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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Comic Cons: What's Happening?

"Sadly, where this leaves all of us in the comics world is totally screwed. With a reported waiting list of 300 media/consumer products companies lined up for booth space here at San Diego Comic-Con International, the convention feels absolutely no restraint as regards raising booth rent. What does exist is a totally uneven playing field, where mom-n-pop comics retailers, publishers, and creators are now being asked to pay the same cost per square-foot as the international corporate giants. That being the case, it should come as no surprise that we comics exhibitors are rapidly being priced out of our own house. I heard from several comics retailers who have been here at the convention for decades that they are either cutting back for 2010, or completely pulling out of the show. With fewer comics retailers exhibiting in San Diego each year, the incentive for individual comics fans to put up with the cost and hassle of coming here also greatly diminishes. If present trends continue, I predict with more than a small measure of sadness that comics will be a very minor part of this convention within five years. It will be the most incredibly wonderful media convention in the world, but the days of the San Diego Comic-Con are over."
-- Chuck Rozanski, Mile High Comics e-Newsletter

I've just finished reading a long email chain started off by the Mile High Comics e-Newletter regarding the San Diego Comic-Con. These are the points I grasped and interpolated from that email chain regarding this year's SDCC, and the possible direction of large comic book conventions in general:

1. Many of the fans were poor this year.
2. Many of the fans blew their wad on travel arrangements & tickets, and didn't have a lot of money to buy stuff; so they especially mobbed things like panels and free screenings to get their full money's worth.
3. Comic book retailers are increasingly finding themselves priced out of the shows, and even considered "irrelevant" in the face of big media companies touting their latest movie or TV show.
4. SDCC wants to be the pop-culture version of the Cannes Film Festival.
5. Fans at the convention want to see mass-market stars like Robert Pattinson & Megan Fox, not some niche comic book.
6. It seems like mass-market pop-culture has swooped down, picked up the fruits of comic book culture, processed them, plopped them down into a movie or video game, and left comic book culture as the same basement-dwelling guilty pleasure it started out as. You know those movies where they rescue a few people using a helicopter, but they leave all these other people behind? Or like during the credits of "What's Happening!!," when the gang is on the back of that truck but Rerun just can't make it? Rerun is the traditional comic book world, and Raj on the truck is Michael Bay. And Dwayne is like any comic book creator who successfully "crosses over" into mainstream media. And Dee would be Nikki Finke. Does that make sense?

If this scenario is indeed correct, then I don't really see girls who like "Twilight" as the reason the convention is being "stolen" away. Really, the bigger issue is this: media conglomerates have taken comic book culture and "Andy Warholized" it, presenting us with mass-market, mass-produced, highly vetted versions of that culture's icons. But not only that, the conglomerates have appropriated the comic book/"fan" community's mechanism of promotion & dissemination of information: the convention. So that's the Icons and the Mechanism being appropriated.

What part does the "mom and pop" comic book retailer play in this overall scheme? It's possible that at this point they might be looked upon as a vestige, a small, strange niche segment of table-holders squeezed between the major publisher booths and Showtime. And where do the independent comic book creators and artists fit into all of this? Does it make sense to even have a table? Or are such tables as well a vestige, something that is going the way of webbed toes and a highly-pronounced tailbone? Has it come down to the networking, the Twittering, the schmoozing, trying to make as many scheduled appearances as possible, trying to be seen as many places as possible?

That said, I admit that I love pop artists like Andy Warhol & Roy Lichtenstein. But I don't fool myself thinking that Andy Warhol is Chester Gould or Roy Lichtenstein is Russ Heath, you know what I mean?