Before I get into this, let me state unequivocally that San Diego Comic-Con is a fantastic experience, and despite any kvetching that follows, it’s an incredible, inspiring event and I remain amazed by the organization and efficiency with which it is run. For better or worse, Comic-Con wouldn’t be the mega media event that it has become if the infrastructure to make it so weren’t there. I think in all our suggestions and observations we forget that there is only a small crew of fulltime people who put this on, and as a non-profit, they have a lot of goals to juggle. So let’s give Faye Desmond, David Glanzer, Eddie Ibrahim, and everyone else involved a big hand. They did a phenomenal job and I know I’ll be back.
Another caveat, what I’m going to talk about isn’t about comics and the quality thereof. Comics are swell, and we all know that. I’m more interested in examining the social construct and how it has evolved at the place men call Con.
With that in mind…
There are two things that everyone in our line of work talks about after Comic-Con. “Is it too big?” and “Is there any room for comics at Comic-Con any more?” Let’s start with the crowd issue.
1: Take me out of this Hell Hall
First, it must be admitted that getting around, getting into panels and, at times, even standing still were all problematic in the Convention Center this year. 2008 saw a big spike in moaning about security, and this year was even worse. Red shirts — Elite Security forces — and orange and green shirts — other security companies contracted by the show — were everywhere and necessary.
With so many people attending, safety is paramount and preventing small children from being trampled should be the main goal for everyone involved in the show. That’s understood. (One rumor going around was that a child had been injured on Thursday, leading to the increased security.) As long as 125,000+ people are trying to get a free bag, this is the way it’s going to be. Indeed, the present structure of the show has evolved around crowd control. The reason the programming is so incredible and jam-packed is to keep people off the floor and moving around. (Former 15 minute breaks between panels have also been eliminated to increase the number of panels and keep people in panel rooms.)
Likewise, security’s evolution means zero tolerance for straying outside the lines, both to keep people moving safely and to create the mood of obedience that keeps a crowd docile.
Bearing in mind that my expertise is in being part of a crowd, not crowd control, some of the new practices (or newly noticed by me practices) seem to be more for psychological than logistical reasons. There’s no winner in the war between freedom and safety. The plan to keep people in a subdued, law-abiding state certainly succeeded. My own personal reaction to this was a state of demoralization and surrender, which did not enhance my enjoyment of the show, and I’m sure others felt as I did.
To give a little context, on Saturday at the PopCult party, I was standing outside with a G&T in my hand for about 20 minutes before a bouncer told me to go inside. Standing outside with an open alcoholic drink is illegal and not allowed in a single club in the land. It was also 15 minutes longer than I went at the convention center without being told I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing.
For instance, in past years, I was accustomed to ducking outside on the balconies of the convention center. Both the old and new halls have small balconies on the front of the hall where you could go out, get some fresh air, and relax before plunging in again. (I even taped one of my DivX spots on one of these balconies back in the day.) This year? The balconies were locked off. Why? No idea. I’m sure there’s a good reason, but it was frustrating not to be able to go outside for a quick break in a quiet spot.
In addition, this year, for the first time, people weren’t allowed to sit on the floor in the front of the hall. To be honest, I’ve long thought that the sprawled, exhausted families lying underfoot was an impediment to traffic – and unsightly as well – but there are very few seats in the hall, and the con floor has long been the traditional place to sit down, read some comics and chill out. I often use it for going online, eating a muffin, or even just talking with a pal.
This year, periodic attempts to clear the floors were made. I say attempts because it was a very temporary thing. One time I got rousted out, along with a family next to me, and it took three separate announcements and two different guards to actually get people to move. The red shirts were not nasty about it, but I would imagine that if we’d hung around long enough, efforts would have increased.
Another time, I foolishly used an exit to go to a balcony that was open to make a phone call. The guard wouldn’t let me back in so I had to go down the stairs only to find that THOSE were closed off too. Luckily there wasn’t an actual guard or a locked door at the bottom of the stairs so I was able to make my escape. This kind of left hand/right hand stuff was quite common this year, and this, too, was frustrating and added to the anxiety level.
I heard all kinds of stories like this – people not allowed to go two feet to get their valuables, exhibitors stopped from reentering the hall in the back, people ON panels told to wait in line with the rest of the folks waiting to get in. Like I said, stressful.
I haven’t even mentioned getting in and out of panels, but it was the usual disaster. The Twilighters had the right idea of camping out. Seeing anything that you had your heart set on required planning, discipline, and sparkle. When you REALLY have your heart set on something, you will make the sacrifices necessary. Aside from even people ON panels not being allowed into their panel rooms – Iron Man artist Bob Layton wasn’t allowed into the IRON MAN 2 panel in Hall H and even Marvel Studio head Kevin Feige had a hard time getting in – there were other, even more complex issues where the crowds for different panels came into conflict.
One of the incidents I heard about was occurred during the Fables panel. This comics-themed panel was to be followed by the Venture Brothers panel, and there were lots of “campers” in the room during the Fables presentation. The campers’ disrespectful behavior reportedly got several of the Fables folks upset, and even led to some sparring between the panelists and the Venture folks. (Reportedly, one of the Venture fans finally held up a comic and said “We read comics, alright?”)
(Ironically, Venture co-creator Jackson Publick is a comics fan and cartoonist in his own right. Why can’t people just get along?)
This year’s worst mess was at the IRON MAN 2 panel, as mentioned. Even people with studio passes were denied entrance – we heard a rumor that was because studio passes had been forged. But here we come to the most surprising part of my amateur investigation. A veteran news guy with a legit pass told us that after he was thwarted getting into Hall H by normal means, he instead used a back way that any veteran media type would be able to figure out – and was, in a few minutes, sitting in the green room next to Robert Downey Jr. I’ve already mentioned the Nathan Barnatt/Keith Apicary incident during the Jackson/Cameron panel. If security is really that worried about a crazed fan taking out Corey Haim, they need to tighten it up where Corey Haim hangs out and spend less time ordering around law abiding fans and exhibitors. (Barnatt had been on a panel earlier in the day so he probably had a green room pass and getting on stage wouldn’t have been that difficult from there.)
That said, the floor security was, by all accounts we heard, very efficient in keeping lines organized and kept crowds well under control. It’s a given that when you have 50-60,000 people a day wandering around, some tired, cranky and some desperate, you need to make sure everyone is safe, and safety comes first. So none of this is going to change. With Comic-Con sold out every day, this is just the way it has to be. My personal solution? Spend less time at the convention center! But we’ll get back to that in a bit.
On the other hand, on Saturday afternoon, this guy was lying on the floor of the DC booth for about five minutes. This is either everything that is wrong with Comic-Con or everything that is right with Comic-Con in one handy image. You decide.
2: You know where you stand in a Hell Hall
And now the “Is there any room for comics” question. Going back to my old “Book of Invasions” theory, there are now three new classes of invaders: Total Douchebags, Locals, and Twilighters who are crowding out the Original ‘Tooners.
I: Total Douchebags.
A 20-megaton douche bomb has hit San Diego Comic-Con over the last few years. They are everywhere you want to be, and are eating all the food, drinking all the liquor and taking up all the time of the people you would like to meet. Even with the bad economy and contraction and all that, there are still a zillion D-girls and boys, movie website wonks and video game voyeurs who think they are the A-list.
In proper “green pants” fashion, along the way I suddenly wondered if maybe it IS their con now. After all, a lot of them have been coming for five or six years, and they have their own little traditions and hangouts and favorite things to do. Of course, mere familiarity doesn’t mean they aren’t still annoying douchebags. The big media parties are just one aspect of this, but it’s probably the worst. There are several honest to god nerdlebrities who came to the con for decades before Hall H just because they liked comics – these folks are fine and have always added to the cultural richness of the event. It’s the “80% of these people who don’t give a shit about comics,” as Jeff Katz is fond of saying, who are really stinking up the joint and using up all the oxygen.
It’s quite disheartening and demoralizing to look at all the major media coverage of the con and not see a single comics-only project or personality (unless you count Stan Lee) getting coverage. The LA Times took a lot of justified heat before the show for their “female guide to SD” and their wrapup of “Comicon’s best” includes “Sorority Row” and nothing comics-related at all. Wired touts 7 Women Who Will Rock Comic-Con, and not one of them is a woman who makes comics. I didn’t get all the way through this photo gallery, but in the first 30 or so pics I saw the guy who created the Ugly Dolls but not a single cartoonist. Sad. Are creators really so invisible and meaningless at the show?
The lack of the comics element in their own big party is mirrored in the comments of some major media “comics moles”. David S. Goyer wrote the script for BATMAN BEGINS – instantly vaulting him to some kind of comics movie Valhalla — but attended as a fan and emerging writer long before he was a Hollywood success story. (He’s now producing the TV show Flash Forward.) He feels our pain:
The one thing I’ve seen over the years at Comic-Con — and find disheartening — is the increase of parties by studios and others. It’s becoming like Sundance. Everyone is vying to get into one party or another, which leaves virtually less room for comic creators.
In the next paragraph, however Goyer is, like most of us, back to the good parts:
Anyway, always an insane, inspiring experience. There’s nowhere else on Earth where creators can interact with their audiences in such a mad, flash-mob kind of way. Humbling and a much-needed reminder of why we do this.
(This whole post is worth reading, spanning much of the show’s downside – his (I’m assuming female since named Nellie) assistant getting “manhandled” by “someone in a really bad Joker costume.” And Goyer’s own run-in with security in the green room when he tried to filch some food from the WB table. Plotting THE DARK KNIGHT only gets you so far, apparently, and free bagels aren’t part of the deal.)
There were lots of glitzy parties at San Diego, some of which I was invited to, but getting in to them was such a hassle of line waiting and proving to door people that you actually were invited that there was no point in trying. The people who were getting in were not only not cartoonists, but they were the kind of showbiz tag along wannabes that I came to an underfunded, low profile industry to avoid in the first place — and they were MOTIVATED to get in in a way I could never be. The LA Times’ John Horn has several insightful posts covering this from the Masters of the Universe viewpoint:
Swag. One of Comic-Con’s distinguishing characteristics is its egalitarianism: It’s impossible to cut lines, and those with disabilities are accommodated everywhere. But just as the Sundance Film Festival was spoiled by the advent of swag suites, the same elitist lifestyle boutiques are starting to flourish all around the convention. The Wired Cafe — invitation only, please! — had as much snobby attitude as Café Bustelo coffee and Patrón tequila had free samples.
The environment. Hollywood loves to share its passion over global warming with anyone and everyone, but when it comes to Comic-Con, Earth Day is a distant memory. Though many studio executives (Summit’s Rob Friedman) and actors (take a bow, Breckin Meyer) took the train from Los Angeles to San Diego, more than a few — Cameron Diaz, for one — made the 100-mile trip in private jets. Other carbon dioxide-spewing studio types used car services to drive five blocks from their hotels to the San Diego Convention Center (which, due to traffic, took twice as long as walking), later leaving their empty SUVs idling in parking lots much of the afternoon with the air-conditioning blasting. But what does it matter? According to Roland Emmerich’s “2012,” the world will be facing cataclysm in three years anyway.
In this regard, a viewing of the classic South Park episode “Chef’s Salty Balls” — in which Sundance moves to South Park and sewer problems ensue from a sleb’s fiber-rich diet — is a useful palate cleanser.
The Times’ Patrick Goldstein also cries that the douchebags have won:
It’s now all too obvious that Comic-Con, once a wonderfully oddball, Woodstock-like gathering of the tribes for fanboys and comic-book geeks, has become a giant propaganda megaphone for the big Hollywood studios. The San Diego Convention Center was so packed with Hollywood big-shot filmmakers and stars Thursday that the parking lot behind Hall H (where the studios unveiled footage from their slates of upcoming blockbusters) was jammed with black SUVs, their motors all idling, single-handedly spewing enough exhaust fumes to burn a hole in the San Diego ozone layer.
USA Today’s Whitney Matheson, who navigates between reading Carré and interviewing Gerard Way in a graceful, big tent way, expressed similar sentiments:
The downside: Yes, there are more parties at Comic-Con, but some of them are becoming a lot more exclusive. At the top of the invite list: Hollywood celebrities, not people who make comics.
[snip] 6. Comic-Con is still a great place to find comics. I hope you watched my video yesterday where I talked about some of the books I picked up at the convention. The Hollywood movie stuff is cool and all, but honestly, that pops up on YouTube within an hour, and it’s mostly just a bunch of silly hype that’s forgotten once we actually see the film. Each year I love going to Comic-Con because it’s one place where I’m surrounded by hundreds, even thousands, of people who make art for a living. Wait, let me correct that — a lot of these folks don’t even make art for a living, they do it on the side. They make the work because they need to, and that energy is contagious. I come home feeling simultaneously exhausted and invigorated.
The problem with the Douchebags — indeed, the defining element that MAKES them such Douchebags — is their sense of entitlement to what was built on the hard work of these talented men and women. If the Dbags think it’s so cool to be at Comic-Con with all the quirky comics folks, maybe they all need to chip in to the Hero Initiative?
I’m torn between advocating for a Jehovah-level cleansing of the access and merely creating more access to the excess for the people who deserve it. My own encounter with Sundance-level pampering came when FMB and I invaded the Wired Café (above, ganked from Flickr). For years, I’ve been complaining that Comic-Con needs a better press room – one with a coffee pot, say. Let’s just say that the Wired Café, once I’d passed the test, was the press room of my dreams. Free Wi-Fi, free video games, free lunch, free coffee, free alcohol, free back rubs, bonus milling movie stars, TV stars, booming house music. The only problem was finding a spot to sit where the sunlight wasn’t too bright to see my computer screen!
I had an interesting talk with Wired’s Marketing Director — whose card I managed to misplace — that was all about branding and whatnot. She felt that having the mix of journalists, stars, and other creative types – even cartoonists! — was something that only happened at Comic-Con, and was a great mix of ideas that really represented what Wired was all about.
Personally, I thought that the sponsors of the Café would look at their bill and decide “What the f–?” but later on, I ran into a publicist who thought it was the greatest thing ever. “I wish I could get my clients into it!” he said. And indeed, the photo parade plastered Wired’s name everywhere.
And I guess it worked, because the cans of Cafe Bustelo they were giving away were very, very tasty, and I just plugged them; likewise, I will be using my Delta beach towel for years to come.
I hope there’s a Wired Café next year, and that I can get into it. (I think the former is unlikely because as word spread, it got more and more crowded.) It would have been nice if a few actual cartoonists had been invited to the Wired Café. They are smart, creative, and good conversationalists. Some are even attractive. They make nice hood ornaments. But money was tight where cartoonists were concerned. I and most of the creators I know were disinvited from the Syfy/EW party this year, in favor of a more star-studded crew. (I hope the star of Mansquito was disinvited too, meow meow.)
If that was the view from the green room, what about the show floor? I think the “ultimate downfall” of Comic-Con began two years ago when Warner Bros. started giving out those damned giant bags. Now there are different bags each day, and variant bags and collect ‘em all. It’s a damned activity. My Unscientific Unverifiable Poll™ backed up the notion that many of the locals and lookeloos had come for the free shit and it’s free shit FRENZY! The size of the lines every day to get cheap tacky tschatke’s from Paramount, Adult Swim and every other studio was truly epic and mind-boggling, and people seemed committed with all their might and mien to just standing around. One dragalong auntie I talked to had the schwag run down to a science, was able to tell everyone within earshot where to go, when to go and what was the best stuff – all the while sharing free tattoos she’s scored on one of her runs.
Yet through it all, the original Comic-Con – with comics publishers, cartoonists and even back issues! – can be found in halls A though C, a peace-loving Hobbiton of signings, ink and print schedules. Are comics people even trying to compete with pure comics power any more? I noticed that as the “publisher as agent” model becomes more prevalent, the celebrity signing became more of a tool in each company’s PR arsenal – it’s almost as if various companies have their mascot celeb, like Archaia and Zack Quinto, IDW and Jennifer Love Hewitt, Top Cow and Milo Ventimiglia, Radical and the Simmonses and Oni and Bryan Lee O’Malley…..WAIT one of those things is not like the other!
I haven’t even touched on Tyrese, although he has touched on me (upon being introduced, he gave me a big hug.) The guy’s charismatic marketing skills and focus are not to be belittled (In a strange small world moment, during my stay in LA, my friend’s roommate turned out to be an aspiring screenwriter who used to intern for Tyrese. “He’s great at marketing,” I was told.) Tyrese made an unscheduled appearance at the little attended uClick panel, where he and Stan Lee put on a show. Several people told me about this event, whereupon I observed, “They’re the same person.” Amazingly, Marc-Oliver Frisch made the same connection without even being at the show, and giving Lee the edge.
I had a long conversation with Percy Carey, whose marketing company, Master of the Widget LLC, is handling both MAYHEM and THE TROUBLE WITH KATIE ROGERS graphic novel. Carey, subject and writer of the Vertigo graphic novel, SENTENCES, has lived a colorful, dramatic life, and also run a music distribution company, which is why he has been so outspoken in criticizing some of the comics industry’s standard business practices. (I confess, he won me over when he said he was doing a video report on comics POS systems, something only a business wonk would love.)
While a lot of the marketing for MAYHEM is overly ambitious, or disorganized, there is one thing I think it’s fair to say about Carey and Gibson’s efforts: they are honestly trying to sell more comics, not just some “media property.” There are quite a few “comics to movie” companies that I could name – or any regular reader of this blog could name – that are very, very obviously not interested in being successful publishing companies — and succeeding handsomely in that goal.
The MAYHEM thing is annoying a lot of people but at least they are trying something new and putting energy into it. In a way, Tyrese and co. are delivering a real time marketing experiment and they’re the ones paying for it…so let’s all watch.
Anyway, getting back to putting the comics back in Comic-Con, while the business of comics does go on, strong and sure, it’s galling that at the biggest media event on earth, the only way a cartoonist who created all the ideas that people are exploiting can get his or her picture in the paper is by standing next to the star of some forgettable TV show. Is there any way to fight back? Is there any POINT in fighting back? Are we just being self-loathing again? Can’t we vanquish the Douchebags?
As many have pointed out, once you cracked open the candy coating, there was a chocolate Comic-Con at the center of the event, with sales, news and the rest of it. Finding comics news online isn’t difficult, nor was getting a signed comic by your favorite creator. I don’t think we should overlook these positives, despite the major media blackout for comics content. However, putting something like the Eisner Awards on the radar of the Big Media narrative of the show would be a start. At the very least, getting the LA Times to take a photo of it would be super duper.
THE LOCALS: Whenever I was taking a break I’d strike up a conversation with the people around me, and most of them were Locals. Several were people who lived in San Diego and had thought about going to the con for years but finally had a chance. Each family usually included a core fan and some dragalongs – the core fan might be dad or a teenaged daughter or son. Based on my Unscientific Unverified Poll™, I’d say moms and aunties were the highest percentage of dragalongs.
As mentioned above, they seemed to be there for the free shit. And the amount of fun they were having was highly variable. I rarely had a conversation that went “Man, I’m having a great time!” I talked to a young mom of two kids around 4 and 7, maybe and she was really neutral on the show. She thought there wasn’t enough for her kids to do as opposed to standing around looking at things.
Of course that’s just a few voices, and I’m sure that lots of people did have a great time. But as the stress and exhaustion of just Being There increase, the level of will to put up with it decreases.
On the plus side, it was VERY notable this year that the local service people were being as friendly as possible to the convention folks. The Hyatt staff was reportedly given orders to be as nice as possible – definitely something not seen in past years. While buying a coffee or talking to hotel personnel, people often expressed the wish that they could get into the con next time. The realization that the con is cool and the city needs the con for its dollars has dawned loud and clear.
THE TWILIGHTERS: The latest invaders to con is a gang of teenaged girls, and unlike stormtroopers, Klingons and even cosplayers, they were met with some level of hostility, which may have been playacting, but humor is often a mask for the truth. In a way this is an outgrowth of the whole manga invasion, which was met with more bafflement, followed by pretending it didn’t exist by prevailing fanboy culture. But it is curious that this element has been singled out for overt rejection from the big tent. I didn’t see any actual skirmishes, but I don’t believe there were SO MANY people who wanted to get into the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs panel and couldn’t that they alone created all the tensions. Like I said, I haven’t seen the Twilighters side of things yet, but it’s definitely something to continue exploring.
PS: One of the quotes of the show was an overheard Twi-Teen exclaming after the New Moon panel, “I don’t know what an orgasm is, but I think I just had one!” I guess THAT’S why Comic-Con is so damned popular!
Some people are blaming the Twilighters for the poor sales on Saturday. That could be partly true, but perhaps people need to evolve to the idea that Wednesday and Sunday are the big selling days now. After all, those are the days when most booth personnel walk around.
What is more troubling is that Indie Comics and their adherents are being squeezed out by all these new people, as much by the Locals and Twilighters as by the Total Douchebags, alas. Eric Reynolds’ first, gloomy post on the subject was followed by a slightly more sanguine one that still makes it clear that the lifeblood of the pipeline is being squeezed out:
Why am I talking about this? I’m not sure, except that I think it’s healthy to have some honest talk about how this year’s show went, and what it means for the future, instead of hearing everyone jostle for position in the hype machine and meaninglessly declare the show a raging success (“bigger and better still!”). I know that this was the first year where I spoke to many of my peers in the small press who openly wondered whether they could afford to exhibit next year. This included publishers, artists, and retailers. I also noticed appreciably fewer cartoonists that I admire attending the show this year, simply due to hype surrounding the show’s sellout status, hotel occupancy, and the fact that you have to register further and further in advance.
(Jason Miles’ con report was even more demoralized.)
More voices from the wilderness, Jordan Crane
Yeah, San Diego sucked. For me the barometer of it’s sucktitude was the number of minis that I traded for. Three. Grand total THREE. The people who make mini comics are not the same people who buy their tickets to the con 3 months in advance. I think that SD is getting greedy and preselling their tickets and selling a whole mess of 4 day passes ahead of time squeezes out the casual attender, the “regualar” person, and it is just this person who buys the unmainstream comics. I don’t know. I’ll probably go to SD again.. I’m tenacious. But if next year sucks as much as this year did, I’ll quit SD. The problem with the smaller cons, for me, is the travel – I just can’t afford the travel. It’d be swell to have a convention that’s decent in Los Angeles.
Shaenon K. Garrity appears to have just said no:
Previous columns have touched on my nervous romance with the convention circuit. I like the comics, the socializing, and the Stormtroopers; I hate almost everything else. In my ongoing hero’s journey along the path of geekdom, I’ve accepted that, although I may blog about all the comics in the world, I cannot actually own them, not with the price of storage space in the Bay Area. At some point I stopped being a collector and became a connoisseur (or, if you prefer, a snob), and conventions lost a lot of their glib, glitzy charm. The consumerism built into any convention, the pressure to buy and sell, wears me out. Especially when nobody’s buying.
We’re losing good people.
In past year,s the Indie folks had more of a presence in extracurricular activities. The Indie Beach Party was for several years an event of deeds of renown, from skinny dipping to fire jumping. The party died away, and I talked to a few people who remembered it wistfully but the sad reality is that just being at the show these days leaves no energy to plan such a thing. With the Indie circuit of TCAF/APE/SPX/Stumptown and a hopefully more chilled out MoCCA already well established, it seems there is less and less reason to come to the big tent. I’m not sure that this “Screw you guys, I’m going home!” idea isn’t self-defeating, though. Designer toy companies, to pick one example, don’t get much “mainstream” coverage outside their own area, but they come back every year. San Diego is still a fantastic marketplace. It’s possible that the flat sales this year had more to do with the global economic collapse than some kind of Twilight of the Indies. I hope there is an evolutionary path that will allow comics to do well at the show, and the smart, dedicated people will find it.
And that brings us to our final (whew) section.
3: Folks lend a hand in a Hell Hall
So, are there solutions to any of this? That depends on whether you think there are actually problems. Unrealistic expectations lead to disappointment and sadness. Acceptance leads to peace and desire is pain. In our surrender is our salvation.
I’m pretty sure I will never again do Comic-Con the way I did it this year. The Land of Wanders is too stressful and tiring for me. Perhaps I’ll just make a list of panels I want to attend, strategize around that goal, write it up in my room every night, and then go hang out with friends in the time left.
Or else, I’ll find a table to sit at, get an exhibitor badge, spring for wifi in the hall and just do it that way. I spent my actual show working – Publishers Weekly paid my way so I made appointments for interviews, saw the people I needed to, and so on, but it wasn’t as effective as I would have liked, due to all the logistics. I tried really, really hard to be organized about what I was going to do at the show, but new and developing stories arose, as they always do, and this caused scrambling and less efficiency. It’s easier to be flexible with more backup and we had a very small crew with lots of responsibilities. So my own tactics are evolving along with the show.
It was really heartbreaking to only go to four panels at the show – the one I was on, the one FMB’s book was announced at, one I was assigned to cover, and 20 minutes of the Jackson/Cameron panel. (I would have loved to see Miyazaki and John Lasseter, but not in this lifetime.) Audio from panels I wanted to attend are now coming on line, so it isn’t a total loss, but it ain’t the same as being there. There is no real solution to the panel problem. It’s supply and demand and people with the most motivation and access to publicists’ cell phone numbers will get in; others will not.
As for other solutions to problems…most of the problems stem from the egalitarian nature of the show, and egalitarianism is something that is praiseworthy and to be nurtured. It seems that there are just as many complaints about things that are more gated, like industry parties and so on, so maybe first come, first served is the right idea. I know there is a lot of momentum behind the idea of trimming the press list so a little kid who blogs in her cellar doesn’t get the same access as CNN, but I think publicists as the gatekeeper work for this system – think of a Comic-Con panel as a concert. You just need to schmooze the right people and you’re golden. Otherwise, stand in line. As much as I like the idea of the Golden Ticket that gives you access to Everything You Deserve, I don’t think that will ever happen. See? Surrender is easy!
Just as an aside regarding that egalitarianism, here is the BEST post about all of Comic-Con that I found, also in the LA Times, about howempowering the event is for the disabled.
The disabled are so much a part of the Comic-Con fabric that some of the convention’s security officers use wheelchairs and Comic-Con staff have been heard yelling at other attendees using wheelchairs to slow down like everybody else trying to get to a presentation.
“I wish everybody had services like they do here,” said 28-year-old Melissa Eckardt of San Diego, who uses a wheelchair because of muscular dystrophy and is attending Comic-Con for the 15th time. “They know what to expect and what they need to do, and it only gets better year after year.”
It’s a really beautiful story, and for all the kvetching, puts it into perspective how special the show really is.
The real problem with the con is space, and that is where the future truly lies. One blog posting I read while all this was percolating in my brain dared ask the unaskable:
I suppose part of the question is, what do the organizers really see as the future of Comic-Con? Is it going to become just more and more of an event for the entertainment industry and the mainstream press than it is for the fans? Is it already long past that point? Is this just another sign of the changing face of genre conventions, with more and more of the small, fan-run, not-for-profit events shrinking or disappearing completely, leaving fans with only the mega-events like Comic-Con and Dragon*Con left? (And D*C as well is reaching the breaking point of its capacity in recent years, for if its growth continues it will surely be forced to move from its current host hotels into a convention center facility.) >
What indeed is the plan? In an interview with me for Publishers Weekly, David Glanzer offered the idea that the con wouldn’t always be as big as it is now – whether that was just a hope or a plan is anyone’s guess.
What was really clear is that the attempt to move more events off-site is working. Along with panels, the things I’m really sorry I missed were all away from the Hell Hall: a Zombie Walk that saw scores of Zombies headed up Fifth Street beneath the clear blue sky of dusk; the Tron “Flynn’s” video arcade; the sheer, insane SPECTACLE of it all.
It seems to me that San Diego’s future is as some kind of pop culture Angoulême, with the circus coming to town and taking up their corner of it every year. This would allow for the “Slamdance” for indie publishers that a lot of people have suggested. It would also keep people off the con floor, making it less of a Hell Hall. It would give the locals more access to stuff. It would be more impressive in many ways.
For this to happen, the city of San Diego has to play along and desire for it to happen. While it’s all love and smiles for now, when the city desperately needs nerd dollars, keeping them contained in con center quarantine might be part of the deal. I’d love to see the city embrace its comics compadres and inner child, but I think it’s way too uptight for that to happen. For now, with no place to grow, the convention center expansion up in the air and LA and Vegas vying for CCI business, it’s one giant game that will unfold over the next year or so. Outcome cloudy, ask again later.
In the end, as usual, San Diego Comic-Con is what you make of it. My personal preference is for the big tent, purged of Douchebags and other assholes. Making San Diego into SPX or Heroes Con isn’t the answer – I love those shows and they are great as they are, but CCI is something else. It is the cross roads and it is in that role that it is most needed. The mix of comics, animation, movies, TV, toys, and video games can be the chance for an exciting exchange of ideas, not necessarily a threatening invasion. Finding a way to keep the melting pot while keeping comics preeminent should be at the top of everyone’s to-do list.
This has already become a novella, so I guess its time to go out with the really great things about Comic-Con:
* There really is no place on earth where you can see so many amazing people in such a small place. IN one brief 10 minutes span, I went outside for a break (through one of the doors that was open!) I ran into DC’s Adam Phillips, and while we were chatting, director John Landis, Peter Mayhew and one of the best Darth Vader costumes ever all wandered by. Going inside I ran into Scott McCloud, Jason Lutes and Derek Kirk Kim, and had a brief but welcome catch up. It’s that crazy mix of people and ideas and IMAGES that makes Comic-Con so inspiring. As Gilbert Hernandez told me, “It’s 80% visual.”
* Likewise, the Hyatt Bar, while obnoxious and homophobic, is still one of the greatest shows on earth. You just never know what you’re going to run into, or how it will all interact. It tests your mettle, and it’s not for everyone (or even for every night) but it’s something, alright.
* I really, really enjoyed the Pop Candy meet-up at the Bayfront Hilton. It was small (as Con goes) but friendly, allowing people from Joss Whedon to fans to mingle in a relaxed atmosphere. And Whitney Matheson is a great hostess. PLUS, it must be said, the Hilton Bar’s handmade cocktails are awesome. The con needs a lot more events like this, that reflect the spirit of egalitarianism. (Some people wondered if the Hilton would replace the Hyatt as the Cantina Scene of Comic-Con, but the Hyatt’s gravitational pull is just too huge. The Hilton is a welcome change, and I hope it never gets too crowded.)
* That said, I didn’t think it was, location aside, the greatest place to stay. The rooms were average. I prefer the Omni for luxury and my other, unnamed best beloved hotel for everything else.
* Also, it was very funny to see one of the stars of Heroes sitting in a chair at the Hilton, having a deep conversation, while the crowd of people for the Heroes panel streamed right past him.
* Having messed up my hand on the very first day of con – it was literally shaken to pieces – I learned many interesting things about first impressions. Extending your hand and then pulling it back with a cry of “NOOO!” is a very bad first impression. Wrapping your hand up with an Ace bandage is a conversation starter AND a fashion statement and far preferable.
* Despite all the insanity I managed to have conversations with so many swell people: Floyd Norman, Dave Gibbons, Jim Pascoe, Amanda Conner, John Cassaday, Trina Robbins, Brett Warnock, Whitney, Keith Knight, James Sime, Gerard Way, Bill Mumy (the ORIGINAL Comic-Con Nerdlebrity!), Eric Lieb, Sunday’s dinner crew, and many more. New pals include Andie Tong, Ryan Schiffrin and AICN’s Mark Miller.
A special shout out to Jill Thompson who was the life of the party at the Hyatt and the Eisners and, wherever she goes, really. She’s bigger than life and I’m lucky to know her.
* As always, special thanks to the special people who helped me survive the show. Thanks to Christopher Moonlight for the carrots; to my fellow panelists Chip, Kevin and Sam; to Evelyn Dubocq at Viz for giving me food and water when I needed it; to David Marks likewise; to Jeremy at Dark Horse and AnnaMaria at IDW for all their help; to my fellow bloggers, Laura, Matt, and Rich — wish I’d seen more of you!; to the home crew of Jeff, Brian, Charles, Nikki and Jimmy (much smaller than usual!); a HUGE thank you to Ben and Lorelei for the incredible hospitality and help; and to Future Mr. Beat, Ben McCool as always.
This post was brought to you by Spinal Tap and South Park for the metaphors, and now, a closing montage.
Below, various views of Camp Twilight:
At Thursday’s CoC/IDW party.
Our favorite part of the Bayfront Hilton was this little strip of landscaped grass that gave the impression of a deserted salt marsh even though it was tiny.
Ben, Ben, and Heidi toiling on the Monday after.
Every con report should end with a kitty!
PS: I wish I’d gotten a picture of the dude on a rascal with the dragon helm attached.
Wait…Jessica Campbell did!
And on that note…weeeeeee’re outta here! See you next year!