For the past couple of years, upon my return from the huge San Diego Comic-Con International, I've taken the time to write for the readers of CBG about my impressions of that huge comics show. This year, I want to start my report by focusing on the overwhelming enthusiasm for popular culture of all kinds that I saw evidenced by the attendees of the show. While I have seen positive attitudes in the past, this year's show seemed somewhat remarkable in just how happy everyone was to be in the convention hall. Even the women that I saw at the show who fall into that very tough-to-please 55-75 year old age group seemed to be having fun for themselves, rather than just hauling bags for their grandchildren. I'm not sure what exactly has made it suddenly socially acceptable for grannies to let loose and shop for themselves at a comics convention, but all the power to them!
I do know that one factor that made this year's convention much more enjoyable than in years past was the ease of entry into the convention hall. Wednesday night (which is a very cool preview night open only to dealers, creators, and 4-day badgeholders) was a disaster reminiscent of past years, as the outside firm contracted to pass out badges grossly underestimated the number of fans who would show up. Some fans were only able to get into the hall at 7:30 PM, and were then promptly sent packing at the scheduled 8 PM closing time. Suffice it to say, there were more than a few unhappy 4-day badgeholders on Wednesday evening.
Miraculously, however, the crowds were handled expeditiously on both Thursday and Friday mornings. When Saturday dawned, the convention committee pulled a fast one on the attendees by advertising a 9:45 AM opening time, but then actually opening the hall at 9:00 AM. By the time that 9:45 rolled around, all the people waiting in line early had already been admitted, so there was no repeat of the 3-hour wait that frazzled everyone's nerves last year, and the year before. I sincerely believe that not having to wait in those dreadful lines in the hot sun had an incredibly positive impact on the attitude of the fans in the hall. That positive attitude on the part of the fans, in turn, rubbed off on the exhibitors. This was a show where smiles were just about everywhere.
Another factor that may have helped the overall atmosphere was that there seemed to be considerably more money in the room than in years past. I'm not sure if that means that the overall economy is picking up, or if the attendees just saved up more to bring. The net result, however, was that I ran into not a single vendor who didn't say that they had at least a "decent" show. In point of fact, I heard only one "decent" for about every 20 "great!" comments. Aside from the fact that people seemed to have more money this year, I think that much of the success on the part of the vendors resulted from the fact that all of the additional space that the convention added this year was allocated to booths that were not actively selling goods. San Diego is becoming more and more of a massive display arena for Hollywood, and while those folks need a huge amount of space for their displays, they have little, if anything, to sell or give away. That means that those few booths (40%?) that are actually selling items now have a far greater chance of success as the crowds grow year-to-year.
While the percentage of booths selling products is declining, the odds that new sellers will join the convention in the future is slim. For one thing, this is a show that has become so prohibitively expensive at which to exhibit ($1,600 per booth before prepay discounts) that you have to gross huge dollars just to cover the darn operating costs. Then there's the aggravation and stress of trying to make all the moving parts come together in an increasingly complex exhibition environment. I won't go into all the details of what it takes to handle the logistics of our 7 booths, but will report that (as I mentioned might happen in last month's column) that I became ill as a result of the show. Blessedly, the recurring symptoms of West Nile Fever that the members of my support group predicted would afflict me did not hit until Sunday morning. I still managed to get through that day, and even through the extreme aggravation of moving all of our displays and merchandise out of the hall. But for the rest of this week after the show I have been suffering from severe exhaustion, and a constant low-grade headache despite dozens of aspirin. San Diego is definitely not a show for the weak of body or spirit.
Another other major observation I would express about the show was the extent to which cell phones have become critical to one's enjoyment of the convention. Unless you're a recluse who knows no one else at the show, the odds are highly likely that at some point that you will need to contact someone else at the convention. If you don't have a cell phone, your odds of running into that person are almost nil. The halls are just too huge, and the number of people is simply too large. That having been said, the great news is that cell phone reception in the convention hall is excellent! With a cell phone on your hip you become a part of this huge interconnected mass of people who can reach out and touch each other at a moments notice. I cannot even tell you how many times I was asked for my cell number, or saw other people going through the ritual of cell number exchange. What really tweaked my interest, however, was when I saw people trying to find other people by speed dialing third parties who they thought might have their first friend's number in their own speed dial. Through this mass cell phone interconnectivity a very large number of the people at the convention kept track of each other in the midst of an otherwise chaotic environment. Very cool!
My final point for this year's con report is about the seeing a constant forming of peer groups at the convention in every quiet corner of that huge building. It was really incredible how people would flow from one group to another, taking time to enjoy discussing one specific genre of popular culture, and then moving on to a different group of people who were interacting based on an entirely different genre. As I mentioned seeing last year, the Internet is still the driving force behind many personal meetings at the show. What has evolved, however, is that people who share a mutual interest on line now meet each other for an initial discussion as a part of one genre group, but then move on together to other groups. Comics fans meet gamers, who introduce them to Star Wars fans, who then have lunch with the Klingon contingent, etc. As near as I could tell, most groups were very open to outside participation, with no fan being left behind. Even the grannies now feel free to let their geek flag fly at the San Diego Comic-Con International!
In closing, I mentioned in one of my daily online columns from the show that I believe that the SDCC has in many regards kindled the same kind of remarkably dynamic interpersonal energy flows that made the huge rock concerts of the 1960's, such as Woodstock, legendary events. There may well be other large comics conventions, but I have yet to experience anything in my life that comes even close to matching up with the electric "buzz" that you feel when standing in the middle of the exhibit hall of the SDCC on a Saturday afternoon, at 1 PM. If you've been there, you know exactly what I mean. If you have yet to experience the wonders of San Diego, I highly recommend that you set aside July 14th - 17th of next year to become a part of this incredible event. I absolutely promise that you won't regret your decision for even a moment. But be sure and rest before you come to the show. You'll need all your strength and energy to survive five of the most jam-packed and exciting fun days that you've ever experienced in your entire life!
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