What’s Right and Wrong about “What’s Right and What’s Wrong About the San Diego Comic Con” – A Response
So, over on newsarama.com, Jim McLauchlin published a mighty(and lengthy) piece called “What’s RIGHT and What’s WRONG About the San Diego Comic Con”. Somehow my newly minted blog feed picked up the article. Man, the nanobots that power these things are getting good at selecting content.
Shortly after reading it, I got a note from Whitney Black (@modmistress) asking my thoughts on the article. At first, I thought that she might be trying to start a flamewar between me and Jim for her own sick purposes, but she’s good people.
First off, I love the article. It’s well-thought out and articulate. If you’ve ever been to SDCC, you’ll know exactly what Jim’s talking about. If you haven’t, you’ll get a good flavor of what’s going on over in nerdvana while you are stuck at home.
Re-reading it, though, I don’t know that Jim points out much that’s “wrong” with Comic Con. The piece just points out some realities of the Con.
Have you read it yet? Let’s jump in.
I posted earlier about what I believe to be the fundamental rule of Comic Con. Meditate on this, grasshopper, and you’ll know if San Diego is the right place for you in July.
San Diego Comic Con is not something you do. San Diego Comic Con is something that happens to you.
Wrap your mind around that. Embrace it in your heart. If you can deal with that, you’re on your way to SDCC enlightenment.
Jim says as much in his piece:
“Any gathering this big invariably becomes a beast of its own creation, beyond the control of people to manage, or possibly even define. It’s like Woodstock…”
That’s exactly everything that’s RIGHT with Comic Con. You don’t tame the hurricane. You just go along for the ride, friend. If that’s not something you can handle, you might want to re-think your plans to buy a pass.
I’m going to give you two more pieces of background, and then I’ll jump into the specifics of what’s right and wrong about “What’s Right and What’s Wrong about the San Diego Comic Con.”
- San Diego Comic Con is an extrovert’s paradise. What’s RIGHT about Comic Con are the people – the honest-to-goodness, genuinely awesome people that you meet at Comic Con. Some of the best, kindest people I have ever known, I’ve met at Comic Con.
- One more thing I always tell people when I meet Comic Con newbies (you can spot them by the wide eyes and full body paralysis when they get into the Exhibit Hall for the first time). You’re not going to see everything you want, but just look around because everything you do see is incredible.
On to the main points raised in Jim’s article: The Lines and The Programming. The contention that San Diego Comic Con is not attracting as much comics talent. The question hanging out there about whether Comic Con marginalizes comics for the sake of TV and movies.
Yes. As Jim points out in his article, there are lines upon lines upon lines. It can feel like the “Inception” of lines.
Here’s the scene. It’s 6 am on Thursday morning, and I’m standing in line to wait for the convention doors to open. The doors will open at, I don’t know, 8:00? Why am I in line at 6? Because the Battlestar Galactica panel is at 10:30 and I want to get a good seat. Why is Maria, who is standing next to me, in line at 6 am? When the doors open, she wants to get in line for a ticket for an autograph signing taking place later in the day. Why is the guy next to us in line at 6? When the doors open, he wants to rush over to get in line for the passes to the Hasbro booth. (Poor, bastard. Should’ve gotten in line hours ago.)
“Wait, a minute!” a sane person might declare. “You’re all standing in a line to get into another line?” Then they would shake their hypothetical head, sadly.
Sure, on the surface, we’re in line to wait for another line. What I (and many other people) are in line for at 6:00 in the morning is because WE’RE at COMIC CON.
Hey, look over there! It’s about 20,000 people in a line. And they’re all here for the same reason I am (except the Bronies – I haven’t cracked that code yet). We’re all here because we love pop culture – comics, TV, movies, books – there’s something inside each of us that we are passionate about.
Those people in line are holding onto something burning so powerfully that they fought tooth-and-nail for tickets, traveled to California, paid exorbitant hotel rates. They’re near the best beaches in the world during the best weather many of them will experience for a loooooong time, yet they’re going to spend all of their daylight hours basking in the beautiful fluorescent lighting of the San Diego Convention Center.
There are 20,000 people just like that standing in line at 6 am? That’s someplace I want to be. I want to hear their stories. I’d give each one of them a hug, but the Anime Kids have already cornered the “Free Hugs” market at the Con.
And that’s the reality of lines at Comic Con. The first time I braved Hall H was just before the last season of “Lost”. I had a roommate for that Con who loved “Lost” as much as I did, and we really wanted to see the 10 am panel in Hall H. I met some fellow attendees who had actually gotten into Hall H that same day. They advised that I be in line by 4:30 am, no later.
Marc and I shrugged and resigned ourselves to missing the “Lost” panel. That night, I just happened to wake up at 3:30. My body was still on Central Time. I got up, got dressed, left Marc a note to meet me at the Convention Center, and went to get in line.
At about 7:30, Marc called me and I told him to hurry down. I had saved him a spot in line. When he arrived, he asked, “What have you been doing for the last four hours?”
“Are you kidding? I’ve been talking to people about “Lost”! We’re all here for the same reason, man.”
To me, the lines aren’t a hurdle. They’re a blessing. If you’re even mildly extroverted, you’ll get to share so much with your line clan. You’ll probably learn a little – add a few titles to your Netflix queue, jot down a title or author to check out, or discover a new board game.
If that’s not your cup of tea, I’d like to introduce you to another concept. There are a ton of wickedly cool things to do that don’t have big lines.
Some of the best panels I attended this year were things I circled in the programming guide. A circle on the grid is code for, “If my feet are tired, if I’m hungry, or if for some other reason I need a place to plop down for an hour, this looks like it should be fun but not crowded.” That’s usually too long to write in the margins, so a circle does the trick.
That’s how I found myself in the “Ode to Nerds” panel this year.
When Jim laments the exodus of Comic superstars at the show, I guess I’ll believe him. Refuting him would require me to go back panel by panel through the programming grid, and that’s actual work. So I’ll give him that one (even though I know of two panels with Sergio Aragones that people told me were fun).
But, if you’re talking about talented authors, how about Chuck Palahniuk? Wrote a little book you might have heard of. You know… “Haunted”? (And also “Fight Club”).
The “Ode to Nerds” panel was moderated expertly by Charlie Jane Anders. Panelists were Cory Doctorow, Chuck Palahniuk, Patrick Rothfuss, Austin Grossman, D. C. Pierson, and Robyn Schneider. Never heard of them? Neither had I before the panel started. Guess what? That’s what Comic Con is great at – finding authors and artists you’ve never heard of before and giving you a chance to experience their genius.
The Talent – Comic-wise
So, let’s get back to this statement from Jim’s article:
“My perception, which has been reinforced literally hundreds of times, is that the con has simply become something that many creators—arguably, the most important footfalls that could potentially waltz through the door—don’t want it to be.”
Two years ago, I got in line really early for the Rifftrax panel. So early that I happened to sit through the “American Vampire” panel. The panelists even got a chuckle from asking anyone in the room who was only there to see Rifftrax to raise their hand. About half of us did.
I walked down to their booth the next day and bought the first trade of “American Vampire”. The panel was that amazing.
So to the creators bowing out of Comic Con, I’d say the same thing that I tell attendees. You can’t control the Con. But you can let it make something amazing happen.
If you’re going to “move product”, you probably are going for the wrong reason. If you’re going because you love what you do and you believe in it with all your heart, maybe think about going. Comic Con is still the place where you’ve got a chance to pitch your baby to a receptive audience. Sure, a lot of them are not there for you. But, there are still attendees who are waiting to be amazed by something incredible.
I say this based on my non-scientific calculation:
(Guesswork + (Amount of comics, books, and art I brought back from San Diego/my credit card online statement)) + Fans I saw waiting to talk to artists and writers at the Exhibit Hall
There are still plenty of artists and writers talking about and showing off their work at Comic Con. And there are fans waiting to hear about it.
Are Comics Marginalized at Comic Con?
Let’s face the facts. If everything else was gone from Comic Con – TV and movies especially – there’s no way 150,000 people would show up for Comic Con. At the core of the Con, though, are still the comics.
The reason that I started the Casual Comics Guy blog is because I believe that there are a lot of people like me. I’ve met them at Comic Con. I don’t have time to keep up with every title every month. I don’t have time to scour the web looking for the next hot title.
Do I go to SDCC for the comics? No, way. I go because there’s Battlestar Galactica, people talking about Firefly, and a chance to see Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright talk about “The World’s End”. I just started watching Doctor Who, and I know there are rabid fans of the programme (see what I did there) and I want to see that all the excitement is.
I also come home with a metric ton of comic books. Probably 75% of the comics I will buy in a single year come back with me from Comic Con. This year alone, I picked up over a dozen new titles I had never read.
If you’re looking for comics, you’re not going to find a bigger selection. I spent a good half-an-hour talking to an artist about the “Vision and Scarlet Witch” miniseries (both of them) from the 80s. The conversation got me nostalgic, so I headed over to the dealers’ section of the Exhibit Floor. 30 minutes later, BLAM, a guy handed me all 16 issues from both series for the bargain price of $2 per issue. Tell me another comic book convention where you can name, literally, any title and find it in 30 minutes.
If you’re looking for talent, look no farther than Artist’s Alley. I can name you a dozen up and comers if you’ll give me 10 minutes to find their business cards and/or small press comics that I bought from them. Then I’ll refer you to their Kickstarter pages. You want the future of comics, here’s where they are.
So, back to the question – are comics marginalized at Comic Con? I don’t think so.
Peel away all the Hollywood glitz, and you’ve still probably got the biggest comic book convention in the country by almost any measure. They’ve just wrapped that comic book convention in a giant party that even people like me – people who have a love for comics and culture, but don’t live and breathe comic books 24/7 – can enjoy.
In the end, I think that’s what makes San Diego pretty special. It’s a once a year chance for the non “hardcore” fans to enjoy comics.
If the “Ode to Nerds” panel taught me anything, it’s that each person has their own specific thing that makes them very passionate. That’s the beautiful thing about Comic Con. It doesn’t matter what that very specific thing is, you’re welcomed with open arms and will find kindred spirits.
The inclusionary attitude of the Con and its attendees is pretty special. Complaints about things like “Breaking Bad” not “belonging” at Comic Con confuse me. I don’t get “Breaking Bad”. I’ve never seen a single minute of the series. It couldn’t make me happier though to see people who love the series with every fiber of their beings find a place where they belong.
The first time I attended Comic Con, I was actually there for business. As my cab rolled in to the Gaslamp, we stopped for a legion of Roman soldiers to cross the street. I saw a guy in a Boba Fett/Wolverine hybrid costume walking down the street. Stormtroopers were everywhere. As the cab sat in traffic, I called my co-worker and friend Marc and told him, “Marc! I found our people! I’m home!”
That’s why any complaints or criticisms of the Comic Con programming pass me by without a thought. Whatever the panel, TV show, movie, Anime (shudder), action figure, board game, video game – its inclusion means someone at the Con is thinking “I’m home!”