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July 20, 2011

Comic-Con International 2011 Launches With Preview Night


North America's largest comics-related event, San Diego's Comic-Con International, gets underway in San Diego's Convention Center later today with the annual Preview Night. Today will also see the nearby Comics, Media and Digital Conference run by by the hobby news and analysis site While not an official event, the conference is surely the first big event tied into the show's all-consuming five-day presence in the Southern California city. Comic-Con officially begins tomorrow with its traditional first-day Thursday.

Here are ten stories that may or may not develop in the next few days ahead concerning that show.

1. Violence -- Comic-Con International displayed an extraordinary amount of institutional discipline in how it dealt with last year's incidence of violence during a panel on the show's movie programming track. Comic-Con officials were straight-forward and sober about the event itself, and in a focused, deliberate way, that seriousness allowed them to denigrate the event as an aberration rather than an expected outcome due to the popularity of those panels and the number of seats available to those that would like to see them. Despite how well that first such incident was handled, a second event of some sort -- any sort -- would dismantle some of that work by allowing for a rudimentary narrative around which press could construct articles and inquiries.

2. Enthusiasm -- Another potential narrative that seems out there for the widespread adopting is to declare the show's influence and presence diminished from that of previous years. That's an easy commentary take in general -- pundits of every shape and size love to declare tipping points -- and there's a launching point this year for that kind of analysis due to the greater variety of studio strategies regarding participation in the show. There's also ironically an opportunity to indict the show more broadly due to the resentment that some fans have that their particular kind of comics fandom no longer holds prime position. I'd almost certainly disagree with both lines of analysis: there's an institutional strength in the TV/Movie involvement now that wasn't there a few years ago, and I think it's a fine, fine comics show. I bet not everyone agrees with me, though.

3. Off-Site Events -- I think Comic-Con is in a specific state of transition, although I'm pretty safe in saying so because its stable periods tend to last two conventions, tops. One thing that could potentially have an impact on the show is a proliferation of off-site events designed to ride the wave of attendees and significant professional presence while also claiming to provide access to programming that may not require eight months of travel planning to see. Some of the studios have already moved some of their events to nearby venues, and we've already mentioned the conference. The San Diego Wine and Culinary Center is offering a mini-venue nearby as described here. There's also something called Gam3rCon up the street at one of the theaters. How well all of these events are perceived could conceivably alter the CCI landscape to something more akin to a week-long festival of comics, despite the potential for modest friction.

image4. Crowd Control -- I'm not sure how many people have noticed how much more sophisticated CCI has come in terms of handling its excess crowds. You have a slight backing away from the strong-arm techniques of paid convention security hissing at people to stop standing in the middle of aisle, and more things like roped off mini-areas to facilitate two-way traffic and the placement of certain exhibitors in a way that keeps the themed integrity of the floor but doesn't pool people into specific corners. More impressively, the con seems to handle the sheer size of its TV and movie-track crowds in a way they're hardly noticeable unless you're right up on them; maybe not even then. The 2010 registration process to my experience seemed light years ahead of the more rigid lines and long waits of years' past. The end result is that the show breathes surprisingly well for an event of its size, although whether or not this always remains the case with a potentially changing audience profile is what makes looking at this area fun every year.

5. Publishing Pride -- I think it's taken a few years for the comics publishers to get used to the massive swell of new attendees and new exhibitors. For those with wider media ambitions the close proximity of those folks may have naturally stolen focus for a while. It's possible that we're seeing a new surge in pride for CCI as a publishing show. The easy way to describe this is that there may be more comics-related parties and fewer comics-related people standing in roped-off lines hoping to get into a wider-media party in evidence, but I also think there's something more fundamental in play here. I think there are a few more comics media elements that are willing to focus on the show as a publishing show -- not nearly enough, but more than maybe in 2007 and 2008. I also think there should be a good mix of big, important books to delight and amaze people over the weekend, everything from that lovely Lucille at Top Shelf to the new Anders Nilsen at D+Q to a potential appearance by a full-color, one-volume Bone.

6. Older Eisner Nominees -- There are a good half-dozen veteran comics industry creators and contributor nominated for Eisners this year for relatively strong work, folks that have not received a lot of Eisner attention in the recent past. It could be one of those years with a lot of surprised, flushed, genuinely grateful, first- or second-time winners. That usually puts a smile on a lot of faces.

7. Bill Blackbeard -- Because of the inexorable addition of bronze age and underground/alternative transitional figures to the ballot over the next few years, this may be the best opportunity for the Hall Of Fame to add archivist Bill Blackbeard to its honor roll. Blackbeard died this year during the voting process, although he was cut off enough from the world that no one in comics noticed until a few weeks after voters had their say. In terms of how many books in the marketplace bear his direct influence, Blackbeard is a titan of the field. I hope he gets in.

8. DC Comics -- I imagine a lot of folks would have engaged this issue as point one or two, but I'm cautious of awarding DC wins and losses based on the perception of their publicity roll-out. Their September re-launch needs to be seen as an execution thing, not just short-term but long-term. Still, how the company plays the recent under-performance of the Green Lantern movie, how they present themselves to fans (I personally find their panels strangely hostile, but that may only be me) and how the fans generally respond (for instance, if one of the panels dissolves into acrimony) are all things on which one may keep tabs.

9. State Of Comics Retail -- If I were attending, I would be very interested if someone would write about the shape and tone of comics retail on the convention floor. Losing the premier all-in-one retailer and floor's anchor comics-seller Comic Relief a few years ago has given that area of the convention a different feel. What dealers/retailers choose to attend and what they're selling should be fascinating. I believe some retailers still do very well at the show, but it's tricky, and there's some risk, and there are multiple larger economic forces within the field (DC Comics launching a bunch of titles this year; a long 2010-2011 winter sales-wise) and without (the weak economic recovery) that could be in play as well. If you get the chance, I urge anyone in attendance to go buy $10 of old comics from someone, if only as the comic-con attendee's equivalent of honoring one's ancestors.

10. Generations -- I'm becoming more and more interested as to how the event is skewing in terms of age. On the one hand, there are a ton more parents with children in attendance, a lot more publishers making credible all-ages work, and a lot more creators with at least one such work on their resume. The spread into toys and animation may make it easier for parents to attend with kids as more areas of interest are touched on by the show itself. On the other hand, I think the show has lost a lot of smaller, younger arts publishers to smaller, younger-skewing art shows, I'm not sure manga drives attendance to a show like this one in relative proportion to its popularity, and I'm generally unclear where the young adult western comics readers are coming from, that group of readers that comes after the now thirty-somethings that rode the excitement of the Image era into a lifelong habit, if they exist at all.


I hope everyone at the show has a great deal of fun and that everyone's programming, sales and related activities are ones for the win column. I'll be around this weekend with select commentary.

posted 9:30 am PST | Permalink

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