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.
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.