Monday, July 31, 2017

San Diego Comic-Con report

I wanted to tell everyone how things went in San Diego at Comic-Con - but as usual, right after the convention I went up to Portland with Sandrine and Lucas to relax a bit.  So I asked my office manager, John Holderried, to weigh in with his thoughts on the events, and post some photos also:

Bill and I have been going out to San Diego for at least 15 years.  We started out small, just sharing a booth with a small publisher or the Animation Show, and over time we became regulars, occupying a corner booth in the 1500 row, which we came to call "Animation Alley".  However, I think perhaps our time traveling out there has come to an end, primarily for financial reasons, but also because the event has grown too large, and has become a confusing, mismanaged mess.  Allow me to explain.  

The first five years I went, I was full of positive energy – I was going to win Comic-Con! We’d sell all of our merchandise, and have a blast! I was going to see everything, do everything, go to every party I could find, and greet all of Bill’s fans with a smile on my face as they handed over their dollars for DVDs. At some point, I realized how futile this strategy was – you can’t “win” Comic-Con, nobody “wins” Comic-Con, nobody can see and do everything, so I had set myself an impossible goal. The best you can do is identify the movies and TV shows you like, and maybe attend a panel for one or two of them. 
Over the following five years, I came to regard SD Comic-Con as some kind of mythological beast that would rise up each year, one that could be defeated by a combination of proper planning and hard work. The Beast was strong and smart and had many rules that a slayer had to follow, so I became strong and smart and I learned all of its rules, and came up with some tricks of my own to defeat the Beast each year, forcing it to sleep for the next 11 months. During this time I also learned the best ways to get around town, the cheapest way to ship boxes of merch to the closest UPS Store, and how to get a hotel room at the converted YMCA 3 blocks away for about $50/night. The rules for getting around were much the same as the ones for surviving in New York – figure out when everyone else is going to go to the best restaurants, for example, and just go during a non-peak time.
In the last five years, I developed a more zen-like approach to Comic-Con. After all, the best things that had happened to me there were not planned, they were all more like happy accidents. So, why try to force anything , why make a plan when I never knew when I was going to have free time away from the booth? Since I couldn’t see everything, why try hard to see anything? Why not just relax and allow things to happen? (“Why can’t I cross this aisle? What’s the hold-up? Ah, it’s Kevin Bacon, crossing two feet away from me. That’s cool.”)

So in the past few years I would arrive early, set up the Plymptoons booth, sell stuff for a few hours and then wander around on my breaks, just taking pictures of cool costumed people, allowing Comic-Con to bring me good experiences. (Occasionally this required some planning: “Hey, Weird Al’s playing in town? Great, I’ll buy a ticket.”) Generally I found that if I tried to make a schedule to see something like a Slave Leia group photo shoot, I’d never get to it – but if I wandered around on the second floor after lunch, I might bump into the Marvel Costuming photo group tweet-up, and that would be pretty cool too. Without a plan, things would quite often fall into place – as George Harrison once sang, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

But even with all the fun times I’ve had in San Diego, with all the little happy accidents that came my way over the years, I’ve been forced to come to terms with the fact that I’m getting older – which means the same amount of work (shipping, set-up, working the booth, packing up, traveling home) gets a little harder each year. This year I was not only wearing my compression stocking to help the circulation in my legs during long periods of sitting, but I had a knee brace for support, since my left knee was buckling the week before.

And my attitude seems to get a little worse each year as well – everything frustrates me more and more, like when people walk too slowly in the aisles, or block our booth while they stand there and read their program. Or (and this happened several times) there will be someone in front of me in line, and suddenly they can’t decide on the third of three items to buy. Well, since I already KNOW what I want to buy, why not let me pay first, while this guy decides?

The first day of the convention, I had a problem (again) with these surfer "brahs" across the aisle, who rented out half of the Spike & Mike's booth. The rule at Comic-Con is that all booth personnel have to remain inside their booth and not block the aisle. This blond dude in flip-flops was not only out in the middle of the aisle, handing out postcards, but he was also dragging potential customers over from near our booth to come over and check out his lame video-game (or graphic novel, or whatever it was). Well, I wouldn't stand for this, I called him over and told him if I saw that again, we were going to have a problem – I'd call the management and get his booth shut down, I'd done it before. (I haven't, but he didn't know that.) I'm also no good in a fight, but he didn't know that either – I'm just a big guy who can get really loud if I want to.

This used to be a very friendly, polite town, with a laid-back attitude that was stereotypical of Southern California – but in the last couple of years, I’ve noticed more of the same attributes among San Diegans that I see frequently in New Yorkers – that self-entitled air that people have when they think that the rules don’t apply to them.
I was trying to get into the Convention Center one morning, and I admit I was a little behind schedule, but I was waiting in line with the regular attendees, and the line was slowly moving, so I figured I was OK. Then this little pipsqueak jumps the line and breaks for the door, trying to squeeze through, and when I motioned him back, he said, “But I’m a volunteer, I’m just trying to get through.” No way. So I said, in a forceful tone, “Well, I’m an Exhibitor, and we’re ALL trying to get through, so why don’t you just wait your turn.” Or at least get behind me.
What I’m trying to point out is that there is now something inherently selfish about going to Comic-Con, I get that. Since it’s part of our consumer culture, it’s all about “I want” – I want to see that panel, I want to buy that book or that DVD and have it autographed. And that’s all fine. But when it comes to “I want to dress like this character from “Yu-Gi-Oh” and it’s VERY important that I carry this giant hammer or enormous sword that will bump into everyone as I walk through the aisles, then we’ve got a problem. There seems to be no limit now on what each person is allowed to do, even if it bothers or inconveniences others, and that’s where I think a line needs to be drawn.

If I were running things, which I’m not, I wouldn’t allow giant swords, or enormous costumes, because the needs of the crowd should outweigh the needs of the individual cosplayer. I wouldn’t allow any kind of weapons either, real or fake, for security reasons. It’s too easy for someone smart to disguise a real weapon as a fake one, or a real explosive as a cartoon-like bundle of dynamite, and I’m not willing to put myself at risk if the security guards are more concerned with people swiping badges properly than checking for guns. I wouldn’t even allow strollers or baby carriages, because I’m guessing those aren’t properly checked – who’s going to frisk a baby? Baby carriages are one of the worst offenders when it comes to blocking the aisles – and if your kid’s in a stroller, he or she is probably too young to appreciate Comic-Con, so I’d suggest that no kids under 5 be allowed in.
On top of all the self-entitled people around me, I was enormously frustrated by all the new rules and set-ups this year at the convention center. Someone in upper management must have read a new book on how to run things, and that person should probably ask for his or her money back. The new badge pick-up system was confusing and inefficient (what’s a “badge box” and why do I need it? I’m guessing I don’t.) but I will admit that it was quite fast. Before I could even get there, I was about to enter the convention center through the door at Hall C (clearly marked for exhibitors) when a staffer outside told me that all exhibitors had to enter through Hall G. I walked all the way down to Hall G, and the folks at that entrance told me I should have entered at Hall C. Gee, thanks. Before I get back there, please have that "helpful" woman outside Hall C fired. 
At one point I found myself 20 feet from the Exhibitor Help Desk with an emergency (more on that later) and I couldn’t get there, even though it seemed to be a straight shot. “Sorry, sir, this is an exit-only access point. You need to turn around, go out the door, down the hall, down the stairs, do a lap around the convention center, and come up the escalator to enter through this other door.” Yeah, I’m not doing that, when I can clearly SEE where I need to go, and it’s essentially right in front of me. It’s as if the people who designed this maze deliberately will not allow people to move in the most efficient way. Or they’re hiding behind the scenes, laughing at the chaos on camera as the mice try to find the cheese.

Another time I was in Lobby C, trying to get to the Tides Café off of Lobby A, only security wouldn’t let me go straight through Lobby B, which I’ve always done in the past. I know that’s always been the area for the disabled people to park their scooters, or where people sign in at the booth for the hearing-impaired, but it’s never been off-limits to foot traffic before. So again, I could see the café, maybe 100 yards away in a straight shot, but to get there I had to scan out, go outside, walk 100 yards, enter via Lobby A, scan my badge AGAIN to get in – it was moronic. (But if I complain about the placement of the services for the handicapped, suddenly I’M the bad guy. I just think that maybe there was a better place to put those services, without inconveniencing nearly everyone else.)

We had a big problem with the screening of Bill's film "Cop Dog" at the Comic-Con Film Festival, they screened a rough cut of the film, with visible time code. That's the version we entered in the festival back in February, and they never asked us for a final version. OK, this is partially our fault because we never sent the final cut, but a properly run film festival would have contacted us before the screening and requested that we submit an updated version. It just shows that the people running events at Comic-Con are not taking the time to double-check things, and the quality of the events is starting to suffer for it.

I should have realized last year that their systems were starting to break down. When I brought money to the convention office in July 2016, to put down a deposit on our 2017 booth, I carefully counted out $1,300 and delivered it in three neat stacks ($500, $500 and $300). The woman who took my deposit immediately combined all three stacks into one big stack, and ran it through their money-counting machine, which came up with a incorrect total of $1,200. I asked for the money back, re-counted it and came up with $1,300. Back to the machine, and again the machine counted it as $1,200. I had to count out the money with the agent by hand to prove that my total was correct and the machine's total was wrong. Sure, I was proven right in the end, but why did the machine arrive at the wrong total, again and again? Did they immediately shut down the machine and get it repaired? I'm betting they did not.

I want to mention the worst offense of all – we were given a time of 10:35 for the screening of “Revengeance” as part of the film series. The programmer assured me the time was locked in, so we made about 200 postcards with the time and location to hand out. A week before the convention, I checked the time on the SDCC web-site, and it was listed as 11:45. Big problem, since we already printed the postcards reading 10:35. Now, it turned out this was just a typo and the film had been moved only slightly to 10:45, and we were able to get the time corrected on the web-site and the Comic-Con app relatively quickly.

However, the events guide (the paper booklet that most attendees use to plan their schedules) still listed the start time as 11:45 – which would only be a problem if we wanted people to show up on time and not miss the first hour of the film. I ran up to the office on the first day, and they were able to issue a correction in Friday’s daily update handout – only, how many people make time to look at the corrected schedule, if they’ve already made their plans? We knew we were facing an uphill battle, what with all of the parties, screenings and events going on in the Gaslamp on a Friday night – but we still had hope.

We handed out all of the postcards to Bill’s fans at the booth, we made sure everyone at Bill’s panel knew the correct time, plus we tried really hard to promote the event on social media and get the word out about the misprint – and we did have 50 or so people attend the screening, but the room could have seated 200. Now, if those were the RIGHT 50 Bill Plympton fans, then I'd be OK with it, but there's no way to know that. What bothers me most is that we never got an apology for the misprint from anyone in SDCC management – the explanation I got from the programmer was, “Yeah, sometimes they make mistakes.” That’s an admission of guilt, and very far from an apology, it’s more of an excuse. Not good enough. 
But in a way, all of this makes the Comic-Con very “San Diego” – I wrote at length last year about how San Diego is “The City That Means Well”, where everything is designed with good intentions, but nothing ever seems to work 100% right. Like the pedestrian bridge that they built about two blocks east of where it could do any good, or the fact that 125,000 people need to cross a busy highway and TWO sets of train tracks to get to the Convention Center – what genius thought THAT up? The S.D. trolley system is full of moronic design features, like forcing people to cross the tracks after they get off the train. Really? Was that the best way to design things? How many people die each year after being hit by the trolleys? Can you imagine the NYC subway system if you had to cross over the tracks to exit every station?

All across the town, there are dozens, if not hundreds of things that don’t work right. I could do a whole 15-minute stand-up comedy routine now about San Diego bathrooms, especially the ones at the convention center. They completely re-designed a bunch of them in the last year and guess what? They still don’t work right. I don’t need to tell you that those “electric eye” sensors never work right, not the ones on the faucets, not the ones on the paper towel dispensers, and there are plenty of videos on YouTube of people trying to rinse their hands, only to have the automatic soap dispensers squirt more soap on them every time so they can NEVER BE DONE washing their hands. The ones on the toilets are even worse, they’ll flush when I first enter the stall, (or worse, as I’m sitting down) because I broke the sensor beam. I guess that’s fine if you like a “fresh bowl” of water – but then they won’t flush when I want them to, or they’ll flush a THIRD time while I’m adjusting my clothing or preparing to open the stall door – isn’t that a tremendous waste of water?

Why do I have to practically do a hula dance in front of the paper-towel dispenser, to make it eject a too-small paper towel? Say what you want about the old ones, where you had to pull the towel out with your hands, but they WORKED. I've also got a gripe with whoever installed the toilet paper dispensers, because they're all about a foot too low, and they occupy the exact same place where my left knee needs to be. They know we grab the toilet paper with our hands, and not with our feet, right? I needed a bathroom gnome to pull some paper off the roll for me, only those don't exist. And those hygienic hot-air dryers are great, except for the ones that they installed too close to the bathroom stalls, so as I'm sitting there and someone else is drying their hands, I'd get a blast of hot air sent right into the stall, directly on to my bare skin as I'm trying to do what I'm there to do – it was very distracting.
This all served to put me in the mindset where I started to notice incompetence all around me. Why does the Tides café in the convention center open at 10 am, but it doesn’t serve any breakfast? How come they can make a steak and French-fry burrito for lunch, but they can’t make one with eggs and home fries for breakfast? How come they only sell soda and water, but not coffee and juice? Do they even know what people want to eat at 10 am? (Hint: It’s eggs, bacon, home fries, coffee and juice.)

One of my favorite restaurants, the Kansas City BBQ, ran out of brisket, chicken, potato salad on Friday night. Did they not know that more people would be eating there during Comic-Con? Maybe stock up on a few extra ribs when you know that 125,000 people are coming to town, right? Who’s in charge here? Is anyone in charge here? I’m guessing not. And if I can see what’s wrong with the system, why can’t the people who run it? Maybe I’m just a grumpy, unsatisfied old man.

So, after 15-plus years, I think it's time for us to stop going, and this was not an easy decision to make. I told Bill 2 or 3 years ago that the event was no longer profitable for us, once you factor in the cost of airfares, hotel, merchandise costs and shipping. Our income there barely covers the cost of the booth, which itself rises a bit each year. Sure, there is the benefit of the promotion we get just for being there, which is an intangible, perhaps even a priceless, thing to put in the debit column. But at what point, exactly, do the frustrations and inconveniences begin to outweight that intangible upside?

I feel like if I continue, I'm going to explode in frustration – and that's not healthy. I'm just not willing to reward the incompetence I witnessed from Comic-Con's management with our future business, that wouldn't help me make my point. But we've still got New York Comic-Con, which didn't even exist when we started going out to San Diego. The booths there are cheaper, our travel and shipping costs are nearly zero, and we usually make a profit there, and isn't that kind of the point?

Enjoy the photos, from what may be our last appearance in San Diego:

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Greg Fitzsimmons "Stand Down"

I've never worked with the audio from stand up comedians before, despite my work with PBS on Blank on Blank.. vaguely similar.  Anyway, enjoy this episode of AV Club's "Stand Down" featuring Comedian Greg Fitzsimmons..

Monday, July 17, 2017

Mark Osborne

I first met the great animator Mark Osborne at a dinner party, held at animation impresario Ron Diamond's house about 20 years ago. We got to talking and became good friends. 

Ever since I saw his Oscar-nominated film "More" from 1998, I've been a fan of Mark's work.  I also loved "Kung Fu Panda", which he directed in 2008 with John Stevenson for DreamWorks and Jeffrey Katzenberg.  And of course, his most recent success was "The Little Prince" in 2015, one of the most beautiful films I've seen. 

After he moved from Paris to New York, we reconnected at an Academy screening and now he lives in the beautiful Hudson Valley.  I saw him at a recent screening and invited myself up to his country estate. 

It was wonderful to just relax and talk about his career and all the Hollywood people he knows.  What was particularly interesting was that he gave me the secret tips on how to pitch to the studios.  And I'm not going to give them away here - because now I'm going to start pitching to the Hollywood executives and I need every edge I can get. 

So, if you get a chance, check out Mark's films, especially "More", which is an undiscovered gem. 

Now I'm off to San Diego this week - so my next blog will be filled with all sorts of cartoon news and gossip, along with a report on our big "Revengeance" screening , and photos of the famous people and beautiful cosplayers who came to our booth...

See ya,

Bill P.

Monday, July 10, 2017

My Weekend with Pat Smith

The recent Fourth of July weekend was a great opportunity to spend some time with my Scribble Junkies blog-mate, and great animator, Pat Smith.  He and his family live out in Montauk, a little bit of paradise on the tip of Long Island, New York.

It was fun for me to catch up with him on his career and see what he's been working on - we only really connect in person a few times each year.  He's got this great studio in a reconverted garage and in a way, it's the total opposite of my studio.  Pat's gone paperless - he even got rid of his DVD library and most of his books - his studio consists basically of his Cintiq computer and a large screen.

By contrast, I still have an animation disc, a drawing table, stacks of animation bond paper and jars of pencils and sharpies - and of course, in my studio, 100 or so large boxes containing all my original art from my old films.  By the way, this old art is an excellent source of needed income - it's all for sale.

So Pat's gone totally paperless - and me, I've got paper everywhere - and I suppose you could say I should be ashamed for causing the demise of so many beautiful trees.  But I just love the pencil on paper experience, or more often now, ballpoint pen on paper.

While we were hanging out on the lake, drinking rum punches, we came up with a lot of ideas for future Scribble Junkies articles and we're starting to put together another Scribble Junkies Film Festival - but more about that later on this fall.

One other idea we had, which I love, is to create a Top Ten list of stoner films - not films about smoking pot, like the "Cheech & Chong" movies, but films that give you the experience of being stoned.  Please send in your favorite "stoner" films and I'll add my own and we'll have a list of the Top 25 of all time.

Also, I'm going to include here some recent sketches I made during my daily subway rides:

And also, don't forget to come to my booth, #1537, and my events at the San Diego Comic-Con, which I'll reprint here:

My new animated short "Cop Dog" is going to screen as part of the Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival (CCIIFF).  This will be on Thursday, July 20, at 4:30 pm in Grand Ballroom 3&4 at the San Diego Marriott Marquis, 333 W. Harbor Drive, which is right next to the convention center (closest to Hall A).  I'll be there to do a quick introduction for the film, which is (believe it or not) the FIFTH film in my very popular "Dog" series.

Then on Friday, July 21 at 5 pm, Jim Lujan and I will have a panel in Room 25ABC (on the upper floor) at the convention center.  We'll show some of my new shorts, like "No Snow for Christmas", a clip from "Revengeance" and "Modern Lives", one of the new music videos I've been working on for Jackie Greene.  Jim will moderate the panel and we'll take questions from the audience and everyone who comes to the panel will get a free sketch from me.

And on Friday night, 7/21 at 10:35 pm, we're going to screen the full film of "Revengeance", this will be the first non-film festival screening in the U.S.!  This is going to take place in Grand Ballroom 8 at the San Diego Marriott Marquis, 333 W. Harbor Dr. and admission is going to be FREE for anyone with a Comic-Con badge - WOW, that's huge!  The seating is limited, so please try to get there early!

I hope to see you all there!

--Bill Plympton