Who won't be at Comic-Con, and why that's the problem

Yes, it's that time of year again! Comic-Con International starts today with a special preview night, and then formally kicks off Thursday.

If you have a badge, consider yourself lucky: They sold out within an hour and a half months ago. While there were three chances to buy returned badges, they're now all gone. There are no on-site passes available for walk-ups, and badges are assigned to specific names and require photo ID to enter, so scalping or cheating your way in isn't easy. That means, as has been the case for years now, if you don't have a badge at this point, you're not going.

By now, most people who follow some level of entertainment news know about Comic-Con. Because of yearly buzz, plenty of Southern California locals want to go at least once, just to check it out. Like Coachella or Burning Man, Comic-Con has become a cultural curiosity to just experience.

Within this curiosity is a hotbed of potential new readers. But just as Coachella tickets now sell out a year in advance, before a line-up is even announced, so too is Comic-Con an impossible ticket for the casual fan.

A few years ago, I was navigating my way through the crowds in the Gaslamp Quarter to get to the San Diego Convention Center when I was stopped by two friendly parents who had their eager son with them. He was maybe 8 or 9 (although maybe he was younger; I'm terrible at gauging age). Anyway, the father wanted to make sure this was where they could find Comic-Con. They lived in the area, had heard on the radio about Comic-Con and decided to make a family outing of it. Their son was very excited -- but not for long. I was the bearer of bad news, informing them the convention had sold out months ago. They had made their way through the crazy traffic and impossible parking for nothing. Their smiles faded and their eyes drifted off as they asked each other, "Well now what?"

I'm going to go out on a limb and speculate that similar scenarios happen multiple times a day during Comic-Con.

It's a sad story to be sure, but Comic-Con really doesn't have any motivation to do anything about this. After all, the event is doing great; every year it's filled to capacity. Organizers could hold back badges for walk-ups, but they'd just end up going to hardcore fans that camped out Tuesday night. So there isn't any easy fix. But if any aspect of Comic-Con's existence includes a goal to increase awareness of, and the audience for, comics, they owe it to themselves and the industry that feeds them. Comic-Con needs to be accessible to the curious.

So how to accomplish this? If Comic-Con wants to be the headline event of the industry, and an amazing outreach effort to get people actually buying and reading comics (not just talking about their movies), Comic-Con needs to get over its nostalgia of itself.

The organization that runs Comic-Con recently had the opportunity to move to a bigger convention center at a different city. Instead organizers decided to stick with a city that has fought Comic-Con's expansion for decades, a convention center that can't grow fast enough (the proposed $520 million expansion won't be completed until 2016, at the earliest), and a neighborhood with hotels that have openly ridiculed attendees paying their exorbitantly increased rates. Whether it's Los Angeles, Las Vegas or Anaheim, Comic-Con needs a new home that allows people to come to the convention floor out of curiosity and leave with the beginnings of a new love for an art form.

As that probably won't happen in the next 24 hours, fortunately for those who can't get into Comic-Con there are some alternatives to happening in San Diego. While not all are as comics-focused as I might like, they all contain a great love of the worlds comics have created.

  • Tr!ckster: A creator-focused mini-con with a comics store, symposia, life drawings, a bar and full menu, and more at Wine Steals and Proper Gastro Pub near the Padres Ballpark
  • Unmasked! Comic Art in San Diego Revealed: An art show featuring Eric Shanower, Mary Fleener, Jeromy Cox, Chynna Clugston-Flores, Batton Lash and more local professional artists, at Artlab Studios
  • The Crazy Rattlesnake Treehouse Gang: A live comics reading by cartoonists such as Tom Neely, Malachi Ward and more, at Space4Art.
  • The Walking Dead Escape: A zombie-infested obstacle course weaving in and around Petco Park modeled after that mega-hit zombie comic book series
  • The Haunted Hotel: The award-winning haunted house, located at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Market Street, is opening just for Comic-Con to scare the bejeebus out of you
  • Walk Off the Page Parade: Dress up as your favorite character and walk down the street with everyone else
  • Course of the Force: A Star Wars-themed relay race, complete with lightsabers, to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation
  • Zombie Walk: Get your zombie make-up on and shamble around downtown San Diego

I'm hoping the last three will all collide into an epic battle, but probably not. Still, it's an improvement. And we should never stop striving for improvement in how our industry reaches out.

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