Bringing up the topic of comics (in this case I am referring to comic books, graphic novels and manga) and how they fit into the world of conventions can be a touchy subject, particularly for the collector. I collect comics, a few anyhow, but tend to give all my money to my local comics store. On the other hand, I have friends who have collected for years, and look forward to attending conventions to add to their collections, or get autographs from the artists and writers. So, whether you are like me, or have boxes of collections in your home, there is no denying just how much the convention area has changed when it comes to comics.
For many conventions, especially the older ones, the comics section is their origin story. Back when you didn’t talk about the latest DC issue to anyone but your closest friends, conventions were the one place where you could pick up that much desired addition, possibly meet its creator, and not feel out of place. The landscape of the convention has changed dramatically since then. It’s mainstream, women have become a bigger and much more accepted part of it (both as creators of comics and fans), and it’s even more of a family affair. The comics section has changed with it. It has now become more than the vendors, artists and writers. It has moved beyond the printed page to areas such as Movies, Television and Gaming.
Depending on who you talk to, not all of the changes have been good. Ask a collector what he/she thinks about how the comics section in a convention has changed and they will tell you that it is smaller, and at times, treated as the poorer cousin to areas like Gaming and Celebrities. In some cases, they wouldn’t be too far off the mark. Many conventions have grown and changed from their comic book origins and attendees of a few hundred to multi-genre attractions and attendees in the thousands.
So, why change? Is it just for money? It’s easy to give a resounding YES! to that answer, but keep in mind that the world of conventions is HUGE. It’s a very competitive area, with organizers trying to figure out what they need to do to draw in the crowds year after year. Even the newer cons need that diversity if they are going to succeed. You have to remember, any convention, even ones that don’t turn a big profit, have to be run as a BUSINESS, watching and changing with demand, otherwise they risk folding.
It can be difficult to decide which conventions are worth your while (and money) if your main focus is comics. There is some help out there though. The Joe Shuster Awards website for example, only lists Canadian conventions that have a dominant comics section.
I don’t think that the issue is what is being offered, but if the convention calls itself a “comic con” does it still have a prominent comics section.
So…the decision by a convention to diversify its attractions (which results in more being offered in a limited physical space), can result in areas like the comics section getting smaller. This becomes a double-edged sword. They risk losing the very fans that helped them grow in the first place, the ones who attend primarily for the comics. However, by offering things that will appeal to a wider audience (=more attendees) they can give an opportunity for newer comic creators and vendors to build up a following, as well as attracting more famous and well-known comic artists and creators all into one venue. It’s a tough call.
So, is it the sign of the times? Of course it is. Geek has gone mainstream, drawing in more people, who want not just comics, but movies, games and actors. For example, if you (the convention organizer) can have someone like Rob Liefled appear at your event, you will draw in the comic fans of his creation Deadpool. Have him appear at your convention around the time that the movie comes out, you will attract the movie goers who want to see the movie. Go the extra step and have him appear with the movie’s cast, as San Diego Comic Con did…well, I think that the cliché “and the crowd goes wild” would work here.
That brings me to my next point. There has always been a connection between comics and video, but never as much as it has been in the last few years, with The Avengers, The Flash, Arrow, Superman, Batman, Deadpool, X-Men….you get the idea. Comics have moved from the page to the screen, both big and small. What can be wished for is that fans who are first introduced to the stories and characters onscreen, will go back to their origins, the comics, and realize what an incredible world they came from. This will hopefully show convention organizers that it is worth their time and money to continue to actively promote their comic artists, writers and vendors. Today’s comic artists and writers have become celebrities of the printed word much like actors have for the screen.
I think that what is comes down to is that conventions don’t promote this section as much as they should. It is, and will always be, an integral part of the convention-going experience. There is no “borderline” between the comic collector and the artist, or the actor and the comic vendor. They are now, just by the nature of the industries that they are in, all connected. Today’s convention organizers would be doing a disservice not only to the comics industry, but to the convention fans (and in turn, their own popularity), by pushing aside this part of their event. It won’t be overnight, but when it comes down to it, it’s the paying fans that will make the difference. Speak up, push for the vendors, the artists, the writers. Let the organizers of your favourite cons know what they mean to you. Many of them will be swayed by the bottom line I know, but if they know that you want and will pay to get it, I hope that they will see that no one wins by not listening.
After all, it was the fans that put them there in the first place.
Text © Written In Geek blog (2016) All rights reserved
Pictures © Written In Geek blog or used with subject’s permission (2016)