Is Comic-Con Becoming a Nightmare?

"...and SDCC is probably sour, anyway."

“…and SDCC is probably sour, anyway.”

I went to San Diego Comic-Con once, back when I was sure it was called that. I would swear I got an e-mail later telling me not to call it that anymore. I think it’s “Comic-Con International” now, or possibly “Comic-Con International: San Diego Unit.” I wouldn’t stake my life on that hyphen, either. I can’t get a straight answer around here.

For today, I’m going to call it “Stacy,” just to save time. We’re just a couple of weeks away from Stacy.

I saw Stacy in person four years ago, almost unexpectedly. I had written it off as a fantasy– even then, booking accommodations already sounded like a labor of Hercules– when Josh dropped me a line out of the blue and offered to let me sleep in the iFanboy tub, or on a hanger in the suite’s closet, or something. I whipped up some plane tickets, stuffed a backpack with clothes, and ended up doing a marathon fiftyish hours on the town with my benefactors. It was the kind of fun that would probably be impossible to top now: I didn’t have to deal with the arrangements, I had guides who were seasoned veterans, and to top it all off I was hanging around with people who had private appointments to interview the public figures I came to see. All I had to do was lug some camera equipment around a couple of times and record a podcast.

I think that weekend would be hard to top now even without all of that, though. Is it just me, or has Stacy started sounding like kind of a drag?

For years, grumpy grampas have groused that Stacy wasn’t about comics anymore, that Hollywood had stormed in and made a mess of things. Personally, I’m not sure I’d agree with that exactly (even if the cast of The Big Bang Theory and Twilight are there, there’s still an adjacent airplane hangar’s worth of people dressed as Mister Sinister who know who Howard Chaykin is) but one gets the sense that a lot has changed in even the last few years. Iron Man and everything that’s come after have put a much brighter spotlight on the intersection between film and fanboys. Not only is Hollywood beating the bushes again for the next Jonah Hex, but a whole new group of people has started taking interest in Avengers and Green Lanterns. The result seems to be a poorly managed– and maybe unmanageable– feeding frenzy. Every year now, 126,000 to 130,000 people go see Stacy. When I went, according to Wikipedia, tickets sold out “months early.” In the years since, they’ve sold out within minutes of going on sale, even with servers that could be generously described as “squirrelly.”

I can’t deal with that kind of hogwash, just on an emotional level. I’m not prepared to commit to dinner plans tomorrow, much less race a thousand people for them. My hobby is reading, for Christ’s sake.

If you’re the kind of person who leaves Thanksgiving dinner early every year to psyche up for Black Friday, that might sound like a delight. Some people like to kill their own supper. None of my business. If you’re someone like me, though, you see the intrepid souls having nervous breakdowns on Twitter every year (“refreshing and refreshing but the page won’t reload COME ON wjnejvnijrnfvija”) and think, “Jiminy crickets, that vacation sounds more stressful than my job.” And that’s before they even try to book the hotel, which they make sound like the Hunger Games without the prizes.

A fragment of the  line for Hall H in 2009. Were we ever so young?

A fragment of the line for Hall H in 2009. Were we ever so young?

The whole reason to go to a convention is to spend time among Your People, to be surrounded by like-minded true believers letting their freak flags fly. Past a certain number, though, it stops being something you’re doing together and becomes something you’re getting through together. I remember looking at the people experiencing Day Two of waiting in line to get to Hall H and see ten minutes of Twilight a few weeks early, thinking, “I wouldn’t wait in a line half that long to see an entire movie.” People look back at that quaint little gathering of fans wistfully now. I think Stacy may have gotten too big to be healthy.

Maybe this says more about me than it does anything else; maybe a younger, more fresh-faced lad still gets excited enough about things to wait in a two-day line. Maybe it speaks to the Comic Book Guy personality; all the people crammed onto the con floor or waiting half a day for sketch are just “sticking with the con until it gets good again.” But where can all of this end? Where do we see Stacy in five years? This is unsustainable, isn’t it? Everything that booms busts, and you can only make people duel for hotel rooms for so long before you cause your own crash.

Then again, maybe that’s the best thing for it. Invisible hand of the market, and all that.

What is the way forward? Can the biggest con of all stay big, draw the big names and the major brands to show their wares, while at the same time shrinking enough for the average onlooker to consider going without getting an ulcer from the thought of it? Will it ever be possible to think, “Maybe I’ll go this year” in early June and arrange the trip right then and there? Or have the smaller regional conventions spoiled me? It would be nice to go to a big show again, just not… you know… a big show.

 


Jim Mroczkowski slept in neither the tub nor the closet. He was allegedly in “Conor’s bed,” though no evidence exists that Conor slept.

Comments

  1. asr0462 says:

    Never did San Diego, but I did do New York last year. I had the same experience: too crowded and not really worth the time.

    Also, I had a “professional” pass as I’m an educator. However, I saw 13 year old girls running around with “professional” passes. It all seems like a sham to me. I swear, they just go to the fire marshall and ask, “How many people can we fit in this place?” After they get their answer, they add 10,000 to that number, and that’s how many tickets they sell.

    • rottenjorge rottenjorge says:

      really 13? how did they do that? new York is meant for comicbook lovers, yet no tv shows wink wink that doesn’t have to do with comicbooks

    • cosmo cosmo says:

      Back during its first season, I saw a Fringe panel at the New York Comic Con. Not directly related to comics, but, hey, close in spirit to them (I don’t believe they had done any of the tie comics yet).

      While the New York convention has gotten increasingly oversold, I do still think that it is still an enjoyable experience. Didn’t go last year, so I can’t comment on it was though . . .

  2. I live in Toronto and the closest I get to major cons are Toronto Comic-Con, FanExpo and AnimeNorth. The lines for those are just as long with crowds of people there for different things. I remember the line for Halo 4 last year took up 1/5 of the con.

    But I don’t think its completely a bad thing. I was introduced to comics as one of those people stuck in a line for something else and I’ve love reading them since, so did a few of my friends. As long as people are getting introduced to comics in some way its not a complete negative. However, I still agree with mostly everything you say.

    • Josh Flanagan Josh Flanagan (@jaflanagan) says:

      From what I read recently, FanExpo is massive,

    • gobo gobo says:

      Fanexpo’s lines have been awful for assorted reasons, hopefully this year when they can use the whole convention centre it won’t be as bad.

      NYCC’s crowds are WAY worse than Fanexpo though, I think the Toronto Fire Marshalls are a bit stricter than the NY ones.

  3. I’ve always wanted to go to Comicon but have never been able to get the logistics to work. The amount of lead time you need to get a hotel and make plans is very difficult to plan with my work responsibilities. I’ve even had to pass up guest passes a few times, because, even though they were offered months in advance, i missed that 5 minute window where everyone fights over the hotels. The prices of rooms and all that are just another thing that seems really disheartening. Very difficult for me to justify that trip in a family budget. It would be great if you could just go down and buy a ticket at the door but that seems to big for that to be possible. Things might have changed, but i’ve just resolved to the idea that its too expensive and too difficult to even try to go. However, the Trickster side event seems like it could be fun. I might try to visit SoCal friends to go at some point.

    For me, all that planning zaps the fun out of it. I planned my wedding and honeymoon in less time and effort than it takes to try and get a ticket and room at comicon haha

    .

    • TurdSandwich TurdSandwich says:

      Ditto on Trickster, I live in Southern California and this might be the year I go down there, but it’ll be for Trickster not SDCC; for all the reasons Jim cited in the article.

  4. flakbait flakbait says:

    I’ve never been and have resigned myself to never going. Occasionally I hear amazing stories come out of there, but I get claustrophobic just looking at the pictures of the crowds and lines. Even at our local con I tend to go only on Sunday just because it can get so crowded on Saturday.

  5. IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

    This is a topic where I can agree with Jim; Stacy is too big. I’ve only been to a small local con (although last time it was moved into a convention center instead of a college gym and some hallways) but would like to try a bigger one. I know some comic clerks who went to C2E2, maybe I could get the balls to ask them if I can come if I chip in for gas. Im just enamored with the kind of panels they have at the big cons, the celebrities they have, the cool activities they host. Although money would be a big issue…

    I love my local con tho, I’ll call it Gem to save time. Gem has comic related Jeopardy, tons of comics deal, local and established artists, and really cool panels. And tickets cost me $16. I mean I spend like 5 times that after, but tickets are still reasonable.

    I don’t know if Stacy will stop being big anytime soon, the people that made her big have dropped in some big bucks and made more. They won’t stop until the profits do. I’ve heard plans to move Stacy to a bigger location, but don’t know if that will ever happen. It’s fun to dream though.

    • Jim Mroczkowski Jim Mroczkowski (@jimski) says:

      I highly recommend C2E2, which has become a “real” con at a breakneck pace in the last couple of years.

    • Grandturk says:

      C2E2 is probably the one I will go in for. Added bonus – Chitown!

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      Thanks for the advice. Guess I need sack up ask my friends if I could tag along next time.

    • Went to C2E2 for the first time this year and it was just amazing; my fiance and I had a blast. It was the first real Con that I have gotten a chance to go to.

      As far as San Diego goes, I would love to be the chance to go there some time but the ridiculous ticket/hotel window is too hard to get and the cost cannot really be justified in my mind. I could take two trips to NYC in the price it was for SDCC, flight and hotel.

      As far as Cons go, I love it but then again, I haven’t been going to them for 10 years+, so maybe it will get boring eventually…

    • Josh Flanagan Josh Flanagan (@jaflanagan) says:

      What’s nice about C2E2 is that apparently, no one goes to it, so it’s not that crowded.

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      Also a plus, I hate people bumping into me every 5 minutes. Even if its because walking space is limited. We need bigger hallways people! One of the most obess nations in the world and all they’re expanding is waist sizes and chairs; what about hallways? Staircases? Other things I can’t think of!

      So yea, I think I’m sold on C2E2 if I can get the money together and a ride.

  6. I look at San Diego the same way I look at the Super Bowl. I suppose I should go at some point just so I can appreciate the spectacle and say I’ve been there, but ultimately it just seems like too much of a hassle, too many lines, and way to expensive to ever actually do it. I always used to say that my local con (Boston) was just the right size, big enough to get some great comic guests, but not so big that it ever seemed to attract actors and actresses (until this year), so it was always just about comics and I liked that. I don’t begrudge the film industry for “taking over” the con, but all I’m interested in doing is meeting comic book creators I like and finding deals on trades that I want, so San Diego seems like a bit much for me.

  7. English says:

    This is my first year in 10 years of not going to Comic-Con. As much as I love the experience after seeing it year in and year out along with the increasing difficulty to get tickets even as a veteran, My friend and I decided that we had a good run and had really seen all there is to see. If you have not gone it is definitely something you should try and experience provided you have some way to get tickets, a room (not a problem for me as I live in San Diego). I have memories that I will keep with me forever sitting on Odin’s throne at the marvel booth, Meeting the iFanboys and iFanbase, Having Matt Fraction stop us in the Hall way to tell us that the the Cup O’ Joe panelist all loved our Aim Costumes (oh the heat stroke), Waiting in line with complete strangers and striking up friendships over common ground that ever one is passionate about. some i wish i could get rid of, say a fat hairy frankenfurter cos-player coming down the escalator. Even with the mass crowds and the long waits for things there is still something amazing about Comic-Con and that is due to the people there, their passion and love for what ever brought them there.

  8. Switch625 Switch625 says:

    My friends and I would LOVE to go to SDCC, but when I actually think about what the experience will likely entail – long lines, a lot of waiting, some more long lines, more waiting, more crowds – I just don’t think I’d have any fun. And that’s before the expense of the endeavor comes into play. I don’t want to spend that kind of money just to stand in line and wait behind 10,000 other people who are waiting in line behind 10,000 other people.

  9. Skoon says:

    I can’t even get myself psyched up for Emerald City ComicCon and I live in Seattle. Gotta buy the tickets way early, no parking anywhere close to the venue unless you show up 2 hours before open. You can take the bus pretty easily, but that means if you pick up anything, and you’re going to pick up something, you have to haul it back home on the bus. The buses don’t run efficiently on the weekends anyway.

    Then you get there, and they’ve been sold out for months but people still wait in line to try to buy tickets. Even if you have tickets, you can’t get in because of the fire code. Luckily its lightly raining outside so you stay cool, but now all the cosplayers smell like wet dog and clown makeup. Heck, even some attendees who aren’t cosplaying smell like wet dog.

    What I’d like to see is separate venues for separate areas of interest. Yes Hollywood fanboys and fangirls, you are over in this other building to see the Twighlight/Thor/Spider-Man teaser. Comics and Graphic Novels are over in this other venue. Video gamers over there, board/RPG gamers over there. Big cosplay “look at me, look at me” ball and contest over there. Done!

    It would really be nice to have a kids comic-con too. One just for families & kids under 15 maybe. Emerald City CC had a nice family area outside of the main con a couple of years ago. Balloon animals, coloring, etc… Maybe have Pixar animators, Tiny Titans artists, character cosplay.

  10. Julesxsxex says:

    My senior year of highschool my birthday present was skipping school on a friday and making the four hour drive with my dad to Dallas for Wizard World Texas. And it was a blast. Probably the best time i ever had at any con experience. It wasn’t too crowded, there were lots of people sure, but not to the point where i couldn’t walk around and i didn’t have to show up a day early for a panel. It was great standing in line and talking to other people about their costumes, what characters they’re into, all that stuff. San Diego, i look at it now and i know, i just know in my gut that it wouldn’t be like that at all. It would be me fighting the crowd like a salmon swimming upstream to try to get to the stuff I want, only to find out it’s already gone or the line is at the back of the building where i came from. I’ve made peace with the fact that i’ll never go to san diego. and i don’t really want to anymore. The smaller local shows feel more worth it.

  11. Jeff Reid Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

    I haven’t been back to SDCC since 2005 and when I see lines like that for Hall H, I don’t miss it. C2E2 is a wonderful con and much closer to what I want these days. Plus, a dealer there had old issues of Darkhawk for a quarter each.

  12. I know myself too good and would not enjoy SDCC as it is today. Forget the long lines and hours of waiting and the ridiculously huge crowds, I’d have to take pictures of everything in order to remember anything I’d experience. It would be too overwhelming for me, I believe.

    Besides, its been at the smaller cons where I’ve met the Celebs. I met Grant Morrison at WizardWorld in Long Beach as he was promoting All Star Superman and I approached him and he took a few minutes to talk with me. I met Bob Kane many years ago, he was a pleasant man. Jack Kirby was a complete gentleman in his Members Only jacket and Sam Keith, who at the time Sandman was about two years into its run and I asked him when he going back to the book and he simply said he had no desire to. Today this means nothing, but back then his statement was shocking because the book was huge and he had never really gave an explanation. All these moments happened at much smaller cons and maybe, that’s why I don’t feel like I’m missing out now.

  13. dkbrain dkbrain says:

    I love C2E2 and San Diego – only positive experiences.

  14. Orpheus Orpheus says:

    My local shop sells tickets and buses everyone down to c2e2, so thats the con i’m planning on going to. I think San Diego will stay a huge event because it has expanded well beyond the realm of comics.

    I think other cons that are more solely focused on comics will see attendance drop to where it will be a more pleasant experience and the attendance will be reasonable. We are at a point where superheros have become titans of pop culture with the popular films, so therefore it attracts a lot of people who don’t read comics.

    Attendance at these things are ridiculous, but I keep hearing the sales numbers for comics remain the same. Superheros may be hip right now, and for that i say right on, but like everything else it is (probably) just a fad pop culture is going through. Eventually all of the posers will go away and only the hardcores will remain, and the average con size will shrink for better or worse.

  15. Anville Anville says:

    A life-long comic fan, until last year I’d never been to a con. As a San Diego resident for over 15 years now, it would sometimes occur to me round about June that “Maybe I’ll go this year”. Of course, by then it was always too late. Last year I finally remembered in January, and managed to get a Saturday pass for me and my gf. We walked down from her apartment, and we had a fun day, but we were both not overwhelmed to attend again. Glad I did it at least once, though.

    I should try to make it up to WonderCon some year, or maybe even this one: http://www.sdcomicfest.org/

    • English says:

      WonderCon is good, MUCH MUCH smaller in scale then SDCC, This last year I don’t think Marvel even had a presence on the floor.

  16. icn1983 icn1983 says:

    Are there any significant outdoor comic book conventions?

  17. Stacy is somewhat of a nightmare! A lot of planning/booking and all that jazz! But it’s really an incredible experience! I’ve been twice now (’10 and ’12), not going this year, but definitely would like to go back!

    As for the huge lines…if you don’t care about Hall H, or seeing the cast of some TV show/movie, it’s really not bad! I walked right in last year on Thursday and got my badge within 2 minutes…no line! Besides, they put all the Hall H stuff on the internet anyways! Most other lines are only for Stacy-exclusive stuff. And sometimes you meet someone cool in those lines!

    If you actually want to go to find new comics, or check out Artist’s Alley, or buy some collectibles, you just have to wade through the crowd. Yes, the main hall floor is crowded, but the spectacle of it all is worth it, IMHO!

    Plus, San Diego is just a really cool city to hang out in for a week or so!

  18. boostergold4 says:

    I went to SDCC in 2007 and had a blast, but not sure I would go back. Not that I didnt have a great time, but the crowds were just overwhelming. If you want a great con atmosphere, without the crowds, Heroes Con in Charlotte,NC is the place to be. I live just about an hour away, so I have been almost every year in the past 15 years. Its all about comics and the fans, and they always have great guests. I’ve met Matt Fraction, Neal Adams, Rob Liefeld, Skottie Young, Bill Steranko, George Perez, Joe Staton, Adam Hughes, Cliff Chang, and the list goes on. I have never waiting in line more than 10 minutes to meet these people!

  19. zombox zombox says:

    You say becoming… everything that I have heard indicates that it has been a nightmare for several years now. The only reason to go is to hang out with friends cause comics aren’t even a thing there anymore.

    • Conor Kilpatrick Conor Kilpatrick (@cskilpatrick) says:

      Comics are definitely a thing there. As Jim said in the article, “there’s still an adjacent airplane hangar’s worth of people dressed as Mister Sinister who know who Howard Chaykin is),” which is true.

    • zombox zombox says:

      It certainly doesn’t seem looker it to many comic creators, when i talk to them at comic focused conventions they lament SDCC.

    • Conor Kilpatrick Conor Kilpatrick (@cskilpatrick) says:

      I’ve never talked to any comic book creator that has complained that SDCC isn’t about comics anymore. That’s not to say that there aren’t any out there that feel that way but I’ve never heard it mentioned. The complaints I’ve had from comic book creators are about the size, the hassle, the cost, etc.

  20. BionicDave BionicDave says:

    Part (by no means all) of the problem might be related to the mainstreaming of various nerd cultures into the celebrated catch-all “pop culture.” Which means that if I want to attend Comic-Con to hear comic book professionals speak, or to play Magic the Gathering with people from all over, or to take part in cosplay activities? – then I must also contend with the hordes who watch “Breaking Bad,” for example, and will come and take up hotel rooms to see Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul. I suppose it’s the price we pay for nerds finally being cool, for us finally inheriting the earth: that we also inherit its population.

    • BionicDave BionicDave says:

      By the way – great article, Jim. Even if people claim that it’s just more bitching and whining, it seriously does make this iFanboy fan feel better to read stuff like this; my misery does like the company, lol. I’ve been going to SDCC for over 10 years but this month I’m skipping it, mostly because I couldn’t take dealing with the hotel situation. I really hope DC and/or Marvel podcasts some of its panels. (Is there any way the iFanboy staff can ask its comic industry friends to make sure that happens?)

  21. KRAKABOOM says:

    Rather go to Angouleme.

  22. tomdpimp tomdpimp says:

    There are many other cons. Its time for San Diego to get a backseat. DRAGONCON and HEROESCON are far more fan driven

  23. cosmo cosmo says:

    Part of me thinks that it would be nice to plan a Comic-Con trip with one of my oldest friends sometime, just to experience it, but honestly, yeah, I don’t know if it would be worth it. It sounds like a logistical nightmare which would simply be too overwhelming for any real enjoyment.

    Living in New York, I’ve attended the New York Comic-Con four times now. Each year has been more crowded than before — it can be a bit of a nightmare getting around at times. However, in my opinion, it’s still a manageable size for a big con. I’ve had a great time each year I went (I didn’t go last year, so I can’t comment on it). The size is sprawling, but, you can get a handle on it. Plus, I’ve met some great creators there, had some good conversations. Also, tons of deals on comics; my wallet always groans when I spot the dealer with an “all trades $5.”

    Going again this year, and looking forward to it . . .

  24. stevenpirie stevenpirie says:

    I have been attending ComicCon since you could simply walk up to the door on the day and buy a ticket (12 years ago) to the current frenzied lottery/registration system. I got tix for this year for the Sunday.
    However, even if I had failed to get tix I would have gone downtown on the Saturday (I live in San Diego County) just to people watch.
    Let me make an analogy here. In Edinburgh every august there is an arts festival, biggest one in the world, lasts for 3 weeks, awesome. Started out as official , and performers who couldnt get in to the official festival just showed up anyway and started a Fringe Festival. The Fringe is now the tail that wags the dog. It is huge, people peform where they can.
    I noticed that in San Diego, there are satellite events during Comic Con, Nickeloden setup in the children’s museum a few years ago, separate events , no ComicCon ticket required. Down town buzzes, there is a vibe. People go to people-watch. Cosplayers abound, carnival atmosphere pervades the area. Its a good area, gaslamp district ,down by the embarcadero.
    There is the beginning of a fringe event occuring, the convention is expanding beyond the confines of its original venue. This may continue, and would be good. Vendors setup outside the convention center, the event expands to fit the desire of people to attend.
    I did attend Wondercon in Anaheim this year, it was full of folks who couldnt get ComicCon tix.
    I believe that the ComicCon event is expanding beyond its official mandate and a brightly colored fringe is birthing…

  25. UltimateTodd UltimateTodd says:

    It became something I was “surviving” rather than having fun a few years ago so I stopped going after about 8 years in a row.

    Did MorrisonCon instead last year and what a breath of fresh air that was. I would go to a similar type of event as often as Ron, James and company want to do it!

  26. k5blazer k5blazer says:

    Image Expo, last year’s and today’s, are what San Diego used to be and should be: a celebration for the love of this craft and hobby. The best things about Image Expo and other Comic events is the opportunity to meet and briefly interact with a person’s favorite creator. In San Diego they bombard us with film and movie people, which is ok, but a lot of them attend just for the press opportunity and really could give a shit about the thousands of people who traveled to see them. Hugh Jackman was great, but he is an exception and not the rule. If a person in film or tv isn’t willing to sign a few autographs or ham it up for a picture, then stay the fuck home. I got a chance to meet Robert Kirkman at a Wondercon years ago, long before Walking Dead blew up, and when I saw him at last years Image Expo, he was the same guy. Nicest guy you want to meet. Special guests should aspire to be like that and not be so distant from their audience. The whole red carpet camera line thing is some Hollywood bullshit, not needed at comic events. The way the comic people are treated at San Diego to accommodate the hollywood circle jerking is revolting. Soon there will be no place for comics there and that’s ok, Image Expo, C2E2, Emerald City and others still showcase that love of the craft. And allow for people to interact, and that is both needed from a business standpoint as well as a human standpoint. It doesnt hurt to meet the people who think enough of your talents to support you with their hard-earned money.

  27. CharlieRock CharlieRock says:

    If you don’t like packing it in a big con, support your smaller, local con. Fancon, Freecon, Fawcett City Comicon, etc.

  28. CaeuZokul CaeuZokul says:

    In 1988, Stacy was very, very good to me.

    …True story. Very minor embellishment.

    A friend named Steranko invited me to stay with him, but I declined through humble modesty (we’re still friends). Shook the hands of Jules Feiffer, Marv Wolfman, Trina Robbins and Bill Sienkicwicz. Listened to Todd McFarlane carp about Marvel chiseling him out of rights for a Spider-Man satin jacket. Asked Bob Kane a question about collaborators and got soundly double-talked into submission. COMPLETELY missed the Superman panel with Carlin, Giordano, Ordway, Wolfman, Julie Schwartz and KIRK ALYAN, for Rao’s sake! (how did THAT happen?) Had a beer in the sun with Berni Wrightson and swapped art production horror stories with Chaykin. Almost made up for the Superman thing with a conversation and autographed poster from Dave Stevens that weekend at Golden Apple Comics in LA. Poor me.

    Topped it off with a Saturday night conversation with Jack Kirby about Galactus and dancing with Gilbert Hernandez’s wife, Carol Kovinick (the for REAL Luba!) at the Post-Masquerade Dance that night.

    That was 1988. My one and only time with Stacy. Why would I want to go back?