As a long-time attendee of San Diego Comic-Con, I have fond memories of the DC booth from previous years. Not only did its fixed, central location help me orient myself and navigate the overcrowded exhibit floor, but it truly felt like a hub where diehard fans and novices alike could come and bask in the publisher’s glory.
This year, things were a bit different. Instead of residing at the heart of the floor, DC’s presence became part of the sprawling, multimedia WB booth tucked away in the northeast corner. On the surface, the change didn’t seem too ridiculous and can be easily understood from an accounting perspective, but it’s ultimately emblematic of TimeWarner’s focus on their core, profitable products since merging with AT&T.
Yes, the booth is still pretty and features similar fluffy carpets, but there’s just something off about it this year. Instead of flowing, canvas curtains adorned with upcoming covers or striking interior images, the booth featured a few large frames that advertised their upcoming books. While the structure certainly looked polished and professional, the sleek display gave off the impersonal vibe of being at a posh mall, not a comic convention.
To make sure anyone who walked by the booth had a book catered towards them, everything from the on-going Year of the Villain to Kami Garcia’s young adult Teen Titans: Raven was shown off, but those displays primarily faced the wall while promos for shows like Flash and Riverdale were more easily spotted anywhere on the floor.
Even in the few sections of the booth where DC Comics truly feels highlighted, the inclusions feel more like advertisements than genuine exhibits. Harley Quinn, easily one of the publisher’s most popular characters since Margot Robbie brought her to life in Suicide Squad, had a whole activation dedicated to her, but instead of giving those who waited in line a truly unique experience, they simply got a glorified trailer for the character’s upcoming animated series. In fact, for anyone who didn’t want to wait in line, there was still a TV playing a teaser on loop that ended with Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco) telling booth attendees to watch her new show on DC Universe in October.
It’s fine for companies to market things that make them money, but the focus on getting new DC Universe subscribers and highlighting shoes and backpacks that tie into Batman’s 80th anniversary feels almost too commercial for an event designed to sell merchandise.
In the past, both Vertigo and Mad Magazine had a strong presence at the DC booth. In addition to signings with some of the imprints top creators, the booth would also advertise some of the publisher’s independent-facing titles and usually featured a massive Mad Magazine-inspired art wall full of nerdy jokes.
But now that Mad Magazine has been shut down and Vertigo has been sunsetted as TimeWarner looks to cut costs, WB had more room to show off its recognizable hit Friends, the star property on the upcoming HBO Max streaming service, to attendees eager to take selfies on the Central Perk couch. What could have been a chance to showcase series struggling to succeed (I’m looking at you, Swamp Thing) or shows looking for a big debut (sup, Batwoman) was instead treated like an opportunity for TimeWarner to emphasize the commodities they are most confident will make them money as they enter the streaming wars next year with HBO Max.
On Sunday, the least energetic day of the convention, the WB booth featured two star-studded signings that drew massive crowds. The stars of Supernatural and Riverdale appeared a few hours apart, sending fans into a frenzy as they snapped pictures of the stars while they signed autographs for people lucky enough to have received wristbands earlier in the day.
It’s understandable that popular casts attract more attention than a writer or an artist on a B-tier comic book (or even an A-tier book, for that matter), but having all of these activities take place in the same spot makes the lack of interest, or seeming lack of interest, in the actual comic books more noticeable. While these celebrities posed for pictures and chatted with fans, some truly talented comic creators were signing books in other parts of the booth with lines that felt abysmally small for just how talented and beloved their work is.
I know there’s nothing inherently wrong with the DC/WB booths combining forces, but something about it just felt incompatible with the spirit of the event, or what I want the spirit of the event to be. Whereas DC used to give away massive amounts of posters to advertise future books, all of the artwork available at the booth was for people willing to become DC Universe members or those who signed up for a new Visa card.
People were willing to have their credit checked or join the streaming service right there, so again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with these options, but it’s disheartening that the line to get a new DC credit card was longer than the line to talk to Marv Wolfman, the guy whose run on New Teen Titans has led to multiple profitable properties for the media juggernaut, pretty much all weekend.