A Look Back: Has Comic-Con Really Jumped The Shark?
(The following is an opinion piece from long-time staffer Quickbeam aka Clifford Broadway)
This year at San Diego Comic-Con 2011 we brought tons of Hobbity goodness to all the fans who joined us to celebrate our shared love of Tolkien. It was a huge success by all accounts. Our Hobbit panel launched the weekend with wonderful buzz. We got a nice interview with Bard (Luke Evans) before he even stepped foot in New Zealand for his first day of filming! I got a brief, single question in to the legendary Francis Ford Coppola. I was delighted to feature WETA’s own Daniel Falconer and Greg Broadmore in our live feed. Here’s the big kick in the pants: overall viewership of our innovative live streaming video beat G4’s audience; proving that Ringer fans know how to bring it better than anyone! Way to go TORn!
But I look back with a bittersweet reflection on how SDCC has evolved over time. Because “much that once was… is now lost.”
At first blush any newcomer attending the mega-event titled San Diego Comic-Con International (mind you, I’m talking about the truly virginal), would expect to walk into the main hall and they would ostensibly find: comic books.
Well, you could seek out comics and graphic novels (it is true, they’re still printing on *paper*) but the way things are at SDCC nowadays, the visitor who desires such quaint items may have to look harder through the far-flung corners of that enormous hall. It’s not like it once was, when pencillers and inkers and airy British writers all convened to celebrate the greatest in illustrated fiction. Back then, the geek fest was mostly centered on the worlds of DC and Marvel and Image and Dark Horse. I know I’m making myself sound dreadfully old but eleven years ago when TheOneRing.net first started reporting on events from Comic-Con, the Eisner Awards were the biggest eyebrow-raising event of the weekend, not the Twilight fans camping out and freaking out for a whole week at Hall H’s doorstep (geez, back then Hall H didn’t even exist yet).
Now more than ever the words of Galadriel creep into my ear: “The world is changing…”
Of course the Con has banners on every streetlamp across town: CELEBRATING THE POPULAR ARTS. It’s a catch-all phrase used to explain some of the strange changes in content and programming now offered at the Con. Thus they had a crossover opportunity where SDCC feels it can be *more inclusive* of various geek worlds including (but not limited to): science fiction, high fantasy, comedy fantasy, gothic romance, horror, animation, collectible vinyl toys, printed manga and also anime, video games, documentaries (of fan interest) and yes, now steampunk.
I was always impressed with the variety and scope of what you’d find at Comic-Con. Believe me, it was always fun to see Inu Yasha fans mixing it up with Star Wars geeks, they seem to be cut from the same cloth. Different storytelling from a different medium, but still a geek is a geek is a geek; and we all have our passions that manifest full-force at shows like this. But eventually we, the Geek Nation, all started to notice a few unwelcome intrusions on our comfy little bubble of fun. Most of it came from Hollywood.
The Con always represented GENRE interests, or so we believed, mostly from the worlds of speculative fiction/ illustrated fiction. The genre movies most strongly promoted were fixed squarely on the map of geekery (Potter, X-Men, LOTR), or were stories sourced from comics (Ghost World). Then the action pictures started being touted, and I wondered slightly to myself if *spy movies* and 007 also counted as GENRE storytelling. Some would argue, yes, it certainly does. Then the torture-porn movies like Saw appeared; alongside remakes of Texas Chainsaw BloodyMess, and they certainly enjoyed huge splashy events. The studios were spending big bucks to leave impressions of everything they were hawking, whether it was genre storytelling or not. Quick as that, the barometer in the room really changed.
The straw that broke my back in 2010 was gently placed there by the ABC Television Network. They started doing something NEVER done before at Comic-Con: promoting half-hour family sitcoms that were not fantasy/ science fiction/ comics related. Yes, Patricia Heaton showed up to promote “The Middle” while simultaneously USA Network (and many others) were pushing comedies like “Psych” etc etc. The presence of thousands of shrieking Twi-hards exacerbated the situation, because they had no genuine appreciation of Comic-Con in the first place, they only wanted to scream in Mr. Pattinson’s face. Of course, the backlash from hardcore fans was explicit and fiery. My reaction was to angrily post the following status update on my BookFace: “Comic-Con has totally jumped the shark! This is bull-crap!”
Why be bothered? Well it felt like suddenly we weren’t at Comic-Con anymore – we were at a generic trade show defined for… well, for anything. “Celebrating the popular arts” meant nothing meaningful at that point; because there was no longer alignment with the offbeat, the fantastical, the imaginative… You might as well be in Vegas. The real possibility arose then that someone would say: “Hey if it’s on TV anything goes!” and Kim Kardashian’s evil entourage would show up next; and then HGTV would start promoting “House Hunters,” and then where would we be? The whole face of our Comic-Con had been made over, and there was no going back.
Yeah, there was a huge presentation for some show called “Ringer” but don’t be fooled! It had *nothing* to do with us, dear readers – or Gollum, or Elvish rings of power gone awry – rather it’s a mystery about Buffy assuming the life of her twin sister. So there you go.
Although still mostly populated by the vibrant hearts of common geekery, the Shire has been scoured. It’s already done. For our part: the presence of TheOneRing.net at the show was always bona fide. TORn has prided itself on creating content BY the fans, FOR the fans. And never once has our delivery of content strayed far from our mission. I’m not sure the exact same declaration can be made by Comic-Con itself.
Speaking of mission statement: I took out my SDCC participant badge and looked carefully at the fine print on the back. I had never read it up close. Here’s what it says: “Mission Statement: Comic-Con International is a non-profit educational corporation dedicated to creating awareness of and appreciation for comics and related popular art forms, primarily through the presentation of conventions and events that celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution of comics to art and culture.”
Well, that’s very interesting, don’t you think?
When someone can explain to me how “Covert Affairs” and “Shameless” and “Castle” qualify as genre storytelling on the level of THE HOBBIT and AVATAR, then I’ll be satisfied. Until then, I need another aspirin. This headache won’t go away. Maybe it’s the echo of all the Twi-hards still screaming in my skull.
Much too hasty,