State of Comics at San Diego Comic-Con

Taking a break from our favorite ladies of video games, over the next few weeks, I will be taking a closer look at San Diego Comic-Con 2012.

There is no real way to explain the experience of Comic-Con: the crowds, the costumes, and the "hey, I know that guy!" moments. You get no sleep, you debate whether a hot pretzel is a healthy breakfast, and your cute shoes stay in the suitcase (unless you are one of the brave and costumed few, who we'll be talking about in a later post). However, in the crowds and constant stream of Batmen, you also get to spend a few short days with thousands of other people that understand the true joy of seeing an Ugly Doll in person or whose nerdy t-shirt collections rival my own.

However while the solidarity in Comic-Con is ever-present, being a genre fan always comes with controversy and debate. Our community is often built around our opinions: Kirk or Picard, Gale or Peeta, and the classic favorite rich comic book hero, Iron Man or Batman. These conversations allow us to bond further and relate to one another over mutual experiences. Similarly, as a community, we often turn a critical eye to the media we love and the events we attend. Being one of the meccas for all things nerd, Comic-Con is often a conversation topic that sparks fiery debate.

From the sale of our culture to the place of marketing at a fan event, SDCC is a topic that sparks strong opinions. One of the most common is, "Is Comic-Con still for Comic Book fans?". From a theme in Morgan Spurlock's recent documentary to a familiar editorial topic, the community is extremely split.

In my first year of the Convention, this argument was extremely fresh in my mind. In explaining to my colleagues how I would be spending my vacation, the term Comic-Con couldn't quite sum up the experience. It wasn't just about comic books, it was about the games, the movies, the television shows, and getting to see my favorite creators in person. At first glance, SDCC can seem more about the Hollywood experience than the comic books, the signs for every major television station and movie company loom large over the exhibition floor. But when you dig deeper, the true driving force behind the convention is still the connection of image-driven stories. The movie images are of classic Golden and Silver-age comics, the television shows are inspired by fantasy tropes, and the truly magical experiences come when you see your first costumed character interacting with the real world.

One of the most telling moments about the state of comics at SDCC for me was the Image Comics 20th Anniversary panel. Image Comics is an extremely unique company that allows their artists and authors to retain creative ownership of their work and encouraged imprints that reflected their own personal interests. During the question and answer portion, the creators were asked by a female musician if pirating was hurting their business. But unlike the music industries, the artists were proud to announce that the most recent year was their most successful.

Comic book creators have been able to embrace new media techniques like Kickstarter, digital distribution, and mobile apps to increase their audience and drive their creative visions. In a networking event with Comic book artists seeking out writers, the people I interacted with took full advantage with websites, Tumblrs, DeviantArt, and QR codes. Instead of discussing large publishers to work with, they discussed self-publishing and webcomics.

While the world they inhabit is changing and San Diego Comic-Con continues to grow in prominence, it is too soon to claim that SDCC has left comic books behind. If anything, it brings a lot of people together who may not have experienced comic books yet and sent them home with new things to try. I left this year with comic books as diverse as a series meant to teach kids physics to a hardbound trade edition of a video game tie-in series. There is no lack of amazing artists producing exciting work, and anyone who tried to walk through small-press alley learned very quickly that people are clamoring for comics that they can geek out about.

And if you were curious about my answers above: Picard, Peeta, and Iron Man.

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