Comic-Con International is a little over two weeks away. It has held the lofty position of being the largest, grandest, most important comic book convention in the United States (if not all of North America) for many years. But it's significance and importance have just dropped off a cliff and I expect will become less relevant to comic fans in coming years.
Let me throw out a few public disclosures before I get to my argument here. First, I've never been to CCI. For that matter, I've never been to California. I've just never been able to personally justify the expense. Second, I have absolutely nothing against CCI, anyone who works for/at the show, or anyone who attends. I've always heard great stories coming from the event for as long as I've been paying attention to it. Third, by no means am I about to suggest that CCI go away or stop being held or needs to be overhauled. I have no horse in this race, and I present the following merely as a series of observations. So...
Fans have been complaining for several years about CCI having grown too far beyond comic books. How it's attracted big Hollywood studios and musicians and whatever, and it's now more of a pop culture convention than a comic convention. I don't know that the show itself makes any distinction on which attendees attend which panels, but anecdotal evidence suggests that there's more people there for Star Wars and Twilight and other IPs than for the medium of comics.
This can be evidenced, too, through "mainstream" coverage of the event. Where the show used to maybe get a mention in the local news broadcast, it has received quantifiably greater attention over the last few years. The G4 network now sends a large team out each year and hosts several-hour shows live from the convention floor. Even four or five years ago, we were lucky to get from them a half hour report after the show was over. Mirroring the focus on pop culture, last year's coverage focused largely on the movies, and I believe the actual comic portions were limited to a single 5-minute interview from the four hours of coverage.
Let me emphasize here that I'm not making a judgement here. If the pop culture/geek angle plays better and draws a wider crowd, I'm not about to fault anyone for catering to that. We're talking about people trying to make money, after all.
But here's where I start to note CCI's diminishing importance. At least relative to the comics industry.
When the show was more comics-centered, it became THE event in comicdom. Remember Assistant Editor's Month? That came about because all the Associate Editors (or whatever they were officially called at the time) were all in San Diego for CCI. And because CCI was THE event, creators and publishers used it as a platform to highlight their big announcements. They had an attentive audience made up of their biggest influencers. They were able to strongly control their messages, and disseminate them to a fairly wide audience without much noise getting in the way.
But what that meant was that, in order to have big announcements AT San Diego, they held on to them for the weeks leading up to the show. They essentially had media blackouts, so they could make their big announcements at the show itself. In the days prior to the Internet being so ubiquitous, that wasn't a big deal since printed publications talking about the events always came out at least a month or two after the fact anyway. Everything was dated, so a fanzine could publish slightly dated information themselves during that blackout period. But the past few years, it's actually caused frustration among online journalists, reporters and bloggers who -- when in the absence of current news -- had more difficulty coming up with content to report and discuss. And what was available wasn't generally very news-worthy in the first place.
So we'd end up reading about how this person and that person were preparing for the show, or what panels people would be attending at the show, or this year's version "How to Survive CCI", or whatever. Some folks ended up taking some time off, and would shut their blogs/sites down. Indeed, Dirk Deppey noted this morning that ¡Journalista! would be going dark for the next ten days.
But let's back up a minute and look at the past week. Zuda Comics was shut down. Wonder Woman is announced as receiving a MAJOR overhaul, both in costume and in continuity. IDW's Chris Ryall was promoted to Chief Creative Officer. DC announced it's digital royalty program. The former staffers of Aurora Publishing announced the launch of Manga Factory. Dark Horse is bringing their online comics back from MySpace and just onto their own site. Those are not insignificant news items in the world of comicdom. And let me reiterate: that's just been in the past week.
Even as late as last year, I'm certain many, if not most, of those announcements would have been held until San Diego. Why didn't they wait? Why announce all of that now?
Because Comic-Con International is no longer a good venue for those big announcements. In the first place, publishers are not only competing with one another but they're also competing against major movie studios and video game publishers. An appearance by Robert Downey Jr. or Samuel Jackson is inevitably going to cause more commotion than just about anything a comic book publisher can muster. The comic news gets lost amid the other noise at the show.
In the second place, the point of announcing things AT the shows was because publishers had greater control over the messaging. Not just what was being said, but also how. And, as I noted before, they had a receptive audience who could be relied upon to spread the message fairly consistently. With the Internet, though, that's actually easier to do in OTHER venues. Blogs, Twitter, online video channels... Publishers have a lot more control than they used to over these things. They can go to a lot of expense and trouble going to San Diego and setting up an attractive booth and having a panel with a great slideshow, and there's still some merit in all that, but it has a lot less impact than it did ten years ago. A lot less.
I don't think publishers about going to just drop CCI from their yearly event schedules any time soon. As I said, I think there's still merit to being there. But, as an outlet for garnering more attention than the next guy, that venue is going to mean less and less. Marvel will likely gain some benefit this year, since DC seems to be deliberately falling back in that "race." But that will diminish over time as CCI news becomes increasingly IP-driven, and an entire comic book publishing line isn't focused and/or popular enough to warrant the attention they used to receive at the show.
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