Comic conventions, aka comic cons or comics, are big business. They attract tens of thousands of fans and generate millions in revenue. Many exhibitors and vendors sell back issues of comic books, graphic novels, trade paperbacks, action figures, clothing, and accessories. Some also offer workshops and panel discussions.
While comic conventions may seem like a fad that will fade, they are here to stay. They are a way to celebrate pop culture and allow fans to meet with the people who created their favorite characters. In 1964, New York City hosted the first one-day comic convention. Jerry Bails, the “father of comic fandom, organized the event.” Bails later helped organize the Detroit Triple Fan Fair, a multi-genre convention that included film and science fiction fans.
In the 1970s, Brooklyn native Phil Seuling reshaped, and perhaps saved, the comic book industry by pioneering direct market distribution. It allowed specialty stores to pre-order comic books instead of relying on distributors who delivered unsold stock to newsstands and corner shops.
A wide variety of people attend comic conventions. Some artists and dealers offer their wares to fans; others come to watch programming or meet other attendees like Brad Kern. Still, others are just there for the fun of it. Some conventions feature panels, usually one-hour discussions by a host or a guest. The topics range from new releases to author spotlights. Some panels are interactive, with a cartoonist responding to improv prompts or playing games.
Most comic conventions also have a dealer’s room. Publishers and distributors offer their products for sale, including back issues of comic books, graphic novels, trade paperbacks, manga and anime media, action figures, clothing or pre-made costumes, music CDs, software, decorations, and toys. Many also have a video room, where genre-related audiovisual presentations are presented, typically commercial Hollywood movies or episodes of television shows.
The original Comic-Con International in San Diego grew from its modest beginnings to be a significant multi-genre event. It now offers a vast exhibit hall, hundreds of panels on all aspects of the popular arts, from film to music to video games, a Masquerade costume contest, an autograph area, portfolio reviews that pair aspiring artists with significant companies, and more.
Some conventions also feature a video room for genre-related audiovisual presentations, including commercial Hollywood movies and television show episodes. Many of these events have expanded internationally, as well. As nerd/geek culture has grown more mainstream, these conventions remain vital for many fans. And they provide opportunities for the hospitality industry to cater to their patrons. Conventions may also have an educational component, such as panels by prominent scholars and writers on popular culture.
A panel is a discussion or presentation in front of an audience. It’s often related to comic books, movies, or TV shows, and fans line up to attend them. Panels can be a roundtable-style conversation, screening, interview, or Q&A session. Fans love to hear from the actors, writers, and producers behind their favorite shows or comics.
They are willing to camp out overnight to attend a panel. It enables children to question their heroes and get direct responses. It also makes them feel special and part of something bigger than themselves. Hopefully, this is a feeling that Comic Con tries to evoke in their attendees.
The Artist Alley, a mainstay of comic cons, allows attendees to speak with and connect with the authors of their favorite works. Artists can sell prints of their work, take commissions, and sign autographs. The area can also feature a “maker’s market,” a curated section for crafters, independent and mainstream artists, and other artisanal craftspeople. Most comic conventions are held over a weekend, with events scheduled from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon.
Some are based in a single city, while others cover multiple cities or regions. Despite their differences, comic conventions have standard features that allow them to attract a large audience and generate significant revenue. Many of these conventions offer particular areas devoted to a specific theme, such as a video game, an anime, or a film. These areas are typically set up by local non-profit associations or the producers of a particular film or video game.