ED. NOTE: The 44th annual San Diego Comic-Con International proper — the granddaddy of the American comics and pop-culture conventions — officially begins today, as more than 125,000 fans pour into the Convention Center through Sunday. So today, Comic Riffs helps fans to navigate the best experience.
(Full disclosure: Comic Riffs is a judge for the event’s Eisner Awards — aka “comics’ Oscars” — on Friday.)
ANDREW FARAGO not only knows how to curate a great comics exhibit. He also is well-versed in creating a top Con experience.
Farago, the gifted manager of the Cartoon Art Museum in San
Francisco, has attended nearly every Comic-Con since 2001 (typically one of the five conventions he does all year). And he’s become a bit of a Jedi at cutting the massive Con down to size.
“Once you get over the sheer number of people at convention” — more than 125,000 over four-plus days — “it’s a really fun show,” Farago tells Comic Riffs.
With his curator’s sharp eye, Farago’s approach is to edit his schedule and simplify, simplify.
First, “Block out time for some of the panels that you want to see,” says the Ohio-bred manager/cartoonist. Then, “Lock a few dinner plans into
place; figure out what your must-get items are; decide which artists, writers or celebrities you really want to meet, and resign yourself to the fact that you won’t be able to do absolutely everything you want to do — and you’ll have a great time.”
Sure, the lines are often long, but that’s part of the geek-perience to be embraced.
“Even the people that I see standing in line for hours in the hopes of getting into the big Hollywood panels at Hall H seem to be having a good time,” Farago tells ‘Riffs, “hanging out with their friends and the people standing around them.”
Whether it’s a smaller Con close to home or the San Diego behemoth by the bay, Farago hews to his game plan.
“My goals are basically the same regardless of the size of the convention: See some friends, conduct some business, buy some comics.”
Comic Riffs caught up with Farago to discuss the panels he’ll be on and the people he plans to see:
MICHAEL CAVNA: So what are ... most looking forward to at this year’s Con? Any people or panels — or parties — that especially stand out?
ANDREW FARAGO: Comic-Con is hard work, and most of my time at the convention is spent staffing my booth, moderating panels, conducting business meetings, or grabbing a quick bite to eat in between two of those things. The highlight for me is always meeting artists and catching up with friends, many of whom I only ever see at conventions. When I do have free time, I usually spend it in Artists’ Alley, or checking out the more comic-book-related panels, especially tribute panels, or anything featuring Sergio Aragones.
MC: How many Comic-Cons have you been to now, and for you how does it compare — what are some of the pros and, er, cons — in relation to [the Bay Area’s] great comics conventions?
AF: I’ve missed one or two Comic-Cons since 2001, and usually hit about five conventions a year. Once you get over the sheer number of people at the convention, it’s a really fun show. Block out time for some of the panels that you want to see, lock a few dinner plans into place; figure out what your must-get items are; decide which artists, writers, or celebrities you really want to meet, and resign yourself to the fact that you won’t be able to do absolutely everything you want to do, and you’ll have a great time. Even the people that I see standing in line for hours in the hopes of getting into the big Hollywood panels at Hall H seem to be having a good time hanging out with their friends and the people standing around them.
I enjoy the smaller conventions closer to home, since I don’t have as many travel expenses, can sleep in my own bed at night, and don’t have to take the chance that my favorite restaurant will have 12,000 Comic-Con attendees vying for tables, but my goals are basically the same regardless of the size of the convention. See some friends, conduct some business, buy some comics.
MC: Do you think the Con will ever leave San Diego?
AF: I don’t see it happening, myself. The convention center is undergoing a massive expansion over the next several years, CCI’s offices are in San Diego, and the city has become so synonymous with the convention — and vice versa — that I don’t think it’s in danger of going anywhere.
MC: The Humor/Graphic Novel panel you’re moderating has a particularly great roster of guests. So let me get your individual takes:
The Eisner-nominated “Marbles” got tremendous acclaim last year. What do you think makes Ellen Forney so effective in this form?
AF: Ellen Forney has a really accessible style, and you can hand
”Marbles” to just about anyone and get them reading it immediately. She’s a great writer, and it’s incredible when a cartoonist with her talent just opens up and reveals so much of herself in her work. I’ve bought several copies of this one for friends and family, and it’s gone over really well with all of them, even those who don’t usually read comics.
MC: “Goliath” is a relatively slight book for a Best Graphic Novel nominee — especially when stacked up, literally, alongside [Chris Ware’s] “Building Stories” — but for all the right reasons, I wouldn’t want it any longer: It’s humor and suspense and arc are paced just right. What do you think are some of [Tom] Gauld’s best gifts as a humorous writer?
AF: “Goliath” is a terrific book, and yes, the pacing’s just perfect. When the writing, art, lettering and coloring come together just right, that’s something really special.
MC: I was so accustomed to Jeffrey Brown’s longer works that his Darth Vader books took me by surprise in their quick, charming wit — and they’re smartly packaged by Chronicle, too. What’s your assessment of Brown’s range of talents?
AF: Never underestimate Jeffrey Brown. The first time I saw his work, I thought: “That looks really scratchy. Where’d this guy learn to draw?” And the next thing I knew, I’d devoured several hundred pages of his comics and
was anxiously waiting for him to release something new. If he announces that his next book is about the history of shoelaces in America, I’m still going to pick it up the first day it hits bookstores.
MC: I’ve been a [Lisa] Hanawalt fan for a few years now, and so was delighted to see so much of her goodness collected in the new “My Dirty Dumb Eyes” book. What about Hanawalt’s comics really works for you?
AF: Lisa’s work really stands out, and it’s always fun for me when a new cartoonist comes along who’s doing something I really haven’t seen before. I haven’t read much of her work, or met her in person yet, but I’m looking forward to taking care of that at Comic-Con.
MC: You and your wife [cartoonist/writer Shaenon Garrity] are among the “Team Cul de Sac” panelists. What about Richard Thompson’s work do you especially admire and appreciate?
AF: I could go on for hours about Richard’s work. He’s one of my absolute favorite cartoonists, and in a perfect world, we’d have him at the drawing board working on “Cul de Sac” for another 50 years.
MC: Any current or upcoming exhibits or projects at the Museum that you’re particularly excited about?
AF:We’ve got a great Superman 75th-anniversary exhibition up now, a Will Eisner retrospective going up as soon as I’m back from San Diego, and shows featuring Ronald Searle and Steve Purcell coming up in the fall. I say it every year, but we’ve got a lot of really great stuff coming up.
MC: Anything I missed mentioning?
AF: Find me at Booth No. 1930 at Comic-Con and pick up a sketch at our Cartoon Art Museum fundraiser. We’re going to have about 40 different artists this year, and it should be a lot of fun.
(Disclosure: Comic Riffs wrote the profile for the Team Cul de Sac book.)