Friday, July 29, 2016

Where Have All the Cosplayers Gone?

The family that cosplays together, stays together
A Report on the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con

Click here to go straight to the slideshow for the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con.

Or click here for a thumbnail gallery.


During the San Diego Comic-Con, I’m fettered to a small press booth that’s just a tiny speck on the sea of the convention center floor, so my observations are admittedly based on a limited vantage point. With that said, my conversations with some fellow exhibitors—as well as with some longtime attendees at the show, and reports that have appeared online—seem to jibe with my own observations about this year’s Comic-Con that follow below.

Everyone seemed to agree, for example, that the number of cosplayers was noticeably down this year. At first, I thought everyone was simply waiting for Saturday, but when the big day rolled around, the turnout was pretty muted. The reasons why are anyone’s guess and everyone had their theory, ranging from cosplayers getting squeezed out of the badge lottery like others, to cosplayers moving on to other shows that are easier to get in. Regardless of the reasons, it was something many people noticed and commented on.

Secondly, and perhaps related, the convention floor overall felt less crowded. For sure, when the casts of Guardians of the Galaxy showed up at the Marvel booth and the Supergirl television show at the WB booth, the commotion was enough to be heard from the other side of the hall. But a first-time exhibitor and attendee near me who has attended the fast-growing New York Comic-Con said he had been warned in advance of the crush of crowds, but was surprised they weren’t too bad.

Again, everyone had their own theory for the smaller crowd. My initial thought was that Comic-Con has always been good at making adjustments based on experience and feedback, so I assumed it was the result of good crowd control. Others believe that the new RFID badge system did what it was designed to do, which is reduce the number of counterfeit badges and, particularly, multiple uses of a single badge (apparently, those are both a thing!) Someone mentioned to me that if the latter was indeed the case, then it must have certainly been a real problem since the traffic in the convention hall seemed so light compared to previous years!

Another likely reason is the fact that, in recent years, the organizers have moved some panels and other events offsite to nearby hotels and venues in the Gaslamp District in downtown San Diego, which would also draw attendees away from the convention center.

In addition, outside, independent events with their own programming, designed to take advantage of the concentration of the geek community in attendance, have also begun sprouting up during Comic-Con. Many of these are open to the general public and do not require a Comic-Con badge. (I saw an estimate that claimed that upwards of 60,000 people—on top of the 130,000+ paid attendees come to the area during Comic-Con.) In addition to studio and network pop ups, Nerd HQ has become a regular presence at Comic-Con and, this year, Entertainment Weekly had its own Con-X at an impressive separate venue with its own A-list programming, as well as nightly music and other entertainment. I visited the EW site one evening; it will be interesting to see whether it was enough of a success to be repeated next year.

Regardless of the reasons—and it may be a combination of all of the above—Comic-Con felt less crowded, though no less fun or exciting.

Highlights
The excitement and giddiness of the convention is always palpable—and coverage of Comic-Con became saturated years ago. Every morning as I enter the convention, there are always plenty of news vans and reporters. It's a time for the studios and comics to make major announcements, so it's always interesting to see what will be the year's "media darling."

Christopher Pratt signing
Despite the general poor reception to the film Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice—which Warner Bros/DC Comics was hoping would anchor its DC Universe (DCU) film slate and hopefully mirror the success its comics industry rival, Marvel, has achieved with its movies—the upcoming Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, and Justice League films seemed to capture the imagination of the convention crowd. But, of course, you can't discount Marvel with appearances at its booth by the likes of Chris Pratt, Kurt Russell, and other members of the Guardians of the Galaxy cast.

The 75th anniversary of Wonder Woman and the forthcoming highly anticipated Wonder Woman film coming out (a trailer for the film was released during the show) dove-tailed nicely with the inclusive and diverse focus of the show. There was a "Women Who Kick Ass" panel that featured the likes of Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot, and numerous panels that covered all sides of the political spectrum, including LGBT issues and religious comics.

Conan O'Brian was everywhere as well. Last year, he brought his show to San Diego and did so again, actually moderating many of WB's panels in Hall H, such as the Wonder Woman and Justice League film panels. It was a bit of a kick to watch his show back at the hotel later in the evening after knowing he had just been at the convention center with the same guests.

Conan O'Brian's home during Comic-Con in San Diego

The seemingly smaller number of cosplayers aside, it's always interesting to see what costumes will be popular—and this year, it was hands down Harley Quinn from the upcoming Suicide Squad film, with Star Wars' Rey, Deadpool and Wonder Woman, close behind. (Batman and Spider-Man are always popular perennials, as is Loki from the Marvel films.)

For me personally, the ones I always enjoy are those that are those that are a little bit off the well-beaten path of super-hero costumes, sometimes involving mashups (Deadpool and My Little Pony), off-kilter homages (Forrest Gumps and Last Man on Earth), and wit or political commentary (Donald Trump mashed up with the Joker). Some cosplayers also trade in on their resemblance to an actor or character.

Run, Forrest, run!

Go, Speed Racer!

One downside of this year's show was the unseasonable humidity—being seaside, Comic-Con is usually fairly temperate even during the summer, I remember about 6 years ago seeing slightly worse humidity, but it made it particularly difficult to be outside. Fortunately, it cooled down significantly on Saturday. 

Diminishing Return on Comics?
Personally speaking, sales were respectable for me. It helped that I had several new books out. With 17 issues of Rob Hanes Adventures and two trade paperbacks, I have built a back catalog that perhaps now is a bit overwhelming, but a few sales by new fans who purchase the entire series goes a long way. I’m way overdue to begin compiling my work into trade paperbacks--something that has been on my radar for awhile now—but this show really drove home for me the need to start doing so.

In talking with other exhibitors near me, however, it's clear that selling comics exclusively is becoming an exercise in diminishing returns. (Of course, your mileage may vary exhibitor to exhibitor.) Some small press people I've known for years have resorted to selling art prints of fan favorite properties like the Walking Dead, Deadpool, etc., to goose sales—one guy said with a bit of frustration, "Everyone just wants prints!" and acknowledged that though he wants to sell his comics, it's his prints that pay the bills and bring a profit. Mile High Comics' Chuck Rozanski, whose blog reports from Comic-Con are always a must-read for me, has spoken at length in recent years about how sales and foot traffic have steadily declined at the Mile High Comics booth, a Comic-Con presence for more than 40 years. In this year’s report, he acknowledged that he barely made a profit.

Back in the day, when Comic-Con was a pure comics show, every attendee was looking for comics and represented a potential new reader. With the broadening of the show into a pop culture event, this is no longer the case. People are there for movies, films, gaming, videogames, sci-fi, fantasy (and now romance), toys, cosplaying, and to see the cosplaying, with no real interest in comics. For better or worse, comics fans are now just a small subset of the Comic-Con audience.

Networking and Celebrity Sightings
@ComixAce Heidi MacDonald
As I mentioned, I don’t walk the floor much during the show, except in the hours prior to the show before the doors open, since I need to be present at my table. So I have to wait for the world to come to me. A few of the people I had the privilege to briefly see and catch up with include fellow cartoonists Scott McCloud and Tom Batuik (for whom I recently did a piece for his Funky Winkerbean comic strip), as well as comics industry journalists Heidi MacDonald and Rik Offenberger.

One of my random celebrity sightings I experienced was actor, comedian and radio personality Ralph Garman, who also does a podcast and periodic live show with fellow uber-geek Kevin Smith. I first learned about Garman through his work as part of “Kevin and Bean, ”the long-running morning show on popular alternative music radio station KROQ. My wife is a big fan.

Accosted celebrity Ralph Garman
In any case, after dinner with friends on Saturday night, I decided to walk back to the hotel. As I was passing a hotel along the way, I noticed Garman standing in an alcove, presumably waiting for a shuttle. After calling his name to confirm, I introduced myself and said my wife and I were big fans. I asked if I could take a photo--he thought it was going to be a selfie, but I told him “I don’t do selfies” and took a photo. I told him it was for my wife and promised I wouldn’t be posting it to social media. I then shook his hand, apologized for bothering him, and went on my way--he was very gracious and appreciated my kind words. (A couple people who were also waiting for the shuttle overheard the exchange and appeared to be wondering who he was!!)

Panels
Because of my table, I rarely see many panels while at Comic-Con. With the show running from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., it’s a long show and my preference is to have a nice, relaxing dinner afterwards rather than run around hitting panels or events. I did dutifully go through this year’s Comic-Con schedule via its official mobile app to see what panels I would have liked to have attended, if I could--chief among them would have been the Howard Chaykin retrospective.

Nevertheless, this year I did attend with my family the presentation on the upcoming television broadcast remake of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. My wife and children actually had been in the room for several hours prior to the presentation to ensure they could get a seat; I was fortunate that enough seats opened up prior to the panel that I got in!

The presentation previewed the first 20 minutes of the show, followed by a panel with the producers, director and cast, including actress Victoria Justice (who plays Janet). The preview looked terrific. (At one point during the preview, I noticed that security did seem to stop someone in the audience from recording the presentation, hovering to ensure it was erased.)

Nevertheless, anyone who wished to attend a panel--whether they were at Comic-Con or not--doesn’t need to fret. Many of the panels are posted online, albeit with the exclusive sneak previews excised. (Comic-Con actually holds a screening of these highlights during

I also briefly visited the off-site Entertainment Weekly venue, which offered its own A-list programming, including evening performances and music. When I got there, it was just around dusk, with not much going on (I presume things got hopping later--I could hear music coming from the venue as I ate at a nearby seaport village restaurant).

One final observation--I give credit to Comic-Con for a diverse slate of programs that embrace the fans, comics, families, as well as diversity.


The End of Another Comic-Con...
As evidenced by my own musings and comments like those of Chuck Rozanski’s referenced above, every year there seems to be some angst over what Comic-Con has become and where it is going. Regardless, it remains a fun and exhausting marathon of an event, a true gathering for all things geek, with something for everyone. I agree with the mantra that “Comic-Con is whatever you make it.” There is so much to do and so much to see--in fact, it would be literally impossible to see everything--that trying to overthink it is to only detract from the fun experience it should be.

After striking down my booth, I usually have dinner with my crew of friends who help me every year at the show (special thanks to Rod and Bob!) before driving the 130 miles back to L.A. The past two years, tired of the bumper-to-bumper traffic during much of my ride on direct route home through the 5 and 405 freeways, I have taken a “back way” route up the 15 that is 20 miles longer, but moves more freely-- truth, I don’t think I save much time, but without the bottleneck, it’s a lot less stressful and relaxing.

In any case, it seemed fitting following Comic-Con that as I exited the freeway in my local neighborhood in L.A., the song that came up on my iPhone’s random shuffle playlist was John Williams’ ebullient score to the original Superman theme--a nice exclamation point to what was an enjoyable convention.

Below are a few choice photos—to see the full photogallery from the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con, 
click here for the slideshow or here for the thumbnail gallery.



The Last Man on Earth


My wife thought I'd like this photo—not the girl, the soy sauce reference.


I'm not into selfies, but this person insisted
I take "a selfie with Christ!"







Walking Dead booth



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