Friday, October 13, 2017

Comic Con: The Truth No One Wants To Admit... Kinda

     There are some interesting numbers about the top ranking Nerd Conventions in our country. With there being something like 500 nerdy conventions in the USA let's break down some of the differences and analyze what their popularity means, after the jump.

     The top nerd conventions vary greatly depending on your source, and your metric for "top", but if you purely go based on the reported attendance your top 5 for the year of 2016 (the most up-to-date) are as follows:
     1. New York Comic Con (180,000 attending)
     2. San Diego Comic Con (167,000 attending)
     3. Salt Lake Comic Con (120,000 attending)
     4. Denver Comic Con (114,900 attending)
     5. Phoenix Comic Con (106,000 attending)

     What does that mean, and why are we talking about this?

     Well, from Salt Lake down, all the Comic Cons are trying to compare themselves to San Diego and New York by touting their attendance numbers, and sometimes their celebrity guests. But they are missing the point. The thing that truly sets those two conventions apart from the pack isn't who attends or how many of them there are. The thing that separates the big boys from the grumpy little brothers is the NEWS.

     I have attended both Salt Lake Comic Con and Denver Comic Con (numbers three and four respectively, based on the attendance numbers from 2016) for the last three years. The closest thing either of those conventions had to a major announcement or breaking news was in 2016 Jeffery Dean Morgan at Denver Comic Con said he would be willing to play Thomas Wayne in a (then theoretical) Flashpoint movie, and at Salt Lake Comic Con the Aquabats announced the return of their TV show. Then this year Weird Al announced, in Denver, that he was releasing a "best of" album out as a means to finish his contract. That's it. While all of these are cool announcements, they are pretty minor in the grand scheme of all the Nerdom.

     At San Diego Comic Con this year there was more breaking news in one day than in two years of FULL conventions for both Denver and Salt Lake combined. Considering San Diego goes for four days, the silver medalists have a lot of making up to do.

     Having family in Salt Lake, and living in Colorado, I see the news coverage (or lack thereof) that surround those two conventions.

     In Denver it is almost considered an oddity, or something to talk about if we are in a slow news moment. If they talk about it at all, there is a tone of "Look at what the nerds are up to," or "OMG you gotta see these weirdos." There is no respect given to the fact that the things that happen in the convention directly mirror (and possibly impact, however minor that may be) the events that we as a culture are currently revolving around. At least in the entertainment world.

     In Salt Lake the local news media is a bit more accepting. They take a sort of pride in the fact that they are a top three convention in the country. They list and discuss the celebrity guests. They also cover the yearly announcement of the dates and early guests announcements that the production company has a few months before the convention actually takes place. That being said, however, during the days that the convention is actually taking place, there is still a sense of "otherness" that you sense in the way they discuss the goings on.

     Possibly the biggest thing about the local media coverage of BOTH of these conventions is that they ONLY get local coverage. There is no mention of either of them in national outlets. Not even any real mention of them in any national nerd news outlets, like IGN or CBR and the like. Which is the heart of the matter.

     Why does San Diego and New York get such national coverage? Because there is something news worthy to cover.

     This year at San Diego alone there were new movie trailers, official announcements for up coming movies, Nuclear Blast Records was in attendance, announcements and interviews with television stars from series that are at the top of the ratings and cultural conversation right now. All that and so much more happened every day throughout the four days of the convention. Double that by New York, and with the increase of attendees, and the difference between the big two and the rest becomes painfully clear.

     So how can the conventions in the other areas of importance take a crack at the big leagues? Well, Salt Lake had a fair shot last year with the attendance of both William Shatner and Mark Hamill. Had the convention organizers had enough clout to pull some inside looks into the current works of either of these nerd legends, or even a new look at some of their past works, that definitely would have drawn the attention of national news outlets. Or this year if they could have pulled even one major studio to make an announcement at their convention instead of San Diego or New York, they could have started the momentum going and really catapulted into the next level.

     Denver likewise. Denver though, has a unique element they don't capitalize on nearly enough. They are run by a nonprofit organization called Pop Culture Classroom. This, in and of itself, should be enough to bring in celebrities who want to put their face on a charity organization. And what celebrity doesn't want to be associated with a charity? Especially one that is supposed to bring literacy to kids, and adults, right here in America. I would think that they would have famous folk breaking down their doors trying to be associated with something like that. (Though the fact that they don't have that problem speaks to a different issue that we will have to discuss some other time... does Pop Culture Classroom really do all they say they do?)

     Back in the day, StarFest (another major Colorado convention) had the kind of pull that brought in
major news outlets. But sadly that has, for one reason or another, fall to the wayside. Though, it seems they are attempting to gain that ground back, since this year was sponsored by the King Arthur movie that subsequently flopped in theaters, and Wonder Woman to some degree. (To be fair no one really knew at the time that the Guy Ritchie helmed movie was going to perform so poorly.)

      So this is my plea to the convention organizers of my two regular large conventions. STOP WORRYING ABOUT GENERAL ATTENDANCE! At this point that will take care of its self. Turn your focus toward attracting news makers. Bring in movie production studios (you will likely have to start small-ish, but I believe it is within your power) to announce their up coming projects, or to reveal who they just signed to play some big part. Bring in video game studios with working demo versions of their next grand slam title, not just indie developers (though it is refreshing to see those represented). And finally, bring in comic book companies (it doesn't have to be Marvel or DC, start with Dark Horse, IDW, Image, any of the second tier publishers will increase your profile...) to announce their upcoming stories.

After all this is Comic Con, right?

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