At what point did the Comic-Con International in San Diego jump the shark? I’m not complaining, just asking. It’s a glorious affair, one where the geek elite and the Hollywood prima donnas make nice with one another. Here, the fanboy is god, and fandom is the religion. As attendance balloons each and every year, San Diego bursts at the seams with the sheer thought of that almighty tourist dollar. And literally, the city streets swell to capacity with studio execs, publicists, starving artists, autograph hounds, cosplay freaks, collectors and kids.
For the first time ever, the event sold out in advance of all of its four days. You’re talking 125,000 people, all looking to get their hands on that Mattel Toys exclusive, all looking to get into that semi-secret advance screening of TROPIC THUNDER, all looking to be first in line for the WATCHMEN panel. If any of this sounds absurd to you, you have no idea. It’s not like a comic book coming to life. It’s more like the entirety of the Marvel and DC Universes rising from their pencil-and-ink and multicolored pages, invading a breezy West Coast metropolis for a long weekend. It’s geek jihad, and don’t be fooled: Millions are at stake — and with film franchises taking front and center over the past decade, maybe billions in the long run. Yes, billions, Dr. Evil.
A day or so after the last Klingon-attired attendee left town, an earthquake was reported not too far off in Los Angeles. Several weeks prior to this, as an advance sell-out became inevitable, there were rumblings of a different sort: perhaps the Con had outgrown its nest and it was time to fly the coop. While San Diego has a lot going for it, a loss like this would hit where it counts.
The Comic-Con has a contract with the San Diego Convention Center until 2011, with the promise from the facility of expansion and renovation. Clearly the Comic-Con would call the shots, but there is still a warm and fuzzy feeling between the city and the event that suggests the honeymoon is far from over. You get the sense that no one, on either side, would want to see the relationship end. Still, the possibility of wooing away the grand dame of geek spectacles has to have some cities already chomping at the bit like an malnourished rancor monster, like a city trying to court a future Super Bowl or — perhaps more apropos — WWE Wrestlemania.
Has the event gotten too big for its britches? Yes. Will a larger-waistlined venue provide the solution? No. There’s already far too much too see, way too many people vying to get the first glimpse, and too few days to accomplish any of these things. The answer may be in redefining what the Comic-Con represents, or what its purpose will be. A more accurate name might be Pop-Culture-Con. Yep, comics are still at the root of all things Comic-Con, but any time I attend an event and see porn queen Tera Patrick hawking video games, I start to ask myself if I stumbled into the wrong room. (Although it certainly does put a new twist on the term “game room,” doesn’t it?)