(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,
Quickbeam

Comments

  1. well castle is there to have an excuse to give Nathan Fillian a panel, and if Nathan Fillian doesn’t scream geek culture I don’t know what does.

    But yes, comic-con is slowly being ruined and the twi-hards share a large chunk of the blame. Luckily, there time is past and there will be no Twilight panel next year, so there will be no one to go to those “other” panels. So maybe the tides still can be reversed. If no one goes to the panel then the studios won’t be interested in bringing the panel to the show.

    • Jaidoprism7

      I agree. Say good-bye to the thumb sucking weenies of the twilight age.  Don’t mean to be abrasive but forget that stuff.  You’ll be better off.  Come home to Tolkien.  The Hall of Fire is always warm and welcoming and you can almost choke on the rich history that is anything Tolkien created.  Saw Castle’s interview on G4.  The dude seemed nervous or drunk or both but he definitely looked to be either geeky or out of his element.  I think the tides will reverse but there will be something equally sad and pathetically dramatic to replace the Twilight junk but this time we’ll be ready.

    • I don’t think that just because there will be no more twilight movies, doesn’t mean that there won’t be twilight panels.  (I mean, at DragonCon, there are still Buffy the Vampire Slayer panels and there hasn’t been a Buffy tv show in years.)

    • I don’t think that just because there will be no more twilight movies, doesn’t mean that there won’t be twilight panels.  (I mean, at DragonCon, there are still Buffy the Vampire Slayer panels and there hasn’t been a Buffy tv show in years.)

  2. As much as I don’t want to agree with you, there is something to be said about the “You might as well be in Vegas” comment.

    As for a particular show you mentioned, Castle – I don’t watch it myself, but I saw this year’s panel. Much of the cast is from Firefly and Serenity, and the whole idea of the show has so much meta and creativity, in line with true genre, that I think it has its place.

    As long as there’s a Hobbit panel, though, I think SDCC has it’s head screwed on right. 😉

  3. Bob

    I don’t agree with the premise.  There are still a LOT of comics and you don;t have to look that hard.

    It’s funny, because had Comic Con not “jumped the shark” there would be NO Weta booth or Hobbit panels at all at the con…….  Even though there are all kinds of pop culture stuff at CCI, there is still  more comics stuff than any other con.   Halls A-C are almost all comics dealers (then you have Halls D-G for lots of other pop culture stuff).

    Almost every major publisher had a booth there with writers & artists: Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, IDW, Image, Ape, Archaia, Archie, Aspen, Avatar, Bongo, Boom, Fantagraphics, First Second, Heavy Metal, Oni, Radical, Top Shelf, Zenescope……

    There were 100’s of panels over the 4 days concentrating on comics, more than any other con.

    No comics content?  Hard to find?   I call BS.   If you can;t find it, you’re not looking.

    • I don’t think that was what the author meant at all.  It’s not that he couldn’t find it, it’s that there was a diluting of the core premise of what Comic-Con by popular shows, series and movies that have no relevance 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.” 

      I myself have watched the same thing happen at DragonCon in Atlanta.  It used to be a hardcore tabletop gaming convention.  Then it started “evolving” into more of a party atmosphere with writing workshops, robot wars, costuming tracks, etc. etc.  However, the main difference is they actually changed their mission statement to “Dragon*Con is the largest multi-media, popular culture convention
      focusing on science fiction and fantasy, gaming, comics, literature,
      art, music, and film in the universe!”  So, basically, now the gamers are stuck away in the furthest hotel’s basement, and the cosplayers are in front and center.

      So, I know how he feels, it’s not really a “Jumping of the shark,” but more along the “We’re trying to be everything to the geek culture rather than being differentiated.”

      (my $.02)
      -D

    • I don’t think that was what the author meant at all.  It’s not that he couldn’t find it, it’s that there was a diluting of the core premise of what Comic-Con by popular shows, series and movies that have no relevance 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.” 

      I myself have watched the same thing happen at DragonCon in Atlanta.  It used to be a hardcore tabletop gaming convention.  Then it started “evolving” into more of a party atmosphere with writing workshops, robot wars, costuming tracks, etc. etc.  However, the main difference is they actually changed their mission statement to “Dragon*Con is the largest multi-media, popular culture convention
      focusing on science fiction and fantasy, gaming, comics, literature,
      art, music, and film in the universe!”  So, basically, now the gamers are stuck away in the furthest hotel’s basement, and the cosplayers are in front and center.

      So, I know how he feels, it’s not really a “Jumping of the shark,” but more along the “We’re trying to be everything to the geek culture rather than being differentiated.”

      (my $.02)
      -D

  4. You’ve just said all I’ve been thinking in the past few years.  I haven’t been to Comic-Con in about 7 years, but when Twilight came out, I watched the panel online.  (I have no problem with the genre–it fits.  It’s the way they present it and pandering to the teeny-bopper fans that’s antithetical to Comic-con’s original values.)  Anyway, Q&A time rolls around, and the first question is from Entertainment Tonight.  Then TMZ.  Then the AP.  I was floored.  Cons are for fans.  A chance for us to meet and interact with our idols–actors, artists, creators.  The press can ask their questions at the press junket–that’s what they’re for.  And then a year or so later, The Middle was promoted there, and that sealed the deal for me.  I’m only ever going back if someone drags me there.  And pays for me.  Even the last couple of times I went, I was disturbed by how commercial it was.  This year, there was all the coverage on TV, the cover(s) of TV guide, the news.  They’re making geek mainstream, and don’t like it.

  5. Brandybuckled

    Everything changes. You might as well wish for your kids to stay the same age.
    There have always been CC panels that I had no interest in at all. There have always been panels that I was very interested in. There have always been panels that I wanted to get into, but couldn’t. There have always been panels that I just stumbled across by chance, but were freaking brilliant (this year the 3 cartoonist speed drawing panel and the voice actors).

    My 7 and 5 year old kids have been to Comic Con every year since they were in the womb. I’ve been going since you could decide on a Saturday early afternoon to go, park under the convention center, and waltz right in to buy a Saturday pass. We already have our passes for next year. It’s not like church with repetitious ritual, it’s more like a long arduous camping trip with periods that suck, but occasional glimpses of surprise and great beauty, and when you look back on it even the bad parts are worth talking about.

  6. Mggirard13

    “The world is changing” are the words of Treebeard, not Galadriel.

    • S

      They are the words of Galadriel in the FILM.  Which I’m sure a Purist like you hasn’t seen.  Sadly for you, the film is the reason for this website’s existence, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to accept that for a great many people, those are indeed the words of Galadriel.

      • Andrew

        To be fair, “The world is changing.” were not Galadriel’s exact words. Her exact words were “The world has changed.”

  7. I, sadly, agree.   I have been attending for 8 years.  The good old days of showing up, on a Friday, parking at the Convention Ctr., and paying my $20 fee for my badge and heading up and down the uncrowded aisles to purchase and talk to comic book creators and artists are over.  My husband and I also used the “jump the shark” line, after attending last year.  I have tried to overlook the “intruders” over the past few years, but this year, I felt overwhelmed and so disappointed that I could not purchase my badge for next year, as I have been able to do, in the past.  I think this might have been my last year…and it makes me sad.  I LOVED the TORN panel and am so grateful to have been able to start my Con experience this year with them.  I hope that I will be able to at least get a badge for the day TORN returns next year.

  8. Joel

    I’ve never been to Comiccon. Me and my wife have been Dragoncon diehards for about 10 years now – I know what you’re missing, because it’s still alive in Atlanta. Although, even there it’s starting to get a tad more corporate.

  9. This was my 20th year at the Con. Yes, it’s a disgusting turnaround. I definitely remember the Eisner Awards being the main event. And the author perfectly described the “Twi-hards” and their overall outlook and appreciation for what was and what should never be (unless a mini-comic con occurs during the show). Anyway, I believe the author didn’t mean to say that there were less comics and that they were hard to find. It’s basically worse in that many of the dealers selling comics were literally hanging out at their booths; with the saddest expressions on their faces. There were many dealers missing as well that I remember seeing a lot over the years. My focus was on comics this year, and I did get to find the back issues that I wanted. But when it came to having to literally having to trudge all the way to the other side of the Con, did I realize that strollers and looky loos taking over. In the end, I’d like to say, GO AWAY. You suck. 

  10. Jaidoprism7

    Kudos TORn and its fans!  It just goes to show with TORn’s awesomely extensive coverage on all topics Tolkien, and on-going fervor of the fans only solidifies why The Lord of the Rings remains the second largest volume of work in the world next to the Bible.  Tolkien fans always bring it!  There’s a whole armada of Tolkien fans waiting to move out and trump the box offices, comic cons and websites.  It does my heart good to know this kind of thing exists in this jaded mixed up world we share.  Keep up the good work TORn!!!

  11. Mechtild1

    Sorry to be so dense, but the article says, “overall viewership of our innovative live streaming video beat G4′s audience.”  What’s G4?

  12. TheRealQuickbeam

    Bob: I appreciate your insight — You are right in that there’s certainly LOTS of comics/ illustrated fiction still to be found there, and more overall programming on comics than other shows… Yes, that has always been SDCC’s bailiwick.  But the show has evolved, and the trajectory of that evolution is my concern.  There’s less of the original content, making room for the “newer” content.  I suppose I should be more comfortable with that fact, it’s the great pattern of Life anyway, right?  But my personal discoveries over 11 years’ time now leads to my discouragement.  I simply question how much (how little) the SDCC is making illustrated fiction the bulwark of its whole show.  Independent artists find it harder every year to secure Small Press and Artist Alley tables because those sections are physically shrinking in the Exhibit Hall.  Gotta make room for Odin’s Throne set piece, you see.  Aging Comic-Con veterans who’ve attended for years face strange new pressures to attend the show at all; most of these individuals lost a half day or their entire day of Thursday’s programming in order to stand in a long queue at some other building just to secure NEXT YEAR’s badge…  so I perhaps there’s more than one way to analyze this.

    I think our definitions of “jumping the shark” may differ.  I have always felt TORn and WETA are fully justified to be at Comic-Con because their content is strictly for genre fans – with a narrow focus on fantasy art/storytelling (in the case of TORn, there’s an even more specific literary heritage from Tolkien that has fed popular arts on many levels: the documentary Ringers: Lord of the Fans offers a comprehensive discussion of this subject).  Mattel sells action figures, based on a generations’ love for animated stories.  TokyoPop sells magazines, based on adoring (mutual) international fan-bases.  TORn sells nothing but a few T-shirts (to pay for server costs) but nobody individually makes a dime: our focus is sharing excitement over Tolkien’s mythology being explored by other artists.  Seems to fit overall. But that’s just me.

    I’m not sure what Patricia Heaton was selling last year, because far as I know, she’s ever put on latex Vulcan ears or a Poison Ivy fright wig once in her career.  That whole thing of promoting stuff that has NOTHING to do with genre or fantasy or speculative fiction really shivers me timbers…

  13. So come to Dragon Con!  Its a FAN-based convention, not run by the Powers that Be in Hollywood, runs 24/7 over 5 hotels, & is WONDERFUL
    Atlanta over Labor Day weekend is THE place to be!

  14. Mr. ZAP

    I’ll admit I have no firsthand experience of Comic Con. I’ve been trying to go for the past three years and have not been able to get a pass due to the crazy fast sell-outs. I intend to try again this year. But I have kept track of what kinds of things they show at Comic Con and I am a bit worried. I have no doubt that if (when) I get to go (hopefully next year!) I will love it, both because it’ll be my first time going and because I AM a huge fan of genre and speculative fiction. I love DC and Vertigo, I adore Tolkien, I’m a huge fan of Star Wars, Doctor Who is right up my alley…you get the idea. So I’m certainly the kind of person who would have loved it before it went mainstream as well, although I never got a chance to go then either.

    I can’t say they’ve jumped the shark now, obviously, nor will I after one time attending, but one thing that makes me really annoyed is the sell-outs that prevent me from going. It can safely be assumed I think that a lot of those passes go to the Twi-hards mentioned as well as other people who don’t really fit in, and if those panels bring them which makes me, who is a part of the main target audience, not able to go, that’s obviously bad. Something I understand is that everyone who goes every year gets their passes for the next con at the current one. I imagine that also makes it much harder for new attendees like myself to get to go, and that’s sad. Good on them if they’re the target audience and enjoy the show, but what about those of us that don’t have the luxury of getting the passes before they go up online?

    All in all I’ll reserve judgement of the con as a whole until I’ve been at least a couple times…I just wish I could get to go the FIRST time.

  15. We all will need to find room for growth and change with our beloved SDCC. However, I put the blame directly on the organizers of this amazing weekend. It is time that they change the approach and layout of the event itself and begin to follow other cultural-event con-based models and still support its mission and the various types visitors every year. Most notably they could learn from Sundance and SXSW as ways to improve. Both of these have a mission which always takes center stage, and yet they still are able to support other genres and their fanbases. 

    Yes, seeing Con “tourists” line jump and their signs for “free hugs” irritated me beyond the pale, besides their ignoring the arts on which this convention is based upon. And I can admit, seeing ABC’s PanAm promo booth (wtf?) was a marketing turn-off. Yet, I cannot bring myself to blame the ignorant or the arrogant.

    The real failure of this year’s con comes from the lack of vision and leadership in the event organization that will keep ComicCon on a clear path for it’s future and it’s devotees.

    Without this, we will see some dark days ahead. 

    But then again, things have a way of changing…

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