This week I thought I'd talk about my experiences at Comic Con and my general thoughts about the importance of such a venue. I'll start with my history with the San Diego Comic Con (SDCC).
I starting going to SDCC at some point while I was in college (94-98). Back then, I was just a comic book geek who really enjoyed seeing everything comic and super hero related. I never thought about looking for work in such a place because I didn't think there was work for me to be had. My friends would take their portfolios to the reviews and try to find illustration work, but I wasn't interested in that. I kept attending year after year solely as a fanboy. I can remember meeting the Shiflett Brothers on several occasions. They were one of my first stops as I entered the con. I remember when I was looking at the "Earth X Captain America" while it was still in progress. Brandon even asked me if I was a sculptor. I said "Yes. How did you know?" and he said "Because only sculptors look at sculpture that way." At the time, my sculptural interests were still in the fine art world, but I was always an admirer of toys and collectibles. As the years went on and my career as a fine art sculptor proved to be a difficult endeavor, I always returned to SDCC for a dose of inspiration - even when I was working construction and not sculpting anymore.
Then came a time (in recent years), when I was able to stop working on construction and focus on my art again. It was around this time that I started becoming interested in commercial work. I had seen Tony Cipriano's interview on HVAtv.com and become inspired to follow a new career path. I made a few pieces, photographed them and put together a "tear sheet" (That's what we called them when I did some commercial sculpture work for Dinamation). The next time I went to con, I went looking for some work (that was in 2008). My skills weren't quite ready yet and neither was my approach for looking for work. I didn't know who to look for and I was just leaving my tear sheets with whomever I could get to talk to me at the various booths. After that convention, I knew I had to change things up. I continued to work on my skills - giving myself assignments and deadlines to follow. I made some new work and managed to get a small gig sculpting for a small toy company. The following year, I went prepared with new tear sheets and actual sculpts. I thought that the photos didn't do the work justice so maybe it would be smart to take physical samples of my work. It was last year that I also met (in person) my buddy Walter O'Neal. We ran into each other outside of the Shiflett Brothers sculpting panel. Walter played a pivotal role in my approach to companies. He pointed out one of the top Art Directors for DC Direct. He told me I should try and talk with him. After the panel discussion was over, I approached the art director and asked him if I could show him my work. He told me to meet him on the floor and that he'd look at it down at the booth. I followed through and showed him all the stuff I was carrying. A Catwoman sculpt, a Dr. Horrible and Capt. Hammer sculpt, and a 1:6 portrait of Morgan Freeman. It was a lot to look at (probably too much), but it got their attention. They liked my work and I got their contact info and was told to send them an e-mail a couple weeks after the con. It was a huge leap forward. They later asked me to send them a copy of my Catwoman sculpt (which is still in their offices).
So this finally brings us to this years SDCC. This year, I changed my approach yet again. Less work, but better work. I also changed from tear sheets to Walters suggestion of key chains with a sample head and a card with my contact info. I worked hard in the last month leading to con to finish my Batman bust. With the very generous help of some of the biggest guys in the industry (Tony Cipriano and Tim Bruckner), I was able to make a piece that really shined.
When I was able to meet with the DC Direct people this time, not only did they remember me from last year, but they wanted me to meet the higher ups. I got to meet with Georg Brewer, Vice President of Design & Retail Product Development for DC Direct. While they had some constructive criticism for the work, they also saw potential and now I've got my foot further in that door than ever (with the small ray of hope that was Georg Brewer saying "Let's try and get you some work"). That meeting couldn't have gone any better, and they took three of my leave behind key chains. I moved onto Sideshow Collectibles. I was lucky to find my friend Tim Miller there. Tim was one of the first professionals to really help me develop my work. I asked him if there was someone I could show my work to, but there was no one there at that time. It was during that moment that a guy named Mat Falls walked up and said hi to Tim. Tim introduced me and said I should show him my work. I pulled out the Batman and the three version of heads on keychains. He liked the work, and was impressed with the idea of the keychain leave behind. I told him he could choose whichever head he wanted, he took the Zombie version of my head. After he parted ways, Tim told me that he was one of the four owners of Sideshow. So that was great, and another moment of huge forward progress for me. The final people I spoke with that day (although I wanted to speak to several more) was the folks from Anatomy Tools. I've known them since 2007 and have maintained contact. This year I went there and again showed off my stuff and left one of the key chains with them, in the hopes of finding some work, sculpting anatomy reference for them. I also hung out with my friend Damon Bard, who was sitting in at their booth. I was told that they would like to interview me for their web site, so that was a cool twist on what I've been doing lately. So overall, this year was an amazing year for forward progress. I need to step up my game and really wow everybody next year. Take things to a whole new level.
So this brings me to the subject of the importance of events like SDCC. I think as an artist looking for work, this event is the single best gathering of professionals in the industry. Everyone under one roof and most are willing to look at your work. It's like a career day for the aspiring commercial artist. Venues like this are not only important for those of us looking for work, but for the survival of the industry as a whole. Venues like SDCC bring people from around the world to look at the amazing work being created by all these great companies. It's the fans that keep this industry alive and SDCC (and other venues like it) give the fans a chance to see and enjoy all the new work being made. We want them to get excited about what's being made. We want them to seek out the artists who are making this work, just so they can shake their hands or get an autograph. We need venues like SDCC to continue so that this industry can thrive. There are those who feel that SDCC no longer represents comics, and I would partially agree with that. It really has become more of an entertainment and pop culture convention rather than a "Comic" convention. But it's a reflection of what interests the fans out there. In a more digital world, comics aren't what they used to be. The local comic book store is going the way of the mom and pop hardware stores. People want things digitally, and so most of their interest is in things they can see and do digitally. That's why movies, video games and T.V. shows that have nothing to do with comics or super heroes have a big presence at Comic Con. But just because it's no longer the same as it once was (and perhaps it's grown a little to big), isn't a reason to not support it. For those of us looking to get into this industry, this is a challenging time. Revenues are down across the board. Companies aren't hiring. Consumers aren't buying as much as they once did. So where does that leave us. If we didn't have venues like SDCC then the industry would probably be in a far worse place. We need these conventions to live on, so that we always have a place to go see all this great stuff under one roof. A place where we can look for work at a dozen different companies all in one day. A place to bring the amazing world of collectibles to the fans. A place for a young kid who grew up loving Batman can go see more Batman stuff than he could ever imagine.
Well, that's it. I hope you enjoyed this read a bit. I'm not sure what I've got in store for you next week, but I'll try to bring you something interesting.