Comic-Con – Victim of Its Own Success?

With Comic-Con sprouting again in San Diego in ’09, I can’t help feel like this year is different. I’ve had this sense before with other sorts of conventions. Has Comic-Con’s popularity caused it to meet their fate?

What happens is this: enthusiasts (typically fringe enthusiasts) decide to get together and share in their enthusiasm. Star Trek, homebrew computers, comic books, what-have-you. They putter along, garnering quizzical looks and/or sneers from the public that bothers to notice them. Then something happens. They become popular.

Obviously I cut my eye-teeth on Star Trek conventions…being a co-perpetrator for a couple of them. Every group had it own flavor. Going to a convention in New York was a different experience from visiting one in (say) College Park, MD. After a fashion, the number and popularity of these gatherings caught the attention of the bean counters. As a result, they homogenized the con (for Trek as well as other shows) so that just about every stop on their traveling side show looked like pretty much any other stop (the exception being L.A., where it was much easier to snag the “above-the-line” celebs).

It happened to the Sundance Film Festival. What started as a showcase/workshop for little-known independent film makers bloomed into a marketing stop for Hollywood’s “boutique” films. If you were anybody in Hollywood, you simply had to be seen there. Needless to say, the raison d’art has sort of been lost in the shuffle.

I have to say that it sort of feeling that way with Comic-Con. What was once just a gathering of some enthusiasts has turned into a mainline Hollywood genre market-fest. Studios send their (sometimes arguably) science fiction, sci-fi, and fantasy shows here with the obligatory celebs. It’s quite cynical, actually. All their attempts to generate some “street cred” really does is bring into broad relief those people of the genre who earned their stripes: they came to Comic-Con as fans before anyone knew who the heck they were.

But a lot of content creators earn their stripes the old-fashioned way: by getting the fans to love them. Seriously, who would have thought that a one-time ballerina would become one of the most beloved genre stars? I’m speaking, of course, of Nathan Fillion.

Kidding.

Well, about the ballerina part. Obviously I’m speaking of the incomparable Summer Glau whose two most notable series, Firefly and Terminator – The Sarah Connor Chronicles disappeared too soon (OK – shameless cynical begging here: if any Comic-Con members, participants, attendees hear any moaning about no TSCC season 3, send them over to Terminator – The Connor Wars (TTSCC Season 3) Fanfic Project. Thanks.)

This year, for some reason, it feels like Comic-Con is trying too hard. It’s not that anything particularly different is happening than in previous years, but it’s starting to be a little perfunctory, if you know what I mean. This is no longer riding the wave because the surfing is fun, but instead it’s more like paddling out and shooting a curl because your sponsors on the tour expect no less.

Fortunately, that’s mostly on the Hollywood side of the filk circle. I think the rest of the con, where gems like The Guild have their following are still just as vibrant as ever. Why? Because it’s about the one thing a lot of the suits just can’t seem to fathom: you ride the wave, you don’t create it. Enthusiast conventions are about riding the wave. You know what the great thing is about that? The waves keep on coming.

Just as with others before it, Comic-Con will lose the media spotlight and some of the teaming throngs. It might still be a few years, yet, but it will happen. But Comic-Con will likely survive. If it doesn’t, another will take its place. Why? Because writers and artists and actors and animators and scores of others, regardless of how well or poorly they are paid or treated by the establishment, will always garner enthusiasm for good works when they are just as enthusiastic about the good works they do.

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