It's another Monday edition of VS.!. With San Diego Comic Con hapening this week, join Doombug and Royal Nonesuch for a discussion on conventions!
Well hello there, and welcome to VS.!, the Friday column that comes out every Monday! I'm your host, Jude Terror.
San Diego Comic Con is this week, and as we all know, it's the biggest comics event of the year. In recent years though, other cons have been gaining some traction, like New York Comic Con and Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo. While comic books may not be as popular as they were decades ago, it seems like the culture of comics is bigger than ever. So I gathered these two gentlemen to have a little chat about it.
It's a first appearance on VS.! for Eric Ratcliffe, known on the Outhouse message boards as Doombug. Eric hosts a popular podcast, Why I Love Comics, writes a long-running successful webcomic, with a new artist coming on soon, New Comic Day, and somehow finds time once in a while to write a little bit about comics too. You don't need to ask him about it - he'll be happy to tell you. I've known Eric for years now and there's few people who truly love comic books and the industry and culture that surrounds them like he does.
Royal Nonesuch is making his second appearance on VS.!. Royal, whose real name I know but will not reveal, has been writing for the Outhouse for a very long time. He covers comics, movies, and television, and is knowledgable about them all. Sometimes I don't even understand what he's talking about! Like this reporter, Royal is an honourary British Teen. Another fun fact about Royal Nonesuch is that he goes to the weddings of internet comics reporters and beds lusty lesbians. I've seen it happen.
You probably know the rules by now, but I'll explain it for any newcomers. I will make six statements about our topic of the week. Royal will tell us whether he thinks the statement is true or false, and why. Eric will then do the same. Halfway through, we'll switch the order and Eric will go first. At the end, we'll see how many times these guys agree.
Got it? Good. Let's go.
1. Comic conventions have lost their original focus of allowing comic book fans and creators to interact, and have instead become commercialized publicity events.
Royal: I'm not entirely sure about the history of conventions, but every industry has trade shows and conventions where companies reserve time and space to show off what they're up to, so that's probably what the original focus was. The fact that fans and creators get to interact was always just a cool side benefit.
It was probably easier once upon a time, though. Shows like San Diego Comic-Con and C2E2 are so huge now that fan interaction basically comes down to getting your favorite comics signed and bothering creators in the bathroom. (Seriously, why do so many creators have stories about this happening to them? Knock it off, fans).
Those behemoths are definitely about publicity first, and everything else second, but there are smaller, regional shows that don't focus so much on announcements and things. The largest of these is HeroesCon, which creators are always so elated to attend because they're so easy and relatively stress-free. These are when creators get to hang out more with fans (and other creators) and maybe even do some back issue hunting for themselves. The only panels at these shows may just be about old pros sharing stories of the old days, which is always a pleasure. These smaller shows vastly outnumber the mega-shows in San Diego, Chicago, and New York.
Eric: Mostly False.
It's an incredibly generalized statement that for the most part is false. The only convention I really hear about anyone having trouble connecting at is SDCC. I think that at the smaller shows, like Emerald City or Heroes Con or others, it's certainly a lot easier to connect with your favorite creator. Even from my personal experience at shows like NYCC, it's still easy to bump into someone who you dig and just share a couple minutes and get to know them.
2. Publishers allow the convention news and publicity schedule to shape their storytelling.
Royal: It certainly feels that way. It makes sense that each publisher wants to be the talk of the convention. I'm sure it's no coincidence that the biggest, most-publicized initiatives come about either after convention season, or before. That way, the publishers can set up a huge presence to talk about either That Huge Thing that just happened/is happening, or That Huge Thing that's going to happen that they use the con to announce.
Mind you, I don't think it's a bad thing that this happens. If the con schedule is there, the publishers may as well use it to their advantage.
Eric: How do announcements shape the storytelling? If you mean in the sense that "Hey guys, this new event is coming up! Look out for it to hit all our books!" then I can kind of see it. But I don't see the publishers holding off on big announcements/events to hit the same time as a convention hits. No, usually the publishers are trying to gain the attention of the main stream press for their big announcements.
That being said though, it looks like Marvel and DC are both gearing huge media announcements for San Diego Comic Con this year, not directly comic book influenced, but I still find it interesting that those are the kinds of things they save the truly "huge" announcements for.
3. Comic book websites like Bleeding Cool should stop spoiling convention announcements before the cons.
Royal: That would be nice. Some of us still like to be surprised. Also, I'm sure companies like Marvel and DC pay their marketing people to work hard and come up with well-timed announcements. It must suck to be undercut. This phenomenon seems to have resulted in entertainment companies giving more and more info up front, and just using the con to talk about all the stuff they already announced. The other thing is, as spoilers are put out there, those of us who don't want to be spoiled have more and more difficulty avoiding them.
Still, this kind of thing wouldn't happen if people didn't want the information ahead of time. A lot of fans can't help themselves when it comes to temptation. If the demand (and thus, unique hits) wasn't out there, these sites wouldn't provide all these spoilers. I don't know when exactly fans became so insatiable, but it's probably when they realized that the internet could be used to spread info (false or otherwise) to whoever wants to see it. When fans realized that they could learn so much about an upcoming comic (or movie, or whatever), that's exactly what they wanted to happen. Thus, I don't know if Bleeding Cool and similar sites should stop what they're doing (since spoilers aren't the only thing they do), so much as entertainment companies ought to come up with more creative ways to dispense information to counteract the spoiler folks out there. Or at least just learn how to keep a lid on it!
Eric: So, surprise surprise, I disagree here. I'm on the show floor throughout the entire convention so I don't know what the big announcements are. So if I can see them on BC or any other comic book news site it helps me do the interviews I have set up.
I mean, if it's two damn weeks before a show and Rich Johnston is flat out spoiling something? That's different. I'd rather hear about that at the show itself! I don't get why you would purposely do something like that, other than purely for unique hits.
That all being said, as long as it's while the show is going on/day of stuff, I am more than cool with the news sites mentioning stuff "DURING" the con.
4. Cosplaying at cons is basically sexual exhibitionism, and only attractive people should participate.
Eric: False and extremely stereotypical. I cosplay. I'm a cosplayer. Am I the fittest guy on the planet? God, no, but at the same time you won't be seeing me in spandex anytime soon. Just a bad idea. Most cosplayers with common sense know this.
The random shots of the fat guy in the wonder woman costume are rarer than you think. And the sexual exhibitionism described is usually found in the "booth babe" scenario which is usually equated to a company not understanding their demographic.
I know plenty of beautiful cosplayers who can pull off their characters without it coming off as some sort of trashy "look at my boobs" costume. Look at the genderbent Justice League as the best example of this; you have Tallest Silver and Kit Quinn as Super Ma'am, whose costumes look amazing and don't come off as completely trashy. It's the same actually, with all of their costumes.
I think half of the fun of cosplay is the fact that any average joe can do it. You don't know who is going to be under that Rorschach mask or Batman Cowl or Doctor Doom costume.
I think the main problem about cosplay, especially at an event like E3 or SDCC is the booth babe, the girl who is just hired to cosplay as the character and doesn't know shit about who they are dressed as and how to be that character. (Though the last few years have seen an improvement on this as companies hire actual cosplayers like Jessica Nigri to be the characters in the game or series being promoted.)
Royal: What was the question again? Oh right, cosplay. I don't really care one way or the other. I don't know if Doombug is sexually exhibiting himself when he dresses as Deadpool, but I'll take his word that he isn't.
When I'm at a con, the cosplayers just kind of blend into the background, since there are so many of them. On the other hand, as an appreciator of craft, the really well-made costumes do stick out. (I saw a cosplayer approach Runaways artists Adrian Alphona and Christina Strain decked out in an intricately re-created version of Karolina Dean's wedding dress.)
Attractive or not, if people want to dress up as their favorite characters at a convention, more power to them. The only time I've ever been unsettled by a cosplayer is when I sat across from a particularly intense Rorschach on the subway after Day 2 of last year's NYCC. That guy was either thinking of ways to murder me in retribution for my crimes, or he was asleep. I couldn't tell, considering how eerily still he sat.
5. Conventions are the last great bastion of the secondary market for consumers and retailers alike.
Eric: False. While I have experienced things from both sides of the fence, don't think conventions are really the last place to get attention on the things you work on. Like I said, I've been on both sides of this fence. After Boston Comic Con last year and the year before that I did see a rise in numbers to both my podcast and my webcomic BUT that does not mean that the numbers weren't already steady without that.
I think today's audience as well as the creative force looking to lure their audience into what they are working on has to immerse into the digital culture. It doesn't hurt to say host a panel for a famous friend's current project or even have someone give you a shout out somewhere.
At the end of the day, if you have a product that catches someone's eye, they will definitely ask for more information, especially at a convention.
It's actually how I met friends like Tyler James and Scott Cohn.
Perfect example of this is the Rooster teeth guys who just as of last year now have their own convention in RTX.
From the retailer side of things, I think it's a bit tougher at a convention. We see it inside of the recent comic con documentary where a big retailer is having trouble making ends meet from coming to the show. From their end I really think having some sort of big deal and having a memorable and friendly persona goes a long way to having people come back and see them again.
Royal: No. We have ebay. It's still always fun to go back issue hunting at cons, though. The thrill of the hunt and all that (which still exists in some form on the internet).
6. The convention boom in recent years is sustainable or will continue to grow.
Eric: True. If I could spend 4-5 months of the year just going to conventions myself, I definitely would in a heartbeat. I think word of mouth, as well as the rising ticket sales, show that things are not going to stop anytime soon.
Each convention grows into its own beast. Hell, I know my buddy Charles Moore actually just bought Derby City Comic Con.
I see constant announcements of Blizzcon, Pax East, Pax Prime, E3, NYCC, SDCC and many other conventions selling out and having crazy lines or hopeful people just wanting to get in and see what the fuss is about.
I mentioned Boston Comic Con, and, almost 4 years ago, when I started attending the show, it was tiny and basically in a basement location. Now, the show is at the Hynes and might have to expand into a second room next year.
Same with NYCC. NYCC has become huge while still focusing on the creators and not being just a "Hollywood" type of show. While the lines and attendance can be long and huge, you can still walk the show floor and run into your favorite creators and not have to worry about missing anything.
I think the only downside can be the panels at moments where it seems like people will camp out to attend the panel they want to see instead of leaving the room for something they have no interest in.
Personally, I only see things continuing to grow, especially for the bigger shows. Which I think will be both a negative and a positive that I hope these show runners will be able to plan accordingly for.
Royal: It'll grow, but will it be sustainable? That I don't know. I don't see how we can have more SDCC, C2E2's, or NYCC's. I do believe that WizardWorld tried to expand its convention business a few years ago, and those cons don't exist anymore, to my knowledge. As long as nobody tries to out-San Diego San Diego, then we ought to be fine. Even the smaller, regional con business (like HeroesCon or Mid-Ohio) would probably cannibalize themselves were it to grow too much larger.
Let's not forget that comics are still just a niche, and how many conventions does a niche industry really need?
Final Score: 4 out of 6
Join us Friday, or Monday if we're late again, for another edition of VS.!
Written or Contributed by: Jude Terror