“Man, do conventions even matter for comics anymore?”
As a long-time comics creator and a hands-down finalist in the “All-Time Most Frequent Guest” category–seriously, I’m like the Danny Trejo of comics conventions–I get asked this a lot. Usually, it’s yelled in frustration on the floor of the San Diego Convention Center, barely audible between the thunder of the Jumbotron trailers for next summer’s tentpole movies and the anguished screams of the scalpers torn between which Exclusive Toy lottery to monopolize. It’s no secret that comics fans and publishers feel increasingly marginalized at these shows that were originally built around our medium before Hollywood and video game companies and toy vendors began staking out wide swaths of territory. “Do conventions even matter for comics anymore?” I understand the question, especially when it’s followed up by the 21st century Riddle of the Sphinx, “Why is there a panel for The Blacklist?”
The answer is that conventions matter more than ever for comics.
I realize that it sometimes takes two energy drinks and a pair of night-vision goggles to find a comics publisher at a convention, and it’s hard for industry vets to feel the love through the din and chaos of the Sega booth across the aisle. But those attendees in Arkham Joker costumes and “How To Fly A Tardis” t-shirts? They’re all our audience. That is spectacular. We built that. Whether they realize it or not, those fans would have no place to congregate if not for the fact we built the room. It’s obvious to them that comics aren’t some weird adjunct to pop culture; we are pop culture. Better yet, every single attendee through the door helps give the lie to all the stereotypes that have ghettoized comics in the past as “just for kids” or “no girls allowed.” Outreach is at an all-time high, on the convention circuit and online, where digital publishers like my own Thrillbent have demonstrably used our show presence to expand comics’ online readership. We can benefit from Geek Culture fans of all stripes, and here’s my evidence:
Earlier this year, I was a guest at the fourth annual Comic Con India in New Delhi. It was impressively well-attended, and my girlfriend made a very telling observation: there were more female attendees than male. And why was this? Because until four years ago, there was no comics-fan culture in India. There are no comics shops. These fans were introduced to comics through movies, TV, fan-fiction and the internet. (Lots of Thrillbent readers; that was cool.) More to the point, their appetite for comics was gender-neutral because none of these fans, unlike their American counterparts, had to waste precious years “learning” and then unlearning that “girls don’t like comics.” I don’t care whether they were drawn to that con so they could cosplay as Daenerys Targaryen or because they loved Iron Man 3 or because there was a guy one booth over making balloon K-9s. They bought comics by the armful as they proved that the lines between fandoms don’t exist when we don’t set them.
“Do conventions even matter for comics anymore?” Why is this even a question?
Mark Waid is the founder and proprietor of Thrillbent Comics. He’s also a comics legend. Nerdist likes him very much. It has to be true, it’s in italics.