Saturday, August 08, 2009

Comics and The Con

It’s time for one last post on San Diego Comicon. I’ve read a bunch of great coverage about the con, a lot of which centers on the idea of what places do comics actually have at the event. With the big Hollywood presentations drawing all the press attention, and everyone talking about Twilight fans ‘ruining’ the con, where’s the discussion of comics themselves? People seem indignant that ‘their’ con has been stolen away by all this Hollywood stuff.

Having actually been there, I think they paint a kind of fatalist picture of the situation. Now, maybe it was really different in previous years, but the way I saw it, there’s essentially two cons. There’s the con that draws all the media attention, the Hall H stuff, the movie studio presentations, all of that is out there, but so is what was likely the same con from the 80s, the comics publishers and creators, still out there selling their wares and meeting with fans.

I think the central flaw in most peoples’ writing is the notion that the media would be covering comics stuff, and people would be going to the comics booth if only that Hollywood stuff wasn’t sapping the attention, that you’d have 100,000 fans buying comics if Johnny Depp hadn’t shown up. But, the reality is, without those Hollywood stars, you wouldn’t have nearly as many people in attendance, nor would you have anywhere near the media presence. The Hollywood section of the con has latched itself on to the existing comics con, and become its own promotional event.

So, it’s illogical to criticize the media for not focusing on comics when they’re not really there to cover the con, they’re there to cover Twilight, or Lost or whatever it is. Comics, despite being a key source for film concepts, still don’t have the cultural cachet that most people would be particularly engaged in whatever news comes out of comicon. The biggest comics story, Marvel’s acquisition of the Marvelman trademark, centers on an influential, but obscure comic that hasn’t even been published in fifteen years, and a character who even most comics readers don’t know. So, if you’re saying the media should cover the comics end of things, what should they report? I suppose there’s always the general check in with various creators, but that’s not news, there’s no urgency to report that someone just showed up to the con, and I don’t think there’s really a mainstream audience out there interested in it.

Back when I first seriously got in to comics, about ten years ago, there was a constant dialogue about trying to “save” comics, to get them cultural respect and mainstream acceptance. The strange thing is that it’s happened to a large extent, every movie seems to be based on a comic, superheroes are cool, and “graphic novels” definitely draw respect from people. I saw people all over reading Watchmen before the movie came out, and Alan Moore has become almost a household name.

The problem is, that apart from reading Watchmen, more people seem to respect comics than actually read them. And, even the people who read Watchmen don’t generally seem to branch out much further beyond the obvious classics like Maus or Dark Knight Returns. Those are nearly twenty-five year old books, surely people should be reading something more current.
So, even if people don’t support comics that much directly, isn’t it good that all these people are cool with going to an event called comicon? I’ve never read Twilight the book or seen the movie, but I love the fact that it’s cultivating the kind of fervor in young female fans that something like Star Wars did for me as a kid. If you’re going to comicon, on some level you’re still that kid who’s just an unabashed fan of something, and it’s great to see properties reaching girls on that level. And, the relative quality of the property doesn’t matter, it’s seeing people engage with something so strongly. Why are the same people who’d camp out for a Star Wars movie criticizing people for doing the same thing for Twilight?

After all, what comics, or any genre work, really need is that gateway work, the one that hooks you and makes you a fan for life. Get someone hooked young and they’ll keep coming back, and if Twilight leads to someone checking out Buffy, or if the Twilight comic leads to someone checking out more comics, that’s great. Isn’t that what ‘we’ always wanted, to see women and girls reading comics and engaging with genre material? To the fifteen year old boy carrying a “Twilight Ruined Comicon” sign, I can only say, where is your own self interest? Are you going to be more likely to get a girl who loved Twilight and thus accepts your comics or anime or sci-fi habit, or a girl who just looks down on that stuff. Twilight is the perfect gateway drug, be happy it’s out there.

I guess the problem is, people want others to engage with comics or genre stuff, but only in one specific way. So, superhero fans wouldn’t want to see someone go and snap up a bunch of Fantagraphics books, any less than someone would want to try to push Jimmy Corrigan on someone and see them go over and read a Geoff Johns comic. I definitely evangelize Morrison’s work and the TV shows I like, but on some level, you’ve got to realize, not everyone is going to engage the same way you are.

The problem for comics is that, particularly on the monthly level, readership levels are so low, and with rising prices, the question becomes, can the medium as we know it sustain itself? When an issue of Seaguy, a comic by the biggest writer in comics, sells 9,000 copies, it raises some questions. Comics may have to die and be reborn in a cheaper, more efficient format.

In the end, the comicon I went to was an amazing experience. Sure, the Hollywood parties may be out there, but the comics parties were there too, and it did still feel like a community. There’s a million things going on, but the con that was is still going strong in its shadow.


Anonymous said...

I don't like the way you talk about that 15 year-old kid's 'self-interest' as if the possibility of him having a girlfriend thst isn't into twilight or comics is completely unbelieveable. Just stood up for something he cares a lot about.

Patrick said...

Well, I'm just saying that the odds are more in his favor if he can connect with someone on the level of mutual interest, rather than having a big gap there.

And, what is he standing up for, trying to keep out a group of people for some arbitrary reason?