Comic-Con’s Day In The Sun

on Monday, Jul. 25th

It was only a whirlwind trip to San Diego Comic-Con 2011 for my first ever trip to the grand-daddy of Comic-Cons. I knew what to expect, having been a veteran of Wondercon, the sister show in Northern California. SDCC did not disappoint: it was Wondercon times 100, with a greater emphasis on toys, collectables, and Hollywood’s latest offerings.

What did surprise me was how the convention spilled out into the streets of San Diego. The historic Gaslamp quarter was, for all intents and purposes, Hall X. Restaurants got full conversions as television networks bought them out for promotional purposes.

It’s said every year, and now I can confirm with authority: the convention has outgrown the venue. Although the real problem isn’t the size — it’s the way the convention is organized. In days of old, an “open panel” style was good for the convention. Scores of fans would just chill in whatever hall they were in and absorb the pitches and panels from the various comic book publishers.

Now the convention is all about camping inside Hall H — the main media venue — for the one panel you are excited about while fans of whatever is being talked about at the moment grumble outside, wishing they could trade places with those who are merely enduring what they would kill to hear.

As I heard reports that the lines for pre-registration for the 2012 convention had begun hours before the first day of the current con was underway, the immortal words of Yoda the Jedi Master echoed through my head:

“Never his mind on where he is, heh. What he is doing, heh.”

SDCC has become a recursive loop; its own hype feeding on itself to the point where almost no one can enjoy the moment they are in. To combat this, alternatives to the main venues have cropped up, like Nerd Machine’s Nerd HQ. Launched by “Chuck” actor Zachary Levi, the Nerd HQ venue hosted panel discussions on a pay by panel basis to cater to fans who couldn’t see what they came for at the con. Capitalism at its finest, and a sign that the Comic-Con system may be irrevocably broken.

The spirit of an open panel format is an egalitarian one, but it leaves much to be desired as an organizational principle. The openness is gamed by the hall campers, and the spirit is crushed, leaving fans disappointed. After spending a year at giant events like Sundance, E3, and various theatre festivals that overtook LA in June (I’ve been busy- Humble Braggin’ Noah) I can say that Comic-Con would benefit by adopting a film festival like structure for it’s major programming.

Ticket everything, and sell ticket packages to the various programs. A basic pass could come with one ticket to a Hall H program and a few “regular” panels. The details aren’t worth going into here… and they’ve been refined for decades by events of this scale.

It’s time Comic-Con grew up.

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