pinned down is no fun either. Top that off with everyone in the comics industry being their absolute busiest all at once, and organizing events, interviews, and parties is a hellish experience. That business is a little bit ironic too, considering that…

SDCC isn’t very concerned with comic books. Artists alley is an afterthought with industry legends like Mike Mignola and new stars like Chip Zdarsky jammed at the end of the hall with not half of the space or audience they deserve. Crowds are focused on Hall H, even as its former glory is diminished each year. It’s a massive pop culture extravaganza that just so happens to feature a decent number of comics-related things.

So why in the hell are you going to SDCC?

Don’t worry. I’ve got an answer.

I’ve been to SDCC twice. This will be the first time I’ve missed it since joining up with the Comics Bulletin crew, and I can honestly tell you I’ll be pretty down for the next few days here in Omaha. That’s because SDCC is one of the most unique and rewarding experiences I’ve been lucky enough to be part of. I’ll miss it like crazy in 2016 (even though I have very good reasons to stay at home) and am incredibly excited to hear all about your first time in attendance.

The number one reason you’re going to SDCC, and probably the only reason you need, is the people. Every downside I mentioned about this convention – the crowds, the planning, the lack of comics focus – is a forgivable downside of this singular benefit. So many people attending leads to a clusterfuck of logistics and (over-) diversification of topics, but it also means that there will be a lot of people there.

Despite there being an overemphasis on television, movie, and video game fare, there is still an enormous comics presence. Publishers and creators both recognize this as the biggest convention of the year and make a concerted effort to attend. The presence of the Eisner Awards certainly doesn’t hurt this interest either. You will be able to find an incredible array of people working in comics who you’d like to meet. Whether it’s for a signing or sketch, or meeting up at the bars after hours, the comics industry permeates San Diego for five days.

The lack of focus on comics also means that many of these people have a surprising availability throughout the con. Sure, they’re busy, but not nearly as much as you might expect. The fact that Mignola only occasionally has a line is a benefit for those of us who really care about his work. Last year I was able to chat him up about his Kirby-influences on Cosmic Odyssey and how that comic helped define his style moving forward. You can really take advantage of having so many great people with so much time on their hands.

It’s not just about creators either. Meeting with publicists and other PR folks is a joy. Working in journalism and criticism, we get used to the incredible kindness and helpfulness offered by these folks on a daily basis. SDCC is a great opportunity to put faces with names, and thank them for everything they do throughout the year and this weekend in particular. I don’t want to go through an Academy Awards style list of thank yous, although I definitely could, but definitely want to point out the Dark Horse and Image booths as two places to hang nearby. They do a great job of assisting with interviews and have been nothing but kind to me for the past couple of years.

Meeting all of those comics folks, the ones we cover or who assist us in our coverage, is great. However, that’s not who I really mean to refer to when I say you go to SDCC for the people. The people I’m talking about are the ones you already know, your friends here at Comics Bulletin and fellow sites like Women Write About Comics and Loser City.

We become friends and acquaintances with creators and other pros, but these are the people that we chat with everyday, collaborate on projects with, and share work experiences with. This is our community, whatever you want to call it. We know one another and understand the passion and problems that come from pouring so much of yourself into comics with little or no reward. As sappy as it may sound, the relationships we forge are the best rewards we can expect to receive.

Each and every dinner at SDCC is a treasure. There’s a special spark that comes from eating with friends. The sharing of ideas is accompanied by an experience involving all of your senses. The food, the atmosphere, even simply seeing someone’s face respond builds memories that will stick with you and carry you to next year. The CBLDF party is an absolute blast and the Eisners are a unique experience best accompanied by copious amounts of alcohol (I recommend the drink with the shark).

Wherever you go though, you will have people you care about and who care about you by your side. They will turn an evening at Joe’s Crab Shack into one of your favorite meals of the entire year. Finding a group of actors behaving like a cult in a pizza joint will become a cherished memory instead of something deeply uncomfortable. Simply sitting on the floor because you can’t stand any longer will be all the better with someone to lean against. Speaking of which, remember to wear comfortable, supportive shoes and always stay hydrated.

Looking ahead at this weekend, I’m not sad about missing the meals or the interviews or the madness. I love those things, but I can find those elsewhere or live without them. What I’m truly sad about is missing you and all of our other friends.

I’m going to miss the look of childlike joy on Jason Sacks face, the same one that first greeted me in San Diego two years ago and encourages me to keep going.

I’m going to miss the cynicism-coated love of comics from Daniel Elkin who serves as both a beloved mentor and friend.

I’m going to miss seeing David Fairbanks attend for the first time and watching him take in all of these things, the good and the bad.

I’m going to miss meeting Megan Purdy in person, someone who has inspired all of us at Comics Bulletin with her own hard work at Women Write About Comics.

I’m going to miss Justin Giampaoli, both his local knowledge and astute wisdom, as he guides me from bar to bar.

I’m going to miss Julia Walchuk and her unrestrained optimism about the medium, the kind of mettle that dares someone to even try putting her down.

I’m going to miss catching up with Joe Schmidt, who I was lucky enough to meet at SDCC two years ago and has proven to be an incredibly loyal and supportive friend.

I’m going to miss Rafael Gaitan who gave me a shoulder and wisdom when I needed it most last year, because he’s simply the best.

I’m going to miss all of these people and more, but most of all I’m going to miss seeing you at SDCC this year. Because this is your year, buddy.

This is something that I hope won’t sound too sappy or self-indulgent, because it’s sincere, about as sincere as I know I can be. A few months back when we began to reposition Comics Bulletin and chart a new course forward for the site, there was a question of who should be the next Publisher. Who had the time, the energy, the ethics, and the love for comics necessary to not only carry the site forward, but make it a leader in critical thinking and coverage.

Speaking with a few others there was pretty much only one answer and I can’t tell you how happy I was that you accepted the offer.

Now you’ll be on a panel at SDCC Thursday night alongside industry peers like Heidi MacDonald of The Beat and Megan Purdy of Women Write About Comics discussing the future of comics journalism. You’ll be meeting many of our editors and contributors at the annual Comics Bulletin dinner. You’ll be speaking with publishers and creators as the new Publisher of Comics Bulletin.

To all of these people you will be the face of Comics Bulletin and one of the faces representing the future of comics. You’ve been working hard at this since before you even graduated high school, churning out reviews, working with peers at a variety of sites, and now publishing many of your own comics (some of which you’ll have printed for SDCC!). You may be young, but you’ve worked incredibly hard and earned everything you have now. This weekend is a chance for people to meet Mark Stack and get excited about where this medium is going. For as much as people bag on comics for being stuck in its ways, there is a bright future waiting out there. That’s something I’m reminded of working with you everyday.

That’s why you’re going to SDCC.

You’re not going to SDCC for SDCC. The convention is fine, at times it’s great and at times it’s terrible. What you’re really going for is the people. You’re going to see the wonderful, inspirational, amazing people we have surrounded ourselves with in comics. Spending five-days with those people is the best sort of vacation and work that I can imagine. It’s going to remind you of why you’re doing everything you’re doing. It’s going to show you why comics is worth all of the sweat and tears. It’s going to help clarify the future and add lessons to the past. This is the show that brings us all together and we’re better for it.

You’re going to SDCC for us, and you’re going to blow us all away.


About chasemagnett

Chase is a mild-mannered finance guy by day and a raving comics fan by night. He has been reading comics for more than half of his life (all 23 years of it). After graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with degrees in Economics and English, he has continued to research comics while writing articles and reviews online. His favorite superhero is Superman and he'll accept no other answers. Don't ask about his favorite comic unless you're ready to spend a day discussing dozens of different titles.
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