jephjacques: The Problem With Comic Con

jephjacques:

Tickets for the convention sell out incredibly fast, which means that they’re mostly snapped up by the die-hard Comic Con fans who stay up all night hitting “refresh” in order to buy tickets. You can’t just casually decide to go check out the convention anymore- you have to commit to it months and months in advance. This translates to seeing a lot of the same people visiting my booth, year after year. Which is fine, I like catching up with folks I remember from years past!

I totally agree with everything Jeph says in this post! I was going to write up something similar, and I’m glad he’s beaten me to it, because he said it better than I would have. Here’s another interesting thing, though. Jeph writes:

I’d wager that a sizable portion of SDCC attendees only buy tickets to get into one or two panels and have minimal interest in the convention itself. And every one of those people who buys a ticket denies it to someone who might want to come by my booth. The panels get bigger and bigger, and more and more popular, every year. The SDCC staff seems to have no desire to change this trend- ticket sales are ticket sales, after all.

So you have a set number of tickets, more and more of which are being purchased by people who spend very little, if any, time on the convention floor, which prevents more casual fans from attending the show. This might be great for movie and TV and video game studios, who are putting these panels on in order to generate publicity for their products. But it leaves actual cartoonists and vendors, like me, out in the cold.

Here’s where it gets interesting: Recently, an anonymous publicist wrote a piece in the Hollywood Reporter entitled "Are Fanboys Still Worth the Time and Money?"

But before we all spend crazy money jetting in talent, booking lavish parties and crafting just the right teaser-trailer package, think for a moment: Is the Comic-Con crowd still the best audience on which to be blowing our marketing budget? […]

Preaching to a choir and spending what can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars for the privilege might not be the best way to go. Especially since a big, splashy presentation has become far less special. It’s now the norm — hardly even a news event. After you fly in your A-list movie stars, put them up in a Hard Rock Hotel suite and pay their $2,000-a-day makeup person and stylist, is their 45-minute appearance going to translate into global ticket sales six or 12 months later? Probably not.

I’m no expert, but I’ve both worked in movie marketing and been one of those fanboys sitting in Hall H excited for a sneak peek of an upcoming nerdtastic blockbuster. I understand the joy and appeal of sending a shiver down the spine of a room full of screaming fans. But as Jeph said, Comic-Con is a zero-sum game, and increasingly, it’s a dish prepared and served for the most diehard of the diehards. Ideally, these are people with money to spend and a willingness to spend it on the stuff they love — including the works of indie artists like me, either because they’re fans or they’re willing to take a chance. If they managed to get in, they’re making the most of the experience. But it’s definitely no longer a place for the casual fan to check out on a whim.

With the exception of one thing: holders of the pro badge. Pro badges are non-ticketed badges supplied to industry professionals. Comic-Con’s definition of “industry professional” has been narrowing over the years as crowding becomes more and more of an issue, but it is still possible for a comic creator or (certain type of) film or gaming professional to get into the show without buying a ticket. That represents the ongoing role that Comic-Con plays in the life of a creator in terms of networking. My career is made from bits and pieces of all kinds of different projects, and Comic-Con contains a ton of people who can enable, encourage, patronize or collaborate on those projects. I saw a ton of those red badges this year, as I do every year, and more of those faces than I’d see at any other show anywhere. 

That’s the interesting thing about Comic-Con: it’s not a singular thing. While the Twilight and I-don’t-know-whatever-else fans were camping outside Hall H, pros were on the floor talking with other pros. There were probably meetups and events and networking occurring catering to dozens of other fandoms and subcultures as well, whether anime or My Little Pony or ball-jointed dolls or Silver Age collectibles or video games or LEGOs or whatever.

Every year I hear about how the movie and TV panels are crowding everything else out. Like Jeph, I think that’s glacially becoming literally so, and if it’s true that it’s not even helpful in a marketing sense, then it’s just a big exercise in nerdstroking with no real value. Having that squeeze out business and networking opportunities — not just for me, but others in different subcultures — that Comic-Con has enabled by its scale would be a real shame, but while commerce and casual fandom is down, I don’t think every advantage Comic-Con offers is entirely dead just yet.