There is no denying that modern-day comic book conventions are a completely different beast from the ones I grew up knowing. Back in the 1970’s and 80’s, the major bulk of each convention was the dealers’ room, with comic books as far as the eye could see. Sprinkled in amongst all that poly-bagged glory were a handful of artists and writers who worked in the industry. True, there have always been fans who dressed up, but these were the days before cosplay grew into the behemoth it is today. That was the general rule of conventions, at least until the 90’s, when it slowly started to change. The 90’s might have been a low point for most of the spandex superhero crowd, but for the comic book convention, it was the dawning of a new era. The 90’s saw the video game industry blossoming into the giants they are now, and the comics world embraced video games early on. Also in the 90’s we saw the emergence of comic book media–industry journalism that covered the industry in the way the entertainment trades cover Hollywood. Wizard magazine was leading the charge of a new splinter industry that was dedicated to comics, but that was far more than just comics itself. The video games are still around, and the comic book media has all moved online, but they’re still there.
Today comic book conventions have morphed into mega-events, as both superheroes and comic books have become mainstream with the help of blockbuster movies. Today at a major comic book convention you will find Hollywood pitching their latest comic book adaptation, video game companies showing off their wares, and a host of celebrities and comics creators all jammed under one roof. There are still vendors, selling everything from statues and T-shirts to original art, and of course comic books, but the event has become more about the celebration of comics as a whole. A modern comic book convention has panels of all sorts, from the cast of your favorite movies and TV shows, to voice over auditions, to geek speed dating. There is so much more to a comic book convention than anyone in the 1980’s could have ever imagined. But with all of this great awesomeness, there is a portion of the die-hard comic book community that is not pleased with the transformation.
Not that long ago, a well-accomplished artist aired his displeasure at what the modern comic book convention has become, and one of his targets was the cosplay crowd. His argument was that cosplay takes away the attention of the fans from the creators, and focus it on those in costume. I personally find nothing wrong with this, but then again, I’m not going to conventions trying to sell my wares either. The argument was that many of these people in costume are not real fans, and just get dressed up for the attention. There might be a sliver of truth to that, but at the same time, if you are a dressing up like a character, you are a fan. If you don’t read those books religiously, it doesn’t make you any less of a fan, just not the type of fan this particular artist wants you to be. I’m not going to throw out any names here, because the point of this article is not to point fingers and slam someone for their opinion, instead I thought that I might take a look at some of those issues.
There is a certain portion of the comic book community that thinks the industry as a whole, at least when it comes to the conventions, has strayed from what many feel is the true essence of what a convention should be, a chance for fans to mingle with the creators and buy comics. While I might not agree with the essence of their plight, they do have a point. Conventions are now so full of other things to do that the long lines some of the creators used to enjoy as the only main attraction have waned in recent years. The other complaint comes from those stalwarts of the old format, the dealers. Many dealers at conventions are local shop owners, most of whom struggle to work in the industry they love. Owning a comic shop is not a path to wealth, as most shop owners will surely tell you. With the rising cost of booths at these large conventions, many of those smaller dealers are finding it harder to justify the cost of attending cons. I for one would hate to see the day when a convention was without tables of long boxes, but it is an increasingly rare sight.
So are we now living in an era where only the A-list creators, publishers, and dealers can afford the rising cost of taking part in large conventions? The hard and fast answer is yes. While the current trend of superhero movies will eventually lose steam and go back to a normal pace, I don’t see the popularity of the convention changing for many, many, years, if at all. The new format has blossomed, and the fan base is there to support it, as we all knew it was.
So is that it? Well, pretty much. Back in the day, conventions played a vital role in a collector acquiring hard-to-find back issues to fill holes in their collections, but today, with the internet, that’s not really necessary anymore. As for seeing your favorite creators, that will always be there, but many of those who are not well known will continue to find it hard to justify the cost of a large convention. However, both B-list and indie creators can still find plenty of smaller conventions that would love to have them. While there is no substitute for seeing one of your favorite creators in the flesh, with the internet, you can reach out to them through many different forms of social media. You might not be able to personally friend up the most popular creators at Marvel and DC, but many of the indie crowd are extremely open, and willing to be friends with fans on the internet.
I for one find myself torn. I’m very happy with the attention that my industry has found for itself these days, but at the same time, I do miss the intimacy of the older smaller conventions. Those conventions are not dead and gone, but it’s a shame that it’s a shrinking part of the modern comics world.