Why Do Online Comics by Iain Hamp

Raise your hands if you were at the San Diego Comic Con International last July.

Okay good.

Now, of those who went, put your hand down if it seemed a little crowded to you.

Anyone whose hand is still up has a very different idea of “crowded” than I do. According to the numbers in the literature I just received from them, somewhere around 75,000 people attended the convention last year, and that does not include the professionals and vendors. And let me tell you, if 75,000 people had gone to that thing to buy comic books or meet with comic book creators, I would be squealing with excitement about that number. Heck, even if a lot of them were there for Pokemon or beanie babies or whatever the latest fad is that comic book stores try to cash in on, that would still be okay with me. I could put up with that.

The problem that I am having with the way the convention is shaping up actually is symbolized by a few specific people of the 75,000 + who attended. Angelina Jolie. Halle Berry. Hugh Jackman. Back when the biggest named celebrities attending were Scott Bakula and Weird Al Yankovic, crowd control was pretty manageable. But with huge names like this coming down, and movie studios taking a commanding presence at the convention, things have begun to get a little twisted.

For me, on a personal, completely selfish level, that is a problem.

There is a quote from the booklet recently sent to attending professionals for this year’s upcoming San Diego convention in July. I know I don’t have it dead on because the booklet is not in front of me, but here is a close paraphrase: “We had over 260 discussion panel events at last year’s convention (with over 60% of them devoted to comics)…” Now I am certain this was meant in a positive way, to wow me that there were so many comic discussion panels.

It had what I believe to be the opposite effect on me from what was intended.

I am paying hundreds of dollars (hotels, transportation, food, comics, etc.) to come attend and be a part of something called the San Diego Comic Convention International. And if only a little more than half of the programming is about “comics” then I kind of feel a little misled. Now, I can understand some other things going on, like the gaming, the panels about movie and book tie-ins and whatnot… this is all part of what helps fuel the economic fires of the comics industry. Much like the twenty minutes of ads and previews that I sit through before watching the movie I have already paid for, I have learned to just accept a certain amount of this sort of thing.

Okay, so 40% or so of programming isn’t devoted to comics, but there are all sorts of other things that happen at a comic convention right? Like people selling comics, for example, and creators there signing and meeting with their fans. I love those parts of a comic book convention. But when there are thousands of extra people who are there mostly because of the celebrities and the other things going on, and the comics are just an afterthought, I can’t get really get around the convention to who and what I want to see as easily, and it leaves me wanting to escape the wall-to-wall ooze of people and just say, screw it.

Last year also offered very limited online comics presence in the panels lineup. There were the Keenspot and Modern Tales panels, of course, but beyond that the well seemed awfully dry, even compared to other years. Now, if that means we’ve melded seamlessly into the rest of the comics jet stream then that is terrific, but I am pretty certain that is not the case yet.

Now, it isn’t as though I don’t have any other interests to go check out panels about, but online comics is sort of, you know, my thing. I overheard many good conversations about online comics, but they took place at the small press area or at dinner over in Horton Plaza amongst my web comic brethren. Which is cool, but the choir don’t need no more preachin’. I want to see discussions about all the different aspects of online comics, from creativity to business models, between people like McCloud, Kurtz, the Penny Arcade folks, and so on. Not for my own satisfaction, but for people who haven’t really given much thought to all the different ways online comics are unique and a wonderful entertainment medium.

Now I know there are convention options for me. I am certain I would find the kind of convention I am looking for more at a place like APE or SPX than I will ever find at San Diego again. I am really just being one of those people that doesn’t like change. But I don’t mind change nearly as much if I think it is for the better. In the case of the San Diego Comic Con, I think it is becoming something less about comics and more about… I don’t know what. It is supposed to be a non-profit organization, so I guess they are just trying to drive more people into it in the hopes that some of them will come out of it more interested in comics than before. And maybe my perception of things was wrong, maybe next year those people that came last year for Angelina Jolie and Halle Berry will come back to remind themselves of the good time from last year and discover there were also comic books there. The whole thing is very sherbet to me.

Main Entry: sher•bet
Pronunciation: ‘sh&r-b&t
Variant(s): also sher•bert /-b&rt/
Function: noun
Etymology: Turk & Persian; Turkish serbet, from Persian sharbat, from Arabic sharbah drink
1 : a cold drink of sweetened and diluted fruit juice
2 : an ice with milk, egg white, or gelatin added

See, when I was younger, I was allergic to dairy products. So when the family went out for ice cream, I went for sherbet. Occasionally someone would pronounce it sherbert and it would drive me up the wall, because there isn’t a second ‘r’ in the word. I just didn’t understand how it had made that leap, where more and more people said it differently, while the whole time it was spelled without that second ‘r’. Eventually, so many people said it that way that stores started spelling that way sometimes, and soon it had been placed in the dictionary as a valid variant way to say and spell it.

That drove me nuts for years. I had invested so much of my life in something, and here everyone else was trying to make it something different. Finally, though, I came to realize that that is simply how language evolves. If you tell a lie often enough and enough people believe it, then eventually it becomes more and more true, because perception is reality. If I spoke to a person from 100 years ago in America they would think my grasp of the English language atrocious, but by today’s standards I’m considered above average. It isn’t a good thing or a bad thing, I think, it’s just the way it goes.

And so it goes with San Diego. This is the way San Diego is going. I can either adapt and flow with it, or I can give up and find something else. I have spent one weekend each of the last eleven summers at the comic convention in San Diego, and it isn’t what it used to be.

But who knows what it will be, or could be with the right attitude and plan? At least for one more year, my plan is to try to make the best of it.

Iain Hamp is a contributing columnist for Comixpedia.

Illustrations by the one and only, Miguel Estrugo!

More Details.


  1. I haven’t been to SD Comicon – it does sound big and overblown though. I have been to SPXPo a couple of times and it’s a very literary experience. It’s focused on publishers – not some faddish pop culture moment. It’s also very indy friendly. Let’s face it – webcomics are closer in spirit to small press and mini comics than any other vector of the comics industry. It could use a better venue than a Holiday Inn in Bethesda but it’s okay there. From everything I’ve heard APE in SF is a similar vibe. We could use deals like this everywhere. You would probably get a much bigger bang for your exhibitor buck going to these events. As a reader (and playing a reporter!) I certainly have gotten a LOT out of them. Creators are there, they are accessible and because it’s not a “mainstream” comic event, the number of hero books is in its proper proportion to every other genre and doesn’t overwhelm the proceedings.

    But never having been to SD Comicon I am willing to listen to reasons why it may be more worthwhile to attend than I’ve thought to date.

  2. Well that is kind of cool. Still a long trip from the East Coast though 🙁

  3. Sounds like it might have gotten a little over-the-top. I’d imagine it’s a little harder to stand out in a crowd like that too.

    Saddly my own personal convention experience is somewhat limited as I’ve only ever been to two conventions. One as an attendee, and one as a guest. My convention as an attendee was CN-Anime/Comic/Sci-fi Expo in Toronto, Canada. It was nice because it was just a short GO-Bus trip from Hamilton (where I live) to Toronto. It seemed BIG to me and it is, appearently, the biggest convention of its kind in Canada. It was a little overwhelming for a first convention experience but it was fun. I was glad it was a multi-genre convention as I think I would become bored if it was just comics or just anime or just Sci-Fi (especially just Star Trek). Saw some neat stuff, met some neat people.

    My second convention experience was as a guest. This was I-CON 23 in Long Island New York. Maybe it was my lack of convention experience but it seemed to be really big to me, at least as big as CN-Anime/Comics/Sci-Fi Expo was. So I was surprised when I found out it is classified as a “small convention”. Could have fooled me. But then again I suppose it’s a matter of national scale too. What is a big convention in Canada with a population of 36 Million people would probably be considered a small convention in the USA with a population of 360 Million people so I guess size really is relevant. The question is, however, does size really matter.

    I don’t think it did for me. I had fun when I attended CN-Anime/Comics/Sci-Fi Expo. I had so much fun I thought I was going to burst when I was a guest at I-Con (let me just go on record as saying that being a guest at a convention is so much cooler than just attending a convention. The greenroom is like the best part of the convention and signing autographs for people actually makes your penis feel bigger, no really, it does!). I didn’t know that I-CON is considered a “small” convention. Personally I say there are no small conventions, only small cosplayers (and they’re so damned cute). Everyone was so friendly, all the panels were packed, met a lot of interesting new people. What more could I ask for.

    Big convention, small convention, what’s it matter? All that matters is did you have fun at the end of the day?

    Granted I do see your point that a comics convention that is “40% comics free” could be highly disappointing if the comics are what you were there for. Perhaps Comic-Con will change into one of the multi-genre conventions like CN-Anime/Comics/Sci-Fi Expo or I-CON (I like to refer to such conventions, affectionatly, as “geek-cons”).

    I doubt I’ll ever know. Unless it’s within a short distance of my house the only conventions I’ll ever attend are the ones that pay to transport and house me during the con and I don’t think Comic-Con will ever be one of them.

  4. Hey, forget the big shiney mainstream show. Why not make the SPX your new place to visit. Loads of great independent creators and publishers and a nice friendly atmosphere! And probably much more affordable too. http://www.spxpo.com/

  5. Well, despite all of my gripes, it is quite an amazing spectacle to behold. At its best it is surreal and delightful, and some of the panels I have been to have been instrumental to my comic “career”. And everyone is there, so it is a chance to see people from around the world that you otherwise only get to see in e-mails and chatrooms, etc. And really, the crowds weren’t horrid until last year. I think they actually doubled the space they had and they still had body-to-body aisles between the exhibitors. And the small press last year was on the other side from the artist alley, so I was going like a half mile each way back and forth just about the whole time I was on the floor.

    But I have many other reasons that I still am going back. They include proximity (a five or six hour drive from Phoenix), friends who live in San Diego, the weather (a nice break in July from Phoenix weather)… not to mention San Diego is a great place in and of itself. Downtown is jumping at night, and if you are an early bird grabbing a cup of coffee, going to Horton Plaza before anything opens, and just taking in the serenity of the place is one of my favorite things. Ocean Beach is another nice, not-so-touristy place to go on Thursday or Friday before night falls (after that is IS pretty touristy). Some cool record stores, surf shops, a comic store, and some groovy little cafes and coffee bars.

    One last note: a new wrinkle in the equation this year is their new ballpark for the Padres, which is roughly across the street from the convention center and as I understand it shares parking with it.

Comments are closed.