All I heard about Comic-Con this year is that the final line had been crossed, and the giant media entities had taken over San Diego, leaving comics a dusty, heaping shroud of its former glory; the name of the show, nothing but an empty honorific at this point.
A couple of years ago, I was booked for a radio spot on the Mark and Brian Show in Los Angeles. It was scheduled for about 8 AM on Thursday, the first day of Comic-Con. I was pitched to them as a comic book expert (hold your laughter, please) and I was pretty excited. It’s kind of a terrible show, but it’s a big ass radio show in LA. The first question was, “what celebrities are going to be at Comic-Con this year?” I had no idea. It went downhill from there. I was here to talk about comics, wasn’t I? They couldn’t have cared less, and the segment got shut down pretty quickly, and I got hung up on.
It happened again this year, but with a Los Angeles NPR station, who contacted us to talk to them about Comic-Con. This time, I said up front, “I know comics, and that’s what I can talk about.” They said fine, and then emailed me an hour before the recording asking the general question “What’s going on in comics right now?” I sighed, and sent them some basic bullet points, leading with the release of Scott Pilgrim Vol. 6, which I considered to be the book of the convention. They called me up, and asked me all the things I’d just listed out for them, except Scott Pilgrim, focusing on Superman and Wonder Woman instead. Then they didn’t use it. Maybe I was a bad producer, or maybe they just decided that most people don’t care about the actual comics. You’ve only got to watch any of the news reports on Comic-Con to see what they actually focus on. There are all those "crazy costumes" to talk about instead. (UPDATE: They may not have used the NPR interview on air, but part of it is online.)
The incursion of Hollywood and the Games industry (or as I call it, “the left side”) on Comic-Con International is certainly a reality. The crowds are largely there to see celebrities, and be the first to see new footage of eagerly anticipated movies and TV shows. There’s no doubt that the draw of catching a glimpse or sharing some floor with the cast of some new mega blockbuster is the real reason behind the 6 figure attendance numbers. The giant Warners or SyFy themed bags dominate the space, and because of these people, honest, hardworking comic books fans have to go through the torture of the insidious “hotel day” when you have no idea if you’ll even get a room within flying distance of the convention.
There’s also the sometimes ugly intermingling of the 2, where some celebrity who either has a genuine interest in comics, or just sees some mostly fictitious profit or marketing opportunity, aligns themselves with a comic book company, and 9 times out of 10 fails to make any splash outside of the pre-marketing buzz and ridiculous lines of people willing to pay for the comic in order to get that autograph or handshake from that guy in the TV show. This has happened a lot over the last five years, and outside of the amazing comedy of MAYHEM and the actual wonderful comic book, Umbrella Academy, I’ve lost count of how many terribly incarnations of this we’ve seen.
Then there’s the “right side” of the convention floor. That’s the one where you buy stuff. That’s the side where the modern incarnation of speculation still looms large. You want graded comics, rare figures, or whatever, and it’s yours for a price. That price is usually lower on Sunday, but still. This is the spot where the people can buy all the knick-knacks and trinkets the heart desires. I secretly harbor the suspicion that comic book themed merchandise makes more revenue than actual comic books do at the show, and that movie and TV themed merchandise dwarfs even that.
In between these two sections is comic books, right in the middle. And when I say comic books, I mean all of comic books. The fact is, there is no place or time on earth when more of comics are gathered in one place. If comics were dead at San Diego Comic-Con, I couldn’t have told you. If you’re a die hard comic book lover, you would never have had to leave the aisles in the middle, and you could have met, glimpsed or gotten work from almost everyone still alive and working in comics today. We shot an enormous number of interviews, and I honestly feel like we didn’t even scratch the surface. We could have shot 2 or 3 times what we did, and not even touched it. No matter what comics you are into, they were at San Diego. Sure, they were surrounded by Thomas Jane and Nathan Fillion fans (I’ll grant you some crossover), but they were there. Maybe they’re not the center of attention anymore, and maybe they’re not doing the same kind of show they once were, but comics are the center, and to lose this enormous gathering of comics would be a terrible loss. It’s here that people in comics, luminaries of the paneled page actually meet one another, and form relationships, and those relationships lead to comics. I saw it happen, and in a couple situations, I think we even facilitated it. The digital community that’s developed in comics is one thing, but the evenings at the Hyatt? Those are legend. At that point, at midnight, when Stan Lee, after emergency dental surgery drops in on the crowd at the Hyatt to a roaring ovation, comics are king. There are other parties and celebrity gatherings and to-dos, but comics do it best.
And the fact is, Hollywood kind of pays for it. Marvel didn’t get bought by Disney because of the Secret Invasion sales. There just aren’t enough comic readers to make comics worth that much money. It occurs to me every once in a while that if we’d been able to do this website and everything to do with it 15 years ago, I’d likely have a very different bank account. But the flipside is, the people who are in comics are in comics because they love it. There’s no other real incentive, because the money’s not there, nor is the fame. There’s some of each, but you’ve got to love comics to put up with it. So, those Warner Bros. bags running around all over the floor, hanging on the shoulders of people who have waited in line to get “Chuck’s” autograph for 3 hours, you can thank them, because they make comics possible, in their own way. Those Twilight fans people complained about last year? They played their part in making this possible. Maybe they buy a few comics while they’re there? You never know. Yes, they’re annoying and the place is crowded, but it’s the price comic fans pay to get all of comics there, in one place. If it’s not your scene, there are plenty of other conventions to attend. But make no mistake that, in so many ways, it’s good for comics in general.
Plus, I had a boatload of fun, and my week was all comics.