Aiming to cut the fat from the bloated pop-culture extravaganzas, a new creator-branded model for comic conventions is drawing fans to a more curated and unique experience.
For decades, comic conventions have been building up (or “diversifying,” if you prefer) to include television shows, movies, video games, board games, toys, novels, scantily clad models, and new-media companies that used speech balloons in their marketing campaign that one time. Basically they’ve become magnets for any project with an air of geekery, regardless of the lack of any sequential art or cartooning. A number of cons can feel more like a pop-up strip mall in their efforts to be everything for as many people as possible. And con-goers feel it. You really haven’t had the full convention experience if you don’t hear someone grumble how the con used to be about the comics, man. It’s a chorus that seems to attract more voices each year.
Perhaps in response to the growing Grumble Choir, a number of event organizers have been testing more focused conventions branded under a single creator or identity. These conventions bring in vendors, guests and exhibitors that more directly reflect the name on the banners, resulting in a more authentic and cohesive experience. While it’s splicing a niche market to a niche within a niche, it’s also creating a more irresistible ticket item for people within that sub-niche. And those fans coming to see the name they recognize are probably super-fans eager to experience, sample and buy more at a deeper level than the more scattershot crowd under the general geek umbrella.
Passings | Jan Berenstain, who with her husband Stan created the popular children’s book characters the Berenstain Bears, passed away Friday at a hospital near her home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Berenstain, 88, had suffered a stroke earlier in the week. Since the release of The Big Honey Hunt in 1962, the Berenstain Bears series has grown to more than 300 books and sold about 260 million copies worldwide, inspiring animated television specials and series, museum exhibits and a stage show. Stan Berenstain passed away in 2005 at age 82. [The Washington Post]
Events | This year’s 24-Hour Comics Day will be held Oct. 20. [ComicsPro]
Comics | Here’s a variation on the comics-aren’t-for-kids-anymore theme, with reasonable parents who know they need to check what their kids are reading, and a retailer who gets it. [WNYT.com]
The first Image Expo kicked off Friday in Oakland, California, with a keynote speech from Publisher Eric Stephenson that emphasized creator relationships as the company’s foundation, and laid out more than a half-dozen titles that will be announced this weekend for release later this year:
• Happy!, by Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson, a mysterious title the writer says is “in a genre I’ve never really tackled before — but with a bizarre twist, of course.” It’s the first of several potential Image projects from Morrison. [iFanboy]
• Confirmation of a third volume of Phonogram, by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson, called The Immaterial Girl. Gillen says the six-issue miniseries, which will likely debut in November, is “primarily about the war between coven queen witch Emily Aster and the half of her personality she sold to whatever lies on the other side of the screen. It’s about identity, eighties music videos and further explorations of Phonogram’s core ‘Music = Magic’ thesis. There is horror. There are jokes. There are emotions. There may even be a fight sequence. It also takes A-ha’s ‘Take On Me’ with far too much seriousness – which, for us, is the correct amount of seriousness.” [Kieron Gillen's Workblog]
• Chin Music, by Steve Niles and Tony Harris, described by the artist as “a 1930′s Noir, Gangster, horror story.” [Tony Harris]
The Image Expo starts today at the Oakland Convention Center in Oakland, Calif. and runs through this Sunday. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Image Comics, the event is a “celebration of independent creativity in comics” and features many of the companies founders and top creators, including Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld, Robert Kirkman, Jim Valentino, Marc Silvestri, Ed Brubaker, Joe Casey, Jonathan Hickman, John Layman, Rob Guillory, Ryan Ottley, Nick Spencer, Brian K. Vaughan, Tim Seeley, Jim McCann, Landry Walker, Erik Jones and more. Image won’t be the only company represented, however, as the exhibitors page also lists IDW Publishing, Aspen and Archaia, as well as the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the Hero Initiative, the Kirby Museum and many more.
Attendees at the show can attend panels, meet talent and buy exclusives, including a special edition of Glory #23 that benefits the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a Skullkickers map-of-the-world poster, a “Butter Variant” of Chew #24 and the above Kill All Monsters print by Jason Copland.
You can find the complete programming schedule after the jump.
They’re getting the band back together. That’s the story hinted at with this teaser image (at right) that debuted this morning on iFanboy. Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Matt Wilson came into the public eye in 2007 with Phonogram from Image, and over the course of two limited series rose from their U.K. indie-comics roots to be notable figures in the comic scene. The comic also paved the way for all three to become in-demand creators at Marvel.
This mysterious teaser promising “One More Time” — that’s also the title of a 2000 Daft Punk song — doesn’t indicate whether that’s the name of a series or merely a tagline for something else. Many presume this heralds a third Phonogram series, especially since this weekend’s Image Expo is expected to have a host of new series announcements … but I’m not so sure. In a 2010 interview with ComicsAlliance, Gillen shot down the idea of a third Phonogram series pretty soundly due to low sales of the previous volumes.
“I feel frustrated. Enormously lucky, sure, but frustrated,” the writer admitted. “We’ve done this wonderful thing we’re crazy-proud about. But if the whole economic system was just a couple of degrees to the left, everything would have been different. I mean, just to give you an idea about narrow the margins are between what we are and what we could be, if we were selling 6K instead of 4K, we could have done those 44 issues. The difference between breaking even and actually being able to do it in comics is insane. It’s like being kept under ice, clawing. I feel like a bonsai plant.”
Have things changed since spring 2010 that could make a Phonogram project feasible? The comics market as a whole hasn’t gotten any better, but with Gillen entrenched as the writer of Uncanny X-Men and McKelvie coming off his X-Men: Season One book, they’re both at the height of their still-young careers. Maybe their experience and added sales draw makes them believe numbers would be different. Or maybe it’s something besides Phonogram completely.
Legal | Rico Venditti and six other alleged members of a stolen-goods ring pleaded not guilty Tuesday to federal murder and racketeering charges following a revised grand jury indictment in the July 2010 home invasion of an elderly comics collector. The victim, 78-year-old Homer Marciniak of Medina, New York, died of a heart attack a few hours after being tied up and assaulted during the robbery, which prosecutors claim was set up by Venditti and two others. [The Associated Press]
Conventions | Bruce Lidl looks at the potential “Comic-Con tax” that could hit attendees as a result of the expansion of the San Diego Convention Center. [The Beat]
The first Image Expo kicks off this Friday at the Oakland Convention Center, featuring panels, signings and creators galore from the publisher. And like all good conventions, there will be exclusives, like variant cover editions of Chew, Walking Dead and Artifacts, among others; a Hell Yeah ashcan; and the above map of the Skullkickers world, which we’re happy to show you sans the promotional text after the jump.
Created by professional cartographer Mike Schley, who worked with series writer Jim Zubkavich, the 18″ x 24″ map harkens back to the days when my brother and I had the World of Greyhawk map taped up on our wall, so we could plot the adventures of our Dungeons & Dragons characters across its danger-filled mountains and majestic plains. Click below to check it out in its full glory.
The Image Expo runs Feb. 24-26, where you can also meet Jim and have him sign your map.
Image Comics has revealed the ticket designs for its first Image Expo, a three-day convention held Feb. 24-26 at the Oakland Convention Center in Oakland, California. Conceived by Jonathan Chan, the tickets spotlight the publisher’s new “Experience Creativity” marketing campaign with five designs featuring creators Ed Brubaker (Fatale), Jonathan Hickman (The Manhattan Projects), Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead), Todd McFarlane (Spawn) and Brian K. Vaughan (Saga).
Check out the rest of Chan’s designs below. Tickets may be purchased on the Image Expo website.
Conventions | Wizard’s executive chairman Mike Mathews tells Heidi MacDonald that after the resignation of former CEO Gareb Shamus, the company wants to be “a Switzerland of entertainment” and mend fences with members of the industry: “Gareb is one of these types of personalities who has taken strong positions over the years with various people in the industry and brands. And that kind of hurt us because of where we are trying to go — we’re trying to be a Switzerland of entertainment and we want to try to try to reach out to brands.” MacDonald notes the company is offering a $100 credit toward Wizard conventions to former Wizard subscribers whose subscriptions abruptly ended when the magazine was shut down. A new CEO is expected to be named early next month. [The Beat]
Conventions | Image Comics announced several more guests for the Image Expo, scheduled for Feb. 24-26 in Oakland, California. The lineup now includes Blair Butler, John Layman, Rob Guillory, Nick Spencer, Joshua Fialkov, Joe Keatinge, Jim McCann and Jim Zubkavich, among many others. [press release]
Organizations | The Associação da Luta Contra o Cancer is running an awareness campaign in Mozambique featuring images drawn by artist Maisa Chaves of Wonder Woman, Catwoman, She-Hulk and Storm checking their breasts for lumps. [Daily Mail]