Is Comic-Con Too Big For Its Own Good?

Posted by on July 29, 2010

Yogi Berra – the Hall of Fame baseball player perhaps better known for his alleged malaprops than for his considerable playing skills – was once quoted as having said about a restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s always too crowded.”

The irony of that remark popped into my mind over the past week whenever anybody asked me about this year’s Comic-Con, the four-day pop culture festival that ended Sunday in San Diego. There’s been considerable discussion about whether Comic-Con has outgrown San Diego and, indeed, cities such as Anaheim and Los Angeles are wooing the organizers with their larger convention and hotel facilities.

Show organizers will have to navigate all sorts of business, historical and emotional issues before that gets straightened out. Comic-Con has lived through 40-years of growth from its roots as, yes, a comic book show, to today’s sprawling entertainment extravaganza in which the putative core – comics – have been pushed to the edges, while mainstream studios, networks, toy companies and others fight for the attention of the 120,000 or so consumers.

But back to Yogi. For licensing people, has Comic-Con gotten too hectic and crowded to achieve your goals? I suppose the answer to that question depends on how you approach the event. If the purpose is simply to use Comic-Con as a place to link up with a prospective or existing business partner to move a potential deal  farther down the path, then there’s always a relatively quiet restaurant, bar or hotel suite to have those discussions.  As with any show with a trade element, the most forward-looking and interesting properties and plans are closeted behind multiple closed doors.

If you own or represent a property that’s on display, you’re obviously seeing members of the public interact with it. That undoubtedly has value, though you have to keep in mind that this is a very self-selected public that pays to be there.

On the other hand, if you’re headed to San Diego trying to divine subtle trends, the mayhem and sprawl have made your quest difficult, if not impossible. A personal example: Walking through the Convention Center on the first day of Comic-Con, I noticed that there seemed to be fewer showgoers dressed up as anime characters than in the past, with a lot more fantasy characters – many with a high violence or gore quotient – moving through the aisles, along with the everpresent contingent of Star Wars characters. Aha, a trend! But wait a minute…. I found out later that anime film screenings for the first time has been moved to the adjacent Marriott Hotel. Had those in anime costumes gone there? Not sure. So much for my powers of observation….

Comic-Con has definitely become a meeting place for all facets of the entertainment business, licensing people included. Our West Coast representatives put together a fine networking party on the first night of the show, drawing more than 60 people to a nearby restaurant for cocktails and chatter.

I’d love to hear how others are using Comic-Con, and whether it’s still fulfilling those needs. It’s still a wonderfully unique experience, at which the ultimate creators – artists and writers — are treated like rock stars. My favorite touch: Standing near the lobby area designated for “Weapons Tagging” – so many of the costumes are so realistically “accessorized” that swords, blasters, et al have to be checked out and tagged by security personnel before their owners can take them onto the Comic-Con floor.

You have to admire the passion and showmanship, but has Comic-Con’s sheer size limited its effectiveness for the professional licensing community?