Dig Comics: Comic-Con Evolution
Guest columnist Miguel Cima, director/host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics, looks at what makes comics so great, and what’s holding them back.
It’s hideously cliché to rag on the Comic-Con International: San Diego these days. We all know the complaints. It’s grown too big, has become overcrowded. Tickets are hard to get, accommodations can be next to impossible. Studios, games and toys have taken over most of the floor space. Indy professionals can’t afford the ballooning booth & table fees (if you can even get a table other than by signing onto a 3-year wait list). Even seasoned pros struggle for badges & beds (a top Vertigo writer, in fact, made his feelings know on Facebook; Comic-Con International required him to show a copy of his pay stub to verify his credentials as so to be approved for complimentary Pro Badges – he decided to stay home). Fewer opportunities to really spend quality time with fan favorites. Getting into decent panels is a game of long lines and serious time investment. And forget Hall H. I never go anywhere near Hall H.
But we love it. And we need to find a way to fix it. Each year, you can see the problems growing. The tension in the halls is palpable. People are more rude, even aggressive, crammed in and frustrated as they are. The good deal has become elusive. So merely plugging leaks isn’t going to cut it anymore – we have to think to the next level. The common conversations and planning currently surrounding this topic are cosmetic and sorely lacking in ambition. You’ve heard them: move the Con to Anaheim. Or Los Angeles, even Las Vegas – which to my mind makes the most sense, even though it’s not my kind of town really. Scuttlebutt has it that the Convention Center will be expanded straight to the water, getting rid of the park and marina, leaving room even for additional lodging to be constructed. I took a long hard look at the proposed area makeover, from above and the ground, just didn’t look convincing to me: amounts to nothing more than a much bigger band-aid than usual. Conventional wisdom has become useless. There has to be a bold leap, a real mutation (if you will) from a difficult-to-manage jumble that leaves many wanting to a whole new way of life for the Con.
And I’ve got an idea or two on that.
- Say Goodbye To The Annual Event: Welcome The 365 Attraction
I’m not kidding about this. What’s San Diego all about tourist-wise? Attractions. And why not? The weather is awesome, the gorgeous beaches alone are half the lure. But what else do you do in San Diego? There’s the Zoo – pretty damned famous. And Sea World. Visit some Missions, cross the border. Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland are doable by car. Great fun for the kids. So…how about San Diego’s newest attraction, The Great San Diego Comic Con? Sure, it may sound crazy. Basically, the Con would have to permanently occupy the San Diego Convention Center (or whatever space they end up using) and it would be open, like a park, all year long. You could break things up by section, sort of like they already are, just think like a theme park: Toy Land, Video Game World, TV Place, Movie Scene, Chotchke Heaven – and of course, Comics Corner. But rather than make all booths permanent, part of the beauty will be that the floor will always be dynamic. The summer can see robust film studio presence. The fall can be more of a TV vibe. Of course, Halloween will bring horror. Christmas will focus on toys, etc. And always – comics. And mix up the booths with some more traditional attractions. Comic-themed rides? Again you can follow Disney. Just ape the groove of It’s A Small World, taking a graphic trip through the comics of international artists. Drawing classes for kids? Automatronic Kirby creations? You can even have comic-themed games of chance. The scale could be as small as a carnival or as huge as Six Flags, either way, it’ll help keep visitors coming. And everybody would have a chance to go. Fans will have a plethora of calendar dates and preferred events to choose from. Retailers can come and go, as can publishers, artist booths and so on. The volume of an endless con will make it possible to charge attendees and exhibitors more affordable rates. The halls need not be as crowded. The current hotel stock could better handle demand. The little guys can get more space. The big guns can take over seasonally. You could go to Con five times a year and see five totally different shows. Regular people will want to go there. They will see comics. Their kids will bug them to buy comics. More people will read comics – hell, a retailer from their home town they never knew could be on the floor. I myself would go often.
- Move The Con To Disneyland
No, I am not kidding about this either. Why not? For the love of Mickey, Disney owns Marvel. We’re already halfway there. But a park’s not a convention center, right? Doesn’t have to be – if you’re willing to shake up the paradigm. Think of book fairs. All the booths are outside, people walking around in fresh air, pleasant atmosphere and those visitor thoroughfares have lots of space to set booths up on. Plus you gotta admit it – setting it all up in Disneyland would be awesome. Stroll through Main Street USA on a bright day, browsing back issues and new works. Move on to drunk late night studio parties on Space Mountain. And they have the hotel bandwidth in Anaheim for sure. I’d move it to a colder month – say October – which is Disney’s down season anyway, so it might even make more sense. No need to consider facilities – obviously Disneyland has that covered. And we could get existing rides done up in comics designs – anyone up for an EC Comics-style makeover of Pirates of the Caribbean? Nerds would own the park for a week – or maybe a little longer. A longer duration would allow events and panels to be repeated, perhaps relieving the waits and affording more access to more eager fans. And if there are lines – look, it’s Disneyland. That’s where lines were born. Besides, they could make good use of the neighboring, less popular Disney California Adventure to alleviate the crowds (you can drink there, but not in Disneyland, so maybe THAT’S where the studio parties happen). I like this as a second option.
- Jekyll And Hyde: Split The Baby In Two
I’m not as sure about this one, but it’s worthy of some chatter. How about one Con for fans, and another one for Pros only? One Con can be all about the geeks coming to buy and check out cool stuff. Another can be about people buying and selling their work, networking, pitching, etc. The pro one can be like MIPCOM or the American Film Market, the other one can be more like a really cool film festival. I’m not sure as to how the dynamics would shake out, but I’ll leave it for others to decide.
- Double Trouble: Just Do It Twice
Yes, this idea is just a new twist on the above idea. In Japan, they have their largest Con twice a year. Comiket is the single largest comics draw on the planet, boasting 500,000 visitors every time – or a million attendees a year. That’s like nine times as much as San Diego Comic-Con. It’s a weird Con as it focuses on self-published comics exclusively. Technically, it’s not a Con, but a Fair. Such quibbling aside, the point is that maybe having two Comic-Cons a year, keeping the current set-up, could allow the opportunity for access to allow more of the folks being squeezed out an opportunity to get their time in.
- Act Like A Normal Convention: Go Mobile
My dad’s a doctor and he belongs to a bunch of medical associations. Every year they have their meetings in different cities. And it works. All of the Normals do things this way. We can be like the Normals. Don’t be afraid. Now, I don’t want to rattle off all of the variables this would introduce to the Con, but I doubt most folks would be comfortable with the idea of having to deal with a whole new town every time. Still, you could add a local flavor each time, giving professionals from the region some deference, give them their chance to shine more brightly. A Seattle Con can be most distinctive from a New Orleans venue or Boston, etc. In this scenario, rather than be held hostage by the whims of the San Diego City Council, cities will bend over backwards for the chance to host. It’ll be like the Olympics. Comic Con will leave ruinous municipal debts in its wake, while raking in the dough…
If you think these are harebrained schemes – take a closer look at what Comic-Con is really considering. My ideas can’t be any dumber – and surely there are those who may have more radical solutions, equally warranting serious consideration. Who knows? One of these might just hit the nail on the head. There’s only one thing we can all agree upon with certainty: the current model is just not sustainable. Too many people want to go. There’s not enough space. Too many folks are excluded. There’s nowhere to stay and you gotta be ruthless & obsessed or connected to get in. The top dogs are eating up the floor more and more every year. At some point, all these stresses are going to make the thing buckle. The current structure just can’t hold her. I’d rather try something nutty than to await the inevitable implosion and decline – which by the way, would solve all the Con’s problems, as it would shrink and turn back into the thing comics fans really want to see anyway.
Argentinean-born New Yorker and NYU film school graduate Miguel Cima is a veteran of film, television and music. He has worked for such companies as Warner Bros., Dreamworks and MTV. An avid comic book collector since he could read, Miguel began writing stories in 4th grade and has not slowed down since. He is a world traveler, accomplished writer, filmmaker, and comics creator. He is the writer, director and host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics. Follow Dig Comics on Facebook. Read Miguel’s comic book recommendations.