Interview with Jill Thompson - Part I

9 JUNE 2013

Jill Thompson is one of those artists who's succeeded in every corner of the comic book world. Whether it's her work on Sandman or her magnificent Scary Godmother series or my personal love Beasts of Burden, she has created some of the most luminous and memorable art in the medium.  

She's a multiple Eisner Award winner, she's a gateway drug for people who don't normally read comic books - so this interview with her is enlightening but also a bit depressing. Usually an SDCC staple, Jill won't be there next month for the reasons she describes below. Nevertheless, she gives some good advice on interacting with your favorite artists, what it's like for creators to attend the Con, and her feelings on the SDCC shift from comics to Hollywood.

Part I:

How grueling is it to work as an artist at San Diego Comic Con? What’s a typical day and night? I think many fans assume that the big name creators are going to parties every night, but most of the people I know are working around the clock.

Well, since I go to the convention as an artist and an exhibitor, my day starts at 7 am and usually ends about 3 am! Sometimes I also try and grab a breakfast with my editors because it's usually my only time to schedule that's just one on one. The rest of my day is spent drawing commissions, selling merchandise like prints and books and tee shirts, doing painting demos for the CBLDF or DC comics and doing panels.  I try to give everyone who comes by my table some good conversation and take a photo with them if they like, as well as sign autographs. I rarely have time to do meetings or lunch in the middle of the day. And I also spend time at Trickster doing demos and stuff.

Sometimes I am a presenter or a nominee at the Eisner Awards and I've spent many a con running from convention floor to hotel room to awards ceremony, which I think means I ran about a mile and a half or more in a red dress and high heels. Everything is so spread out you forget how much time it takes to get somewhere! On foot is the most maneuverable even though you're cutting a swath through the throngs of fans leaving the show...

After the show closes each day I'm fortunate to grab dinner with other professionals and my editors. Then you try and hook up with your friends for drinks and parties and schmoozing, which is also business, but with laughing and stuff! Space is limited at parties and I only end up knowing about most of them if I hear about them from other people because I'm table-bound most of the show... The days of the big comics company parties are no longer, it seems. Most are invite-only affairs with limited space. The DC event in the Art Gallery was lots of fun and I did manage to squeeze my way in to the Marvel party and also had fun. 

I'm on the go from the time I get there on Tuesday, setting up our booth and organizing our stuff, until Sunday night after we break down our booth, pack things up and get it all to Fed Ex to ship back home. That's a typical San Diego Comic-Con for me! I wouldn't mind just sauntering into the show to do a panel here and there and then do nothing but shop, shmooze and go to cool parties...but that hasn't happened lately! If anyone wishes to sponsor my trip to SDCC this year and make that happen, I'd be more than happy to be your booth babe! ;-)

How palpable has the shift away from comic books been, and what has the effect been on you?

Well, unfortunately, I won't be attending SDCC this year. I suppose that shows you how palpable the shift has been and how great of an effect it has had on me. We gave up our exhibitor's booth as it was too expensive. I'm going through convention withdrawal already, as it's been such a huge part of my life up until now. But, I've found that about 75% of my 'regular' fans who I used to see year after year at this Con have not been present for the last several years. This really makes a difference. I see them at other shows and they tell me that they cannot afford to attend SDCC, or they couldn't get a badge, or they can't afford to bring their family anymore. Or they can only get one badge where they used to be able to get one for their whole family. Even I could not get a hotel room in the hotel room lottery!! And I've been coming regularly since the mid-eighties!

And the influx of new attendees does not seem to be those who are looking for non-Marvel and DC comics. If they are, they haven't made their way over to where I am. The focus is very much on the comic characters that have been in the movies. I think if there are new fans coming, it might be for the more corporate characters than the medium.

About 6 years ago, I was making a profit. Then, it shifted to breaking even... And for the last two years, I have been in the hole. I am still working as hard, but I've noticed a complete lack of business on Saturday, which used to be one of my busiest days. I used to have a huge list of commissions on Friday and Saturday and the last two years, I think I had one commission on Saturday. But Saturday is the day when there are movie premieres and panels with TV shows and actors. I think much of the convention attendees spend lots of their time in  giant ballrooms watching these types of panels, or waiting in line to see these types of panels. They get their comic news from the Internet, so that might cut into how they prioritize their Comic Con time.

So, since I do not have a new project out by the time SDCC is happening, I've chosen to spend my time finishing the projects I have on my desk instead of hustling behind a table at SDCC. When I have new product to sell and new stories to share, I'll be back! That is, assuming, I can get a table and a hotel room!

I will be at other cons where the crowd is very comics-centric like C2E2, NYCC, Cincinnati Comic Con, Emerald City Con... Heroes Con next year... There is an enthusiasm about the comics medium at these shows that is really inspiring. It's kind of been pushed out of SDCC. I feel comics and their creators have been pushed into the background at a show that is named Comic Con International.

Part II will be up on Tuesday. You can also get news from Jill by following her on Twitter at @thejillthompson.

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