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FULL BLEED 25: PERSON-AL-ITY CRI-SIS

Once again, SDCC spawns its annual personality crisis, which is turning out to be far more interesting than FINAL CRISIS (all apologies to Grant Morrison). I’m not going to do a linkblog roundup. I don’t really do linkblogging as a backbone-level activity. Other folks do it much better than me (due to their broader and somehow sharper interest in comics), so go read them. You probably already have.

There’s a few lines of division at work in this mess, some of them overlapping, and some merely at dangerous parallels.

SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE
“The Con is too big,” people say. Not necessarily true. It has reached maximum density, that’s certain. The organizers themselves have admitted it. They cap admission and still turn people away (wonder if the scalpers I saw working out front made any cash out of their transactions or not). Onsite registration didn’t happen, a couple weeks ahead of the show itself. Maximum. Density. And still there’s demand for exhibitor booths and demand for the free stuff that exhibitors give out.

SDCC doesn’t have to move. But it will likely have to raise prices, sooner rather than later. Last time I checked, a good chunk of the folks who went to comic-con, something around 50% were from within driving range of San Diego or in the city itself. This is the group most likely to be cut into should the price be raised to the princely sum of even 100 dollars. And when you price that out per night, it’s still a far better deal than most comic (or pop culture) conventions period.

This the part where people scream “You don’t have to pay to get into the show!” No, but I pay for hotel, transport, food, etc. Even so, twenty dollars a day is a measly price to pay for the range of art you can sink your tenterhooks into at the show. I won’t even go into the panel entertainment (which I largely missed). Hell, some folks would gladly pay twenty bucks just to sit in a room with celebrities, much less what you could do with the rest of your day once you got out.

But, costs to run the show are going to go up, and their income (based on flat rates for admission and booth set-up, etc) will stay flat. And that will mean that the show will stagnate, unable to bring in the big names that it used to. Lots of people reading this will say “Damn skippy!” and cheer that possibility. I’m not sure I’m one of those.

NO MORE HOLLYWOOD
Related to the above, the most common complaint is the one that decries the invasion of Hollywood at SDCC. Of course, the con has welcomed a Hollywood presence for a long time. Only recently, though, has it become a premiere destination on the studios’ press junkets. There’s plenty of old photos showing Fox Studios promoting STAR WARS at SDCC back in the good old days, and San Diego has always been a good market for screening advance previews and seeding the clouds of public mania.

However, studios spend a lot of money now. That means big booths, big giveaways, big grab at eyeballs. Lots of people, and not without reason, see it as a kind of power grab for the soul of the comic-con. The studios get blamed for everything from lack of parking to attention diverted from [Insert favorite comic title here], to long lines, to the general lack of manners around giveaway booths. How much of that assessment is fair? I dunno. People are going to line up to see Angelina Jolie and the cast of LOST no matter what you do.

Now, would there be a convention for these things in an ideal world? One that wasn’t mashed into a comic convention so that I could get my Jim Woodring sketches without having to wade across the human tide clutching plastic WATCHMEN bags? Sure, I guess. But you have to think of it this way. If you live in a small town, are you going to necessarily have access to the cream of the pop culture crop? Or access to whatever particular thing tickles your fancy (if it isn’t corn in the Midwest or oak trees in my neighborhood – luckily, I have a thing for mistletoe…). No. Sometimes you have to go to the Big City to get your specialty bookstore or the best Cheesesteak in the world or whatever.

There’s a critical pop culture mass at SDCC, one that makes an attractive audience. As long as that perception reigns, studios will continue to block out time in late July and slog down the 405/5 and get hotel rooms in Tijuana since their PAs forgot to book rooms in March. But sometimes if you want the good stuff, you’re just going to have to go to it.

WHERE’S ALL THE COMICS AT?
Right there under your nose. I go to a lot of comics shows now. SDCC still has the biggest purely comics guest-list of any of them. By far. Wonder-Con is good for a straight up comics show. Seattle surprisingly so on this count as well. But there’s simply no comparison to the staggering guest list that SDCC conjures up. Any taste in comics, no matter how refined or rarified, will find something to keep it happy. I don’t care if you’re a dyed-in the wool superhero fanatic who’s got a complete run of ACTION or the indiest of indie fans who’s been collecting comics by That Guy since he was drawing on the backside of Bazooka wrappers. There is plenty of “pure” comics content to keep you content.

Now, is it the same as the “good ol days” where 90% of the material at the comic con was actually comics? No. Of course, those days went by a long time ago. I’d say it was something like 75% comics and 25% other by the time I went to my first SDCC twenty years ago. Maybe a touch off, and I don’t have an exhibitor list in hand to verify that. When it moved over to the new convention center, it might have slipped to something like 60/40.

But even so, even if you’re the most fanatic COMICS ONLY AT MY COMIC SHOWS DAMMIT kind of person, you could still make a good four days of it, and that’s without spending any time at the original art booths. You might have to work for it a tiny bit now, but if you don’t come back full up on comics, then there’s nobody to blame but yourself. Obvious statement about wishing the con would engender more comics readers here. I think it services existing readers just fine, but would be a tough way to start up a new readership.

GET THIS [FREAKY SUBCULTURE HERE] CRAP OUTTA MY CON
One of the beauties of SDCC is that it’s been inclusive, not exclusive. Sure, I don’t need to read any furry fiction. Not all that fond of slash, either, as both are not really tuned to my taste and often forego things like story and character in order to service their fanbase. I realize that it doesn’t take much effort to put “superheroes” or “manga” or “prison comics” into those sentences instead (but I still have a soft spot for PRISON FUNNIES, it’s true). But I’m also of the mind that it’s wrongheaded to push a bunch of that stuff out (so long as it still is comics) from comic-con.

Pop culture is a big place. Even the slice of pop culture(s) that SDCC ties into. There’s probably room for everyone under the tent. And if not, then they can continue to network through their online forums. I mean, sure, I’m upset that I can’t represent the Old School Warhammer 40K and None of This Chaos Undivided Heresy crowd with a booth presence, but only because I didn’t get my exhibitor registration in on time. Okay, so I’m not on the show floor, but still, that just means I’m not at The Show. It doesn’t mean that I’m going away anytime soon.

The show, like comics themselves, are pretty much open to anyone who’s willing to foot the bill (I oughta know), and so long as it’s not openly offensive and moderately within the purview of Pop Culture as a whole, I’m not too worried about it. Now, when NASCAR sets up or maybe even the NFL, then maybe I’ll begin to be concerned. But then we’re talking [Freaky Superculture], aren’t we?

BUT BUT BUT…PRESS PASS!
I’ve heard a number of complaints that the Press wasn’t accorded the normal round of conveniences, or that they had a hard time getting around. But I’ve heard just as many counter reports that there weren’t major issues getting into events to cover them. My guess is that most of the non-comics press were used to being treated differently at what amounts to a large tradeshow.

Comic-Con has never been a traditional trade show. Not like BEA, not like E3, both of which I attended (E3 has drastically changed of late) regularly or still go to when they’re on my coast. I’ll warrant that there’s room for improvement, at least as the conventional entertainment media measure it, in terms of press facilities. Maybe comics internet folk are just more resourceful and know where to find the free wireless (like it was all that tough this year) and are able to rough it more instinctively.

I, of course, am not a reporter, not a journalist. If you call me one, you’re likely to get a laugh or a dirty look, depending on my mood. I was able to move effortlessly through whichever circle was required, able to penetrate to the heart of things instantly. Of course, I don’t have an editor breathing down my neck wondering why I don’t have an interview with A Really Big Star filed.

Perhaps it’s difficult for me to be sympathetic, but when I watch comics folks place stories by way of their Blackberry, I figure things are a lot easier than when I used to write up my notes in the panel, go home, type them into my computer and then email them to whomever I was filing with. A press lounge or greenroom or series of interview rooms far from the madding crowd? Sure, they could use those. But they could also use a lot more floorspace.

LAS VEGAS OR BUST
No. Just no.

You can’t fix Vegas. It’s a hell of a town. As a reformed Postmodernist, I still dig the place. But I don’t see it absorbing a SDCC size event (though I bet attendance would shoot down as a result of that, so on the upside, it could get a smaller venue and be fine). More hotel rooms? Great. Enjoy the taxi ride to the eating and drinking district. Or you could walk it, I suppose. You brought your Stillsuit, right?

Same goes for Los Angeles, only it wouldn’t be so hot there. The Convention Center in LA is just fine, plenty of room. Now, get from there to all the hotels or local watering holes. You’ve seen the 110 on an evening rush hour. At least I have.

Anaheim has its own set of issues. Namely Disneyland during Summer vacation. Though the thought of watching drunken congoers lurch their way onto the Teacups in an effort to void their stomachs does warm the evil little cockles of my heart.

AND SO?
Seems to me that a lot of the problem that folks have with SDCC comes down to their expectation of the show. The truth of things is that SDCC is what it is. It’s an utterly unique event that is neither fish nor platypus. It’s a chimera, certainly, but one that still offers a great deal of fun (and a HUGE bang for the buck, going by ticket price.) There is no other show like it. It’s slickly produced and still flexibly ad-hoc at moments (even if that makes it rough around the edges for some of the more refined crowd.)

Lots of the complaints I hear are along the lines of “There’s too much stuff.” Basically boiling down to “Man, I love the steak at this show, but all the chicken gets in the way, and don’t get me started on the ribs.” You can just put the steak on your place. It’s easy.

Of course, I may change my tune once I get in as an exhibitor, but even then, I’m not sure. Next few years are about audience building, and it’s tough to argue with the audience that the Big Show draws. Even if a lot of them are just there for the freebies and skimpy costumes.

Matt Maxwell

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