Rocket Bomber - field reports

The Local

filed under , 6 March 2011, 18:49 by

I previously (as in, just this past January) lived in the “suburbs”, actually one of the ring cities just off the Perimeter (I-285 in Atlanta) about 12 miles or so from where I work. I took transit, which ate up about 50 minutes to an hour each way — sometimes more when you’re stuck waiting on a train or bus. Back when I drove to work on a regular basis, the same commute took about a half hour — sometimes more when stuck in traffic (with no real alternate routes) or maybe a little less if I took the toll highway and paid 50 cents. Of course, most mornings during rush hour you could count on paying the 50 cents and getting stuck in traffic.

But Sandy Springs (the incorporated city that immediately borders Atlanta on the north) was convenient: a mall five minutes away, decent connections to transit [including a direct rail line to the airport], shopping, restaurants, easy interstate highway access and everything most folks could think of: even the hospitals were close by. Seems like everything was just 5 minutes away, a short drive, maybe a little traffic…

[“5 minutes away” quickly becomes 20, with traffic, but most folks don’t think of it that way]

But making the decision to *not* drive not only made the suburbs less convenient, you start to get odd looks from people, and you notice how few roads have sidewalks, and when the transit authority decides to cut service because local governments are too short-sighted to invest in quality-of-life infrastructure, well…

So for the past few months I had been looking for a decent neighborhood to move to, where I could walk to all the necessities and grab a bus (or bike) for longer trips to department stores or a shopping mall. (I shop quite a bit online, and I own too much stuff anyway, so there isn’t much I need a store for.)

Fortunately for me, I work for a bookstore, and the real estate department did a very good job picking a neighborhood already.

[link to Google Maps]


View The Local in a larger map

Approximate distance (door-to-door)

Grocery store (1): .3mi, 480m, 10min (Trader Joe’s)
Grocery store (2): .65mi, 1080m, 20min (Kroger)
Grocery store (3): .7mi, 1170m, 20min (Publix)
Closest 24hr. convenience store that sells beer: .25mi, 390m, 5min

Local Library: .35mi, 570m, 12min
Local Comic Shop: .66mi, 1080m, 20min (Oxford Comics)
The Local: .31mi, 500m, 10min (Fado Atlanta, an Irish Pub)
Post Office: .33mi, 540m, 10min
Bike Shop: .95mi, 1520m, 30min (Peachtree Bikes)

Nearest Rail Station: .95mi, 1550m, 30min
Nearest bus stop: .3mi, 490m, 10min.
Nearest bus stop, alternate route: .3mi, 500m, 10min.

One bus goes up to the Lenox & Phipps shopping malls (or south to Downtown) while the other goes to the Lindbergh shopping center (with a Marta rail station, and a Home Depot among other retailers) or north up to yet another rail station and the Perimeter Mall. Not bad for transit options.

Work: .7 miles, 1140 metres, 20 minutes

and of course, the nearest book store is where I work.

##

This isn’t free: I went from a situation where I lived with roommates in an apartment in the suburbs, to an in-town location (in a nice neighborhood!) and on top of that, a one bedroom apt. where I have to pay rent and all utilities myself.

Ready for this? About $280 more a month.

I was spending $68 a month for a transit pass; before that I was spending about $60 a month on gas (and more for car insurance) — so I save a bit there but the rent goes up.

But I think the real differential is that I moved out on my own, no roommates. I could have moved 5 years ago, even — this apartment complex is older than that by a decade or two — so it wasn’t the money that pushed me out into the suburbs.

When I went to Georgia Tech, of course I lived in town: GT is an urban campus. Knocking around the first few years after GT I moved way out (35 miles) and also moved back in with my parents for a year, but only now does it occur to me that I’ve been slowly circling around intown living for years: moving closer to the perimeter, moving closer to transit, and finally: moving to within walking distance of where I work.

We all make decisions. But what we can “afford” is a consideration that goes way past money:

What is your time worth? How much does traffic (& stress from traffic) actually cost? Do you need a back garden, or a yard, or multiple acres of wooded landscape out you back bedroom window? Do you need a car, or is it just a matter of getting your driver’s license at 16 (or 18) and, well, the first thing is to get a car, and…

…and?

[yeah, I know, it’s a really big question.]

We can’t all live in tight, well-designed urban spaces. We can’t all live like the Dutch, or the Japanese — or in liveable, vibrant cities like Paris, London, New York, San Francisco, Berlin, etc, etc, etc. You can even argue that we shouldn’t — but I feel we should. And if I can find a walkable, pleasant neighborhood with sushi bars and pubs and a library and comic shop and major chain bookstore in Atlanta (cited alongside cities like Houston and LA as poster-children of suburban and exurban sprawl) then I think many of us could.

I don’t have kids. I’m single, so I don’t have to balance the needs of a spouse or partner and the demands of their job and their priorities. I can be selfish. I can accept an older building without every latest amenity, and 20 year old kitchen cabinets and a closet of a bathroom and cracks showing even under a fresh coat of paint. I can compromise on these little things to live in a great neighborhood; others will compromise on the neighborhood in order to live in a spacious brand-new house. Neither of us is wrong.

Living “in the city” isn’t like TV dreams of New York or cinematic Paris: There’s nothing all that fancy about my new neighborhood. In many ways it resembles the town square of a much smaller city: local shopping, a few major chains, and the restaurants are nice enough but aren’t 4-star by any means. But I have a library, and a bookstore and a comic shop all within an easy 20 minute walk.

And I’m going to be happy here, in a way I wasn’t for years, in a way I haven’t been since college. If I had kids and that set of considerations, of course I’d look at it differently. But for now: I’m home



PR Wonks Note: I believe in "value added" link-blogging.

filed under , 18 January 2011, 23:36 by

Either I grossly underestimate the actual reach of this blog, or PR types think the monthly-or-so linkback that makes the rounds of the other manga/comics blogs makes me ‘notable’ in the field or whatever – but I get way too many press releases in my email inbox from some of the oddest tangentially-related companies.

…Due in no small part to all my articles and thinkpieces with “e-book” and “iPad” prominently mentioned in them, methinks, that and my email address isn’t all that hard to find (or figure out).

I usually don’t post anything related to these PR blasts (or when I do, I’m rude, snarky, and a little condescending) but here’s one submission over-the-transom that I am going to mention, for all the wrong reasons.

As I’m sure you’ve seen elsewhere (100,000+ hits on Google for “Gantz Live Action January 20”) the Gantz Live Action movie gets a US premiere on [wait for it] January 20th

And for many of us, that’s either all we needed to know [as we now begin feverishly digging to find out who what when why where etc.], or perhaps you shrug it off because your blog is already 2 months behind, you’re committed to writing that evening (a rare day off!) and you figure it’s just a NY/LA/that-theatre-just-down-the-street-from-Viz-HQ-in-San-Fran kind of debut.

Oh no. Let me educate you:

Fathom Events http://www.fathomevents.com/ is doing so much more and the Gantz thing is just the latest, and what they happen to be doing on a random Thursday in January.

##

Fathom first came to my attention because they simulcast The New York Metropolitan Opera live in HD, with subtitles, on movie screens across the country. – this year is the fifth season. It’s typically a Saturday matinee (with a Wednesday evening encore) so it’s fairly easy to work into one’s schedule and it’s the Fucking Met. I know the center of the Venn diagram for opera-loving, beer-drinking manga bloggers is perhaps restricted to the population of my desk chair, but nothing beats a Saturday afternoon of Wagnerian Excess with a pitcher or three of the local microbrew — speaking of, I think I know what I’m doing on May 14th — and yes, some movie theatres serve beer; you pay through the nose, but hell, it’s just a couple dollars more than what they charge for Coke, and it’s worth it.

Fathom has also done simulcasts of A Prairie Home Companion, rock concerts [past events include a HeavyMetalFest and Clapton’s Crossroads] – and other specials:

Now, I know the center of the Venn diagram for beer-drinking, manga-blogging, Marching Band Geeks is perhaps limited to the population of my desk chair, but Fathom has simulcast DCI’s Big & Loud for several years now, and it rocks.

##

So, anyway, I already knew about Fathom Events even before I got the Gantz press release. The thing about the Gantz premiere that you may not know (and that may have gotten lost in the “oh, hey, Gantz” links posted) is that it’s showing in a hell of a lot more theatres than you thought and that tickets can still be had.

Thank you, and good night. And if you live in Atlanta and happen to come to the Buckhead Fork & Screen between Noon and 4 on Saturday, 14 May, the drunk bastard in the back singing along off-key to Bryn Terfel’s Wotan isn’t me – it’s some other dashing baritone manga blogger who likes beer and opera.



Business Analysis: Hey, you know what? We Sell Books.

filed under , 21 July 2010, 23:12 by

Worrying Point One: Amazon, and Kindles.

Amazon wants to imply they’ve tripled the number of Kindles sold — or, failing that, that they’ve tripled the monthly sales of Kindles. Or something.

But actually: No. The exact wording used in the press release is that “the growth rate of Kindle device unit sales has tripled since we lowered the price”.

They got that ‘triple’ in there, which was the important propaganda bit. —Say the month-on-month sales trends on Kindle was +2%, and now it’s +6% —that’s ‘triple’, as defined. Sales growth is good, and 6% is certainly better than 2%, but we’re only talking about one month of sales, and triple growth in the rate of sales is not triple sales — but the Agitprop arm of Amazon would like you to Get Excited! and not notice that the difference between selling 106 units instead of a predicted 102 units doesn’t amount to anything, really. And any high school student taking AP Microeconomics could run the supply/demand curves that would show that lowering the price increases sales. This “news” is like informing us the Normans invaded southern England in 1066.

The worrysome bit (to a bookseller, and I’m a bookseller) is that Amazon sells Kindles, and they sell some number of Kindles each month, and an even greater number of e-books each month, and week, and day.

Ah, yes. But whom do they sell those books to?

Worrying Point Two: E-Books, vs Books, vs Readers (that is to say, people who read).

There’s a long list of statistics about the book industry at ParaPublishing.com [cross-posted to http://bookstatistics.com/] and yes, it’s a wall-o-text-with-numbers-in-it so of course your eyes are going to glaze over. Fortunately, Robyn Jackson has done at least one pass through the data, to find some interesting trivia, and even a cursory search at the ParaPublishing site pulls up other statistics:

  • In 2002: 89.9 million adults in the U.S. did not read a book. (that’s about a third)
  • In 2001: 56.5% of households purchased at least one book (the flip side is of course that 43.5% of households—that’s about 130 million Americans—purchased *no* books)
  • Customers 55 and older account for more than one-third of all books bought.
  • Only 32% of the U.S. population has ever been in a bookstore.
  • In 2008: More Books were sold on the internet than any other product, and the number is increasing. “Polling company Nielsen Online surveyed 26,312 people in 48 countries. 41% of internet users had bought books online. 58% of those online in Korea had purchased books online. In the U.S., 57.5-million had purchased books online.” [source]

Here’s my theory:

If the “average” person reads 12 books a year, while about half don’t read any, well: there is a small fraction reading an awful lot of books.

There is a core contingent of readers, like myself and most likely also including you, who don’t just read but read a hell of a lot of books. Not 1, not 10, but dozens and perhaps encroaching on hundreds yearly. We don’t just read books, we love books: and review them, and blog about them, and have homes that are quickly filling with them.

We’re the target market for e-books.

The rest of the beer-swilling, network-TV watching public who read at most one book a year (in 2008, according to one source more than half—55%—of Americans didn’t read any books at all) isn’t buying a Kindle or Nook because hell, they don’t buy books period.

While Jane Six-Pack and her husband skip books in favor of Us and People Magazines and tabloid & reality TV, book lovers are reading — and buying books, to the tune of a billion dollars monthly.

This is the market that Amazon hoped to catch: the 41% of internet users, 45% of the general population, 56.5% of households and as many other statistics you’d care to cite in this instance. Not the general population (who don’t read books) and not even techies & early adopters (who buy gadgets just because) or bargain hunters (who buy books for $3 or less but most certainly balk at even a $100 e-reader that, natch, forces you to spend additional money on the e-books.)

Kindle, and other e-book readers, are not a product for the masses. They’re for readers [as in, readers of books; that is to say people who read books] and when companies like Amazon try to pitch the appliances as a device for everyone they’re doing their customers a disservice. But Amazon desperately wants the Kindle to equate to books in the mind of the reading [and non-reading] public, and has been losing money for years attempting to leverage their online-bookstore-business into an e-bookstore-business — with some success, but also with a large percentage of customers who could give a rat’s ass about e, and nothing close to an air-tight lock on the market segment: in less than a year, B&N has managed to capture 20% of the ebook market.

Surprise, Surprise: hardcore readers, the ones most likely to buy e-books, happen to like booksellers with physical bookstores more. Because they like books. Because they’ve liked books for years [or decades] and while Amazon can compete on price (as can Costco and Sam’s Club, for that matter) there is still something to be said for atmosphere, thousands of books in stock, community goodwill, and a bookstore.

I’m not worried about Amazon.
[I’m actually more concerned about my employer, Big Box Books, neglecting their most important assets: the brick-and-mortar storefronts.]

Point Three: Scale. Millions. [*Pfssh.*] Millions are nothing.

Amazon proudly points out that (as an online retailer) their sales of instant, downloadable books to an online shopping public has exceeded the sales of one type of physical book which must be shipped from a warehouse to the consumer in a process that takes days, and incidentally, also costs more.

So. Um. Wait? Cheaper, instant books online outsell more expensive books with a delivery delay? Well, duh.

I think the news here is that e-books only outsell hardcovers [on Amazon] while paperbacks as a class are obviously still doing quite well, else Amazon would crow about ebooks as their number one format.

That is to say: cheap physical books still outsell cheap e-books when compared to the same book in a premium format. Or, to rephrase: cheap is cheap and e- is less important than price to most consumers.

The most recent numbers I can find [the most recent numbers in which I place faith & trust] are from publishers.org and the headline from a week ago, 14 July: “Publishers’ May Book Sales Increase 9.8%; Year To-Date Sales Increase by 11.6% – Year-To-Date Trade E-Book Sales Comprise 8.48% of Total Trade Market“ [emphasis mine].

So, AAP numbers:

Links to the press releases:
January 2010
February 2010
March 2010
April 2010
May 2010

& here are the percentage gains in ebook sales, year over year [2009 vs 2010]:

Jan 261.2%
Feb 339.3%
Mar 184.8%
Apr 127.4%
May 207.4%

Well, there’s the nail in my job-security-coffin: ebooks are taking over. Might as well retire.

Yeah. the thing is: if you sell one, and next year you sell 3, that’s a 200% increase. It’s not the percentage gain, but the scale with which you measure sales. here are the actual dollar figures from that same source

Jan $31.9 million
Feb $28.9 million
Mar $28.5 million
Apr $27.4 million
May $23.9 million

Millions are millions, and percentage gains year-to-year are fine and all, but let’s not lose sight of the larger market: Here’s the numbers from the Census Bureau, http://www.census.gov/retail/ dating back to 1992, in a handy chart

[the red line on the graph is the One Billion Dollar Sales Mark — since 2000, a mark the bookstores have managed to meet or exceed 90% of the time. One Billion Dollars each month.]

There are five points I’d like to bring to your attention: 1. Since Jan. of 1992 (the earliest date for which the Census Bureau tracked sales) the bookstore market has cleared at least a half billion dollars each and every month. 2. that’s Billion with a capital ‘B’. 3. Since Jan. of 2009 the bookstore market has cleared a billion in sales (more or less; see graph above) each and every month 4. that’s Billion with a capital ‘B’.

5. the much vaunted e-book sales are still only millions (less than 40 millions, and for the last month reported, less than 30 millions each month) and that’s only 3-4% of the total book sales as reported by Amazon itself, The Association of American Publishers, & the US Census Bureau.

We’re wasting ink, bits, and skull-sweat on 4% of the market. Can you [dare to dream] imagine if a major bookseller announced it was going to spend $100 Million Dollars on a graphic novel initiative? (including kids books: comics, picture books, illustrated texts and Graphic Novels are at least 5% of the book market)

##

And any number of online pundits are claiming e-books will be fully half the market in a year or two. Um. OK?

From 30 Million to a Half Billion in two years? The book market is a hell of a lot bigger than you think, methinks. [And books are not CDs; books cannot be broken down into ‘tracks’ and the time investment in a book isn’t comparable to the max-70-min time investment in a CD — so your arguments equating digital sales of books to the meltdown in the music industry are incorrect on their face]

Digital books are handy, no doubt. But is their utility that much greater than an actual book?

For works that are already marginal, that wouldn’t have seen a print edition under current publishing regimes, well: the e-book is a gateway, and an excellent opportunity.

But for everything else, for the ‘books’ we’ve seen from major publishers for the past 40 years, is e- really better? Hm. Cheaper, maybe, and more convenient in some applications; but better? That remains to be seen.

##

Hey, you know what we do at a bookstore? We sell books.

Right now, I don’t care what the format is — hardcover, paperback; in stock today or ship-to-home from the warehouse: Every day I sell books, and at least half are books we don’t have in the store [yet]. We extend our expertise to help you buy books based on the barest fragments of half-remembered details. We fill in blanks. We help shape searches.

Say the dominant format 5 years from now is e-books.

Everyone who comes into the store today isn’t suddenly going to become smarter or savvier or remember more details in 5 years just because all books are e- — In fact, they’ll likely remember less. And who will be able to help?

Booksellers.

Web sites and searches only take you so far, and to date there is no replacement for expertise. As the world becomes more complex, we’ll rely on experienced guides that much more.

I don’t know if my current employer recognises this fact, but I’m certainly cognizant of it and should be able to make money on it no matter what the future retail environment looks like.

##



Marvel 70th: In Atlanta

filed under , 11 August 2009, 23:43 by

Soon, this space will be full of geeks:

See?

[That kid in the green shirt not only has a better camera, he was in a better spot to take pictures — I hope he also has a blog or a flickr account.]

From left, that’s Not Hugh Jackman [foreground], Oxford Comics owner Mike Van Houten, who served as MC and moderator for the evening, writer Daniel Way (Deadpool, Wolverine Origins, and others) and writer Paul Jenkins (Wolverine: Origin, Sentry, and others) — unfortunately artist Mark Bagley, who was also to appear tonight, could not attend due to a family emergency. I hope it’s nothing serious, Mark.

And one for the road, right after the last of the customers said ‘thank you so much’ and went home. From left, that’s the store’s Community Relations Director Wil Ennis, Dan, and Paul. Thanks guys.



AWA Update II

filed under , 19 September 2008, 19:54 by

Gia of A Geek By Any Other Name [giapet.net] was live-blogging so I don’t have to.

links:
Funimation Presentation
Bandai Presentation

I’ll follow up with some of the items she glossed over from the Funimation panel (the “usual industry stuff” — likely combined with whatever nuggets I encounter at the Snapshot of the Industry panel in 10 minutes) and might even surf over to the respective web sites to post a few links (hopefully each co. has a single new release page, since I don’t feel like typing that much for what is basically an ad — an unpaid advertisement at that)

Also seen & heard:

- Attended Jake Tarbox’s panel on “Manga as High Art” — part of an ever-developing presentation that is going to make for one heck of a pseudo-academic commentary/polemic by the time he is done tweaking it and actually writes it up. (if he writes it up.) I saw him give the same panel at Dragon*Con — I’d post a summary but I’d hate to steal his thunder. Part II (his “how to read manga” panel) is Sunday so I’ll ask him if he’s posting, where he’s posting, and how handily I can link to it; I’m not sure if he’s online at all, though. And even so, I won’t steal his stuff unless he tells me I can. At worst I’ll say no more about it except to highly recommend his panel if you happen to catch his name in a future con program, at best maybe I’ll pretend to be a journalist long enough to conduct an interview. No promises, though, as despite (because of?) my print history at the old college rag I’m just *not very good* at that sort of thing.

(posting my own opinions, loudly? That I seem to have a real knack for.)

- Mr. Fernandez was kind enough to sign my Speed Racer box — Actually the tin that shipped with the special edition of disc 3 which surprisingly he hadn’t seen before. I hope the Sharpie stays on the metal. (Peter expressed the same concern; he signed it anyway. A living piece of American anime history, and a gentleman always; it was an honor to shake his hand.) I hate to cover it with clear packing tape (which I might do to prevent smudges) but since this is in fact the case I use to hold all 5 DVDs I’m thinking I need to do something or forever be extra-super-careful with it. Spray fixative is only for pencils and graphite, right?

Will think of something. And an aside: isn’t it amazing how casually we use the first names of people we don’t really know, just because they’re famous.

- The line for Speed Racer’s autograph was amazingly short (he was in the movie too, guys, in a cameo as the race announcer for the first race) so I was able to catch the last half hour of the Steampunk Cosplay panel. If you’re really interested then a GIS search will give you a feel for the panel — which was largely just a slide show of many many costume examples — though you’d be missing the expert commentary from the panelists about fabrics and finding steampunk ‘junk’ and inspiration, and goats (had to be there, sorry).

- Imagine a room full of Gundam otaku, watching Gundam trailers (in chronological order) and commenting on which one is their favourite — and… we’re done. The factual stuff (minus the downloaded video) is on wikipedia actually—there is a whole Gundam Wiki in fact—but then you’d miss out on the quintet of TruFans sitting right behind you with their own running commentary to go along side, over, and irrespective of what the actual panelists were saying.

Still… Giant Robots. Love Giant Robots. ♥

- Funimation and Bandai, op cit.

Jocks is better than the hotel bar but $7.75 for a Guinness? Robbery. Tasty, delicious robbery, mitigated only slightly by the fact that the mugs are in fact just a shade larger than an imperial pint (21 oz.). Still feel like I’m getting ‘mugged’ [har har]

One more panel, maybe one more post before midnight, but it’s home again — then back noonish tomorrow.



Anime Weekend Atlanta: quick intro, sketchy schedule, blogging all weekend

filed under , 19 September 2008, 13:02 by

How to Spot Matt (Caecus mattias v. cerevisiae) in the Wild

Caecus mattias, more commonly known as the Eastern Common Pub Crawler, is a shy, retiring beast that prefers to avoid direct sunlight, only emerging to forage in the twilight hours or after dark. Rarely spotted in the open, the best places to look for C. mattias is under rocks, amidst leaf litter on the floor of deciduous forests, and in confortable pubs and sports bars that have draught Guinness and free wi-fi

I’ll be attending Anime Weekend Atlanta, geeking out for the second time in less than a month. My wallet is still bruised and broken from Dragon*Con, but AWA has the distinct advantage of being my local con; extremely local as I can be back home in 15 minutes — and that’s 15 min. only if the traffic is bad and I catch nothing but red lights.

Hot meals at home and my own beer fridge (at the end of the day: don’t drink and drive, kids) do a lot to keep down expenses and preserve sanity. Still — 15 minutes is 15 minutes and I’m planning to be ‘on-site’ as much as possible.

If you’re looking for me (outside of panels and the like) then your best bet is to go to the RocketBomber Press Office (Jock’s and Jill’s) and look for the guy at the bar typing on a laptop while nursing a 20oz. Guinness. My favorite place to grab breakfast (coffee) before the con is the cafe at the local Barnes & Noble, a leisurely 20 min walk from the venue and about 5 minutes by car. Both Jocks and B&N have wifi; Jocks is free.

I’m looking at the following panels & presentations, but I’ll warn you that I’m taking a casual attitude for the most part, may change my mind at any time, and might decide to just spend 5 or 6 hours at Jocks at some point if the crowds get too onerous (est. 11,000 people will be at the event)

Friday:
2pm Manga as High Art
3pm Get Peter Fernandez to sign my Speed Racer DVDs
~3pm attend a Steampunk cosplay panel if there is time after
4pm Gundam Primer
5pm either Funimation or Veterans of Anime Fandom. Leaning toward the history lesson instead of a corporate power point presentation.
6pm Bandai Panel
7pm —blogging, refueling
8pm Snapshot of the Industry
9pm —home, blogging, charts

I’ll be working on the charts all weekend, in fact, as I find the time. (I have to — it takes a surprising amount of time just to enter all the data.) The offshoot of that is that if you were one of my 6 regular readers, and if you were at AWA, and if you cared (an awful lot of conditionals) then you have an excellent chance of watching me do this thing Live. (send me an email and I can even schedule a time for you)

Saturday:
8am * something special, I hope. I can’t tell (precisely) from the listing in the program but from what *is* listed I have a suspicion that something very cool is showing in the main viewing room.
10am Otaku USA
11am How to Tell a Story in Comics
12pm Anime Podcast Roundtable
1pm —blogging, refueling
2pm Writing about Anime
3pm 20 Years of Dark Horse Manga
4pm Publishing Comics: Print and Web
Saturday evening is wide open, not sure what I’ll do yet.

Sunday:
11am Tim’s Anime Treasure Chest
12pm video room: Toward the Terra
1pm Is Anime Over? panel
2pm How to Read Manga

…and on Sunday afternoon I should have the weekly chart up on RocketBomber. Write-ups for individual panels will be forthcoming as I find the time.

If you’re at AWA (and if you are, why are you wasting time here?) give me a shout in the comments and we’ll meet up. I’d love to meet my readers. …assuming people read this thing and all my web traffic isn’t from search engine spiders. ;P



Five conversations about Dragon Con, while at Dragon Con

filed under , 1 September 2007, 23:55 by

[recycling]
edit Friday, 29 August 2014:

I’m adding this to the archives here at Rocket Bomber, and post-dating it to 1 September 2007 as that is in fact the actual date of the Saturday I was writing about below. It was originally written for and posted to a different site (now defunct) called ComicSnob. [r.i.p. comicsnob; it wasn’t my site – though I only started writing RocketBomber in 2008 after it went under so thank you kinda?]

This isn’t the first fake archive I’ve added to the site and might not be the last (it’s all stuff I wrote and own, so I have no shame and no doubts on the matter). I just want the articles in places and on webhosts I control.

And thank you for reading.
[/recycling]

Dragon*Con 2007 — Five Conversations about Dragon Con (while at Dragon Con)

Field Report: Dragon Con (Saturday Only)

Dragon Con
31 August to 3 September 2007
Downtown Atlanta at the Hilton, Hyatt, and Marriott hotels
4 day pass: $85 at the door
Saturday only: $40 (other passes of varying duration also available)

I was sitting at the Parasol Bar at the Hyatt early Saturday afternoon when a fellow con-goer mentioned something in passing: a valid complaint, but one that seemed (to me) to be that of a squirrel suddenly noticing that his favorite tree was in fact part of a larger forest. To Wit:

“Everything is so crowded. They should split things up by interest.”

This caught my ear.

I had just spent two plus hours in line, and after the ordeal of obtaining a day pass, I’d stopped at the first hotel bar I could find and was rather studiously trying to pound back pints of Guinness (to the point where my usual fear of discomfort in crowds would fade into a comfortable background of buzzed) but even so the off-hand comment cut through both my usual indifference and my building shield and I felt obligated to respond.

“What, like 5 or 6 mini-cons, all at once?” I said.

Despite having brought up the topic, the sudden appearance of even a half-baked solution seemed to boggle my ersatz friend. He was just venting, and having me chime in on what I suppose what just the usual bitching about the con seemed to confuse him. Still and all, after I repeated myself, and then quoted what he said just seconds ago and repeated myself again, he thought about it, and said,

“Well, yeah. I mean, so much is going on, it’d be so much easier if everything was all in one place…”

From my point of view, he was kind of missing the point — but then again, he had other things going on. While I was trying to self-medicate and steel myself for the rest of a long long day, this fellow apparently had been on-site since the night before, and not only was there with friends but was also trying to pick up the young lady to my left. No wonder my comment, neh, my presence was throwing him off his game. After he got her numbers (and an appointment with her for a yet another drink later) he shot me a half-smile and a nod, and moved on while I ordered my third beer.

##

The strength of Dragon Con is not in its focus, but in its breadth. And, despite what one random guy at the bar was talking about, they actually do cater to folks with a focused interest (I’m guessing he didn’t read the program). Dragon Con runs several programming “tracks” and if all you’re interested in is, say, Dr. Who — then you’d go to the Cairo meeting room on the International level at the Hyatt and you hang out for a couple of days. You may have to sit through the occasion panel on Torchwood but it is all Brit-sci-fi, all the time.

San Diego (which is at least nominally about comics and as such supposedly isn’t a “general purpose” con but which might be cited as the sort of spectacle Dragon Con aspires to be) attracts 100K+ people (125,000, by some reckoning). Yeah, that’s impressive — but raw numbers doesn’t account for the side-show-like nature of the con, or the fact that despite the name it isn’t really about comics these days. With the proximity to Hollywood, SDCC has become something more like a film festival, ala Cannes or Venice or Sundance — that is to say, the focus is on the industry, not the fans.

(I am of course speaking out of my ass, since I’ve never been to San Diego.)

Wizard World Chicago (or should that be Rosemont?) also draws more than twice as many folks as Dragon Con (68,000 this year) — Dragon Con only draws 30,000 or so people (…only 30K. pause for a moment and consider) — but honestly, no one is in Atlanta for the glitz and glamour. While a few Hollywood stars do show up for Dragon Con, there is no glitz and glamour past what the guests bring in with them. What we do have, however, are a hell of a lot of geeks — wall-to-wall, three-deep, in multiple flavours, anime without subtitles, shown on obscure cable channels if at all, and even if you’ve never seen or even heard of it — we’ve geeks here who are geeking over it all the same. The success of the con is in the quality of the fan base. No one brings in an expensive kiosk display and a PR campaign telling you to like something,

We either like it or we don’t.
Either the fans make it happen or it goes begging.

##

Following my initial tour of the overall venue and my first assault on the dealers’ and the exhibition hall, I settled into the Casablanca Bar at the Hilton for another beer or three and a needed break.

Dragon Con takes up three downtown hotels — there is the Hyatt, which has been home to D*C for at least 10 years now, along with the neighboring Marriot Marquis and the Hilton & Towers, which due to the growth of Dragon Con in recent years have logically been drawn into the event. I understand that 2007 is the first year that the Hilton is not just an overflow hotel but a primary venue for the con.

While at the lobby bar of the Hilton I had another conversation, this time with a fanboy worried about his budget,

“It’s only the second day and I’ve already bought too much.”

It was an unsolicited opinion, out of the blue from a guy no one was talking to, (perhaps he was talking to himself, as some geeks are wont considering the usual lack of other company) but I’d had a few so I took the bait and replied,

“What, they had a special on corsets?”

Granted, I was being sarcastic. That, and actually there was something like a half-dozen (well, OK, two) dealers who, in fact, specialized in corsets. But my new friend had spent his wad on original animation cels, and I could respect that.

If one were to consider the dealers and exhibitors at Dragon Con, then there is a gap — yes, this is a national con with opportunities for some of the larger dealers, but it is also still a regional event very much open to smaller shops willing to make the time-and-travel commitment. I doubt a local comic shop like, for example Titan Comics and Games, could even manage to secure a booth at SDCC, but there they were at Dragon Con, holding down a whole wall in the basement of the Hilton and challenging hordes of Scifi Channel and Cartoon Network fans to browse the long boxes and see the special issues they chose to put on display.

My new “friend” at the bar was a comic guy buying animation cels. I suppose he should be commended. It seems to me that the dealers getting the most browsers were those handling cutlery (swords and the like). –Though, if pressed I’d have to say the ones making the most money were not those selling sharp pointed objects, but rather the folks selling clothes, particularly leather — though the t-shirt vendors also did reasonable business.

Between the Utilikilts booth and a number of others, I’d say that clothes (not costumes, necessarily, but something like everyday wear) were the real success stories of the con. The intersection of desire, demand, and availability heavily favored all the clothiers — they were smack dab in the middle of a very sympathetic audience, after all, and their goods were about as far removed from your typical Wal-Mart fare as one can get. I saw a long jacket I might describe as a “browncoat” and was sorely tempted myself.

##

Completely outside of whichever genre drew you out from under your metaphoric or literal rock to join the mayhem, it seems to me like there are two kinds of fans out there: the ones who are booking hotel rooms, preregister months in advance, spend the whole weekend at the con, and possibly spend quite a few hours outside of the hotel to either plan their whole con weekend –or perhaps, to work on the killer costume, or chat for hours online with friends on when and where they’re going to meetup…

And then there are the folk who just show up for the day. (myself included) Part of our con is The Line.

Knowing the traffic and parking situation downtown (incomprehensible, difficult and expensive) I skipped the long drive and instead pulled into a park-and-ride and took transit to the hotels, knowing that the venue is just a block or so from the Peachtree Center Marta station. You could say my con experience began when I got on a train headed inbound at 9am — Working my way from the station to the venue only took a half-hour. And then began The Wait in The Line.

I was a blogger just there for the day. She was a long time attendee of Dragon Con, and just happened to be in the same line. (disclaimer: there is no Tom & Meg dynamic here — I’m not that slick) While waiting for Dragon Con staffers to work their way through the Saturday Admissions line, we had an opportunity to talk.

We were in line and part of the other Dragon Con Parade. While storm troopers marched down Peachtree Street, we waited in a hotel ballroom for the opportunity to pay $40 just for a one day pass. Some veterans of the process were philosophical, even good natured about it all, vowing once again to either wake up earlier or just pre-register for the whole weekend. Many (particularly the kids) were simply excited to be there. The pack I was in only had to wait for 20 minutes outside, and that in the cool of the morning, so perhaps we were fortunate.

…We’d been waiting for at least an hour. Someone started passing around the registration forms. She said: “Hey, look, you can also pay now for next year; it’s only $45, I think I’ll pre-register.” I only nodded.

Heck, it had been 18 years since my last Dragon Con. I can’t be enthusiastic about next year when I haven’t even seen anything of this year’s con, and when my own experience is so far out of date — but I’ll agree with an attractive woman nine times out of ten.

Even though there was a long line we were inside and in the air conditioning. It was only a couple of hours before I got my badge.

I should have asked her for her name.

##

Late on Saturday night, I was sitting by myself at the High Velocity bar at the Marriott and considering the overall Dragon Con experience. The guy sitting next to me had obviously had too much to drink, and could only say how “cool” the whole weekend was. I didn’t care enough to get more details from him. I can in fact say from my own experience that D*C is pretty damn cool, even if (to the general public) it’s all just a geek fest.

Someone else attempted to talk to me at the bar, complaining about costumes and characters he was unfamiliar with. I must have looked like a sympathetic listener, considering I was dressed in my usual work clothes (khakis and a collared shirt) but honestly, I wasn’t sure how to respond. Do I commiserate as a fellow middle-aged geek surrounded by the new generation of fans, do I admit to not only knowing the character and series in question but also owning it in at least two formats, or do I make fun of my fellow otaku? I took a conservative path, dodging him with a series of non-committal responses while simultaneously paying my tab and beginning the extraction process, but given the late hour I was tempted to mouth off to the guy and point out that Trek dates to ‘66, Lucas to ‘77, and there have in fact been a few other things released in the interim.

It’s likely best that I let it be. Though maybe I should have bought the poor shlub a beer or something; if he can’t even deal with fan reality I hate to think how he fares in the real world.

##

At Dragon Con there are four main things to do, and three places to do them:

The Hyatt ballrooms had the ‘headline’ events and the art show
the Marriott played host to the autographing celebs
and the Hilton hosted the exhibitors and dealers trying to sell you stuff.

There were also the Gamers at the Marriott, and while panels were concentrated in the Hyatt they were scattered all over, and people watching was the primary attraction everywhere.

But this is my take on it. Depending on your interest, your version of Dragon Con is going to be very much different. –art, concerts, the masquerade, program tracks, whatever.

While the 3 buildings are adjacent, the con does suffer from not having everything under one roof. Each hotel is a maze by itself, but added to the confusing overall layout is the fact that the surrounding streets slope — so you are always going up or down floors to find the next ‘ground level’ entrance when translocating from one hotel to the next, to find your next event. On top of the usual mess the Marriott is renovating about half of their lobby so several common routes were inaccessible and folks were being routed (with employee help) to out-of-the-way stairwells when working their way toward the exhibitors and dealers next door.

The key would be planning, obviously. While I was trying to take it all in at once (and in a single afternoon) if you were doing the whole Dragon-Con-thing over several days, and if you were sticking with a single theme, you’d be able to spend a lot of your time in a single meeting room (or adjecent rooms) and your weekend will proceed at a much more leisurely pace. You can geek for two days, wait until Sunday to get your autographs, and then cruise the dealers on Monday and pick up your books, leather corset, swords, dice, and what-have-you — maybe even on sale.

I had actually planned to spend most of the afternoon in a meeting room, but none of the offered panels (in any of the tracks) really fit my interests — and I hate to say it, the video room has lost a lot of its draw in a world where you can download fansubs and watch them at home.

One very nice thing about the confusing layout and the hotel (as opposed to convention center) venue is that numerous small corners in all three hotels are home to lounges of one sort or another, and the nearby Peachtree Center Mall (glorified food court) also has a very nice pub called Gibney’s, just down a set of steps and a world away, where the beers are two bucks cheaper than the hotel bar and (at least at 5pm) the klingons, stormtroopers, and new goth army aren’t. (I’m typing this at Gibney’s now.)

During my two blessed peaceful hours at Gibney’s, going over notes and typing up what I could, I ran into a “civilian” who was interested (even enthusiastic) about Dragon Con but wasn’t there to attend the event.”Do they do this every year?” he asked.

I had to laugh. And I explained my own history with the event, how I was exposed at an impressionable age to all-things-geek at the second (’88) Dragon Con, and just a bit about how all that has compounded since over the ensuing 19 years. We talked about the blog, and the hobby, and the job, and being a fan in general. The best conversation I had that day about Dragon Con was with a guy who wasn’t even attending. Odd that.

##

One of the draws of Dragon Con is that they do everything — if you’re a fan, they’ve got your fandom. If you are a fan of genre fiction, then this might just be the event for you: Unlike other cons books get a special consideration at Dragon Con, where both established authors and aspirants come to participate in the writing programs. (Where else will you see Margaret Weis not only moderating panels but also manning the booth for her company in the exhibition hall? The visual media are also very well represented, from the (now nostalgic) 70s TV shows to Lost, Heroes, and BSG, with stops by every little show in between. Every since the first concert 4(?) years ago (It was GWAR, I remember that) music has also been a big part of the overall spectacle, growing to the point that concerts are now running for all three days.

We can’t forget the gamers either, from CCGs to video games to live action role playing.

OK, so maybe we’d like to forget the live action role players

D*C is a fan show. Doesn’t matter what your brand. It’s a melting pot.

I’m still not sure if Dragon Con is my kind of event. I think I prefer something smaller. But it’s a damn fine showing, and with current trends expected to continue, it’s only going to get bigger…

##

short takes

Overheard:
cell phone conversations: 1001 variations on “where are you?”
Torchwood
coffee and/or cigarette cravings, while we’re all stuck on line
many suggestions on “how they could do x better”
local restaurants
A Firefly tutorial for someone who had inexplicable never seen the show

Seen:
Pink Floyd bowling shirt (Album art for A Momentary Lapse of Reason) (WANT ONE)
T-shirts: Mooninite Remember 1/31/07, Storm Trooper Jolly Roger, various movies, various bands (incl. ac/dc, other metal, wierd al, a smattering of hip hop), Starfleet Academy, Inuyasha, Jackass, Fantastic 4, Green Lantern logo; & A pair of T-shirts labeled: “oldtype” “newtype” (cute couple; don’t know if anyone else got the joke)
corsets
a corset over a kimono
1001 variations on the slutty schoolgirl thing
related, but not 100% overlap: vaguely goth chicks
mardi gras beads (WTF?)
utilikilts

Additional Costumes:
Pirates. What, still?
A League of Their Own. Yes: Girls’ Baseball Uniforms. Not sure why.
Superheroes — Flash, Nightwing & Robins (but no Batmen), Luke Cage! (no, really !), Emma Frost, Supergirl (the non-slutty variation)
a whole group doing their interpretation of some alt version of Alice in Wonderland
Link, Mario & Luigi, Naruto, a lot I sort of recognised, a few that were really quite impressive but that I didn’t recognise
Bible Black cosplay (Just the girls’ school uniform, and why? and honestly, I really shouldn’t know)



Field Report: Scott McCloud Book Signing

filed under , 23 January 2007, 18:51 by

originally written for and posted on Comicsnob.com [Dec ’06 – May ’08]

Scott McCloud is just now clearing the first third (maybe five-twelveths, to be more precise) of his 50 State tour in support of Making Comics.

Last night, he happened to be here in Atlanta, talking and signing at the Georgia Tech College Bookstore, and I happened to be in the audience. Let me just say that Scott (I’m going to call him Scott for the rest of this field report; it’s an un-earned familiarity, but as anyone who has read his books will tell you, it seems like we know him well already) is as funny and as real in person as he appears on the page.

If you haven’t read his books (shame on you. go buy them) then you might not know what I’m talking about: in addition to his other work, Scott writes comics about comics, and inserts himself–or his avatar–into the book as narrator. It’s a good gimmick that works exceedingly well. That’s what I mean when I tell you that the actual, in-person Scott is a pretty fair facsimile of the character we know from the books.

Scott actually showed up a half hour early, and took a few minutes to talk with other early responders before checking in on his family, who were hanging out in the coffee shop. The tour is an all-McCloud Road Trip, which has to be a neat experience for the kids. Check out their Tour Blog.

We in the audience had the benefit of not one McCloud, but two. Daughter Winter spent most of the hour at the author’s table, offering her authoritative opinion on which book is better (she went with Reinventing Comics, followed by the new book, and then the first book– based strictly on art, mind you) and also asking pertinent questions like “Hey, here’s Naruto, why didn’t you show Inu Yasha as well?”, to which Pops McCloud managed to not only respond, but to show that Inu Yasha had three references to Naruto’s one. …I’m guessing that the McCloud kids (at least 50%) are manga fans.

It was a rambling, relaxed event, where Scott covered things like his tour, and his friends (Neil Gaiman. name-dropper…), and his comic cameos. He’s been in Beavis & Butthead comics, appeared as a defrosted head in Futurama comics, and has a special love for Tycho and Gabe. And Scott Kurtz. Since I was there in my capacity as a journalist, I didn’t dare mention my familiarity with Vulcan duelling conventions, or with the comic strip in question; though a number of fanboys&girls chimed in (Tech, remember?) no one came up with the name of the q-tip-blade in question. I chuckled quietly. (It’s a lirpa. Though I had to reference the internet after the fact to recall that.)

Let me see if I can summarize some of his major points from the evening–

The new book, art, & procedures: Even when he’s showing “pencils” in the new book, it’s all faked. Scott is a big fan and avid user of Cintiq Tablets and in fact the art in question was done digitally with the tablet in Photoshop. All I have to say is… damn. The guy who asked the question was equally surprised, I think he was expecting some sort of defence of analog artwork from Scott, and he got the opposite. In fact, Scott mentioned that even as far back as the 70s, he was describing something very much like the new tablets as his “perfect tool”. Back then, he thought it would be the size of a steamer trunk, so he’s as surprised as the rest of us how far technology has come. In 5 years, I bet he’ll have his Wacom tablet on a laptop.

What’s next? — Scott is going to start a graphic novel just as soon as he finishes the book tour. (that’s also something he mentions in Making Comics.) This is good news. He’s envisioning something in the 300-400 page range. That’s also good news. Perhaps not unexpectedly, a book of that scope will take him 3 or 4 years to complete. So. Heck, I’ll prepay for a copy now, but apparently it’s going to be a long while before we hear from Scott again.

Re: his style. A bright young artist (I believe she was a SCAD student) asked if Scott’s development as an artist meant that he had to hold back stylistically so that his latest book would be a match for the first two. Scott first reply was that, if anything, he was still going all out and using every tool in his arsenal just to keep up. He claims he is not a “natural” artist, the sort who draw in their sleep. For him, each book is an effort.

Re: Reinventing Comics. His second book of this series has met with, um, less than critical acclaim. I asked Scott if he felt he wrote the book 5 years, or even 10 years too soon. He split the difference: In some ways, the book was 5 years too early because the internet of 2000 was still a dial-up community, and the effect of wider bandwidth on the viewer’s experience had yet to be seen. And in other ways, he felt it was five years too late, because some of his ideas on webcomics had been knocking around his head since 1995, and were stale by the time he got them into print. His comment was “Don’t delay passion. Find some way to work on it now,” which may be good advice no matter what the creative endeavour.

He also noted that the book tour was excellent as a distraction; he has a lot of ideas for his next graphic novel, but he’s putting them off until the tour is over, after which he plans to just sit down and draw the new project as a piece. His wife, the lovely Ivy, mentioned that the Fam isn’t really looking forward to the start of the new graphic novel, because it means they lose Pops McCloud for 11 hours a day, seven days a week, when he gets involved in a project like that.

When pressed for details about the new GN, Scott demurred, and provided us with a lovely quote: “I’m not talking about the new story, because I want it to come out of my hands, not my mouth.”
As a writer myself, of course I was interested in the process. In its current phase, Scott is just taking notes, jotting down ideas when they occur to him. He plans to later colour-code all of his musings, then plot a rough outline, and then begin sketching. From his unique angle as a comic artist, he feels the work is best served if he does his first rough draft in storyboard, as opposed to written outline; with panel layout, dialogue, and rough sketches done simultaneously. His thought was why write it out, if you’ll draw it anyway? It’s a lot like narrating your morning routine, “Now I am getting out of bed. I’ve gotten out of bed. Now I will brush my teeth. The teeth have been brushed…” when it is so much simpler to conflate the action into a couple of sketched panels.

##

Not surprisingly, given the Tech crowd, there were a number of questions about the web, and web comics.

Flash animation came up, and Scott pointed out that at some point, moving pictures cease to be comics. Flash has it’s place, but even with successful experiments along these lines, the standard comic format is still being used. I’m paraphrasing, but I think what Scott meant is that comics keep coming up because they are unique as a form of expression.

Another point was about how the collaborative nature of the internet might affect comics. Scott sees some potential here, with things like 24 hour comics or wiki-style joint endeavours. Scott notes that often they are more fun to make, than to read. “It was all just a dream” cop-out endings, a tendency for one creator to just negate the efforts of the previous contributor, and how changing modes and style tend to yank people out of the story were all cited as drawbacks to such joint efforts.

Scott took this as an opportunity to discuss interactive vs. narrative story-telling forms as well. I can’t quite do justice to his argument. I think he is in favour of extremes, as opposed to hybrids: tell a good story, or give the user the means to do anything, but don’t rely on, for example, a branching plot structure to give the reader the illusion choice but no real control. Seamlessness of experience is important, and when you switch from one mode to the other, it jars the reader and makes him remember it is just a story.

##

Re: the State of the industry. Does the current situation help or hurt domestic comic creators? Scott went the middle route on this one, too (hm. methinks he is covering his ass bases again…)

Scott thinks that the current diversity is good for creators. The Web, manga, the graphic novel movement; all of these are signs of a healthy creative environment. He ceded, though, that the amount of manga currently on bookshelves will eventually present a problem. Manga is good in the long run, because it is bringing a younger fan base to the industry, but it is also outselling other graphic novels at such a rate that a number of booksellers may eventually decide to concentrate on what’s selling, to the detriment of domestic graphic novels. Caught between the vise grips of manga on one side and established superheroes on the other, properties like Maus, Persepolis, and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home are having a hard time finding shelf space, particularly at smaller stores. (Fun Home was, of course, Time’s #1 Book of the Year. Not listed as comic of the year: book, regardless of format) .

##

Towards the end of the evening, a question came up about self publishing. A number of websites offer print-on-demand services, and the question was what Scott thought about this new creative outlet. Scott had a lot of good things to say, citing the Small Press Expo and the Alternative Press Expo, and mentioning (apocryphally) that a number of aspiring artists aren’t just producing a portfolio to show to the Big Two, but are instead working on and printing their own comics. An actual printed comic makes a much better calling card, and can even produce a little income in the meantime. I couldn’t help but be reminded of some the things I’d mentioned previously about doujinshi and it left me wondering if a small scale revolution might already be underway in the seemingly intractable comic industry. Time will tell, I guess.

I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, and am glad I had an opportunity to see Scott in person. If he hasn’t been to your state yet, you need to set aside the date, and plan to see him. Few know our business so well, and can speak so clearly to the issues that comics face now, and will encounter in the future.



          


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