Robot 6

The comics convention boom is now

New York Comic Con

New York Comic Con

One of the under-analyzed indicators of comics’ recently improved health is the seemingly exponential growth of convention attendance. Rarely does a Comics A.M. goes by where some convention, even a smaller, regional one, isn’t reporting how attendance is up from the previous year and they’re expecting even more the next; often it’s in the thousands, headed into tens of thousands.

That seems to be in direct contrast to conventional wisdom: Digital comics sales are increasing, most comics creators are a tweet away, and travel in this still-sluggish economy is still cost-prohibitive for a lot of fans. Yet, just as print sales in the direct market have been steady, and even improving, attendances at comics conventions is up virtually across the board.

The leader of this pack is easily New York Comic Con. In just seven short years, it has positioned itself as the comics convention of the year, providing stiff competition for the long-held leader Comic-Con International. In fact, New York Comic Con hit San Diego-sized attendance numbers this year.

Clearly aware of NYCC’s growing size and importance, publisher are making bigger and bigger announcements there. In 2009, Marvel revealed in San Diego that it had acquired the rights to Marvelman/Miracleman, but it was this year at New York that the publisher announced it will reprint the acclaimed Alan Moore/Neil Gaiman run. DC Comics announced the all-star line-up of Detective Comics #27 ,with Frank Miller, Neal Adams and others. Of course, some of that has to do with the publishing schedule — January solicitations are released in mid-October — but there has been a growing shift of publishers not wanting to compete with the Hollywood promotional machine at Comic-Con International, and New York seems the perfect alternative: While there’s certainly movie, television and video-game programming at New York Comic Con, the focus still is predominantly comic books.

But just why is it growing? What’s driving the attendance boom? One of my theories is that the Sundance-level buzz surrounding Comic-Con International has placed such events on the cultural radar, and now more people than ever before think there may be something at a comics convention — or “pop culture conventions,” or “geek-culture” conventions — that interests them. However, I also can’t believe that the boom is being caused purely by the “geek-curious.” There are a lot of things that I’m interested in, but I wouldn’t spend the kind of money it takes to attend a convention that focuses on them. I’m sure there are some people who are dragged along with their friends, but there’s no way they account for all those thousands.

While there are still complaints about comics losing floor space in San Diego and at other larger conventions, there are artists who can make a living off commissions and and other art sales at the event. Original art and personal interaction with creators is still a big deal, maybe even bigger than it’s been in a while. There’s a reason that Comic-Con partnered with DeviantArt; there are creators who have never worked for Marvel or DC, they may have never even drawn a comic before, but their artwork has captured the attention of an enthusiastic group of supporters. They have built up their own following completely outside the publishing paradigm and do quite well existing on its periphery. Before sites like DeviantArt, or even webcomics, they would remain in obscurity and could never attend a convention with any hopes of turning a profit (or even cover travel and hotel expenses). And of course more high-profile creators are as much of a draw as they ever were, perhaps more so with conventions serving as an ad hoc Twitter meet-up as writers, artists and their fans live-tweet their con experience.

The exploding cosplay scene is also bound to be a huge influence on this. The annual Masquerade has historically been one of the most popular events at Comic-Con, but cosplay always seemed more of a tertiary yet very noticeable element to conventions. You’d expect the Storm Troopers and the other standards, with the occasional really imaginative costume. Now it’s become such a celebrated part of a con experience. When I tell non-comics fans I’m going to Comic-Con, the next question is always if I’m dressing up — conventions are indelibly linked with cosplay now. Being associated with such creativity and ingenuity, and a group that consistently seems so encouraging and accepting, is a great thing ,as far as I’m concerned. Their expansion now spills out of the convention centers, with more and more coverage of cosplayers online and even on television, and legitimate celebrities within the cosplay community.

The fact that two San Diego-sized conventions can co-exist on the same continent within three months of each other, with countless local and regional cons filling out the rest of the calendar, says a lot about the modern comics audience. Even with comiXology and Amazon, even with thorough news coverage from every large convention, there’s no replacing the experience of the exhibit floor, of buying a print or commission from your favorite artist, of being one of the first people to see footage of next summer’s blockbuster. Sure it’s expensive, crowded and exhausting, but there are countless unique experiences that can be had at a convention, and more people than ever cherish those experiences.

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6 Comments

RI COMIC CON 2 WEEKS!

Yeah, I’ve been thinking that San Diego has deviated so far from their original intent as a “comic convention”, that they should just outright change the name to be more all-inclusive of the stuff that goes on there–Pop Culture Con International sounds more fitting these days. I ought to write to the organizers and suggest this.

@Acer: Agreed, and is probably why it’s one of the “under-analyzed indicators of comics’ recently improved health” (as stated in the piece). The rise of comic conventions probably correlate stronger to the health of genre movies, which doesn’t always spill into the publishing industry. From what I understand, Artist’s Alley is often marginalized to the sidelines in these affairs. That sorta chips into the luster that comic cons are even primarily about comics these days.

What’s driving the growth?
Hollywood. You put good shows on the air, that appeal to the Geek tribes, that appeal to the general populace as well, and you get the curious attending comic cons. And reading the source material. And discovering that there are COMICS of their favorite properties.

(Back when the Tick was on the air, both as a cartoon and live action show, a friend who was a fan was surprised to discover that there were comics!)

Comic Cons are carnivals. Both of the county fair type, and of the bacchanalia type. The former is something for the family to do, a bit out of the ordinary, a nice activity. The latter is a chance for people who revel… dress up, indulge to excess, immerse yourself in the throng with other people who share your proclivities.

Toronto had six-digit attendance this year as well. Any show with 100K+ is San Diego-big. In ten years, C2E2 will be king, possibly with 200K.
(For comparison: the 1999 Chicago Auto Show 1.2 Million in ten days, 490K in the last three-day weekend.:
http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/chicago-auto-show-attendance-record-signals-continued-market-strength-75001857.html)

San Diego and New York are national shows. WonderCon should be, but for some reason, the growth hasn’t matched that of CCI:SD. MegaCon has space to grow in Orlando, but that is a comics-centric convention, and will never garner the attendance that pop culture shows do.

And then there’s Las Vegas… lots of space. Wouldn’t surprise me to see ReedPOP going into that market, say in February. If so, expect MILLIONS. Komiket crowds. (Four of the largest convention centers in the U.S. are in Vegas. Imagine each hotel with a specific fandom.)

Cons are just the current fad of the moment. They’re actually too “popular” and big at this point in time. Trying to be all things to all people results in a mob of folks and a disjointed convention.

The time is ripe for shows to be split into parts and un-diversified. Let’s get back to basics and have true comic book shows with creators and comic venders then separate shows for cosplayers, TV/movie stars, toy collectors, etc…

Wading through cosplayers posing at the entrance, getting stuck in vendor isles, and seeing sad looks on out-of-work actors sitting at tables with no lines on the way to see George Perez sketch some magic is getting tedious for this purist.

**munches popcorn**

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