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Sunday, October 24, 2010

After The FACTS.

Looking back at my very hectic but fun day at FACTS 2010 this year, a few things come to mind, but I would like to start straight out of the gate, with the feeling I had all day. This is a great hobby we have and sometimes we tend to forget it. Sitting at home behind a PC screen, scrutinizing every single detail of every single comic or storyline, getting into online flame-fests and being sarcastic slash negative because it looks right the cool thing to do.

But when it comes down to brass tacks, this hobby is all about the people.. I met an army of nice people today, from A-class artists, to very young fan-boys, from indie publishers to volunteers who go without sleep to make sure everyone is entertained. From retailers who actually care more about pleasing the customer by selling them a fantastic hardcover than by just the sale.

I'm guilty of being too jaded myself, telling everyone in earshot (and beyond) that cons really aren't that great, that there are better deals to be found online, that they are loud, expensive and crowded, that the food is bad and the service is worse etc etc...Well I was wrong, cons are the lifeblood of our hobby and you are really missing out if you don't attend one near you.

By now if you are guessing that I had a great time then you deserve a gold star. I hardly bought anything (one comic !) worked my ass off and already left the house at the crack of dawn, but it was all worth it. Here are some highlights. I forgot a lot of things and will undoubtedly have left some people out, sorry for that, but I still love you.
The very first and probably the biggest highlight was getting to meet Dave Gibbons.
After we had build up our booth, I walked over to the next hall and the Artist's village. There were already people queuing for Frank Cho and Greg Cappullo, the line for Dave Gibbons was still empty which kinda surprised me. Mind you this was about 1 1/2 hours before the artists were due to arrive and the general public was admitted.

At 9.00 AM the early-bird ticket holders were admitted (one hour before the rest) and at 9.15 I walked over the artist section again. The line for Cappulo had grown to maybe 20 people, about 10 for Cho and three fans were eagerly waiting for Dave Gibbons.
As I didn't expect a lot of sales before 10.30 AM and my partner was manning the booth, I decided to get in line as well.Dave showed up at about 10.05 AM and was eager to go. Frank Cho and Brandon Peterson showed up each over an hour late...All the artists had sampled some Belgian beer the night before and only Dave Gibbons was able to to fight the hangover and be there on time. Separating the men from the boys and showing he is the consummate professional.
The first person in line wanted a Rorschach head-shot, which Dave drew in about 10 minutes and looked really nice. Oh, prices were €50 for head-sketches and €75 for full figure. Quickie sketches and sigs were free. Second guy just wanted his Watchmen trade signed, so that went quickly and the third guy, whom I regularly talk to online, wanted a Comedian sketch..which I think looks fantastic, so I included Philippe's commission here as it is truly breathtaking seeing Dave draw this in a matter of minutes, first blue-line then ink...he was like a machine. (Yes Phille I was looking over your shoulder when Dave drew it)

And then it was my turn, I had brought my Watchmen page along and asked Dave to sign it, he looked it over for a while and told me "it's always nice to see an old friend", referring to the page of course :)

We chatted a bit,he asked where I got it and told the story of how he sold the art (per complete issue !) to London's Comic Showcase store. I don't know if Dave wants it out there how much he got for each issue + cover, but I was shocked to find out how low it was. But seeing Comic Showcase then sold the pages for between £70 and £150 each, you can figure it out.

Mister Gibbons and I also discovered we had a mutual friend, Paris_Fred...now there's a guy who gets around. I didn't want to take up too much time as the line behind me had now grown to over 25 people (and it didn't seem to get any smaller throughout the entire day) so in parting I asked him who his favorite artist was and after some thinking he said "Wally Wood"...Dave Gibbons was really a very nice man to meet, an excellent artists and he has excellent taste in other artists as well :).

I also saw a lot of old friend who it's always a delight to bump in to (you know who you are !) and finally met some people I know from various chat-boards face-to-face...which is always nice.
I sold a lot of trades and hardcovers at the cheapcomics booth, but most of all tried to talk to people about which series they liked and suggested other titles they might also be interested in (Anything Walking Dead flew of the shelves).

I'm always in awe of all the people that spend months making their own costume and then proceed to walk around it it, sweating like a pig and not being able to buy anything as they can't stoop down to look in the boxes, and even if they did....where would they put it as they have no pockets. There were a LOT of cos-players at FACTS, but the guy walking around in the home-made Iron Man suit deserves deep deep Kudos ! I wonder how many batteries it took ?
I was also impressed by my friend Malkavian of Brainfreeze who was immaculately dressed as a pony.

But what really got to me were the independent publishers, the small-time companies who still publish comic books, against all odds, for the simple reason of the love for the medium. I'm pretty sure most of them don't break even and still they persevere. My deepest respect goes out to the people at Dropcomics and especially to my friends at Windmill Comics This Dutch team of writers, editors and artists are keeping the spirit of early comic fandom alive. They are the lifeblood of the hobby and I consider them today's Jerry Bails, Don Thomson, Biljo White or Roy Thomas. Thanks guys, may fame and fortune find you some day

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

FACTS of life

This weekend (23rd + 24th of October) I'll be attending the FACTS convention again. if my math is right it will be my 9th time. Now for all you non-Belgians, you should realize there are NO Comic book conventions at all over here, in fact I don't think there are more than a handful throughout Europe.

Sure we have comic strip cons nearly every month, but the American comic book isn't exactly a staple here.
In essence Facts isn't really a comic book convention, it's a popular culture convention, much along the line of the big San Diego Comicon.
When I started to attend there were maybe 10 comic book dealers and no books older than say ten years. Slowly the comic book part was dying and I remember one glum year where there were just 5 comic book dealers and there was nothing at all that interested me.
But the next year some new people joined the organization (yes Boom, I'm talking about you) and the comics part started to blossom again.
FACTS was able to book more and better artists, which in turn led to more fans turning up which lead to more dealers coming which lead to even more fans coming etc...

Last year the 15.000-attendance (or 15,000 if you don't like the metric system) figure was breached, which is incredible for such a small country and this year everybody fully expects that figure to be reached and even overtaken again.
But alas some things haven't changed, there still is almost nothing at the entire con that I'm looking for. There are almost no Silver Age or Bronze Age books for sale. Can't really blame the dealers as the brave ones who do bring them, don't sell a single issue. There is just no interest in vintage (and expensive back issues). Most collectors, no strike that I should actually call them "readers", are interested in trades, hardcovers and cheap singles from the last 10 - 15 years. Why buy a €300 Silver Age Spider-man book when you can buy the hardcover for €20.00 and have enough money left to buy hundreds of cheap one-euro comics.

Some readers do become collectors over time, but it's a slow progress and doesn't really happen the first 5 years when somebody comes into the hobby.
And to be honest, the rare vintage stuff that is for sale at FACTS can be found cheaper online most of the time. At the con you pay more for the convenience of being able to look through the book, don't have to pay shipping and be secure in the knowledge that the comic doesn't have to be shipped thousands of miles.

So why am I still going ? Well mostly because it's a lot of fun. I know a lot of people there among the staff, exhibitors and visitors and it's always a treat to meet up with them every year. I also tend to go toy-shopping for my kids (this year my son wants a Joker action figure and my daughter wants a Power Girl or Hawkgirl).
And then there are the artists...all credit to FACTS, they manage to get top-shelf artists every year, but as I'm not a modern comic book fan, most of them don't toot my horn...but now and then they get one that even I in my curmudgeonly way like.

I'll be lining up this year to do a meet and greet with Dave Gibbons and have him sign my Watchmen page...that should be nice.
But mostly I will be selling trades and hardcovers at the cheapcomics.com booth, like each year I'll be assisting my friend Chris to bring wonder and joy to the masses in the shape of luxury (and cheap) reprints.
It's always a lot of fun to meet other readers/collectors, to try and answer their questions and generally talk "comics" with them. Maybe steer them in the direction of a new series they didn't know or help them complete a storyline.
I'll probably be dead tired at the end of it all, will have spent too much money on toys, won't be able to go box-diving to find some bargains and will undoubtedly forget to eat again this year....but I can't wait. Bring it on, it's FACTS time again.
Oh and if you are looking for me, I'll be the one wearing the green suede Puma's.

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