The San Diego Comic-Con came from meager origins. It began in 1970 as a one-day festival to celebrate everything comic book and drew around 300 comic book fans. The event has since turned into a four-day extravaganza, hosting crowds of over 100,000 people of all ages, professions and interest levels, including top celebrities launching movies. Not to mention spinoffs worldwide.
Comic-Con is a welcome step away from reality and an opportunity for comic book fans to bond over shared hobbies. But over the years, it has grown increasingly commercial and expensive, leading one to wonder, is Comic-Con worth the trip or has it become overrated?
The following are three reasons to head to Comic-Con, and three reasons to skip it.
Don’t Forget to Pack Your Costume!
Free of Judgment, Open to Self-Expression
Many attendees feel out of place in their day-to-day lives and see Comi-Con as a safe haven. “At Comic-Con you can express yourself in a variety of ways,” says Jeremy Renaud, PR rep for Windsor Comic-Con. “People can come here, and they won’t be judged.” Unlike at school or the workplace, where daily dress codes may stifle self-expression and personalities, the dress code at Comic-Con is “be yourself.” Plus, Comic-Con’s art of cosplay, or costume role playing, has inspired a growing, acceptable and profitable affirmation (and business) of self-expression. In fact, its creativity and individuality has even been used to protest workplace dress codes.
A Creative Platform to Further Social Awareness
Although Comic-Con is rooted in comics, the convention is using its growing popularity and global recognition to support and further social progress. In 2017, Comic-Con conventions in various cities, including New York, Kansas City,and Salt Lake City not to mention Australia, featured mental health panels. And, in 2018, the first-ever Indigenous Comic-Con will celebrate Indigenous creators, illustrators, writers, designers, actors, and producers and their contributions to pop culture. Comic-Con unlocks people’s imaginations but also addresses serious cultural and societal issues.
Virtual Community Turned Reality
Joining virtual communities of like-minded fantasy and sci-fi fans is a big part of the attraction of Comic-Con. These online connections, sustained through fandoms, heighten each convention experience, spawning tens of thousands of discussion boards, forums and tons of fan art. The social connection and acceptance everyone feels is no small thing for people whose comic book hobby may have previously isolated them. In fact, modern fandom has taken on a new meaning of cool, so much so that MTV has created Fandom Awards, a sign of embracing and celebrating fans’ enthusiasm, instead of raising eyebrows about it.
Putting the ‘Con’ in Comic-Con
Growing Too Mainstream
As an open event, Comic-Con attracts more than your classic Sheldon Coopers. In San Diego, crowds can soar to 130,000 people. (In New York, attendance has even surpassed 170,000). Comic books, fantasy and sci fi, and the “geeks” or “nerds” who were once teased for reading them, are now all considered popular. While this embrace of the fringe is positive, it has negatively impacted Comic-Con itself. The event is getting more mainstream and watered down, which disappoints die-hard comic book fans. More Hollywood and TV stars are coming to promote their big movies and shows, in turn attracting crowds addicted to celebrity, rather than comic books. Conventions are now more of a media blitz for movie studios and television producers to market their latest superhero movies and fantasy shows rather than a genuine celebration of the art form.
Too Close for Comfort
While dressing up as superheroes seems like innocent fun, the thousands of costumed – especially masked – attendees has invited misbehavior. Amid such anonymity, Comic-Cons across the country have become a place where groping, stalking and unwanted photographing has become a serious problem to be reckoned with. In response to this harassment, referred to as “creeping at a con,” Comic-Con in San Diego has improved its anti-harassment policy. However, even with tighter security, conversations on misogyny, racism and general rage, which run rampant in online forums, leak over into the events themselves. At this year’s Comic-Con, actor Jason Momoa came under fire after joking about rape on a panel. Anti-gay controversy has also arisen in past panels. With so many diverse attendees in one place, it’s no surprise that villainous behavior is in the mix.
Comic-Con hosts people from diapers to hearing aids, but 55% of the average age of attendees is under 30, with 20% between the ages of 18-22. Typically, these people do not have a lot of money and these ages are eager to impress. From costume creation to the event itself, fans spend to attend, which includes ticket prices but also to engage in cosplay. An art of costume role-playing, cosplayers tend to spend a ton of time and money designing and assembling costumes from concept art, like in comic books, video games or television series. Cosplayers have been known to spend between $500-$4,000 to get their costume commitment just right. Instead of a gathering to honor comics, Comic-Con has become a contest of who can out-costume each other, which puts a strain on the wallet.
Bottom Line: Is ComiCon a welcoming celebration free of judgment and bursting with creativity? Or has it grown too mainstream and commercial for fans to enjoy?
Co-written by Rachel Segal