Emerald City Comicon has become one of the best conventions in the country. That's not my opinion; it's the opinion of most everyone who attended it this year. I spoke to publishers, artists and writers and some retailers, and I kept hearing the same story over and over: the crowd in Seattle was big and geeky and ready to spend money.
That shouldn't be a surprise in a city of engineers and high-tech companies like Microsoft and Amazon where smart people make decent money. But it's striking that this chorus of happiness about sales has been louder and more intense this year compared with previous years. I'd like to think this has something to do with the economy picking up and people having more money to spend. If so, ECCC represented another example of things finally starting get back to normal in the country.
The amazingly talented Tony Harris
Or maybe the popularity of ECCC has something to do with Seattle's strong and intense "locally grown" movement that aims to reward those who create work that comes straight from their heart onto the printed page. This is popular in Seattle with produce, beer and wine, so why shouldn't it be true for comics as well? There have been more and more comics that are creator-owned, "direct from the producer", and it makes sense that those comics hit a chord with Seattle's independent-minded culture.
Of course, the seeming popularity of independent minded books may also come from the fact that Marvel didn't have a booth at ECCC and that DC only brought a small, desultory booth to display their wares. Image, on the other hand, brought a titanic booth, with a design that stretched towards the towering Washington State Convention Center ceilings and seemed to dwarf every other stand at the convention.
Image has always been the most independent-minded comics company, so their placement at the center of a convention of an independent-minded city spoke volumes about how Image saw its audience in Seattle.
I kept hearing that Image's creators were the real stars of the con, and that really did seem to be true – every time I wandered around their book, there were long lines to meet rock stars Marc Silvestri and Robert Kirkman. But I also heard from Nathan Edmondson that he sold a lot of books and made some great contacts in town, and Image Events Coordinator Sarah DeLaine seemed a bit overwhelmed by the swarming crowds and popular creators that she shepherded.
Scott Morse drew this fun strip on his table!
I also heard that this was a great con from other creators. Brandon Seifert of Witch Doctor fame reported that he sold out of almost all the books he brought, and Jay Faeber of Noble Causes nearly sold out of all of his first Noble Causes Archives. The immensely talented Shane White reported similar news with his sketchbook. And my friend Rebecca Hicks, the mastermind behind the Little Vampires series, reported that she had sold more comics and merchandise at ECCC this year than ever before.
But in the YMMV category, there were some creators who said the show was not a success for them. Peter Panzerfaust's Kurtis Weibe reported that despite his prime location on the corner of the Image table, that he didn't get a ton of traffic. And I heard some grumblings from back issue dealers that their sales continued to decline as more and more comics were available in digital form.
While physical sales were a mixed bag, digital seemed to be at the top of the mind of many of the attendees of ECCC. Comixology's panel on Saturday was extremely well-attended, and there were many great questions asked about digital comics and how comics could face their digital future. CEO David Steinberger answered about two dozen questions from attendees and talked with great passion about how the future of comics in digital form was going to be just fine for users, creators and comic stores. Steinberger talked quite a bit about how digital comics were actually helping to push sales on physical comics, talking about how many people would buy a digital copy of The Walking Dead and then return to their LCS or to Barnes & Noble to buy a hard copy of the next volume.
Of course, it's impossible to know how the digital world will affect comic conventions in the future and if the idea of being in the presence of creators will still bring out fans. I can tell you definitively, though, that ECCC was all about comics, not digital or video games or TV, and that con organizer Jim Demonokas stated that attendance exceeded his wildest expectations.
It was a real thrill to meet the great Don Rosa, who was completely gracious
I had a great time at ECCC this year; though I didn't see many of the issues that Laura and Zack mentioned, I know from reports that there were many problems with panels and crowding. That's terrible and the organizers should work to improve those problems next year. But I had a totally great time seeing old friends, meeting new friends, and once again having my faith in this crazy industry restored once again. If comics are dying, ECCC '12 was a fantastic wake.