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Letting Go of Comic-Con

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As SDCC becomes less about comics with each passing year, perhaps the best thing to do is to set it free.

I experienced an interesting phenomenon this past weekend, shared with many other small press creators. It was the experience of being an exhibitor at the country’s largest comic book convention, the San Diego Comic-Con, and of being ignored by 150 thousand attendees.

Comic-Con this year felt almost as if I had purchased my table not to sell my comics, but to view an event, like a sports fan watching a game from a luxury box. I had a great view of the crowds as they rushed by in frantic haste to get to an advanced screening of a movie (probably not even based on a comic) or to get in line for a show exclusive (probably a toy).

It actually wasn’t that bad. I sold a good amount of my books, not enough to pay for the expense of the trip, but that seemed pretty typical. Despite the name of the show, comics just aren’t the main attraction, especially not independent ones.

So while I agree with most of the criticism thrown at Comic-Con for not being about comics anymore, I don’t think there’s much point in fighting it. After all, we have to at least take partial responsibility for opening the door that has now been busted completely in.

Why not accept Comic-Con for what it is: a pop culture event dominated by mainstream media. A name change might be useful, however, if for no other reason than to keep actual comic fans and creators from becoming disgruntled.

Once we’ve achieved a certain level of differentiation about Comic-Con, meaning that we’re okay with it not being the best representation of the comic industry, it will be easier to move on and take a more positive spin on it. This can mean either continuing to attend with an adjusted set of expectations, or wiping your hands clean of the show without the guilt of feeling like you’ve turned your back on an important industry event.

I chose to do the former, as I was still able to enjoy the show and plan on exhibiting in the future. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to other small publishers if it’s important for it to balance out financially. With that considered, if they’re still interested in being part of the show, then small press isn’t a bad way to go. The tables are still relatively inexpensive considering the cost of a weekend pass, the exhibitor badges will get you in early and allow you to stay late, and the table makes for a nice home base from which to escape the crowd and have a place to sit.

This isn’t to say that I was really an attendee trying to beat the system. I was there to sell my comics and graphic novel, and I spent most of my time doing just that. But since it wasn’t exactly non-stop sales for me, I was able to make strategic expeditions out to visit my favorite creators who, incidentally, also weren’t part of the main attraction.

For example, the Fantagraphics booth wasn’t too far away. I checked the appearance times for the Hernandez brothers, and after fighting through an enormous crowd to get there, I was able to talk casually with two of the pioneers of independent comics, buy the newly released Love and Rockets collection, and get them both to sign it without having to get in any line.

It was pretty much the same situation at Top Shelf where I spoke to Eisner winner Nate Powell of Swallow Me Whole, while crowds swirled around us in a frenzy. Who knows what they were looking for, maybe they expected to see Megan Fox walking around in a gold Princess Leia bikini.

This idea of going for the experience might not seem worthwhile for everyone, which is why I think a more important reaction to the transformation of Comic-Con is to re-direct our energy into establishing and supporting conventions that are truly made for comics.

This process has already begun to some degree as we’ve seen attendance swell at previously local cons such as Charlotte’s Heroes Con or Seattle’s Emerald City Con. And the organizers of the new Long Beach Comic Con were smart enough to make their way around Comic-Con handing out flyers for their first show this October, using the sales pitch that it was a comics only show, not a mass media event.

My favorite show of the summer actually happened to be the smallest. It was two weeks before Comic-Con at the Asian American Comic Book Convention in NYC. I actually did better at that show even though it was limited to 250 attendees (because of the fire code of the museum it was held in). I’d rather have a smaller captive audience than an enormous crowd that doesn’t know I exist.

Small shows allow for a greater sense of community. My family was able to attend the AACC with me and feel a part of it rather than just feel fortunate to survive it. As you can see, my two-year-old daughter enjoyed doing her first con sketches.

As comics continue to attract a wider audience, the experience will mean different things to different people. I don’t think we should be intimidated or bothered by shows that become a cross-pollination of interests. Instead, we should stay focused on supporting comics and shows that better represent our interests.

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Tyler Chin-Tanner started his own publishing company, A Wave Blue World, and writes and draws layouts for Adrenaline, its flagship series.
© 2009 Tyler Chin-Tanner.  All rights reserved.
Email: tyler@awaveblueworld.com
www.awaveblueworld.com

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Comments

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Jul 31, 2009 at 3:10am

    interesting column, Tyler. I have been at the SDCC two years ago and reveled in the glorious beast that was the Comicon and like you said, finding important creators to be approachable on the fly just plain dropped my jaw. I also have to wonder about presentation since the floor is very much divided esthetically into Big Blowout Multimedia stands and flea market style comic section, shops and creators included; bigger comic companies excluded. But since making a huge investment yourself in building up your part of the floor is not realistic, maybe it is SDCC's responsibility to make this a bit more attractive. Putting the Comic back in Comicon ... I must say that, since I have no interest whatsoever in current goingson in film or television, I focused on the comic part and still had a blast at SDCC!

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