Thoughts on Comic-Con International

While I am a social creature who thrives in the atmosphere at Comic-Con International, I needed to be practical and chose not to attend this year.

Last year was the first time since 2001, and since I was fulltime freelance, it made sense to see if I could be out there and generate some work.  I had a wonderful time and did follow-up in person on numerous existing assignments, but I did not come home with new assignments.

On a cost-effective basis, the con was a bust and certainly helped convince me not to go back this year.

Last year, I would return to the hotel room and surf the net, learning of all the news and announcements that I missed since I was not at the panels and certainly couldn’t dream of getting into Hall H where all the media madness was located.

This year, I scanned the websites at the beginning and close of business each day and it frankly felt the exact same way. The instantaneous coverage actually allowed me to keep tabs on more programming than I would have been able to attend had I arrived as a mere fan.

Several sites have begun their wrap-up coverage and in reviewing what was announced and not announced, it most definitely appears this was the year Hollywood eclipsed the comic book publishers. Most of the biggest headlines were generated by movies based on comics but the big two, DC Entertainment and Marvel Comics, wisely chose to avoid the media scrum and this year doled out most of their significant news in the days leading up to the con. Review the lists and you will see the news was spread from print to digital to games to media when in the past we cared about new titles or exclusive creators or big events.

Take a look at the summary from Newsarama and you will realize most of this was either leaked at Bleeding Cool or formally announced. What was fresh news from the publishers was of far less importance. And the biggest DC news was never announced – although the Los Angeles Times coverage hinted that the decision to relocate all or some of the New York operation was a done deal so the staff just needs to be informed.

We used to call it the San Diego Comic-Con then Comic-Con International and while comics remains in the title, their value has been diminished. Yes, we wouldn’t have half the media programming if there were no movies based on the comic book characters or the geeks who read them but the comic books, of all genres and from all publishers, have been overshadowed.

For those exhibiting at the show, it seems to have become more and more of an onerous chore, trying to get noticed given the constantly raised bar. More creators mean more demands on publishers’ time, now that they have to split their focus between producers, media contacts, and the people who actual create the comics. The Preview Night has extended the marathon to a fifth day, sucking even more of the potential fun out of being there.

In addition to gaining attention for their projects, everyone now feels compelled to offer convention exclusive covers or promo items or limited edition variants of merchandise. This ratchets up the stress among fans who now feel they have to find the booths with the coolest, most in demand, items and get them before they sellout. No sooner do they accomplish their shopping than they disappear on to an hours-long line for someone’s autograph or a chance to attend one of the major programming events.

There’s stress all around, the convention has grown too big to truly enjoy. This is certainly not lost on Reed Exhibitions who is growing the New York Comic-Con into the east coast equivalent of San Diego. They need to maximize the sizzle without diminishing the fun and it’ll be tricky.

As a result, the smaller regional shows such as Emerald City Con are now the places pros most want to be. They can exhale a bit, actually chat with the fans, and not be crushed in the process.

Of course, what will happen when Emerald City or Baltimore or Heroes Con gets too big? Where can a fan or a pro go for some old fashioned fun, talking comics and interacting with one another?

3 comments

  • Rick Keating

    I’ve never been to the San Diego convention, so I can’t comment about that; but I’ve often gone to the Motor City Comic Con. One year in the early 90s there was a panel with John Ostrander. And it was just Ostrander, because whoever else was supposed to be on that panel couldn’t make it. And there were only a handful of us (about 10 at most) in the room. So Ostrander got down from the stage, and we all sat in a circle and talked about comics.
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    Rick
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    P.S. unrelated to comics conventions (at least directly), but the Cincinnati Old Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention is a very small and interpersonal affair. The OTR stars (including Bob Hastings (Commissioner Gordon on Batman the Animated Series)) mingle with the regular guests.

  • John Scheeler

    I understand exactly what you’re saying, Bob. I have been feeling the same way about Dragon*Con lately. They’ve really grown way too big, making it nearly impossible to get to see or do all the things that may interest you. Also, the hotels now book up WAY in advance, like December, and since the convention committee doesn’t respond quickly to inquiries about the Knights performing (this year, I inquired in December of ’09, and finally got a polite “we can’t use you this year” in July), it would have been too late to book rooms, anyway. Bottom line is, we probably won’t be performing at Dragon*Con ever again, which will, I’m sure, disappoint many of our fans in the South. I had always wanted to try San Diego Comic-Con (now Comic-Con International), but the more I hear about it, the more I think I’ll just save my money for something more fun.

  • Dear Bob,
    wow, you’ve encapsulated some very similar thoughts I had about the show. I actually wish I hadn’t gone and saved my money…

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