So, here’s Wizardworld Chicago The Chicago Comic-Con’s promotion for this year’s show, taking the top spot every day this week in comics/nerdculture news-site ICv2′s daily newsletter:

CHICAGO COMIC-CON 2009!
600+ Guests including Twilight Saga Actors, former UFC heavyweight champion, Andrei “THE PITBULL” Arlovski, scores of Star Wars guests, wrestling legends and some of the HOTTEST actresses including Michelle Rodriguez, Emma Caulfield, Orli Shoshan and Rhona Mitra.  Get a premier weekend pass or VIP Package and get into the show 1 hour early each day.  Advance tickets start at $25, more at the door.  Get your tickets now at [redacted].
A Paid Advertisement from Wizard Entertainment

Did… did you notice the lack of comics? At the Comic-Con? I mean it’s Wizard, I think enough has been said about Wizard’s relationship to comics to put them into the ground by now (and yet…), but still. They went through all that trouble to rename the convention and everything add “Comic-Con” back in, and their promotion seems to be downplaying, or ignoring completely, comic books. In favour of “hottest”ness. It’s a little strange?

Or maybe not, if you look at San Diego.

One of my biggest criticisms of The New York Comic-Con is that, in its early years, it showed enormous potential to be the sort of comics & publishing-oriented show that this industry needs and deserves. It’s not like it hasn’t been more-or-less sold out every year, particularly the early years that were all about New York Publishing (including and especially comics!). Yet every year the show becomes more and more about movies, toys, and tie-ins. They’re pushing the show closer and closer to the San Diego model and it makes for a weaker show each year. What is the San Diego model btw? Simple: A gateway to nerds. Comic Con International: San Diego is selling floor-space (and advertising space and mind-space) sure, but what they’re really selling is access to mouthy nerds with blogs, tastemakers, half-comprised of the people that make up their audiences and the people that will incite the rest of the country to be their audiences. Comic-Con is all about access, and who’s willing to pay the most for it.

Let’s get this out of the way: I love comics. I think comics are awesome. And I think comics as an industry and a medium needs big events like NYCC and SDCC and hundreds of other regional comics shows: they act as ambassadors for the medium. And so the question for the organizers of these events should be “does any of what we’re doing serve comics as a medium? or an industry? or is it just about the value of the access to mouthy nerds with blogs?”

Now I’m not an idiot, I know the preceeding sentence is naive as fuck. Seriously, Microsoft shows up with a suitcase of cash and they should ask them “but how does what you’re doing serve comics?” Of course not. But there’s that idealism of mine: why not? Something like SDCC but just for the entertainment industry? It doesn’t exist. The movie studios, the video game producers, the TV Shows and toys and Bud Bundy and all that, they’re coming to the comic book show. SDCC has got all the power, because nothing else like that event exists anywhere (Gareb Shamus tried and clearly failed; Reed is travelling the same road Shamus took). Imagine if SDCC really did take the ideological position of “how does what you do help comics?” with their exhibitors, and charged them accordingly? What if they used ideology as the wedge to expand the show into the parks, into the stadium, into the giant parking lot that’s as big as half the convention centre? Here I Drew A Map. Imagine the best possible things happened! Wouldn’t that be great? Why not work towards the best?

Pipe dream, sure. But I like having comics at a comic-con, and if it’s a zero-sum game with attendence: 150,000 people each year, and more and more of the people attending have little-to-no interest in anything other than their specific blinkered fandom (which tends to exclude comics), that means less money for the folks doing and selling and bringing comics to the show. Which tends to mean less comics at the show.

As an aside, the 10,000 TWILIGHT fans at the con really were a problem for the show, but a lot of the reasons that got floated came from a sexist, xenophobic, bullshit fanboy place. I actually feel bad even writing this, but truly, legitimately, 6,000 people at the show JUST for Twilight means 6,000 people that weren’t spending money at the show means 6,000 people that might’ve wanted to go that had an interest in dropping a few bucks at the various vendors? Shut out. Twilight is just the biggest, most concentrated fandom in years–maybe ever, so it puts the problem of Hollywood “stuff” into the clearest relief against the traditional convention crowd. I don’t begrudge anyone taking a road-trip and having a great time for the weekend; I hope the fans had fun. But with a very tight, closed economy at the show (due to space limitations) and little-to-no crossover with the rest of the event, what did having those fans and that event bring to the show? To comics? Why was Comic-Con the best place for that event to happen? And if it wasn’t the best place, and space is at a premium at Comic-Con, then why was it held there?

Two last things:

1. Anime Cons. The big buzz in anime conventions right now is that prices have gone up, and the recessionary economy means that attendees have less pocket-money. Anime Expo, typically one of biggest shows of the year, was reportedly a very poor sales show for most-if-not-all exhibitors. No one had any money. They did have costumes, they did come to hang out with their friends, and they did spend a not-inconsiderable ammount of money on a 3-day pass. They just didn’t have any left-over, afterwards. This wasn’t isolated either, not trying to pick an AX, this is the buzz from most anime shows I’ve been hearing. When a show becomes primarily a place to participate in fandom, a closed circuit, it tends to decline… rapidly. Sci-Fi cons are the biggest examples of this. If your convention is a place to break-out your Klingon costume, hang out in a hotel for three days and go to room-parties, then your convention is not long for this world. Or rather, it’ll be around forever, it’ll just shrink and be sad. No one wants that. Imagine 20 years from now, 40 year old dudes breaking out their Naruto costumes and drinking schnapps out of a bottle in their Holiday Inn 2 dbl bds room with 10 other similarly dressed people. That’s the difference between a vibrant, thriving medium, industry, and fandom, and one that has started to eat itself.

2. PAX: The Penny-Arcade Expo. From nothing to the second-biggest nerd-culture convention (for the public) in just under 5 years. Anyone who follows convention planning/news/whatever is in awe of what they’ve accomplished, and they’ve done it in a smart, controlled way–with an iron fist. First rule of exhibting at PAX? PAX IS A VIDEOGAME SHOW. If what you “do” isn’t directly about video games? You can’t exhibit. Period. 5 years, second-biggest nerd-culture event in North America, accomplished by sticking to their guns. Cooooooool.

Alright. That’s 1200 words of nonsense. Time to go.

- Christopher


10 Comments on “A quick little follow-up on Comic-Con…”

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  1. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » July 31, 2009: Gone a bit yellow says:

    [...] Christopher Butcher notes the increasing number of comics conventions where comics are an afterthought. [...]

  2. Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources - Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment » Comics A.M. | The comics Internet in two minutes says:

    [...] Conventions | Retailer Christopher Butcher, organizer of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, surveys the comics-convention landscape and wonders where the comics are. He also comments on the Twilight “controversy” at Comic-Con International: “… The 10,000 Twilight fans at the con really were a problem for the show, but a lot of the reasons that got floated came from a sexist, xenophobic, bullshit fanboy place. I actually feel bad even writing this, but truly, legitimately, 6,000 people at the show just for Twilight means 6,000 people that weren’t spending money at the show means 6,000 people that might’ve wanted to go that had an interest in dropping a few bucks at the various vendors? Shut out.” [Comics212] [...]

  3. Ben Towle says:

    You should trek on down to Charlotte NC sometime for Heroes Con. It’s a great, medium-sized, independent COMICS convention. No wrestlers, no guys who once played a Jawa, etc.

  4. THE BEAT » Blog Archive » KIbbles ‘n’ Bits — July 31, 2009 says:

    [...] Chris Butcher sums up that fact that…only Comic-con can do what Comic-Con does?: Something like SDCC but just for the entertainment industry? It doesn’t exist. The movie [...]

  5. Jim Ottaviani says:

    Very well stated! Thanks for thinking this through, Christopher. And I think what you suggest is achievable, not just desirable, which is even better.

  6. Susie says:

    Thanks for clearly stating what’s been percolating in my brainpan!
    I really don’t think there’s much hope of SDCC re-emphasizing comics. The Pandora’s box on that has been opened. But that’s okay if other, smaller conventions (is there anything in the US as large as SDCC?) are more comic-centric. I’ve given up on West Coast Wizard shows a while ago and I have high hopes for Long Beach.

  7. Jim Zubkavich says:

    Great post, Chris.

    One small thing – PAX is about gaming, not just video games. Obviously video games make up the majority of it, but there is a serious line of board games and tabletop RPGs that make up their programming as well alongside the video games. The focus is games and they’ve done a stellar job at curating vendors and companies that fit their target demographic to a tee. No gutter of porn stars or c-list actors, no wasted space.

  8. Chad says:

    As an aside, the 10,000 TWILIGHT fans at the con really were a problem for the show, but a lot of the reasons that got floated came from a sexist, xenophobic, bullshit fanboy place. I actually feel bad even writing this, but truly, legitimately, 6,000 people at the show JUST for Twilight means 6,000 people that weren’t spending money at the show means 6,000 people that might’ve wanted to go that had an interest in dropping a few bucks at the various vendors? Shut out.

    That’s the first explanation I’ve read of why Twilight might’ve been a bad thing for the con that hasn’t been sexist, xenophobic, fanboy bullshit. So thanks for that.

    I actually hadn’t thought of that potential pitfall.

  9. Kat Kan says:

    My brother, who lives a 15-minute drive away from Rosemont, has attended the Chicago Comic-Con for the last 9 years. He ignores the media stuff and focuses on the comics creators who are there. He enjoys it every year, and each year he meets someone he hasn’t met before. He buys their comics and their art. So one can attend the Chicago Comic-Con just for the comics.

  10. Heather says:

    Thanks for that excellent analysis, Chris. I’ve been trying to figure out for a while now why conventions seem to be less enjoyable with each passing each year and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.

    Re: Anime Cons

    I don’t travel very much anymore so I can’t really comment on the current state of conventions. What I can say is that Anime North is like the example you gave already, and in my opinion it has been in a steady decline since about 2004. It now boasts unrelated events such as wrestling tournaments and random guests such as Ed the Sock. Seriously, Ed the Sock at an anime convention? Speaking of guests, I feel there are not nearly enough who are actually involved in the actual creation of anime and manga (e.g. artists, writers, directors, etc.) I would hazard to guess that if you asked the average fan what they liked best about anime and manga as a genre, the response would involve something about stories, characters and/or artwork. (See example.) The things they liked best would probably NOT be the voiceover work or theme songs, so why is there so much focus on voice actor and pop star guests? Is it simply because they are easier and less expensive to book as guests?

    I’ve also noticed that there are an increasing number of attendees of the let’s-just-cosplay-and-hang-out variety, many of whom are not particularly interested in any of the guests, exhibitors and events (save for the masquerade). I worry that someday they’ll realize that they don’t actually need to buy the expensive convention pass because pretty much everything they come for (photoshoots, meet-ups and hotel shenanigans) actually occurs outside the convention hall. And as much as I hope this will never happen, part of me admits that if things continue on their current path it’ll just be a matter of time.

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