Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Passes Sold Out, People Left Out

Posted by Don MacPherson on June 4th, 2009

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.

12 Responses to “Passes Sold Out, People Left Out”

  1. Rick Klaw Says:

    Nice piece but you don’t mention how many people constitutes a sell out for the con. Be useful info to put this all in perspective.


  2. Joe Says:

    I’ve been to the con 5 times and I always have a good time, but honestly I’m kind of glad I’m not going this year. I do think the con has gotten too big for its own good.

    The crowds were so large last year, it became an exercise in frustration for me. Maneuvering through the con floor (especially the movie/video game area) was a nightmare. I arrived two hours early to the Mystery Science Theater panel and was told that the room was closed for the day. God help if you if you happen across someone handing out keychaings. You might get trampled!

  3. David Glanzer Says:

    I enjoyed reading your post on Comic-Con and wanted to drop a note to clarify a couple of things.

    Let me begin by saying that I honestly don’t know of one person who is happy that we’ve run out of passes. We have always viewed this as an issue we hoped we would never have to deal with. We have said many times, that it is never a good thing to promote an event where people who may want to attend, won’t be able to.

    As for the concern that the non comics fan, or the simply curious might miss out on attending, our records indicate that about 30% of our attendees are first time visitors to the show with roughly 40% are attendees who have visited between 2 and 5 times in the last 10 years. And while there is also the concern that movie/TV fans may have bought their passes early on, the truth is we sold out far in advance of announcing our lineup. And as we all know, not every film property attends Comic-Con every year. So I’m not sure how to gauge this possibility.

    With regard to people scalping Comic-Con passes, I do have to say this is obviously of major concern to us. We really try to get the word out that holders of those passes sometimes sell and resell their bar code or pass and each is only good once. Each bar code and pass has a unique number that is entered into our database and assigned to an individual. The person redeeming the pass must show identification. Also, there were instances last year, were people sold and resold their unique passes and some people were left having spent money for passes that were invalid.

    Again, I enjoyed reading this post and thank you for allowing me to add some comments.

    Dave Glanzer

  4. Don MacPherson Says:


    Thanks for stopping by and clarifying some points. I apologize; I should never have assumed that sell-outs was something that pleased Comic-Con organizers.

    About scalping, does Comic-Con try to clamp down on that in others ways? For example, might you contact eBay to notify them that items that sellers have up for sale are prohibited from re-sale? It’s my understanding that if eBay is notified about improper listings, it shuts them down.

  5. jabrams Says:

    Why doesn’t Comic-Con do what Blizzcon (Blizzard’s Convention) does regarding scalping: The only way you can pick up your con tickets is to physically go to the con and the only person who can pick them up is the person who paid for them.

    Seems like a pretty easy solution to me.

  6. Don MacPherson Says:

    Jabrams wrote:
    Why doesn’t Comic-Con do what Blizzcon (Blizzard’s Convention) does regarding scalping: The only way you can pick up your con tickets is to physically go to the con and the only person who can pick them up is the person who paid for them.

    I believe Comic-Con does require ID to pick up badges (thus the eBay seller’s insistence that one must meet him/her just before Preview Night begins). The thing is that I would imagine one can book more than one pass without having to provide names for each individual pass holder. I could be wrong, and I would imagine David Glanzer would be the one with some answers.

  7. RPC Says:

    My biggest problem is that Comic-Con seems to allow itself to get “bigger and bigger” without thinking that so many people and so many attractions ruins the experience almost entirely.

    The Con floor is near impossible to navigate most times. Getting into the major panels, often times, required hours of standing in line. For Heroes last year, people were camped out overnight. As much as I like Heroes, I don’t think that’s worth it. As it stood, I was two hours early and still didn’t get in. Nor did I make it in to three or four other panels I’d like to see.

    Whenever I see people voicing their complaints or concerns about the overcrowding, it’s usually greeted with responses like “well you shouldn’t go if you hate it so much,” “stop whining,” or “I like it just fine.” But I’ve gone every year since 1994 and I see what Comic-Con can be. I miss the focus on *comic books.* But moreso, I just miss the accessibility it all had before it became such a zoo.

    Comic-Con is allegedly a non-profit organization, so I don’t understand the desire to be bigger and bigger every year. Scaling things down a bit, or spreading things out a little, might do them some good.

  8. ed Says:

    “Inaccessibility” to the CON can be avoided by those who reeeaaaaally want to attend by a simple thing: BUY the 4-day or single day passes that you’d want AS SOON AS YOU CAN!

    There’s absolutely NO excuse for people to whine that ‘the Comic Con is Sold Out/I can’t get in’ when the tickets for the following year’s Con are offered on the final days of the previous one: I bought my 4-day pass for this year’s at the Sunday of last year’s. (And at the discount, on-site price of just $65— take that, eBAY scalpers!)

    A little preparation can go a long way in avoiding the concerns raised above.

  9. Stephen Says:

    “As for the concern that the non comics fan, or the simply curious might miss out on attending, our records indicate that about 30% of our attendees are first time visitors to the show with roughly 40% are attendees who have visited between 2 and 5 times in the last 10 years.”

    I’m curious to whether these proportions have grown or shrunk, or remained relatively stable, over the past 10 years. If the proportion of first-time or occasional attendees has shrunk over the past 10 years, then that might lend credence to Don’s concern that more casual attendees are increasingly likely to be shut out.

  10. David Glanzer Says:

    To answer your question about clamping down on scalpers in other ways, yes, we do try to clamp down in a variety of different ways. And many of the auction sites are responsive to our requests. The truth is,however, that once you seal one area, people usually find another way to circumvent the system.

    This year we will offer badges for sale about two weeks prior to the show. These will be from those individuals who have had to cancel for any number of reasons. This happens each year and in the past we’ve just absorbed those cancellations.

    The statistics mentioned above have been steady over the past few years. We have long known that while many attendees visit multiple times, it may not always be on consecutive years. It is, no doubt, due in large part to our comics programming which I personally feel is second to none.

  11. keven hebner Says:

    i got a four-day pass Haaaaaaaa!!!

  12. Marcela Says:

    I can’t wait for the whole Twilight craze to blow over. While I did enjoy reading the books, I don’t enjoy its crazed fans — especially at Comic-Con. They are crazy! I’m sure that most Twilight fans are normally very nice people, but when Twilight is involved in any way something in them just snaps. A different side to them emerges.