In San Diego the annual comic book orgy, Comic-Con, recently concluded and continued again as a mega-event as evidenced by the reports of attendance, the local, regional, and national news coverage and the attendance of stars and luminaries. In other words, the magic continues. What has been changing have been the reasons for the excitement which today is less about comics and more about the characters and gaming. Whatever works!
Going in it seemed like the big news was that Marvel was not participating. Oh-my-God! Cancel the show, but wait a minute, everyone else was there so nothing to worry about.
Gaming is now beyond huge and if it was once the tail on the dog it’s today the undisputed head and shoulders of this and other comic book themed events. Movies are a close second and therefore the reason why movie stars come out to meet and greet. It’s no doubt in their contracts anymore because the movie studios are finding it harder to get rear ends into movie theatre seats and increasingly actors’ compensation is tied to tickets sold. It turns out that, even in Hollywood, the money must make sense. Who knew?
We increasingly live in a world of shared awareness and are attracted to events when many other people also find them interesting and exciting.
That Comic-Con events are durable is because they change and no doubt, the original starting point, comics, remain appealing but clearly they are no longer the be-all and end-all they once were. Not so long ago a memorable single comic sold for over two million dollars and that outcome placed it among the highest priced items sold at auction in the books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera categories that year. You could have bought almost anything else but a significant piece of money went to a Superman first printing in exceptional condition. That feels like the personification of the expression the “madness of crowds.”
It has always felt to me like a mania, one that if I ever understood it, I’d love to see employed for old and rare books. Imagine what fun it would be to have people camping out over night to be first in. It’s been a while, a long while since we’ve seen that.
The Comic-Con does provide a case study for what it takes to exist within a mania. It’s clearly not stable, although it remains very strong and I suspect that show management is trying hard to further refine their strategy.
The truth is that the printed word is not so much on its way out but, rather, on its way down and the field should be thinking about changes, additions or adjustments to keep the field healthy. The current structure may not be viable long term.
For Comics and Comic-Con adjustments are constantly being made. For the field of books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera it feels like inertia has set in. The current leadership is graying and may be more focused on their twilights but somebody must keep the lights on. Here’s hoping. It’s a wonderful field but we need some fireworks.