SDCC Sells Out in Record Time

I’ve got some complicated feelings about the news that San Diego Comic Con, the biggest comics convention in the US, and one of the biggest in the world, sold out of tickets entirely in 72 minutes. The con has regularly been drawing over 130,000 attendees. Beware, this meanders a bit!
On one hand, SDCC represents a lot of what bothers people about the mainstream comics industry: it’s deeply focused on consumer identity over art, mainstream comics over small publishers, and many complain that in recent years it has been taken over by Hollywood and TV attempts to co-opt comics’s space with a broader sense of popular culture. Con culture is notoriously problematic (accusations of fake geek girls and harassment of female cosplayers), and SDCC seems to be the blueprint for the modern con.

At the same time, conventions are a lot of fun, and are a great way to get people excited about comics. They are sometimes the only place to find rarer books, and one of the few places where you can still browse through long boxes and be pleasantly surprised by the gems you find. It’s also one of the best way to meet and interact with creators in person…I’ve heard beautiful stories from creators and fans alike about the emotional moment they met someone whose life they’d unknowingly changed, or to meet the person who changed their life. Even in less “life changing” circumstances  (for example, people coming to terms with their sexuality or disability, or learning to overcome significant trauma through their interaction with certain characters), because of the con system comics fans can interface and interact with comics creators in a way few other media can; TV, movies, and even book authors tend to hold events and talks, sure, but I can’t think of an equivalent to a con–a room literally full of creators who are sitting at tables and booths waiting to meet fans.

I’m troubled that SDCC has become the de rigeur idea for comics conventions. I’ve been going to Emerald City Comic Con for a few years now, and it seems to be morphing into a mini SDCC: the rooms far more packed, more and more non-comics media guests edging out some of the smaller, local presses, soaring ticket prices…but also attracting bigger names from further away (Kenichi Sonoda, of Bubblegum Crisis and Gunsmith Cats fame is attending this year with several other mangaka from Japan).

Part of why this makes me uncomfortable is that I bristle at the commercialization of comics fandom and elevation of consumerism within the community…which only forces me to realize that comics fandom has always had a very strong commercial and consumerist streak (how many of us are collectors, after all?). The news that SDCC sold out in 72 minutes forces me to confront the excitement of comics fandom and my hope for its continued growth at the same time as it forces me to confront some of its uglier aspects. 

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