Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Comic Convention Explosion

My favorite cosplayer as Knives Chau from Scott Pilgrim
In the past, comic conventions were smaller, more intimate affairs as people had a chance to attend panels with their favorite comic book artist and buy older volumes or the newest releases in the exhibit hall. The premiere comic convention on the West Coast has been Comic Con International, held in San Diego. This convention draws out 130,000 attendees over the course of four days and has badge sellouts within a manner of minutes. The comic convention world is growing, with Comikaze Expo having 35,000 attendees in its inaugural year and well over 75,000 attendees in its second year, and the New York Comic Con having 116,000 visitors in 2012. These events among many others have had explosive growth periods; I will delve into the explosive growth of comic conventions in the United States.

Comikaze Expo
One of the single largest forces in the growth of comic conventions is the influence of Hollywood in the creation of comic book influenced movies. For the longest time, Hollywood has created movies and TV shows of the comic book universes. Hollywood’s love with comic books waxes and wanes depending on the mood of the country. There have been long period of little focus, and there have been long periods of extensive growth. The late 1980’s and the early 1990’s saw a period of heavy Hollywood investment in the comic book properties, with it falling out of favor near the beginning of the new Millennium. With the successful reboot of the Batman franchise, and the huge success of Spiderman in the early 2000’s, comic book movies are back in favor with Hollywood and the public. In 2012, the two biggest box office films The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises are both influenced by comic books. Hollywood’s love affair with the comic book superheroes have led to some of the highest-grossing superhero films of all time.

Hollywood has increased its presence in comic book conventions. Traditionally, Hollywood directors would premiere a trailer in a comic convention and hold a panel. The movies or TV shows they would focus would have had a tangential relationship with comic books, whether they are an adaptation of a comic book or a new science fiction film or TV show. They have started changing their approach by inviting their movie stars to hold a panel. The panels and events they are holding are starting to have less and less focus on comic books. The famous example was the movie cast of the Twilight movies holding a San Diego Comic Con panel, which earned the ire of the general attendees who now have to deal with a shortage of tickets by dealing with another market. Comic Conventions are now becoming the place to see Hollywood and experience it, and there is no shyness about it. Hollywood is now entwined with many comic conventions and they have invested in them as part of their marketing push.

At Wondercon
The popularity of comic book movies and the Hollywood love affair with the gigantic comic conventions is not lost to the general public, it had led to a shift in perception of comic book adaptations and comic conventions. In the past, the people who loved comic books were considered the outliers. They were the nerds of the class that had their own social circles and did not fit what was generally considered acceptable social norms. With Hollywood putting its best and brightest actors, directors, cinematographers, and scriptwriters on comic book adaptations, the quality of the comic book movie have increased greatly over the past. It means that people who are not familiar with comic books could enjoy a high quality movie experience. This also means that more people enjoy comic book movies. This is a greater focus had made comic books more acceptable beyond the traditional “nerd” demographic. Then we also consider changing social norms, it is now more acceptable to be a nerd than it was in the past. The word had changed and social acceptance has changed. This combination means that more people are willing to attend comic book conventions.

Comic conventions have also expanded beyond its traditional boundaries because comic book conventions are not about comic books anymore. They have become umbrella multi-genre conventions that have representation from video games, anime, manga, and many more. I am continually surprised that there is big industry representation from anime and manga in comic conventions that are typically missing from a more focused event like an anime and manga convention. Likewise, big companies like SquareEnix and Capcom that are decidedly Japanese-centric have ignored anime conventions and they have strong representation in anime conventions. The fact that they appeal beyond the traditional boundaries mean that they appeal to markets that would otherwise not attend a comic convention.

Comic conventions have grown immensely the past couple of years. There have been several factors behind the explosive growth of comic conventions. The first factor is that we are going through a period of heavy Hollywood focus on comic books. The second factor is that Hollywood is giving a lot of support programming and using comic conventions as a form of marketing. Third, the demographic of comic book movies are changing and there is more social acceptance of being a “nerd.” Finally yet importantly, comic books have expanded to multi-genre conventions that appeal to many different umbrellas. These factors meant that comic conventions have grown immensely in the past several years. I have been attending anime conventions for a very long time and recently I have been starting to attend comic conventions with Comikaze Expo and Wondercon, and I look forward to seeing more in the future.

Kris Zoleta started working in Anime Expo as a staffer in Manga Library. He worked in Staff Service in Anime Expo 2006 and became the manager of Manga Lounge from Anime Expo 2007-2010. He is currently serving on the Board of Directors for the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, the 501(c)(6) non-profit behind Anime Expo and is one of the most recognized cosplay photographers in the West Coast.

NYCC 2012 Attendance
New York Comic Con
San Diego Comic Con
Comikaze Expo


MarveLOUIS said...

It is pretty crazy how fast Comikaze has grown, I think Stan Lee has a lot to do with it.

KrisZ said...

Yes, Stan Lee buying the convention adds legitimacy and it has definitely accelerated the growth of Comikaze Expo. The lack of a Los Angeles comic convention means that Comikaze Expo would have grown fast, but with Comic Con International's Wondercon in the Anaheim Convention Center, I could imagine that new competition would have hampered 2012 and 2013 growth had it not been for Stan Lee.

Will the convention hit 100,000? Definitely. I see it hitting that number in 2013 at the earliest or 2014 in the latest. I will be attending both Wondercon and Comikaze Expo.