The boiling heat of summer signifies the passing of another year and that it’s time again for the San Diego Comic-Con. Held annually in San Diego since 1970, Comic-Con has long been a bright and shining beacon, calling comic book nerds from around the world to its hallways and conference rooms.
When I first began attending Comic-Con in the late ’90s, the guests of the convention were very centered on the medium of comics. The lion’s share of panels were dedicated to the art, and gave me access to the people who made the comics I loved. But I also got to see lectures from guys like Ray Bradbury. I got to watch my first Kurosawa film on 16mm. It was at Comic-Con that I was exposed to so many influences that shaped my life.
As the years went on, and attendance skyrocketed, the focus shifted away from comics and toward Hollywood. The marketing powers behind genre movies and television realized that Comic-Con would be a good place to build buzz for their genre projects. And why not? Attendance in the late ’90s, when I started going, hovered in the 40,000 range. That figure has more than tripled over the past 15 years; more than 130,000 people are expected to cram into the San Diego Convention Center for Comic-Con this year.
And it’s just too many.
On some level, I’m grateful for the surge in popularity. In 2002, I was able to talk to Stan Winston for an hour about special effects because he was forced to be at Comic-Con to promote The Time Machine. I also got to interview Kevin Smith there, and have become friends with comics professionals I’d idolized. And, if it weren’t for Comic-Con, there would be a thousand different projects I would have probably never heard of.
But marketing companies, Hollywood and the nonprofit that runs the show got greedy. Eventually, it didn’t matter if a movie or TV show was quite aimed a comic-book audience. Movies and TV shows that have very little to do with geek culture take up valuable exhibition hall space and panel time. Did you know Wilfred had a panel at Comic-Con in 2012? So did Dexter and Sons of Anarchy. And while maybe those were close enough to the spirit of Comic-Con, sure, what about Jane Espenson’s Internet sitcom Husbands?
Did you know that in 2012, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger flew out to the convention to promote Expendables 2? The same year, Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis even showed up at the Man of Steel panel to plug The Campaign. I’m not sure how any of that helps fulfill Comic-Con International’s nonprofit mission to create “awareness of, and appreciation for, comics and related popular artforms, primarily through the presentation of conventions and events that celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution of comics to art and culture.” What we all saw happen with Sundance—the choking of true independent voices by Hollywood looking to capitalize on an event—is what’s happened to Comic-Con over the years.
I’ll still be going this year, and even speaking on a couple of panels. But I’ll be jammed into the convention center like a sardine, struggling to cope with the massive marketing machine every major Hollywood studio sends down to the convention to drown out the real reason everyone is there: comics.
Maybe one year, I’ll be smart enough to recognize that Comic-Con is no longer a welcoming beacon, but a lighthouse, warning me to keep my distance. You never know, it could happen. Our very own Salt Lake Comic Con has started putting together a pretty impressive lineup of comic-book talent. Maybe I can get that fix without having to leave home.
Until then, I suppose I’ll see you in San Diego.