My Life in Comics, Part 15: Comic-Con Souvenir Books, Part 2 …

Of all the things I did in my 21-year career at San Diego Comic-Con, the thing I am proudest of—and most enjoyed doing—were the event’s yearly Souvenir Books. While I enjoyed doing the Update magazines (which evolved into Comic-Con Magazine and finally, Comic-Con Annualmore on that here), the three-times a year schedule was a bit grueling, especially when you figured in that I was still editing and designing the WonderCon and APE Program Books, the Comic-Con Quick Guide (which I created in 2011) and the Souvenir Books, which were a six-month commitment onto themselves. But the latter is where I really shined, in my humble opinion, and in this post, we’ll look at my five favorite editions, from 2015 through 2019. The 2020 book was a PDF, offered online only, and as such, a kind of epilogue to my 14 years of doing the Souvenir Book. (To read about my first eight Souvenir Books, click here.)

The 2015 Souvenir Book was where the whole process of creating, editing, and designing this book finally came together for me, both content- and design-wise. Maybe it was that amazing cover by Michael Cho featuring the 75th anniversary of Will Eisner’s The Spirit that inspired me to bigger and better things. There aren’t too many artists who can tackle Eisner’s legendary hero in the spirit (pun intended) of Eisner, himself. His creation appeared in a special weekly comic book section syndicated to many Sunday newspapers (at one point, its combined circulation topped 5 million) from 1940-1952. The 2016 book featured the anniversaries of some of the great comic book heroes (as author/cartoonist Jules Feiffer once called them), including the cover-featured Wonder Woman, plus Captain America and the original Captain Marvel (Shazam!). 2017 celebrated the centennials of both Jack Kirby and Will Eisner with sections devoted to each artist, along with articles on five other comic book legends celebrating their 100th birthdays. 2018 cover-featured the 10th anniversary of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The cover doubled as Comic-Con’s first-ever limited edition print, made by Mondo, with art by Matt Taylor. Taylor signed 1,000 of the silk-screen prints, which measured 24 x 36.” (Mondo did a variant version—with a black background—limited to 350 prints.) 2019 celebrated the 50th anniversary of Comic-Con, with a long article by the late Bill Schelly (the last major piece he did before he passed away in September 2019) on the history of Comic-Con. Bill was known for his work on the history of comics fandom, among other comics-oriented books and biographies he wrote, and was the perfect choice. The rest of the book was filled with a year-by-year look at Comic-Con, in two-page spreads for each year, and divided into sections by decade, with related articles rounding out the sections. It was definitely the biggest Souvenir Book project I ever undertook, with the bulk of the writing being done by myself, with help from Jackie Estrada. I tried to pick out images that weren’t used in either the Chronicle Books 40th anniversary book (click here for more on that) or the 2009 Souvenir Book, which celebrated the 40th anniversary, too.

2020 saw the world shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic and Comic-Con went virtual, with an online program of panels and events called “Comic-Con@Home.” The Souvenir Book went virtual, too and I did a 260-page book (laid-out in two-page spreads) that was available as a free downloadable PDF. We had over 160,000 downloads during Comic-Con’s “normal” timespan, late July 2020. As such, the 2020 book was kind of a bittersweet end for my run of Souvenir Books, which totaled 14 in a row, a consecutive record, I think, for anyone at Comic-Con who produced the books, let alone edited AND designed them.

Here’s a look at the covers for years 2015-2020, with some commentary for each edition. I’ve also included a two-page spread from each year to show a little bit from the book’s interior.

Art by Michael Cho • © Will Eisner Studio, Inc.

2015: 75th Anniversary of The Spirit

(240 pages, color interior)

I loved this cover and I loved working with Michael Cho, who hit it out of the ballpark immediately with his sketch (which you can see in the spread below). In fact, this cover had its own special introduction. In March of 2015, I traveled to New York City to meet up with Mike as Comic-Con hosted a panel at the Society of Illustrators with Paul Pope, John Cassaday, and Charlie Kochman on “The Enduring Influence of Will Eisner’s The Spirit.” It was, appropriately for Eisner-like atmosphere’s sake, a dark and stormy night, and while attendance was sparse, we did introduce the cover at the end of the event.

This edition also featured one of my all-time favorite articles, “The Craft of Comics,” a section showcasing how comics are created, including two-page spreads (I’m big on those, if you haven’t noticed), devoted to the editor (Lauren Sankovitch), the writer (Kelly Sue DeConnick), the artist (Steve Lieber), the color artist (Laura Martin), the lettering artist (Richard Starkings), the designer (Chip Kidd), and the cover artist (Michael Cho), in which each explained how they go about creating a comic. This section had its own “live” component at Comic-Con, where a number of panels including the above-names participants talking about how they make comics, another part of the educational aspect of the event.

Also in this edition (info taken from Contents page of each edition):
• 100th Anniversary of King Features Syndicate
• 75th Anniversary of Robin, Joker, and Catwoman
• 75th Anniversary of the First Generation of DC Heroes
• 75th Anniversary of Shazam
• 50th Anniversary of the Inhumans
• 50th Anniversary of S.H.I.E.L.D.
• 50th Anniversary of T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents
• 25th Anniversary of HATE
• 25th Anniversary of Drawn & Quarterly
• 10th Anniversary of BOOM! Studios
• Exhibitor Spotlight: Lucasfilm
• Programming Spotlight: Starship Smackdown

Art by Babs Tarr • TM & © DC

2016: 75th Anniversary of Wonder Woman

(264 pages, color interior)

My biggest book yet, but no complaints. Sometimes you just have an embarrassment of riches. I had worked with Babs Tarr on the 2015 WonderCon Program Book cover (Batgirl, one of my favorite covers for that show) and we hit it off, so I was happy to work with her again. The type design is by me. This edition also saw the debut of “Cover Story,” a behind-the-scenes feature that showcased the creation of each year’s cover, including sketches, pencil, inked, and color art.

Also in this edition:
• Forry Ackerman Centennial
• 75 Years of Aquaman
• 75 Years of Green Arrow
• 75 Years of Archie
• 75 Years of Captain America
• 75 Years of Plastic Man
• 75 Years of Wonder Woman
• Conan and Frazetta: 50 Years
• 50 Years of the Black Panther
• 50 Years of the Silver Surfer
• 50 Years of John Romita’s Spider-Man
• 50 Years of the Batman TV Show
• 50 Years of Star Trek
• 25 Year of BONE
• 25 Years of Deadpool
• 25 Years of Palookaville
• Exhibitor Spotlight: First Second Books
• Programming Spotlight: Comic Creator Connection

Art by Joe Phillips • TM & © DC

Art by Bruce Timm • Logo Type by Todd Klein • Characters TM & © MARVEL and DC

2017: Jack Kirby Centennial

(272 pages, color interior)

Another record-breaker, page count wise. I had wanted to work with Bruce Timm for a while and when I asked him if he wanted to do a Jack Kirby inspired cover for the 100th anniversary of the King of Comics, he originally turned me down. So I asked him if he’d rather do a 25th anniversary of Batman: The Animated Series cover and he told me, “You can’t NOT do a Kirby cover.” A few days passed and Bruce emailed me and said, “IF I was going to do a Kirby cover, I’d like to do one based on Jimmy Olsen #141,” which featured a photo of Don Rickles in the center (don’t ask why), but with Kirby replacing him. I think I came up with the idea of using both Marvel and DC characters (or maybe it was Bruce) and we were able to get permission, thus teaming up the two companies for the first time in over a decade, all because it was for Kirby. Bruce used his traditional marker technique for the cover and I asked Eisner Award-winning letterer Todd Klein to do his best 1970s DC Comics cover title lettering. The “Cover Story” feature also included Klein’s lettering along with Timm’s sketches and an explanation as to why in the hell Don Rickles was on a Jimmy Olsen cover (written by Mark Evanier).

This edition has two books within a book: A 66-page section devoted to the life and career of Jack Kirby and a 40-page section on Will Eisner (we had covered Eisner’s The Spirit in-depth in 2015’s book). Born in 1917, both of these comic book legends celebrated centennials in 2017.

Also in this edition:
• Centennial articles celebrating Reed Crandall, Bill Everett, Sheldon Mayer, Carl Barks, and John Stanley
Crime Does Not Pay at 75
• Mighty Mouse: 75 Years
• 50 Years of Batgirl
• 50 Years of Captain Marvel (Marvel’s various versions)
• 25 Years of Batman: The Animated Series

Art by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott • TM & © MARVEL

Art by Matt Taylor • Characters TM & © MARVEL

2018: 10th Anniversary of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

(280 pages, color interior)

My last two printed Souvenir Books would top out at 280 pages. “That’ll do,” I said.

“I’d like to do something with Mondo,” my boss, Fae Desmond, the executive director of Comic-Con told me. “Come up with something.” I had admired Mondo’s limited edition silk-screen prints based on movie properties, particularly the ones devoted to the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Seizing upon the 10th anniversary of the MCU, I hand-picked British artist Matt Taylor, who I had met briefly at Thought Bubble in 2014 when I had purchased a Batman print from him, to do a cover for us, and more importantly, a Mondo print, too. We settled on a kind of historical overview of the first 10 years of the MCU and Matt nailed it on his first try. One morning—in March, no less, months before the deadline—Matt’s final art appeared in my inbox and I almost cried. It was perfect. Mondo did the heavy lifting of getting permission from each and every actor’s agent on their likeness (welcome to Hollywood, folks) and getting the posters printed, and we had not only a cover, but Comic-Con’s first-ever, limited edition print, sold in advance online for onsite pickup.

And that’s how we did something with Mondo.

Also in this edition:
• Hellboy 25th Anniversary
Strangers in Paradise 25th Anniversary
• Vertigo Comics 25th Anniversary
Understanding Comics 25th Anniversary
The X-Files 25th Anniversary
Planet of the Apes 50th Anniversary
ZAP Comix 50th Anniversary
Gasoline Alley 100th Anniversary
• Mickey Spillane 100th Anniversary
• Frankenstein 200th Anniversary

Art by Matt Taylor • Characters TM & © MARVEL

Art by Jim Lee, Scott Williams, and Alex Sinclair • Characters TM & © Respective Copyrightholders

2019: Comic-Con’s 50th Anniversary

(280 pages, color interior)

This is my last printed Souvenir Book and it focuses on the 50th anniversary of Comic-Con. Bill Schelly wrote a phenomenal article on the history of the show, conducting over 40 interviews with Comic-Con people and producing the story of the event that spanned 19 pages. I feel it’s the definitive, unbiased history of Comic-Con. The rest of this edition included a year-by-year look at the show, divided up into sections by decade, plus a feature called “Comic-Con Voices,” that showcased various people from the event’s history. There were also sections devoted to reminiscences from attendees, professionals, and Comic-Con volunteers and staff. The book ended with a “Parting Shot,” a feature I created back in 2011 as a solution to that final pesky last page, showing a page from the 1973 Comic-Con Program Book with a photo of the Con Committee and this caption: “The San Diego Comic-Con is a non-profit organization which hopes to have its own building and comic art gallery someday. The sooner – the better!”
Prophetic words indeed.

Jim Lee’s cover pencils alongside Scott Williams’s inks for the 2019 Souvenir Book cover.

About that cover: Jim Lee was my first—and only—choice for such a momentous cover and he was honored to be asked. We talked at WonderCon 2019 about it and had some nebulous plans, but as the deadline crept closer and closer, Jim finally said he wanted to draw a whole mess of other people’s characters for this cover, which was meant to be a wraparound from day one (kudos to Comic-Con for letting me do that; that back cover slot usually hosts a pricey ad). I was concerned about permissions and company characters appearing alongside other company characters, and Jim—who is also DC’s publisher and chief creative officer—told me not to worry about it, he’d handle it all. We agreed on which characters we wanted to use (and, more importantly, Jim wanted to draw) and time passed and Jim emailed and asked, “How are you doing on permissions?” Eventually, between myself and Jim, we got them all and for the second time in three years, I was responsible for another Marvel/DC team-up … with Image, Skybound, Dark Horse, and IDW, to boot. Approvals went pretty smoothly (Mike Mignola, out of the country at the time he received the email asking for his approval of the final color art, wrote back, “I can’t see this on my phone, but as long as Hellboy is red, I’m good.”) The cover arrived on the day of the absolute final deadline, only to show up as the wrong size. It was colorist Alex Sinclair who suggested adding type to the cover, which I said I would do only if I could have Michelangelo’s knee break the line and appear over the blue box holding the type. Alex supplied the needed knee and the problem was solved.

Decade-by-decade sections of the Comic-Con 2019 Souvenir Book are available online.

Click here to access a list of them to download and read!

Art by William Stout

2020: Ray Bradbury Centennial

(260 pages, online PDF only)

“Ray Bradbury, riding a dinosaur, on Mars.” That was my pitch to artist William Stout for the 2020 Souvenir Book cover, a book which, sadly, was never printed. 2020 was the centennial of Ray Bradbury and also his friend, movie special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen, and the image of the former Ray riding a dinosaur just seemed a fitting memorial to them both. Stout’s whimsical cover of Ray in his white ice cream suit riding gleefully atop a dinosaur on the angry red planet seemed like the perfect feel-good image for a bad time. And as a special tie-in to both the Bradbury Centennial and the 75th anniversary of EC Comics, we were able to include a full-color, seven-page reprint of one of Ray’s best-known stories, “There Will Come Soft Rains,” illustrated by Wally Wood, courtesy of the fine folks at EC.

Despite the lack of an in-person event, we soldiered on with a traditional Souvenir Book with anniversary themes, and asked for art and articles in late January, before we knew the whole world would be put on hold for almost two years. All that pandemic alone time spawned some great art (as usual) and articles and we ended up with a book that would have been a worthy companion to the previous ones.

It was to be my last Souvenir Book. In my introduction to the book, I wrote: “It has been my honor and privilege over the past 14 years to edit and design these books, starting with the 2007 edition. It’s been an amazing decade-and-a-half, working with some of the best artists in the comics world for our covers and seeing your creativity and passion just about every time I opened an email during “Souvenir Book Season.” I’m very proud of the comics and pop culture history we’ve presented in these books over the years and they will always be something I look back on as a high point of my time at Comic-Con.”

The only thing I can add to that is my eternal thanks to all the writers and artists who contributed articles and art for the Souvenir Book. I’m especially grateful to the small cadre of writers who I relied on over the years: Mark A. Altman, Jerry Beck, Charles Brownstein, Jon B. Cooke, Scott Dunbier, Jackie Estrada, Mark Evanier, Grant Geissman, Denis Kitchen, Paul Levitz, John Morrow, Shane Snoke, Douglas Wolk, and the late Bill Schelly, Tom Spurgeon, Charlie Novinskie, and R.C. Harvey. I miss working with you all, but especially those four guys who have passed on. It was a pleasure to be able to showcase your work.

Also in this edition:
• Ray Harryhausen Centennial
• EC Comics 75th Anniversary
• Moomin 50th Anniversary
• Conan in Comics 50th Anniversary
• Kirby’s Fourth World 50th Anniversary
• Last Gasp 50th Anniversary

Click here to view the 2020 Comic-Con Souvenir Book PDF!

Art by Al Feldstein • © William M. Gaines Agent, Inc.

Next time: My favorite Comic-Con event, that big monkey, APE, the Alternative Press Expo. RIP.

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