Editorial: Comic-Con Crowding

Roughly 125,000 of you or so went to Comic-Con over the weekend. Two of you that attended managed to get into an altercation regarding seating in Hall H, which is not awesome. For some reason, one of you thought the other was too close and alleged they "stepped on your foot," to which your response was to stab the other with a pen in the eye. This will probably not bode well for the future of the show in San Diego.

Comic-Con has, over the past few years, become less "comic" and more "con." I'd say it's about 30% comics at this point and 70% everything else, leading to an immeasurable amount of attraction to all sorts of fans. This boom in popularity (for a number of reasons, which will be outlined in a bit) has created a situation where you have to wait in line for about two hours BEFORE the panel you really want to see. The lines are really just that insane because of the sheer crowds. Last year (2009) MOTHERS were freaking camping out OVERNIGHT to gain access to the Twilight: New Moon panel. It's that crazy. And that scenario is the problem right there that I'm sure this situation will exacerbate: when is enough enough when it comes to Comic-Con attendance?

I'm not going to claim I know what either individual was thinking before the panel for Paul and Cowboys and Aliens. If you watch the assailant being escorted away you get the sense that he's really not a bad person. But Comic-Con is way overcrowded and I can easily see how this situation would happen. When you have that many people with so many personal likes/dislikes and varying degrees of fanboyism, you're going to get trouble. And, let's face it, most of the people at the show aren't the most socially adept around; honestly, I'm shocked that it's taken this long for something like this to happen. If you watch the video you'll notice that the assailant is wearing a Harry Potter shirt, and therein lies the problem.

Companies (Hollywood studios in particular) have become religiously obsessed with generating buzz for anything they put out. And why shouldn't they want to evangelize their works? If fans want to see a panel on Charlie St. Cloud so they can swoon over Zac Efron who am I to judge? That's just it though. I have a feeling that movie will suck, yet the producers feel that if they showcase it at Comic-Con then the reception there of people that care about it in the first place will be generalized to the world at large. The reason they show it at Comic-Con is because they know if they mention it then those people will come, which means more and more people want to go to Comic-Con just to see a one-hour panel on one thing they actually care about at the show.

In a way, Comic-Con is creating this drama by letting Hollywood take over the show. It's not just Hollywood though. Video game publishers, television channels...everybody wants a piece of the hallowed 18-34 demographic that floods San Diego for five days every July. The convention organizers have to realize that the marketing approach of "get them in the door and hope they like other stuff" is going to lead to more incidents like the one over the weekend. I hate fear-mongering as much as the next guy but I think this is a legit concern and it just further exemplifies the need for changes to happen with the convention. Big changes.

At some point the convention will be moved elsewhere with bigger environs (I don't think it's a question of "if" but "when"). Las Vegas has been gaining ground as of late as a prime location for the big show to land, as their convention center is massive and could easily handle the hordes of fans. There's also the annual hotel debacle that befalls a portion of the show's attendees where their reservations are "lost" or mixed up (including creators trying to actually get to the show to push their stuff). San Diego doesn't seem to have nearly as many hotels proximal to the convention center as it needs to, something that a city like Las Vegas would easily remedy. This would be great for a couple of years, until all the movie studios realize that they can actually sell MORE tickets because there's MORE space. And then we're in the exact same boat then that we are now, except we're in Vegas.

Another suggestion would be just to limit the number of attendees. I don't know about you, but I have difficulty grasping the notion that I have to wait in line two hours for a random panel about Marvel writers ("Marvel Comics Writers Unite!" was the name of it this year). I get that everyone likes Mark Waid, Chris Claremont, Brian Michael Bendis and Matt Fraction. Is it really necessary though that there are so many people at the show who have heard of Bendis and know he has something to do with the Marvel movies and want to see the panel because they think he'll drop something about Mark Ruffalo as Hulk? People were in line at 4:30 AM for the Chuck panel, which started at 10 AM. Six hours for a show that defines geekiness but was no doubt full of a lot of guys who just thought Yvonne Strahovski is hot (for the record she is smoking).

One more suggestion? This is the big one, the nuclear option if you will. Comic book publishers need to take back the show. Steve Niles tweeted "Worst part of SDCC was seeing Artist Alley crammed all the way in the back. Next year it will be a trailer by the docks." The sad thing is that he's right. San Diego is the big show for so many indie creators that don't have the benefit of a massive golden throne or banners boasting the triumvarate of Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman. A.V. Club has a great article up about how Arists' Alley isn't what it used to be. The artists have been brushed aside for the almighty dollar and that's really troubling to me because it means that the convention organizers know that people aren't coming for artists. Or comics in general.

Most comic writers/artists/creators will tell you that comics won't be where they are today if it weren't for Hollywood, and to an extent they're right. Wildly successful films such as The Dark Knight, Spider-man 2 and Kick-Ass spread the word of comics beyond the comic book store. It gets complicated though when those same studios that are doing just as well on the back of these properties are pimping their success in an attempt to advertise their other IPs. I'm ecstatic that comics are so successful that Ant-man may get his own film (with Edgar Wright at the helm and possibly Nathan Fillion in the lead role). Who's to say the film won't be the first of a trilogy though, just for the sake of money? More films equals more money right?

San Diego Comic-Con simultaneously features everything that makes comics awesome (rabid fans, cosplay, general respect among creators) as well as what makes them not as awesome (overcrowding, audience dilution). I still think that most of the attendees at the show are genuine comic fans and I'm not trying to rant about how the show should be cleansed of everything non-comic. Eventually though, something's got to give here: either the show will get smaller or it will move. At least, those are the sensible options. As long as comics are successful and lead to successful film and TV adaptations though it should be expected that the crowds aren't going to get any smaller. It may take more than a stabbing to make everyone realize that San Diego Comic-Con is quickly spiraling out of control as far as crowds go.

One more thing. Go ahead and bookmark this post and read it after Comic-Con 2011. I can guarantee the same discussion will be valid (albeit hopefully without a stabbing). You stay classy San Diego.