I know you are all probably waiting for my response regarding SD Con. I just got home last night and didn't want to write anything of great detail until today (Tuesday). I'll go with the plusses first (there are a few).
First of all, as many of you may or may not know, San Diego became impossible even for me to go after 2002 as the hugeness of it all cost wise and otherwise kept me from going. I said silently to myself that year, "I won't go again unless everything is paid for." My meaning behind this statement is that I would not go again unless I was considered a professional in the eyes of the industry and under that guise may have my trip paid for in some way so that I would no longer have to finance it myself. (I found out recently from Scott Shaw! that even high profile celebrities are not usually paid to attend this, but that's another story.)
Anyway, in recent years through my newspaper advertising sales work, I became good friends with Lee Hester, the owner of Lee's Comics for the past 25(!) years. He has stores in Mountain View and San Mateo, CA, and has done the San Diego Con now for 20 years straight. Up through 2005, he used his regular employees to staff his booth, but in 2006, Lee asked me if I wanted to man the booth during the show. In exchange I would have all my meals, transportation and hotel accommodations paid for, and also would be given a small salary on top of that. I immediately seized the chance and Lee and I did the 2006 show.
Everything went so smoothly, that Lee asked me to be his semi-permanent convention staff and we went on to do the Los Angeles Comic Book Convention, San Jose Toy Show, Wondercon, the APE, and I sold the bargain comics when Lee had various sales at his Mountain View location.
Of course I was asked to do San Diego again, and I readily agreed. Now, as previously stated, I would probably never attend San Diego again due to its size and lack of finding the remaining Harvey Comics I need to complete my sets for under $10 each (or any Harvey Comics at all for that matter. I now have better luck on the Internet). A strange thing happened between last year and this year. Because I published my book ("The Best of The Harveyville Fun Times!"), I am starting to get recognized within the industry. So being sort of a minor celebrity has encouraged me to continue going under this "new phase".
Lee had excellent sales this year, but NOT of old comics. In fact, after the 2006 show, I recommended that he not bring so many of his 15 long boxes of moderately-priced Silver Age books due to the lack of sales. These boxes are heavy and if you don't sell them, lugging them back onto the truck on Sunday evening is painful. Lee not only heeded my advice of not bringing so many, he actually didn't bring ANY of his moderately-priced books. He did bring the expensive wall books (which I sold the most expensive one being a NM copy of "Giant Size X-Men" #1 for approximately $850!) and he brought his $2 bargains, which generally sell well.
A few years ago, Lee obtained one of those old "Hey Kids Comics" spinner racks and he decided to put random selection of comics from the 50s to the 80s on these racks for $2 each! Some of these in Mint condition. (Not everything mind you, but for the persistent, you could actually walk away with a number of books worth $20 or more for only $2 each.) Lee has taught me a lot about marketing and sales that I didn't know and it has helped me with my other careers and with the marketing of my book.
Other dealers think Lee is insane, but what Lee does (and it is no secret) is buy up collections for cheap, but instead of meticulously going through the Price Guide with each book and bagging and boarding them and jacking the price up to the Guide price, he sifts through and takes out the really good stuff (like a "Giant Size X-Men" #1) and sells the rest for cheap. It gives the fans something to look through, and the ability for them to buy older books at affordable prices.
However, this year a strange thing occurred: the $2 books didn't sell as well as last year. The novelty had worn off. To boost sales, Lee did something even I thought was crazy, reduce them to $1 each!! That worked and we had steady crowds for those books all week long, while the other Gold and Silver Age dealers just sat on their hands for virtually the entire weekend.
My theory about all this is plentiful. Younger readers are not buying the Gold and Silver Age books for many reasons: 1) Usually the prices are higher than most people want to pay; 2) Most collectors usually are nostalgic for items from their youth. Items from the youth of 20 and 30 year olds are items originally issued in the late 80s to early 90s, which is well after the Silver Age. (When you get to be 40 as I am, you start to realize that things are starting to make a comeback that you weren't interested in originally, like the Transformers. I thought they were interesting toys for about 30 seconds and that's where my interest ended because I was 16 and more interested in wanting to get laid than toys. So when they issued a movie this year, all of my 25-35 year old co-workers were all excited. I wasn't.) 3) As Marvel and DC and others have put out pristine versions of their older books, the need to have it on the original newsprint has diminished greatly except for the hard core collectors, of which there are not so many as they are getting older and older and older and not spending so much on old comics anymore either because they have them already or they can no longer afford them, or by natural attrition (i.e. death).
On a happier note, Lee did bring a current shipment of this week's new comics as a test, and those sold exceptionally well!!
This was Lee's most successful year at the Con, so what did he sell? He sold the remaining stock of the PureHero sports shirts. For comic book shows, Lee has ventured further and further away from comic books and more and more towards toys and clothing and other items, and these things are highly successful (and would be considered a disgrace for this email group). So there you are.
For me, I sold two copies of my book at the show and signed them. I bought exactly 8 Harvey Comics from Graham Crackers (about the only reasonably priced comic book dealer other than Lee that had books that I wanted). I saw, met and/or spoke with Scott Shaw!, Lou Ferrigno, Ray Bradbury, Peter Kuper, Pat Block, Rafael Navarro, George Gladir, Maggie Thompson, Bill Morrison, Peter David, Roy Thomas, Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, Paul Dini, Renee French, Neil Gaiman, Rick Geary, Mike Ploog, Gary Carter, Ian Boothby, Bruce Schwartz, Paul Merolle, Matt Brody, Mary Fleener, Brent Frankenhoff, Dominic Prestera, Mitch O'Connell, Greg Evans, Robert Steven Rhine, Joe Ferrara, Michael Bennett, Brett Warnock, among others. I wanted to talk to a few people like Jerry Beck and Leslie Carbarga, but time didn't permit. Apparently Sid Jacobson was on the floor as was Gary Owens, but I didn't see either of them. And, some people I expected to show up, didn't.
I made a lot of good contacts and was trying to line up some more freelance work and to that end considering my time constraints, I was very successful.
On another positive note (and Joe Torcivia would like this one should he ever come back to San Diego), a couple of years ago, the Gaslamp area fixed up the Little Italy section of the downtown and made it really nice. It's slightly north of the convention. We stayed at a very nice but small hotel called La Pensione and ate almost every night at this great and cheap Italian restaurant called Filipe's that has a huge lasagna with a huge meatball for only $6 and it is filling!! Our bill for six people one night was $38!! Fortunately, this is sort of a chain and although most of the locations are in Southern California, there is one in Northern California, so I may make the pilgrimage sometime this year to that one.
Now, the negatives. As it has been said endlessly, this con is TOO BIG!! It's really a movie studio promotion show with a small Gold and Silver Age section and some artists that was the backbone of the original show. That Lee had to switch to selling other merchandise besides comics had to do more with economics and practicality rather than Lee's love of old comic books. Our friend Ron Murray (who shares Lee's booth with us) actually declared a loss this year as he only carried Gold and Silver Age books. In fact on Saturday, traditionally the busiest day at the Con, Ron had zero sales to show for the entire day!!
Also, it is VERY difficult to get around. I do not attend any panels anymore and rely on people coming up to Lee's booth or making deliberate pilgrimages to speak with the people I want and need to speak with. It took me forever to get to Artist's Alley which was on the completely opposite end of the show from Lee's (Lee's is booth #1100; Artist's Alley was around #5400). Coming back, I walked behind Ray Bradbury in his wheelchair as they were clearing the aisle for him and that helped me get back to the Lee's booth in a reasonable amount of time.
Prices are insane for accommodations, especially since the closer hotels are booked so far in advance and not just for the Con, but for those *&%@$*& Padres games as well. Also, the Con does sell out now, something it never did before and they keep people waiting outside for longer and longer periods due to fire constrictions. You can move about pretty well in the comic book area, but if you are in the movie area, forget it. Moooooo! Mooooo!
So, would I recommend San Diego for anyone else in the future. Only if you are trying to make key contacts or are working the show as I am. Otherwise, it's a wash and you'd be better off going to a more moderately priced and sized show, especially if you are interested in old comics.
In fact, Wondercon, even though it is owned by Comic Con International, is more like the San Diego Comic Con of yore and as a result, much more fun. It is in San Francisco each Jan. or Feb. and is highly recommended if everyone wanted to go to a show that was just like the old days and in California. The weather's usually nicer out here during that time too than for the rest of the country.
Anyway, that's my report.