It’s easy to hate Comic-Con.
My view of things is probably a bit different from the average person, since I’m surrounded by people “in the industry” and it’s become cool over the last few years to use a tone of tired disgust when talking about the media explosion that takes place every year. More specifically, and you know this, we’re talking about San Diego Comic-Con, which over the years has become so big that we just call it “Comic-Con” despite there being literally thousands of other Comic Conventions every year. Attendance at the event first eclipsed 100,000 individuals back in 2005. My first adventure was The Year of Watchmen, in 2008. By then, the crowd had ballooned to more than 125,000 people. This year it’s estimated that more than 130,000 people entered the exhibition floor.
During the weekend it owns in July, it’s ubiquitous. You see it on Twitter, Facebook and every other social media sites. You read articles about it, and you sense it just underneath the surface of other articles. Dusted-off essays and tired tweets will make jokes about nerds and body odor, the smell of Thor’s leather underwear, the stank emanating from far too many layers and far too much wool in an unmercifully hot Southern California summer.
Just as it’s easy to hate the hellacious line for Hall H or the semi-constant jostling from working your way through a crowd, it’s easy to make fun of Comic-Con, too. I’d never pretend to be anything other than a nerd at heart. Even as it’s cool to claim nerd status now, I’d rather throw my lot in with the undulating mass of people on the exhibition floor than the “cool nerds” who buy some expensive art, go to cool parties and talk about how much they hate going to Comic-Con because it’s so crowded.
Part of me wanted to call this article “Who Killed Comic Con?” Because I was somewhat underwhelmed this year – hey, this is my seventh straight year in attendance – I felt like maybe the hype had come and gone over SDCC. Sure, there were still 130,000 people there, but I’d felt 130,000 people swell behind me in line before. SDCC 2014 felt like it was lacking an event. Looking back over the years, they were generally marked with something big. My first year was Watchmen and that dominated the talk and the floor. The Owlship was sitting there on display, glorious and gigantic. Other years featured Twilight panels, surprise screenings of gigantic movies, visits from most of The Expendables, Marvel’s Thor and then The Avengers.
Back then, studios also weren’t as willing to put exclusive footage and panels online. Now, it’s common. Missed a panel? Either read about it, or wait a day to see the footage online, either officially or unofficially.
It feels like perhaps the studios have learned their lesson: spending money at SDCC, catering to your wheelhouse, does not increase your revenue elsewhere. When comic book movies were fresh and unproven, it probably seemed like a great idea to go hype up the Convention crowd to really boost ticket sales – but these guys were going to see the movies anyway. And now, with comic book movies rocking big business, the studios have eased up on their presence. They don’t have to win a comic crowd over – they already have. There’s no use in luring people in with exclusive footage, so throw them a t-shirt and put the trailer up online. Who killed Comic-Con? We did. The press. The studios. The system.
Except, Comic-Con isn’t dead. 130,000 guests will tell you that, even if a percentage of them are down there “for work” and complain about the long lines stopping them from doing their job. We didn’t kill Comic-Con, we just hurt ourselves. Luckily, the Con will go on.
As I walked the floor this year thinking about the unmerciful line for Hall H and how there was no way in Hell I would wade into it, news broke so fast that it didn’t even make sense to. If I took a minute to yawn or sip some water, eight other outlets would have already posted the same reveal, made the same joke, done the same thing. It wasn’t worth it to me professionally or personally.
I came to realize at SDCC there was a lot I wasn’t willing to do. I looked around though, and there were thousands of people willing to do them. Thousands of people standing in line for Hall H. Thousands standing in line for History’s Vikings experience and panel. Thousands more willing to wait for all the things I wouldn’t, and that everyone else strapped to a laptop would only complain about.
And I had my revelation: Comic Con wasn’t for us. It’s not an outlet for news. We tried to make it that. We complained about press access. We complained about the lack of press privilege. Frankly, we complained a lot. And now, it seems, the world, or perhaps just us, realize it. Comic-Con is a huge event now – it probably won’t ever shrink too much. Attendance will probably never drop below 120,000 again, and that’s great, because Comic-Con is, was, and should be for the fans. It should be for the people who show up and parade around the heat in costume not because they have to, but because they want to. It should be for the people who willingly grab sleeping bags and camp out overnight to get great seats in Hall H. Do I wish it were a little easier for people to get access to all the things they want to? Do I wish it was a little closer to pure? Of course, but then again, I realized with my current attitude, Comic-Con isn’t specifically for me. It’s for them. It’s for the fans who show up with a goal. With a plan. Not a “try to cover it all” mindset — because you can’t. You have to be a fan of something to get anything out of Comic-Con.
Pretty heavy realizations floating around the Con floor, right?
All of this said, I still love SDCC and I will continue to go as long as I’m able. I hope to develop a plan one day and really experience the Con as it should be felt. But even trying to sample it all, to try to “work it,” I’ve had many great experiences. I met comic artist extraordinaire Tim Bradstreet, who I make a point to visit every year. This year was no different and while I was feeling somewhat indifferent about the weekend, Bradstreet, a guy who’s been going to the event far longer than I, was beaming like a child. He asked me what my “moment” this year was — I hadn’t had one yet. But he had. It turns out that actor John Savage, of films like The Thin Red Line and The Deer Hunter, was here at a booth, with no fanfare and no real media presence. Through a friend, Bradstreet had become aware of the actor’s presence and had a lengthy conversation with him. He looked like a kid who had just unwrapped a golden ticket as he gushed about his meeting. His moment.
I can’t totally say I ever had my own moment, at least nothing so defining. Without a plan, I’ve always just loved being in the Con atmosphere. The whole experience of being surrounded by such dedicated, passionate people. My favorite moments were witnessing the fans (in fact, my two absolute favorite images can be seen in my Con photo essay Through The Lens). My absolute favorite is what I call my “Comic-Con in a Nutshell” moment, wherein a vacationing Deadpool holds hands with a female Boba Fett. A bit below that picture, Captain America Dad walks with his Thor son through the main convention floor. How anyone can witness such pure, unaltered fandom and walk away from SDCC gritting their teeth boggles the mind.
In comparison to past years, despite the huge attendance, the whole thing felt a little bit smaller.
Hall H was impossible to get into Saturday, of course, because it was so heavily loaded with great stuff, while on Friday there were several times when you could walk right in. No single event dominated the convention, and while various websites are quick to proclaim a “Winner” to Comic-Con (most choosing Mad Max: Fury Road as having the best or most surprising presentation) judging by the actual fans stomping the grounds, no singular property made ripples.
As I journeyed through the floor, I found a few things I loved. Like every year, I threw down some hard earned cash at NECA to pick up some exclusive merchandise and met Michael Bailey Smith, an actor from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise who portrayed and signed my Super Freddy figure. He was a nice guy, who, like many who venture to the conventions earnestly rather than out of obligation, stayed several hours past his signing times and thanked every person who came by for being a fan. There were also the folks from Flophouse, a start-up company that produces vintage looking stuffed canvas toys of popular properties. I picked up a Voltron – also for sale were Skeletor, the Power Rangers and the Ninja Turtles. They looked straight out of my childhood and had many people believing they were vintage collectors items.
So how was Comic-Con 2014? How did it compare? Like every year I’ve gone, Comic-Con was big. Tiring. Hot. Expansive. Frustrating. Epic. Crowded. And wonderful. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’ll see you all there next year.