This was my fourth year at the San Diego Comic-Con, not counting the time I went when I was 12, and I think I'm getting a little burned out on the whole experience. I spent much less money and left much more exhausted than in past years, but without feeling it was a really worthwhile experience. On the plus side, I reunited with my old childhood pal Nathan Hamill, whom I had not seen in probably 14 years (he now works as a colorist for Bongo Comics), and got two more issues closer to completing my New Warriors run (only seven left!). I did also enjoy the Kevin Smith panel, although I spent 45 minutes waiting in line in the hot sun to get in, and another 45 minutes or so in the auditorium waiting for him to show (they eventually rescheduled for later in the day). His reputation as a great raconteur is well-deserved, and the panel was at least as funny as Clerks II. The nighttime presentation of The Animation Show, a collection of animated short films curated by Mike Judge, was one of those cool things you love to see at the Con, and was probably the most fun I had the whole time (as usual, I was only there for Saturday).
But since so many of the things that people go to the convention for, like meeting their favorite creators and getting autographs or sketches, or hearing announcements about new projects from major comics companies, or seeing preview footage from upcoming Hollywood films, don't really appeal to me, I sometimes feel like it's not worth the hassle of getting all the way out there. Last year I tried to check out some indie comics to give new things a chance, but doing the same thing this year I was just struck by how overwhelming it is to wander around all these booths and try to see if something looks interesting. If you spend more than 15 seconds looking at someone's stuff, they'll start giving you the hard sell, which is understandable but still makes me uncomfortable. If it was like a film festival, where I could sample lots of new stuff for a flat admission fee, then I might be more open. But deciding what to spend money on just ends up kind of a waste of time. The only thing I bought was a short preview book for Salem: Queen of Thorns, a horror title that the creators are hoping to set up at Image. It's got a neat premise - during the Salem witch trials, the people being persecuted are not really witches, but witches are real and are menacing the area - and decent writing and art for an indie book. I could see Image picking it up, although it didn't quite grab me enough to make me want to buy another issue.
I got cajoled into taking a copy of the third issue of Heroes Inc, a silly superhero parody published by Bare Bones Studios, who are based in Vegas. This is probably as much coverage as I'll be giving their book, though - it's not as bad as it looked, but it's mildly amusing at best and the jokes are horribly repetitive. And, really, the comics world is so full of superhero parodies that that's the last thing you should do if you want your indie comic to get any notice.
Far better were two promo comics from bigger companies: Dark Horse gave out a Conan the Barbarian freebie with two stories, one by Joshua Dysart and Tone Rodriguez, the other by Tim Truman and Cary Nord. The art is impressive and the writing is decent, but it just confirms for me that the whole sword-and-sorcery adventure genre that Conan typifies is very much not my kind of thing. Random House gave out the first issue of Elk's Run, which they will be publishing as a graphic novel after its rather tortured and torturous publishing history in single issues. This is a great idea - the issue serves as a sort of extended trailer but doesn't feel insubstantial like many preview books. It helps that the story, an atmospheric horror piece, is very good, and it definitely hooked me into wanting to check out the whole thing whenever it's released.
The one thing I wish I could do at the Con but can't is buy original art. Last year I bought some T-shirts with work by artists whose work I liked, but this year I didn't see anything new in that realm that really caught my eye (the people whose stuff I bought last year had the same ones for sale this year). But I did practically drool over some original paintings and prints by Ragnar, a onetime Vegas resident whose T-shirt I bought last year. If I had the money I would have bought one of his pieces to take home and put on my wall, and I would have loved to get an original page by a comics artist I like as well. But those are so expensive that I would have spent my entire budget for the trip on just one or two. And the pieces that are affordable are generally really small or not worth buying.
I don't mean to be so down on the Con, which has gotten bigger and bigger and more influential and has done as much for the mainstreaming of comic book culture as any specific publisher has. But for me, the whole experience is not as rewarding as it is for some. I don't really participate in the social aspect - I've never met anyone at the Con and I rarely even talk to anybody unless it involves a transaction - and much of the stuff I buy I could just as easily order on Amazon. So I may take next year off, or I may go the complete opposite route and go for two days to have more time to really look for stuff that interests me. It'll all depend on my mood and perhaps how much I've forgotten about the annoyances this year. Of course, I might have had a better time if I'd just followed this advice instead.