Rep for Challengers Comics and Neil Gaiman at the 2013 Eisner Awards. Photo by Megan Byrd.

By Megan Byrd

In the weeks and months leading up to the annual spectacle known as “San Diego Comic Con”, dread of this event is expressed as frequently as anticipation by attendees, professionals, and fans staying home. The cost, the planning, the con crud; these are a few of fandom’s least favorite things, and they are all mainstays of SDCC. But what about the comics, many say? Why must the news of films overshadow the beloved source material from which they came? Why should comic fans have to tolerate the droves of people only attending to get a glimpse of their favorite actors? For those that miss the comic con of yore, these are valid complaints.

I myself listened to these concerns and nodded in agreement from afar, even saying to friends that I would never want to go to comic con because it was “too late” for me. This former comic book convention had mutated into a pop culture monster and it was of no interest to my sophisticated comic book tastes.

Turns out that is complete and utter bullshit.

After attending my first ever International Comic Con, I regret having listened to the naysayers for so long. I expected to encounter large crowds and yes, the cost was significant to attend, but what I did not anticipate was that I would find myself with a big stupid grin on my face throughout the weekend. Having attended many of the small and large cons of the midwest over the last ten years, I am not new to conventions; but the attendees of SDCC are unlike any other crowd I’ve encountered. They’re an exceptionally chatty and excitable group, with little needed to ignite conversation. A frustrated con-goer can irritate those around them as easily as a happy one, but my experience was overwhelmingly (and surprisingly) positive.

How could it be that this the largest of conventions felt more intimate than any other con I’ve attended? The stakes are higher at SDCC for one to gain that “con exclusive” purchase or memory and this breeds a camaraderie that is infectious. There is no place on earth that has a higher concentration of comic book fans, creators, and increasingly more purveyors of film and television. Anyone willing to commit to attending does so with full force, and no one is blasé about it. The weekend is charged by the commitment and passion of the attendees and if you are on that con floor and don’t feel it, chances are Comic-con may not be for you.

The diversity amongst SDCC attendees perfectly illustrates the increasing overlap of various fandom. It’s like looking at a tumblr dashboard come to life. Not everyone that goes reads comics; but what better place to convince potential readers to get in on the action? As the grandeur of SDCC has increased, so has the comic book presence.

Throughout the weekend the booths of publishers were teeming with big name guests, whether it was the cast of S.H.I.E.L.D. signing at the Marvel booth, Robert Kirkman signing at Image, or excited gamers getting a glimpse of a new game from DC.  If a person attends the show for the sole purpose of seeing one Hall H panel and dedicates their entire weekend to that endeavor, it is surely their loss, but it does not diminish anyone else’s chances of pursuing their own brand of fanaticism. If anything it opens up a little more room on the con floor for one to peruse the offerings!

But this perceived “other” presence at comic con is nonsense. Most comic book retailers will tell you that getting someone in the door is half the battle of selling comics. Once they’re in, it is easy to find something on the shelves that will pique their interest, especially in today’s market. Why should SDCC be any different? The difficulties retailers and artists face in turning a profit at this convention is a complaint that cannot be easily disregarded, but it is one that is frequently applied to conventions a fraction of the size of SDCC. In fact many of the most pressing concerns raised each year after SDCC, including crowd control, harassment, and making the show more accessible for the disabled, are not Comic-con exclusive issues. Confining these discussions to a once yearly bitch session following SDCC may not be beneficial to promoting reform, especially when problems are perceived as a “Comic-con” issue. Everything is bigger at Comic-con, good and bad, and it should be an opportunity for industry wide improvement.

I’ll confess that my desire to finally attend Comic-con was not for the comics; after all, everyone had told me that the convention wasn’t actually about comics anymore, so why should that excite me? No, it wasn’t the largest concentration of comic book creators in the world or the numerous announcements likely to be made by publishers. It was a panel about the television series Hannibal. That’s what got my foot in the door and inspired me to spend large amounts of time and energy to attend comic con.

When it came down to it, I wasn’t even able to get into the panel. My experience was no less enjoyable because of this fact (I watched it online later anyway). Even if I had attended that panel, it would not have been the highlight of my weekend. It would be unexpectedly running into Grant Morrison on a crowded street and asking him if he was cosplaying Grant Morrison. It would be seeing Chip Kidd give a sloppy yet passionate kiss to Neil Gaiman at the Eisner Awards. It would be seeing longtime friend and retailer Challengers Comics + Conversation win their deserved Spirit of Comics Retailer Award. It would be meeting and thanking a countless number of creators on the con floor. It would be the fact that any one of these moments would have sufficiently made my con experience memorable; but only at San Diego would they all happen within 48 hours. San Diego Comic-Con is magic.

[Megan Byrd is a Chicago-based photographer and comic book blogger. You can follow her on twitter at @ComicBookCandy]


  1. The problem isn’t that the cons have morphed into non comic book hollywood T.V shows and movies, but that the rooms that the comic creators are going to use are also the same rooms that the Twighlight or Expendables or any other non comic creator forum is being held in and those crowds camp out in the rooms instead of exiting and lining back up for the next speaker. So ( and this comes from the presenters who often get angry at the crowd that is NOT there to see them) you have a room full of people who don’t care about what is on stage and the fans of the comic books left in the back or not eve in the room. THAT is the problem. Bring it on…bring in every TV show CBS puts on, but make rules and stick to them when it comes to the rooms. Every physical body must leave the room and the next group of people who waited an hour to enter gets to enter.

  2. I’m surprised (and a little bummed) that no major book seems to have emerged this year.
    No big earth shattering announcements or surprise hit.

  3. Yeah, I’m with you. Personally, I complain about it to everyone who will listen, but that’s only because it’s work. I’m planning and executing a booth, which is just one of the biggest, most exhausting, most attention-demanding jobs anyone in publishing could ever take on. I’ve always said that if I could attend as a fan I would love the living heck out of Comic-Con.

    I do think there’s more relaxation and inspiration of the “I love comics!” variety at shows like SPX and MoCCA, but that doesn’t mean Comic-Con is devoid of it entirely. It’s just that Comic-Con is more focused on “fun,” like it wants to give attendees this great overall sensory experience rather than just an introduction to some art and books you might not have known about before. I don’t think that’s an “anti-comics” stance that everyone else perceives, it’s just a different kind of convention. Comics — buying them, selling them, looking at them, and hearing about them — are just one part of the overall goal of having a fun weekend, that also includes taking pictures of Godzilla and asking Ryan Reynolds for an autograph, etc.

  4. I’m sorry, but did you just write an article telling people who disagree with you to be quiet for having a different opinion and experience? Are you twelve?

  5. A good and accurate article – yes, there is plenty to be said about the things SDCC isn’t, but what it is is such a massive, overwhelming, much of a muchness that if you’re willing to let it carry you away and to glean from what’s available to you, there is a pretty amazing time to be had.

    (And Grant Morrison is always cosplaying Grant Morrison.)

  6. For my money, if I want to meet the actors without standing in line and missing almost every panel because I can’t even get in, and for getting great access to comics creators, again without spending a huge amount of money or standing in lines hours long: Phoenix Comic Con. On Thursday, you could walk into any autograph line with no more than a few minute’s wait. I waited no longer than about an hour for John Barrowman and that’s the only serious wait I had all weekend. I saw more, I got more, I talked to everyone I wanted to talk to.

  7. Heidi, could you please get your former mentor Gary Groth on here to lecture Ms. Byrd on how inherently wrong she is and how SDCC needs to focus on COMICS first and foremost?

  8. Although I’ve been a hard-core comic book fan since 1967, I didn’t go to my first Comic-Con until 2005. I had a great time, and it became an annual event for me — until this year.

    Despite the fact I’m a bona fide professional, because I was not able to get to a computer until later in the day that professional tickets were released, I was too late. This year, for the first time ever, professional passes were gone in a couple of hours.

    I know I could have gotten passes if I went outside the normal process, as I’ve been around a long time and I know some folks with Comic-Con clout. But it bugged me that things have gotten so crazy with Comic-Con just since 2005 that one would have to resort to such extremes simply to get in. Hell, in 2005, people could still just walk in on the day of the con and buy a same-day pass.

    Those days are over, and that’s the real shame of it all.

    I always enjoyed myself at Comic-Con, so being on the outside looking in this year was hard — especially when I was asked numerous times last weekend, “Why aren’t you at Comic-Con?”

    Good question…

  9. Will people please stop complaining about what Comic-Con isn’t. This back and forth has been going on for years. I’m pretty sure this is what Comic-Con is for the time being, and has been for the past five year.

    People talk about how it used to be back in the 80’s and 90’s, and it should go back to that. We used to not have cell phones and email back then too, and it was a much simpler time but things change.

    You either like it or you don’t, but can we please move on.

  10. Obviously, everybody is going to have a different experience, based on their goals, expectations and, frankly, ability to handle large crowds of people. That said, if your focus at San Diego is comics, you *can* have an amazing con, simply by ignoring a lot of the rest and honing in on the comics part of it, which is still massive by any rational measure. I went by Hall H this year because of a friend, but otherwise have not been there in years, and I didn’t miss it. I spent the vast bulk of my floor time in the comics’ publishers area and artists’ alley, and had a blast talking to a ton of comics people. I also went to a bunch of comics panels, most of which did not require waiting in line. That said, if you are trying to get exclusives or autographs, that can be challenging at San Diego, just because of the sheer numbers of course.
    Ultimately, like anything else, Comic Con is what you make of it, but I don’t believe it takes *that* much effort to have an incredible comics-focused experience.

  11. Can someone give me a quick snapshot of SDCC attendance numbers compared to other Cons? I mean, is it 30,000 per day compared to 10,000 per day at other shows?

  12. For people who are energized by experiences, going to SDCC is probably comparable to going to Times Square at New Year’s Eve, New Orleans for Mardi Gras, or shopping during Black Friday. The crush of people, the noise, seeing celebrities in person, are all exciting and memorable.

    If all you want to do is buy some things, meet one or two people, or attend a few panels in your areas of interest, then SDCC isn’t for you, and it’s not designed to be for you. When an event becomes an experience, it invariably evolves to attract people who want an experience and to repel people who don’t.


  13. I’m not complaining that Comic Con isn’t like it was 20 years ago, because I wasn’t there. I’m saying that you can get better value for your money and time, by going to a convention like Phoenix Comic Con, or Denver. You get stars you want to see, many comics people, smaller crowds, and it’s much less expensive. San Diego isn’t as good a value for my money. Saying so doesn’t make fans haters.

  14. Well, finding haters on the Internet isn’t hard. In fact, some believe the Internet was built by Haters.

    But Megan is right. There is plenty to still be found at SDCC. I’m as jaded as the next old industry guy. I’ve been around the block more than once — no need to go into *how it used to be*…. I was there. But that’s okay and as Megan notes there’s still magic in that bottle. It may not hit you over the head with a theme from your gaslamp hotel to Hall H, but it’s there if you know what you’re looking for. In a way it is like the Internet. Without a proper *search* function it’s just a mass of chaos.

    I think nowadays some people are still asking SDCC what to do, instead of knowing what THEY wanted to do in the first place.

    Wanting a theme, a specific industry-shaking announcement, a cool exclusive, whatever…. that all still happens. It’s just that it happens all at once and buries itself under all the attention. Add the Hollywood and video game angle and it runs even deeper. But seriously, that’s okay. Just go to the show with purpose and not get swept along in the current. Otherwise, it is just like surfing the Internet… you have no idea where you’ll end up and you will have forgotten why you even turned on the computer.

  15. When every single post for a fortnight or more amounts to SDCC OMG WHERE R U AWESOME, it makes The Beat a very boring read.

  16. “I’m sorry, but did you just write an article telling people who disagree with you to be quiet for having a different opinion and experience? Are you twelve?”

    Yes and yes. Welcome to the beat.

  17. I know that the various companies spend lots of money on panels, but for a marketeer, I’d rather have a room of newbies to sell to than a room full of choir boys who already know the song and dance.

    Yeah, footage and news is going to hit the web the minute it’s over (and if I’m the marketeer, I’M the one doing the uploading), so those outside will have missed the experience, but not the content. Some people won’t be able to get into the room anyway, so there will always be grumbling.

    PLUS, if I’m doing my job, there will be multiple opportunities for fans to meet the creative individuals on the that panel. (I’d probably rent a ballroom somewhere and make it a fundraiser for some cause.) I’d probably have someone outside the panel room handing out golden tickets to the fans who couldn’t get in, guaranteeing them privileges at other events.

    My last San Diego was 2002. I’ve been there three times, I’ve experienced it, and unless business requires, I’ll probably not return. NYCC is rapidly becoming too big for Javits, and I’ll probably give that up as well, since the Frankfurt Book Fair is the same weekend in Germany. (TEN BUILDINGS. Full of book publishers. And fans of books. And lots of comics.)

    I still enjoy comic cons, but it’s usually via a laisez faire attitude. I mark up a schedule, and if it’s not too much trouble, I’ll attend panels. But usually, I’m browsing the dealers, meeting creators, and just relaxing. No stress.

    And yeah, I can still get excited and overjoyed about stuff.

  18. Until Comic-Con International moves to Vegas, here’s what I suggest:

    Decentralize the show floor.
    Create mini-conventions in various hotels.
    Videogames and gaming in Hyatt.
    Toys in the Marriott.

    Then, when they move to Las Vegas, and hit Komiket numbers, each fandom/industry gets its own hotel and convention center.

  19. You acknowledge the concern about the lacks of comics at comic con, but then want to see a panel about Hannibal?

    I’ll save my money for COMICS conventions.

  20. Glenn and Boner: then go read some other site like The Dirty or something.

    Seriously, the world moves on way quicker from Comic-con nowadays.

  21. A POSITIVE review of Comic-Con from TheBeat[staff]??

    I’m shocked. And stunned. Yeah… stunned. And from a newbie attendee too— glad to see that SDCC’s magnficent mix of ‘Comics AND Science Fiction/Fantasy AND Film/TV’ can still win over fans. DESPITE all the negativity promulgated by various “comics” sites in their yearly warp-up of the event.

    Good for you, Megan! (I guess you DID have good breakfastses to start off your Con days while here in San Diego.)

  22. Good article, I’d have to agree that the con is not as bad as what people think as far as the “pushing comics out” comments go. In fact, (we usually speak with many small press people when we cover cons) and most of them said they had done great business throughout the con. The artists alley seemed to me a bit busier this year than last as well.

    With most of the movie/tv stuff going on in Hall H or Ballroom 20, you don’t get overpowered with it on the con floor unless you go by those booths. I do wish they moved all the tv/movie booths to the backwall like they had the WB booth, so stars could get in and out without messing up the flow of traffic on the floor. Those are destinations anyway for most people. I also wish they’d just move Hall H to petco park or something, put it in the stadium and let more people go and make it easier manage, move B20 to hall H. But I’m sure that would add serious dough to the cost. They did do a better job with the layout of the con this year, moving the video games to the opposite end.

    SDCC is a bit more of a circus than other cons I’ve been to though. That’s part of the appeal to me. I do like smaller cons for what they offer than a crowded SDCC doesn’t, but nothing is quite like SDCC either and I wouldn’t have it any different.

    @Al@, some numbers for attendance I believe around around 50,000 for cons like Wondercon and E3, over 100,000 for NYCC, and almost 150,000 for SDCC. There is much more offsite at SDCC than any other con I’ve been to as well, they really take over half of downtown San Diego.

    @Heidi: We missed you guys at the meet up, assumed you got hung up with something. Maybe next year.

  23. “Who is the woman in the picture w Gaiman?”

    Dunno, but she’s wearing the same big glasses that all young women in comics seem to have these days.

    Caption says she’s a “rep for Challenger Comics.”

  24. My first con was 1982 and I’ve seen it all. The con is less about comics for two very good reasons. The first one of course is Hollywood and video games. The second less obvious. Most of the creators are gone. And the new wave haven’t got the name recognition as the masters. We all know Kirby, Colan, Ditko, Curt Swan, Will Eisner. But if you can tell me who writes and draws Daredevil, the FF, Spider-Man and Superman now, congratulations! (PS Mark Waid writes DD and is doing a great job). But you know what I mean, the days of just going up to Burne Hogarth and Eisner and having them do a sketch for you are over. And the current creators aren’t as well known to the public so comiccon is filling space with associated stuff. I can put up with it all except the zombies I’ve had enough of them. Cos I’m grumpy.

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