Comic-Con is no longer a buyer's market for Hollywood, it's a showcase.
As if the giant posters painted across downtown San Diego hotels and billboard trucks driving through the Gaslamp Quarter weren't indication enough, some comic book publishers confirmed that while Comic-Con may have once been the place Hollywood went to discover new projects and even broker deals, little of that happens on the San Diego Convention Center floor now.
"Comic-Con's become like the Cannes Film Festival," said Barry Levine, a co-founder, president and publisher of Radical Publishing, which has seen several of its properties optioned for movies.
While it gets attention for its costumed attendees and celebrity sightings, at its core Comic-Con is in many ways a trade show. Artists, toymakers and T-shirt vendors come to get noticed. But while movie producers looking for the next big superhero blockbuster may have once gone directly to the booth at Comic-Con, they now learn about the comics industry on their own. Comic-Con has become more about networking.
"Producers and agencies and studios and networks in Hollywood are tapped into the (comic) industry now so that they seek out these properties before they even come for Comic-Con," said Stephen Christy, director of development for Archaia comics. "What's funny is the reason that happened is Comic-Con itself. Because it's become such a big cultural touchstone, studios started thinking, 'Oh we have to go to Comic-Con; we have to know what's going on.' And agents started coming down here and crawling around and trying to find properties."
"Now, because studios have been tapped into this because of the show, now they snap properties up before the convention itself so they announce these things at the convention," he added.
Radical Publishing and Archaia are both mid- to large-sized publishers. They're too big to be considered "indie" and have some well-read titles, but they're still not the size of industry vanguards like Marvel and DC Comics. A similar company is San Diego-based IDW Publishing, which makes both well-known licensed titles such as "G.I. Joe," "Transformers" and a comic based on the HBO show "True Blood," and also has original series like "30 Days of Night." The latter was made into a film in 2007.
Greg Goldstein, chief operating officer of IDW, said he's not sure if anything beyond handshake deals ever did happen at Comic-Con. It's always been about networking.
"It's usually a process and this is a very important piece of that process," he said. "I literally had somebody walk me over to a booth yesterday and their quote-unquote was, 'These guys do Transformers, they're the best. You need to work with them.' That's how he introduced us."
"Deals are complicated," Goldstein added. "They're contracts. Lawyers need to get involved."
But Levine from Radical said that when his company was smaller, he did meet a lot of the people who took comics to bigger audiences at Comic-Con. Maybe they didn't hammer out the official contracts at the Convention Center, but key points were addressed.
"This is the first year that we said to our agency and everyone else, we're not looking to take meetings with the studios, producers, financiers, anyone. We'll be here (in our booth)," he said. "Because we're setting up so many things now and the brand has risen so far, that we don't really need to try and sell the properties here."
"I think the proper word is to 'introduce' the properties," he continued. "When we leave here, next week, I have a round of meetings … I'm not looking to do deals here."
Comic-Con can still be a great place for independent comic artists, either self-published or with a small publisher, to get noticed by bigger companies. Christy of Archaia said that he essentially inked a deal for a title he's excited about called "Return of the Dapper Men" at the Con last year. But when it comes to Hollywood, the odds of snagging an agent or producer who wants to put your book on the big screen has become very rare.
"If you're undiscovered and you come to Comic-Con and you know the right people and you happen to know agents or producers and someone finds you, that can still happen," he said. "But if you're talking about a company like Archaia, if you're talking about company like (publisher) Top Cow, IDW, Dark Horse, all these companies are scouted year-round. We're constantly exposing our material to producers, directors, studios."
"If you are coming here for the first time as an independent creator and no one's seen your book before, it can be good," he added. "But it's also very easy to get lost in the shuffle because the Con is so huge, and it's hard to stand out."
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