There’s always going to be a lot of talk about “winners” and “losers” after a huge pop culture event such as San Diego Comic-Con. But something was amiss and noticeably absent at this year’s convention, and yes it is a convention, a comic book convention, although you wouldn’t know it anymore.
So who lost? Well, actual comic book fans…
It’s become a bit of a cliche to complain that Comic-Con isn’t about the comics anymore but this year is different. After 44 years as one of SDCC’s biggest sellers, legendary retailer Mile High Comics skipped the 2017 event for the first time. Owner Chuck Rozanski cited rising costs ($18,000 for a booth) imposed on vendors, stricter safety rules and celebrity-packed offsite events or installations for reducing foot traffic, and profit, inside the con. The absence of Rozanski and Mile High Comics, one of the event’s original participants, was a significant loss and a sign of the times. He’s had a front row seat to metamorphosis of event and the changes that have occurred…
“When you can see Game of Thrones, Pokémon and hundreds of other exhibits across from the convention hall, why bother going into the hall?”
Rozanski outlined the reasons behind his decision in a heartfelt letter released on the company’s website. You can read that letter HERE
The reality is some of the coolest fan experiences at Comic-Con aren’t actually inside Comic-Con anymore. The teams behind shows such as Mr. Robot and Westworld are setting up elaborate installations in and around San Diego and the fans are having the time of their lives without having to actually step foot inside the overcrowded convention hall. And it’s totally free.
For several years, Hollywood studios and networks have been building these elaborate installations, which they call “activations”, anywhere they can acquire space. You’ll find them in hotels, tents and fields all around the San Diego Convention Center, pushing their products. In order to reach as many fans as possible inside and out, the companies have begun to venture outside the hall in their never ending quest for fan attention.
This year seemed like it may finally be the tipping point as nearly all the most buzzed-about and popular experiences during Comic-Con aren’t technically part of Comic-Con. Yes, the hallowed grounds of Hall “H” and other panels where stars and creators answer questions and show new trailers are still part of the official programming inside, and likely always will be. But for fans, who have numbered 160,000+ at past Cons, aiming to feel as if they’re being transported inside their favorite movies and TV shows, the thing to do is walk around downtown San Diego and experience all these outdoor installations.
According to those in attendance, the most elaborate installation outside the convention center this year was for Warner Bros. Blade Runner 2049. Fans waited hours in the heat to try a Virtual Reality game tying to the sequel to the 1982 sci-fi cult classic film. After the game ends, they enter a 12,800-square-foot space designed to look like a city street in dystopian Los Angeles, complete with a crashed flying car, neon lights, a bar and 34 actors playing future residents, including police who “test” whether visitors are humans or “replicant” robots.
Not to be outdone, Mr. Robot, offered clues to fans to an elaborate puzzle inside exact recreations of locations from the show itself. The most patient and skilled fans who would solve the puzzle ended up in a dark room where they answered questions from a masked actor, received a recorded phone call from the show’s co-star B.D. Wong and got to peek at photos offering hints about the coming third season.
HBO’s Westworld, required visitors to secure advance reservations to the installation which was located 10 blocks from the convention center. Once inside they would get a personal interview to help figure out what type of cowboy they would be after being fitted with a10-gallon hat. They would then enter a perfect recreation of a saloon from the show where actors portraying bartenders and a prostitute talked to them and served cocktails.
It appears the happiest people were the ones who got to experience all these different “installations” all around San Diego. Especially the ones who weren’t able to get or afford a Comic-Con badge which for the four days now costs $220 US. That coupled with ease of accessibility for fans could eventually force other long time vendors much like Mile High Comics to think twice about shelling out $18,000 plus for space inside the convention centre.
There’s no shortage of places to buy comics these days and change like everything else is inevitable. But when something like Comic-Con loses sight of the reason it’s become so successful and more and more comic book vendors opt out, we all lose.
Till next time…