Define "Comic Con"
By Bert Ehrmann
September 17, 2010
I've been a comic book nut going back as far as I can remember. I was the kid with a small tub of comics in the closet that over the years morphed into a couple of boxes of comics that finally became ten very large comic boxes that now take up a good portion of my bedroom closet. So, it's little surprise that my highlight of every summer the last 15 years has been my annual pilgrimage with friends to the second largest comic book convention in the US; what's now called the Chicago Comic Con.
To be sure, the majority of the items on display this year at the con were comics or in some way related to comics. But I got the sense that a major change is underway, transforming a convention that once celebrated everything about comic books to instead one celebrating pop-culture and celebrities that also has a few comics.
The very first con I attended was back in 1995 and the guest of honor that year was Peter David. I'm guessing that if you're into comics you hear "Peter David" and think, "Wow, Peter David!" But outside comics Peter David is unknown. (He's a comic writer who in the 1990s won many industry related awards.) The same goes with 1996 where the guest of honor was legendary comics creator Will Eisner.
And that was the case up until just a few years ago; the guest of honor was generally someone who was tied to the comic industry that wouldn't have been much a draw for those not interested in comics. That began to change earlier this century, though. Instead of the con promoting comic related people, other types of celebrities began to take center stage.
In 2005 Evangeline Lilly of Lost was the top-promoted person of the con. In 2008 the guest of honor was comic writer Warren Ellis but it was Missy Peregrym of Heroes who had her photo on the cover of the con program guide. And last year while the guest of honor was Mark Millar the cover of the program guide had a large call-out for "Special Appearances by the cast of The Twilight Saga."
I lay the most of the blame of this shifting focus on the world's largest comic convention; Comic-Con International in San Diego. There, instead of the comics taking center stage, the focus of that con the last few year has squarely on movies and TV shows. News out of San Diego this year mostly focused on films like Avengers, Tron and Battle: Los Angeles and TV series like Big Bang Theory and (I feel dirty for writing this) Glee.
And while there's always been a certain amount of crossover between a convention like the one in San Diego with movies and TV, it feels like more and more each year the reason for the con has less to do with comic books and more to do with the promotion of said movies and TV series. In fact, I can't think of any major news out of San Diego this year that wasn't related to movies or TV.
Unfortunately, while the Chicago Comic Con hasn't been totally overrun by movies and TV (yet), it felt like Chicago Comic Con 2010 was more of a promotion of various grades of celebrities rather than a celebration of comics. While con friendly names such as William Shatner, Adam West, Burt Ward, actors from Star Wars and Battlestar Galactia were all in attendance, the name that garnered the most press out of Chicago this year was that of disgraced ex-Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich who was on hand signing autographs and taking photos with his fans — at a reported $80 a pop.
The website Newsarama reported, "(Chicago Coimic Con) CEO Gareb Shamus described Blagojevich's appearance in the official statement: 'Wizard World Chicago Comic Con is all about pop culture, and Rod Blagojevich is as relevant to today's news as it gets.'"
So again, what once was a celebration of comics (hence the name "Comic Con") is now, in the words of the CEO of the con, "all about pop culture." Which is fine, except maybe they should consider changing the name of the con at this point? How about "Chicago Pop Culture Con," or maybe "You Remember That One Guy From That One Show? He'll Be There Signing Autographs Con."