Thinking About Hollywood and Comic-Con

Today’s New York Timesbusiness section has a piece on Hollywood courting fans at Comic-Con International; examine the buzz generated and whether or not it translates to actual box office success. It certainly did for District 9; it certainly did not for The Watchmen.

It got me to thinking about the con and its reputation as the Mecca of all things cool and the seal of geek cred being sought by an increasing number of sources.

On the one hand, you have a captive audience of people who want to be in the know, want to see what’s cool and like being considered a taste maker. On the other, you have rabid clusters of fans devoted to maybe only one property, taking up valuable space and memberships from people who want the full experience. Perhaps separate pricing and admission policies should reflect the Hollywood-only attendees.

Additionally, the numbers have skewed out of proportion. It used to be, a few thousand people would see a presentation out of a total registration of maybe 50,000, meaning some 10 percent or more was generating the noise. With 150,000 people streaming through the con and the largest hall accommodating only 6000 people, the buzz is ascribed to a mere 4 percent of the attendees. Everyone else is shut out of the presentation, which tends not to be simulcast to other rooms. We have to wait for footage to hit the Internet.

For those 6000 people, they line up hours in advance for that special event, losing out on actually seeing the rest of the show. The Twilight crowd apparently camped out overnight last year, which shows how extreme things can get.

The article also avoided any mention of the growing number of television series that are courting the same buzz. New series, such as CBS’ revival of Hawaii Five-O, and already hot shows, such as Fox’s Glee, will be on hand. Which raises an entirely different question: why are they there? Shows that need their diehard fans to remain on the air (yes, I’m talking to you, Chuck) make sense but most others don’t.

Comic-con used to be a celebration of comic books and comics strips, some animation, and the adaptations of these properties into movies and television series. The parameters have increasingly expanded as Hollywood studios now use the convention as their personal playhouse, showing off their newest and shiniest objects regardless of their appropriateness to the core of the show.

Certainly, movies based on comics, such as next year’s Green Lantern, should be showcased. But studios and networks should be concentrating on finding acceptance or rejection of their other genre offerings. After Disney showed off some test footage for Tron: Legacy, the reaction was positive enough to help the studio decide to green light the film and a year later, they returned to show the progress, continuing a relationship. That is a connection all too rarely being made today. We want to be surprised and we want to root for the underdog concepts, and that’s happening with far less frequency.

The first film to get promoted at San Diego was something no one had heard of and needed some promotion, despite it not opening for another ten months. It had a retail poster sell out its 1000 copy run and the comics professionals adapting it were the featured speakers. Star Wars set the stage for what has evolved into a Las Vegas-sized megaevent but along the way, we lost much of the cool factor, that sense of discovering something worth waiting for ahead of the mass audience.

The con organizers probably has little control over which films and shows get promoted in Hall H, and it’s a shame, since comics and all their wonders have been totally eclipsed. The publishers, the talent, and the characters are no longer the draw as fleeting glimpses of actors and teaser footage has replaced them.

2 comments

  • Mike Flynn

    You’re so right, Bob; the last few times I’ve been to SD I’ve been overwhelmed, and it’s only gotten worse. I’ll be there this year, but I don’t know that I’ll spend more than a nanosecond at any of the events. I expect to rendezvous with many folks at the Marriott’s bar.

  • Good points. Even up here in the Bay Area, where we have Wonder Con, Comic Con’s younger sibling, I refuse to wait for hours for a panel discussion that might not even be worthwhile. And I’d be missing one of the joys of such a convention/expo, which is strolling through the exhibit hall and seeing new and old stuff, interesting people, hearing and feeling the real buzz of the place.

    (A contrary part of me says that if a comics-based event is the hottest media promotion event around, that the comics world should at least pat itself on its collective back for having arrived.)

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