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Comic-Con: Where Comics Are King

Pete Nicholls traveled to San Diego to report on Comic-Con in a year when comics reigned and animation was strangely missing...

In a city not so far away... The biggest comic book industry convention in the country brought industry professionals, as well as fans, from all over the world to San Diego to check out the latest and greatest. All of the comics industry's biggest names were at Comic-Con International in San Diego held from August 13-16, 1998. Marvel, DC and slews of others were all there publicizing their own projects and scoping out their competition. More than 600 exhibitors made up of not just comic companies, but also toy and T-shirt companies and smaller collectible shops, filled the massive, futuristic convention center. One related industry, however, was somewhat lacking in presence and that was animation. Then and Now In past years, various animation studios and networks have used Comic-Con International as a marketing tool. Two years ago, Cartoon Network set up a large, cube-shaped, walk-in booth complete with interior ramps that led attendees past walls covered with mounted television sets and character and prop designs. The designs were from one of the Cartoon Network's latest shows, Jonny Quest. The television sets ran episodes from another one of the network's new programs, Dexter's Laboratory. This was the Cartoon Network's way of really getting attention from fans and competition alike.

The San Diego Convention Center was the hub of comic activity. Photo courtesy of Pete Nicholls.

This year there were comparatively few exhibitors representing the animation industry that actually set up booths where one could leisurely stop by, ask questions and learn more. HBO Animation was there, along with Hash Inc., Animevillage.com and a few others. Hash was showcasing their new, and quite impressive, 3-D animation software Animation:Master with a live demo on a PC. Animevillage.com had a rather large, walk-in booth that, although not as big or elaborate as Cartoon Network's "Quest Cube," was quite grand nonetheless. There were also exhibitors like DC and Bongo Comics that are somewhat involved with animation, but nonetheless, did not really emphasize their involvement in producing it. Sure, DC's huge video wall presented animation, but that has been their token gimmick for the past few years. A Real Reason to Go On the other hand, there were many animation screenings and panel discussions in the conference rooms upstairs. On Friday, Mulan's George Takei and director Tony Bancroft answered questions about the movie in an informative panel discussion. Later in the weekend, there were also discussions regarding animation, like: how and why blockbuster movies end up as cartoons on TV, how the character of Superman is reinterpreted for each type of media he is produced in, and how to create cartoons that appeal to both adults and children.

The bustling showroom floor at Comic-Con `98. Photo courtesy of Pete Nicholls.

There were a few screenings featuring previews of the new Voltron, Speed Racer 2000, War Planets, Fox Kids' Fall lineup, and Bill Plympton's movie, I Married a Strange Person. Also featured was a popular voice-over actor's workshop. On Saturday, Cartoon Network screened a reel of cartoons produced by the network that have never made it to broadcast. This was a big hit with fans and was one of the events that made the panel discussions and screenings really worthwhile. Professional storyboard artist Ira Sherak explained that he enjoys the panel discussions more than the exhibition hall, stating that without the panel discussions and screenings, Comic-Con International would be "just a big toy convention."

Platinum Studios' chairman, Scott Rosenberg, who was the main thrust behind the creation of the successful film and cartoon series Men In Black, has been traveling to San Diego for Comic-Con for 23 years. He says that as a professional and a fan it's a trip he enjoys making, citing that it's a good place to get a feel for everything that's going on in the industry. His associate and Platinum Studios' vice president of production, Gregory Noveck, explained that it's a great place to talk to the people that are creating future media and to "see what's going on inside their heads."

Costumed characters were everywhere! Photo courtesy of Pete Nicholls.

But in the End...

The convention organizers are aware of animation's draw. They used images of Bart Simpson on their banners advertising the convention in downtown San Diego. It seems, however, that the animation industry doesn't quite realize how many more fans and professionals would attend the convention if animation was better represented. Independent comic artist and first time Comic-Con attendee, Stew Noack felt that, "It would be a plus if there were more animation." In previous years, it seemed as though the convention was getting smaller, and a bit less successful in bringing fans and professionals together. Perhaps this is partly the comic industry's fault, but this year the convention triumphantly showed off the new and hopeful within the comic book industry. The animation industry, however, in many ways, left itself out in the cold. This is Pete Nicholls' fifth consecutive trip to Comic-Con International. He has been collecting comic books and watching cartoons since the early Seventies. Since then, he has written cartoons for Hanna-Barbera and has an animated kids series in development at Wild Brain Studios.

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