Passes for Comic-Con International San Diego 2009 have sold out in record time, and a lot of people are celebrating. It’s easy to understand why. In what can only be described as uncertain economic times, the fact that so many shelled out so quickly for an event that’s clearly a luxury seems to be a sign that there’s strong support for the comics industry and medium. It’s certainly great news for those who run Comic-Con. Now the organizers and volunteers need only concern themselves with the smooth operation of the event and not so much the financial bottom line.
I’ve found the sellouts of passes in recent years — and especially for 2009 — to be somewhat disconcerting. Now, I’m unable to attend the con this year (my inability to attend has nothing to do with access to passes, though, but rather with more important financial commitments). I’ve made it twice in the past and hope to attend sometime in the future as well. I don’t anticipate trouble in the future in getting a pass. My concern lies, instead, with the casual comic-book fan.
It’s clear that the vast majority of people who attend comic cons are the die-hard fans, people who simply love the medium (or the characters, or the creators, or what have you). But there are those other con-goers — the curious, the lapsed fans and even the non-comics reader looking for an unusual but diverting afternoon. These aren’t the people who are signing up for passes in advance. These aren’t the people who are reading about the con online in advance of the event.
And clearly, these people aren’t going to be able to attend Comic Con International San Diego 2009.
I think that’s unfortunate. Clearly, the event has grown exponentially in scope over the decades, and yes, growth is a good thing generally. But think of those old jeans you have tucked away in a bottom drawer, the jeans you so love but you grew too big for them.
Part of the issue stems from the fact that Comic Con International, though still pretty much focused on comics, is now more of a pop-culture expo. It’s Hollywood’s launching pad, both for TV and movies. It’s where the stars come out to shine, but unlike the movie premieres that unfold about an hour or two north of San Diego, the celebs don’t seem quite so removed from the fans. There clearly has to be a fan base for the movie/TV stuff that’s snapping up these passes so far in advance as well.
And then there are the profiteers, the purveyors of collectibles who descend upon the show to gather up as much limited-edition booty they can so as to resell it all to those who couldn’t attend. In the wake of the con, we’ll see innumerable signed comics, sketches, rare toys, con exclusives and other “must-have” fare (at least in the short term) for sale, mainly online.
Perhaps what’s most disheartening is that the quick sell-outs of the passes has the potential to turn the con itself into a commodity for those out to make a quick buck. An eBay seller who goes by the moniker sketch515 sold a four-day pass for $350 US on Monday, and as I write this, s/he’s got another up for bid right now (again, with a $350 US Buy It Now price).
Update: the second listing now notes that the seller ended the auction early without selling it. However, five other eBay auctions have popped up since from two different sellers. One is selling two four-day passes and two Saturday passes, while another is selling a four-day pass.
The actual price Comic-Con charged for an adult four-day pass was $75. That represents a profit margin of 300 per cent. The morality (or lack thereof) of what sketch515 is up to is clear. Furthermore, it’s expressly not allowed, not by the con or by eBay’s policies. Quoting from the official Comic-Con site:
“Reselling, reusing or transferring a Comic-Con membership is strictly prohibited.”
The seller claims to be putting these extra passes up for bid because his/her professional badge came through, but that doesn’t explain why s/he has (a) more than one for sale, and (b) why s/he doesn’t avail him/herself of the refund option that Comic-Con International provides (information on its website). Furthermore, sketch515 is based in Tampa, Fla., so to get one’s pass, one has to count on meeting up with him/her at the con for Preview Night on July 22. Anyone who’s attended the San Diego con in recent years can attest to the chaos that overwhelms the event. Even the most carefully laid plans to meet can fail. Close friends can attend all five days of the con and never cross each other’s path. Imagine flying all the way to southern California for the con only to be left outside because one couldn’t find the provider of a promised pass.
That brings me back to the original point: inaccessibility to the top comics-culture event in North America.
Some have suggested that perhaps expansion of the con could go beyond the walls of the convention centre, that some con events, programming or features could be offered at smaller venues to spread out the crowds. It sounds like a reasonable solution, but it would be a logistical nightmare when it comes to managing how many people are in the convention centre at any given time. One can’t sell passes to one part of the con and not another.
Personally, I think the Hollywood-ification of Comic-Con International, while providing financial stability and a boost in popularity, has compromised the conventional somewhat. It’ll never threaten to overwhelm it altogether; the people running the con are dedicated to it as a comics-culture event and expo. Does CCI shouldn’t be the place where J.J. Abrams teases audiences with clips from his next project? Where Pixar tests its latest release? Or where SyFy pimps its latest BSG spinoff?
Why not relegate these other-media sensations to other events? Why not a TV convention? Star Trek has spawned its own conventions all on its own. Why not Adventure Con? Movie Con? Sitcom Con?
Doesn’t sound like it’d be feasible, does it?
Clearly, Hollywood covets the same fan base as the comics industry, and that’s fine. It’s just frustrating that everyone’s fighting for that fan base’s attention for the same few days.