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October 26, 2009

A Few Thoughts On Con Wars 2010

* so here's the very short version: Reed Exhibitions (Reed), Comic-Con International (CCI) and the Company Still Sort of Known As Wizard (the fighting Shamuses) are beginning to fight over dates, resources, terminology and branding in the increasingly prominent major comics and comics-related convention schedule. For the longer version: read Sean T. Collins.

* the perception of a struggle was locked into place when the Shamus camp recently announced they would have their Big Apple Comic Con (BACC) the same weekend in 2010 as Reed's previously announced -- and new to the Fall -- New York Comic Con.

* it's worth noting the entities have been bumping into one another for a while now. All off the top of my head [deep breath]:
image+ although impossible to confirm, all three major con organizers seem to have, at some point in their past, scheduled shows with an eye on what the other two entities had planned.
+ CCI and the Shamus-led Wizard group (and/or their respective fans) used to compete over the right to call themselves America's most important comics show (CCI's San Diego, the Shamus-owned Chicago) until that became an obvious and lopsided win for CCI.
+ the Shamus group had been reportedly building to an eventual move into New York for several years; Reed got there first.
+ CCI (San Diego) and the Shamus camp (Anaheim) both have Southern California shows now.
+ Reed is widely perceived to have entered the comics convention business in part because of the success of CCI's San Diego show.
+ Reed has a new show for Chicago (C2E2), a region that had for years been almost entirely ceded to the Shamus group and its Chicago Comic Con (formerly Wizardworld Chicago) since they bought and refurbished the then-failing old Chicago shows (and I do think Shamus and his group saved that show; it was just miserable its last few years in the old incarnation, a corpse with visible flies) in the late 1990s.
+ the Shamus camp has switched to terminology for their shows that seems suspiciously close to CCI's.
+ the Shamus camp preceded their move of Big Apple Comic Con to NYCC's weekend by moving other shows to other Reed-selected weekends.
+ Reed and especially the Shamus camp have been accused of inflating attendance figures.
+ the Shamus group has recently kicked individuals aligned with Reed and a pair of potentially competitive independent shows out of their conventions. [exhale]
So clearly these entities have been rubbing up against one another for months and years now. Add in all the side fighting that occasionally pops up with smaller shows that have a bone to pick with the bigger ones (or vice versa), and it becomes clear that if comics has a con war, it has one with multiple nation-states and a half-dozen fronts.

* however, save for 1) the appearance of dirty tricks along the line of one show misrepresenting themselves at another show's expense, and 2) a move from CCI to more concretely protect certain terminology to which it has rights, there's very little practical grind to be viewed between the major shows. It's like a game of RISK with the majority of the continent-to-continent borders closed. All three entities seem to have the ability to execute successful con seasons without that season having one iota of an effect on anyone else's shows -- more importantly, there's seemingly little to be gained by a hostile approach from one show to the other. Most of the con war is going to be the shows knocking themselves out to look the best they can regardless of the competition. Maybe think con pageant, not con war... ?

* something I think bears repeating is that the primary measuring stick for each show's success is not based on a Vs. scenario. Most of each show's issues involve matters particular to that show. What can CCI do to negotiate the demand for attendance and resulting infrastructure issues in and out of the San Diego convention center? How will C2E2 attract traffic and attendance into the sometimes-difficult Chicago downtown? Can the Shamus camp do something with that extra BACC Friday and continue to attract enough guests? Even when they compete, each entity brings very different standards to the able in terms of what makes their shows successful. Take NYCC vs. BACC. One supposes that Reed needs their shows to work according to the standards of successful trade shows. Based on anecdotal evidence gathered from the Big Apple Comic Con, Shamus and crew can have the kind of last-minute cancellations and confusion regarding programming and instances of acting out that might be a black eye on someone else's show, but can still claim victory if the general energy and attendance figures and press coverage all develop at least somewhat in their favor. Again: these shows have internal pressures they react to with more concern than any external ones they might face. Comic-Con International has to compete with the last two or three years of mega-successful shows before anyone will think to compare it to Anaheim. And so on.

* I would suggest that any reporters covering these shows either as stand-alone entities or as part of a storyline featuring "shows in conflict" keep in mind these distinct standards for what makes each successful. It will also help I think to constantly make clear the difference between moves that might be unsporting -- the notion of "drafting" off of another show's publicity efforts, any distaste we might feel for elements of individual shows, whose feelings are hurt by what poster, what they're saying at BACC meeting before everyone high-fives -- and those that could be flat-out unethical, such as misinformation being knowingly disseminated on a specific show's behalf or against another show.

* I hope that the "con wars" storyline doesn't dominate the bigger con story, which is that we're awash in a general flowering of conventions on a national and regional and even local level. Too few sites reported that the perfectly-pitched local show The Stumptown Comics Fest named its 2010 date recently. Regional conventions Heroes Con and Florida Supercon announced dates today. This put six shows of size and stature (WonderCon, C2E2, Anaheim, MoCCA, SPACE and Stumptown) into an April that used to be known for one or two worthwhile shows at best. You could conceivably buy one $800 set of one-way airplane tickets and exhibit or attend shows every weekend that month. I run hot and cold as to whether comics shows are always what they could be or even how much they're necessary, but the flip side to my sour way of thinking would likely note that any platform for comics to shine can be useful and that given a generation of hardcore enthusiasts likely counts a convention that consisted of nothing but 38 longboxes in a Holiday Inn banquet room as a seminal experience, the thought that developing readers and artists today might have the opportunity for a first-class show to shred their minds, show them comics and start them dreaming is a noteworthy thing. It's a phenomenon worthy of closer study and more focused journalistic inquiry.
posted 7:10 pm PST | Permalink

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