Chuck Rozanski reports from the world’s biggest comic convention…
Some idiot deliberately ran into my rental van this morning. I wish that I could be more condemning of his foolishness, but after 45 minutes of sitting in gridlocked traffic in front of the San Diego convention center, all of us were getting more than a little frustrated. My friend Jimmy, a comics dealer from Chicago, had the exact same thing happen, as the road right in front of the convention hall suddenly narrows from three lanes, to two. As a result, a slew of people try to bypass everyone on the right, and then suddenly realize that they have no lane remaining. Rather than waiting for an opening in the traffic flow, these folks would sometimes simply drive into the side of your car, regardless of whether any space exists between you and the car in front of you. Blessedly, my rental van was already dinged on that side when I checked it out, but it can still be very unnerving to realize the extent that people will go to get into Comic-Con. I’m telling you about my driving difficulties because they are symptomatic of what is happening throughout the convention. Too many people, in too small of a space. Even worse, the level of greed and avariciousness among the attendees has reached unprecedented levels this year. What has prompted this incredibly rude and ill behavior is the practice of the large media companies who have invaded our convention to give away freebies. What started out as really cool exhibits of upcoming films has degenerated into an astoundingly dangerous free-for-all of masses of people fighting over the promotional items being given out by the media giants. I was unable to leave our booth last evening because of the very large number of fans who came to purchase books from us, but I heard several first hand horror stories of mass hysteria going on in the huge media booths to the south of our display. What was minor jostling for the free goodies in the past reportedly turned into actual pushing and shoving this year, with some people reporting to me that they actually left the media area because they felt completely intimidated by the pervasive crowding and aggression? Whoa nelly. What in the heck has happened to allow our wonderful comics convention to degenerate into this savage greed fest? Flat out, were they still under 16, I would never allow my children to attend the media end of the San Diego Comic-Con on a Wednesday evening. It is simply too dangerous. Never, ever, have I felt that way at any comics convention in the past. In case you’re wondering, I do not have an answer to this problem. Freebies have become a primary reason why people come to the convention (and pay so much for admission tickets…), so I don’t think that there is any way that we could (or should) outlaw them.
I do believe, however, that some sort of regulatory overlay has to be created to prevent freebies from dominating the convention. Simply put, I think that the current environment of throwing open the doors to 30,000 fans at 6 PM on Wednesday evening and allowing them to all simultaneously surge toward the freebies is a prescription for disaster. If this unregulated stampede ultimately results in injury to someone, or worse yet to someone’s child, this is a lawsuit that could cripple the convention. Wiser heads than mine really do need to think about this issue when planning for next year’s convention. In other convention news, I spoke with 30-40 dealers this morning about their Wednesday evening sales.
So you know, the convention is open on Wednesday evening from 6 PM – 9 PM, only to 4-day ticket holders. This is a program that I helped to create because I saw it as a way to reward those who support the show, and to simultaneously provide dealers with a 5th revenue day to help cover our massive expenses of setting up at the convention. That having been said, Wednesday evening has become a really important bell weather of how the show is going to turn out. The initial reports were mostly pretty good, with dealers in the front of the hall saying that sales were either “good” or “great” last evening, and dealers further back in the room reporting “fair” to “good” sales. The only group that seemed to not do as well were the high end Golden Age and Silver Age dealers.
The “big money” Golden Age buyers did not show up last evening, and there is a lot of pessimism as to whether they will come at all. Most guys who want to spend 2,000+ dollars per comic book are not too keen on having to fight huge crowds, especially when the Golden Age offerings at San Diego have been diminishing steadily for the past five years. Where this is all leading is that San Diego is about to lose its crown as the top comics show in America. With fewer than 100 real comics booths left in the entire show, this convention is now a primarily media event.
After years of completely failing in any way to aid or encourage comics dealers to set up at the convention, critical mass has been lost. In the meantime, the Reed Exposition folks in New York have cleverly worked to wrest San Diego’s crown away by hiring teams of very smart marketing folks who cold call every comics dealer in the country before their convention, seeking to sign up as many new dealers as possible, and thus make their New York convention the best comics showcase in the world. Well folks, the battle is over. The people on the San Diego committee have been so busy sucking up to Hollywood that they let their core group of comics dealer support wither and die. Is it any wonder that they took the comics characters off of the banners they traditionally place on the lampposts around Sand Diego, and instead have a new motto of “Celebrating the Popular Arts?”
That reminds me of when Marvel Comics changed their name to “Marvel Entertainment” during the mid-1980′s. Why? Supposedly because the president of Marvel at the time was too embarrassed to admit to his buddies in the publishing industry that he printed comic books for a living. What a crock. Either we are proud of being in the comics world, or we are not. San Diego definitely needs to rethink their entire marketing strategy, and their street banners especially. Simply put, the New York Comic-Con is now eating their lunch. I could go on in far greater detail about my misgivings about this year’s show, but I think that a balanced perspective is also important. While San Diego may have become second-rate as regards being comics show, it is still one heck of an experience. If you like toys, t-shirts, cards, and posters it simply cannot be beat for selection and diversity.
This show is no longer for everyone, however, as the masses of humanity that seethe through (and around) the convention center can be quite overwhelming. Aside from all the hard work we that do in building and operating our booth, simply navigating the aisles long enough to reach the bathrooms and snack stands can be exhausting. In the end, we are so tired when we leave the halls each evening that we can barely drive. That makes the lengthy delays in exiting the parking structures (up to an hour…) particularly hard to bear. That having been said, the completely enveloping stimuli of this place are also totally addicting. I kee! p telling myself on an intellectual level that I should stop putting up with all this difficulty, and instead just stay home in Colorado during the month of July. Upon reflection, however, I keep coming back to the fact that I love this convention so much that I would miss it beyond all words if I did not come each year.
After 36 consecutive years of exhibiting here, this convention has become ingrained into my spirit and soul. That is precisely what makes my criticizing what is presently occurring at the convention all the more painful. I really, genuinely, want the San Diego Comic-Con to be the premiere showcase for comics in the world. Sadly, however, the convention has lost its way, and no one (yet) seems willing to step up to help put it back on track. I remain cautiously optimistic, however, that a solution to the present difficulties can still be found. Stay tuned for further developments.
Chuck Rozanski is the President of Mile High Comics, the best comic store on the internet. Visit him at www.milehighcomics.com