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The Comic-Con blues
By Bert Ehrmann
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Fort Wayne Reader
It was 20 years ago last summer that I went to my first real comic book convention. Then known as the Chicago Comic-Con but now the tongue twisting Wizard World Comic Con Chicago, it was everything I hoped it would be. The place was packed with fans browsing isle upon isle of toys and movie posters and movies and, more importantly, tons of comic books and graphic novels too. Alongside the comics were booths for all the major comic book publishers teasing upcoming storylines and an entire room dedicated to comic writers and artists.
I know there must’ve been some celebrities at that first con but I honestly can’t remember who they were. Even as late as the early 2000s the celebrities at these conventions were mostly ones who’d had a name for themselves 20 years ago but had for whatever reason fallen out of favor and were traveling the convention circuit looking to earn a few extra bucks.
Then, comic conventions were about the fans and the genre. But about a decade ago that started changing. In fact, things at the big comic-cons have changed so much that I stopped going a few years back.
At my first convention a ticket cost $20, which is a little over $30 today with inflation. This year that same ticket ran around $67. And what does that $67 ticket buy? One pass inside the convention where it seems like everything costs more money.
The modern large con has become “meet a celebrity and get their autograph” focused. And while celebrities have always been at the edges of past cons now they seem to be the main draw. The celebrity autograph tables used to be at the back of the hall, now they’re at the front.
And it’s not like that $67 ticket means you can meet the celebrity of your choice and chat about their latest project — that costs money too. According to listings from the last Wizard World Comic Con Chicago an autographed photo from Mr. Evil Dead Bruce Campbell runs $40, Ian Somerhalder from Lost $70 and The Avengers Hawkeye himself Jeremy Renner $100.
But wait, you ask. Doesn’t Jeremy Renner get millions from acting in movies like Avengers: Age of Ultron that he wouldn’t earn if not for the fans? Yes! And apparently real fans could also pay $400 to meet Mr. Renner, have their photo taken with him and then have that same photo autographed too.
At that con of 20 years ago I bought a collected edition of comic book series The Rocketeer, Give Me Liberty and a VHS of the director’s cut of the movie Aliens. I think all in I probably spent around $75 for these items, a ticket and food that day. And in 1995 the convention was spread out over two enormous halls and felt open.
The last time I went back in 2011 I spent $55 just to get in the door, then spent a claustrophobic day dealing with throngs of people all lined up wanting to meet the likes of Darryl from The Walking Dead all of which now was crammed into just ONE hall.
It’s not that the comic book conventions changed from the first time I went that bothers me. It’s that the convention has changed AND now tickets cost more than twice as much as they did AND the kinds of fans that now seem to be attending these larger cons are more interested in meeting celebrities than browsing the con.
The days of cons like Wizard World being about the comics and comic book creators are over. It’s now a Celebrity-Con looking to draw in the masses.
The modern large comic book convention has turned from a celebration of the form to something that’s designed to cash in on the current popularity of the genera by both the convention promoters and celebrities too. The question is, what happens to a convention like Wizard World Comic Con Chicago when comic books go back to being a niche genera instead of being the kindling for what is the current superhero movie fire? What then? Will it be back to the conventions of old or will they have alienated the fans to such an extent that they’ve destroyed themselves?
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