By Megan Byrd
In the weeks and months leading up to the annual spectacle known as “San Diego Comic Con”, dread of this event is expressed as frequently as anticipation by attendees, professionals, and fans staying home. The cost, the planning, the con crud; these are a few of fandom’s least favorite things, and they are all mainstays of SDCC. But what about the comics, many say? Why must the news of films overshadow the beloved source material from which they came? Why should comic fans have to tolerate the droves of people only attending to get a glimpse of their favorite actors? For those that miss the comic con of yore, these are valid complaints.
I myself listened to these concerns and nodded in agreement from afar, even saying to friends that I would never want to go to comic con because it was “too late” for me. This former comic book convention had mutated into a pop culture monster and it was of no interest to my sophisticated comic book tastes.
Turns out that is complete and utter bullshit.
After attending my first ever International Comic Con, I regret having listened to the naysayers for so long. I expected to encounter large crowds and yes, the cost was significant to attend, but what I did not anticipate was that I would find myself with a big stupid grin on my face throughout the weekend. Having attended many of the small and large cons of the midwest over the last ten years, I am not new to conventions; but the attendees of SDCC are unlike any other crowd I’ve encountered. They’re an exceptionally chatty and excitable group, with little needed to ignite conversation. A frustrated con-goer can irritate those around them as easily as a happy one, but my experience was overwhelmingly (and surprisingly) positive.
How could it be that this the largest of conventions felt more intimate than any other con I’ve attended? The stakes are higher at SDCC for one to gain that “con exclusive” purchase or memory and this breeds a camaraderie that is infectious. There is no place on earth that has a higher concentration of comic book fans, creators, and increasingly more purveyors of film and television. Anyone willing to commit to attending does so with full force, and no one is blasé about it. The weekend is charged by the commitment and passion of the attendees and if you are on that con floor and don’t feel it, chances are Comic-con may not be for you.
The diversity amongst SDCC attendees perfectly illustrates the increasing overlap of various fandom. It’s like looking at a tumblr dashboard come to life. Not everyone that goes reads comics; but what better place to convince potential readers to get in on the action? As the grandeur of SDCC has increased, so has the comic book presence.
Throughout the weekend the booths of publishers were teeming with big name guests, whether it was the cast of S.H.I.E.L.D. signing at the Marvel booth, Robert Kirkman signing at Image, or excited gamers getting a glimpse of a new game from DC. If a person attends the show for the sole purpose of seeing one Hall H panel and dedicates their entire weekend to that endeavor, it is surely their loss, but it does not diminish anyone else’s chances of pursuing their own brand of fanaticism. If anything it opens up a little more room on the con floor for one to peruse the offerings!
But this perceived “other” presence at comic con is nonsense. Most comic book retailers will tell you that getting someone in the door is half the battle of selling comics. Once they’re in, it is easy to find something on the shelves that will pique their interest, especially in today’s market. Why should SDCC be any different? The difficulties retailers and artists face in turning a profit at this convention is a complaint that cannot be easily disregarded, but it is one that is frequently applied to conventions a fraction of the size of SDCC. In fact many of the most pressing concerns raised each year after SDCC, including crowd control, harassment, and making the show more accessible for the disabled, are not Comic-con exclusive issues. Confining these discussions to a once yearly bitch session following SDCC may not be beneficial to promoting reform, especially when problems are perceived as a “Comic-con” issue. Everything is bigger at Comic-con, good and bad, and it should be an opportunity for industry wide improvement.
I’ll confess that my desire to finally attend Comic-con was not for the comics; after all, everyone had told me that the convention wasn’t actually about comics anymore, so why should that excite me? No, it wasn’t the largest concentration of comic book creators in the world or the numerous announcements likely to be made by publishers. It was a panel about the television series Hannibal. That’s what got my foot in the door and inspired me to spend large amounts of time and energy to attend comic con.
When it came down to it, I wasn’t even able to get into the panel. My experience was no less enjoyable because of this fact (I watched it online later anyway). Even if I had attended that panel, it would not have been the highlight of my weekend. It would be unexpectedly running into Grant Morrison on a crowded street and asking him if he was cosplaying Grant Morrison. It would be seeing Chip Kidd give a sloppy yet passionate kiss to Neil Gaiman at the Eisner Awards. It would be seeing longtime friend and retailer Challengers Comics + Conversation win their deserved Spirit of Comics Retailer Award. It would be meeting and thanking a countless number of creators on the con floor. It would be the fact that any one of these moments would have sufficiently made my con experience memorable; but only at San Diego would they all happen within 48 hours. San Diego Comic-Con is magic.
[Megan Byrd is a Chicago-based photographer and comic book blogger. You can follow her on twitter at @ComicBookCandy]