A tale of two Comic-Cons
The scene at the Lionsgate/IGN party in San Diego on Thursday night.
July 16th, 2012
09:09 AM ET

A tale of two Comic-Cons

Editor's note: Aaron Sagers is a New York-based entertainment writer and nationally syndicated pop-culture columnist. He has specialty knowledge in "paranormal pop culture," has lectured at conventions nationwide on the topic and is a media pundit on supernatural entertainment. He covers pop culture daily at ParanormalPopCulture.com and can be found on Twitter @aaronsagers.

It was the best of cons, it was the worst of cons, it was the age of fan celebration, it was the age of crass commercialism, it was the epoch of true believers, it was the epoch of sell outs, it was the season of the nerd, it was the season of Hollywood.

Never before had I felt such a sense of belonging accompanied by one that I was out of place.

San Diego Comic-Con 2011: After a day of conducting press interviews and covering panels, I hit The Con floor to pick up some swag before booths closed. There were more than 130,000 attendees and I think I bumped into every single one of them. My eyes were in constant danger from too-close interactions with passing wings, lightsabers, claws and more than a few Dalek protrusions – and I had no Nick Fury patch to cover any resulting eye loss.

Despite the threat, and claustrophobia, I felt I was with my people.

With a newly acquired foam Sword of Omens from “ThunderCats” and an Oscorp Industries ID badge from Sony’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” display, I headed to the Hard Rock Hotel across the street from the convention center in pursuit of a Her Universe “Sharktopus” tee from the Syfy shop.

People lined up outside a Hard Rock club, and my finely-tuned instinct to pursue free food and booze (when not pursuing swag) kicked in. An SUV limo pulled up, the very important posse of a very important person filed into the club, and the nerds outside were left with a snapshot of a celeb and an encounter with the superhero of the Con’s party circuit – the Velvet Rope Guardian.

The message is clear: This is not for you, you don't belong, return to the your area.

When Hollywood started showing up at the Con a few years back, it brought exclusive happenings that your average fan wouldn't be invited to, or likely even hear about. Nerds who complain they liked the Con before it was cool often mention this; the celebs show up to shill and court fan buzz but don’t really want anything to do with them after an hour-long panel or autograph session.

However, another nerd contingent is fine with that. They argue the pretty people should retreat to their swanky soirees and do their thing because they’d prefer to hang with fellow geeks at multiple open-access joints, like last year’s “Cowboys & Aliens” saloon or the Café Diem from “Eureka.” There are enough events like the masquerade or zombie walk to keep Comic-Con a nerd event. To focus on the celebrity culture and crave insider status is to miss the point of the Con anyhow.

Then there is the hybrid celeb/fan event, like this year’s “Con of the Dead,” sponsored by horror network and website FEARnet. By distributing tickets to 300 participants of the zombie walk, and then giving away more through genre co-sponsors like DreadCentral.com, the party creates an exclusive-to-fans vibe. Not everyone will get in, but those who do will be able to mingle with horror personalities and get a chance to feel important.

So is SDCC a tale of two cons – or maybe two and a half? Has it become too much for the famous, or is it still for the fans? To answer the question, we reached out to some trusted nerds and Con regulars for their take.

Adam Green (“Holliston,” “Hatchet”):
"If my name is on that list and I can’t bring in friends that aren’t, I won’t go.  That’s where Comic-Con starts to get a little disgusting to me. One of the things I’m most proud of is the ‘Con of the Dead’ party – FEARnet and Dark Sky Films are doing everything they can to make sure fans get tickets … so that it won’t just be a bunch of people that see each other in the business.

You’re there for the fans … why do you need every agent and manager from Hollywood in there to drink their free drinks? Get the fans in there; that’s how you’re going to sell your product and make those relationships."

Sam Witwer (“Being Human,” “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”):
"The parties for me are just, ‘I can see people that I haven’t seen for a while’ … that has nothing to do with any kind of weird elitism or anything. There are people there you have relationships with. They congregate at these parties. I don’t like the loud music, I don’t like all the fancy stuff about it, but I like seeing the people."

Morgan Spurlock (“Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope,” "Super Size Me"):
"I meet people who end up getting into parties all the time. I think if you’re somebody who can get your hustle on, you can get into a lot of things. … As a geek, as a fan, to get to meet people that you idolize and put up on some sort of pedestal is fantastic."

Deborah Ann Woll (“True Blood”):
"I think part of the fun of Comic-Con is it’s an opportunity for the fans to become involved in what would usually feel like an insider, entertainment-industry world. It does feel like, sometimes there are the two worlds – but then there are people like me who are actually part of both worlds and actually prefer the geek world. I don’t go to any of the parties, really. I’ve never been very comfortable at parties, so I much prefer the panels and dressing up in costume."

LeVar Burton (“Star Trek: The Next Generation”):
"It’s less about the fan experience. The marketing machinery of Hollywood is really the engine driving the train in San Diego now (and I understand the same is true of Jacob Javits Center at New York Comic-Con). Look, I believe in the free market economy and I get that Hollywood has finally recognized the value that fan culture, and specifically geek culture, represents to them, in terms of a demographic that they can market to. And unfortunately, it’s an atmosphere and an environment that isn’t as much fun as a fan-run convention. But I try and make every encounter with a fan a positive one because that’s just my point of view on being a celebrity."

Bruce Campbell (“Burn Notice,” “The Evil Dead”):
"The entire city of Los Angeles empties out for Comic-Con. They’re just conducting show business that’s around some other kind of crazy theme. It’s a way for studios to see if people are really interested.

And then, on the geek side, if you will, they can still have a ball because they get to see everything bigger than life. They get to see movie stars talking about [some stuff]. They get to see more now than they ever did. … I do think it’s too commercial now because Hollywood has muscled into our little convention world and started elbowing us in the face. And I’m like, ‘Hey, why don’t you eat it, man? … Sometimes it just takes a little bit of the fun out of it."

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Filed under: Comic-Con 2012 • Fandom
soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. Sudhansusekhar

    If I were to go back to China you know what my real reason would be? pkuimn yummy yum yum, good bubble tea, and juice lady! and fried banana and condensed milk. and random instrument sellers on the corner. oh yeah. and you.

    September 12, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
  2. Barzoomian

    I am so glad that Necronomicon in Florida is still running without all the Hollywood style shenanigans. This convention remains true to Con Culture.

    July 25, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  3. Julie S.

    I remember before Hollywood came, the artists were the center of attention, in the middle of the convention floor. That's when we only had 70,000 people, and anyone could buy a ticket at the door.

    Hollywood was told to limit their wares to ONLY comic book related & Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror this year, so it was much more enjoyable. The Walking Dead thing at Petco Park was actually quite fun, Wallkers vs. Survivors.

    Artist's Alley, we are still there – just on the Far Side of the Moon (East Wall). And fans actually enjoyed being there, and able to breathe.

    July 24, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • Leo

      I wonder if Mr. Peckman is aware that the one pesorn who can do something about issues like glass in the street, people throwing things at cyclists, and cars racing around streets thereby making streets more bike friendly and encouraging people to get out from behind the wheel is THE MAYOR. He seems to feel that these problems will always exist and are completely unaddressable. I wonder what he imagines being in charge of as mayor?Maybe I\'m just naive; maybe the simple task of changing the electromagnetic characteristics of the city/region will make more challenging tasks like street sweeping and enforcement of traffic code more achievable. I better go find my box of foil so I can help.

      December 19, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
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  7. PowertothePeople

    Ignore the celebs and hollywood and they will go away – one hopes.

    July 17, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  8. spaceaudiobooks

    LeVar is just awesome.

    July 17, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  9. Solo

    A true example of a "trade show" that does not need to exist. When you've got Daniel Tosh showing up with his brand of jokes just to be some sort of entertainment, it's time to shut it down.

    July 17, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • Geminius

      I completely agree, Solo.

      July 18, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  10. Khan

    This event will now be referred to as the SDCK – The San Diego Comic Khan!!

    July 17, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • TheWrathOf

      KHAAAAAAAAN!!!!!

      <KHAaaaaan!!!<

      July 24, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  11. jtkist

    Heading to New York Comic Con in October, I wonder if the "craziness" everyone is speaking of will be there as well.

    July 17, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  12. Trekkie

    I love comiccon but something has to be done about the nerd bashers who wait near the entrance.

    July 16, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Just sayin'

      It's a free country.

      July 16, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
    • Dakota

      You're going to be at Comic-Con? Sweet, so are we! Its such a small, intimate con I'm sure we'll run into each other. *wink*Diana's got a table so we'll be haignng out there.

      November 16, 2012 at 1:26 am |
  13. Kari

    I went to Comic Con once. I will never go again. It's so not fan-centered. It's extremely commercial and everyone is crammed into one convention center.

    I have one big Con I go to – Dragon*Con – every year and every year I'm extremely happy that I went. It's much more fan friendly (except for the lady who runs the autograph lines for the SG franchise – although she's gotten better over the years).

    Please, Hollywood, stay out.

    July 16, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • Kosh

      What's bad is, I know exactly which "lady" you're talking about. She doesn't just handle SG, she also does BSG, some Buffy, as well as some B5. The others from B5 won't even speak to her, because she's so rude. It's been going on for at least the last five years that I know of.

      July 16, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
      • LillyHobbs

        Hi Kosh Good to see you again. I remember so well the night you died.

        July 17, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
  14. The Truth

    The problem is not Hollywood getting into the action. The problem is Hollywood abusing the situation to market things that have no relevance in the convention's purpose. Comic Con was founded as a convention for comic books and through extension things related to comic books, like movies or games based on a comic book. Through the years it incoporated other genres of comic book like fantasy and sci-fi.

    Now it has things that make no sense for this type of convention for instance: Dexter, The Expenables 2, Breaking Bad and Glee. Hollywood does not need to quit but needs to scale back and only put relevant things in the convention. Hollywood can always hold a Movie Con or TV Con whenever they want to. At this point they might as well put in a Two and a Half Men panel at a Star Trek Convention.

    July 16, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • kake79

      Haha! I said the exact same thing to my friend this morning. Comic-Con has become too big at this point. They need to scale back to, as you say, comics, sci-fi, and fantasy and then have separate cons for movies and tv. I'm sure there would be enough interest to support large cons for those in addition to Comic-Con.

      July 16, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
      • chrissypoo

        If the con did that, there would be just 4,000 people attending. Whine all you want, but those who attend comic-con has spoken and they like what they see. As for the Hollywood parties, they have been going on for at least 7 years.

        July 16, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
      • The Truth

        Chrissypoo, Comic Con hit 4,000 back in the 70's. Before it became a Hollywood show it was bringing in tens of thousands. The crowds are not coming just to see a tv show panel, most are coming to see the actual convention. If you take away all the nonrelated Hollywood shows and movies the people will still come, except for probably the Glee fans.

        The Philadelphia Flow Show brings in about 250,000 people each year. There is no Hollywood, no celebs, just flowers bringing in the people.

        July 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
      • The Truth

        Flow should be Flower

        July 17, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  15. Curmudgeon

    Probably the best way to have a good time at SDCC these days is to become part of a famous person's posse. No need to have actually done anything in the business, just get a seat in that limo and stay close to your star so the doors of the inner sanctums open magically wherever you go. Any stars in need of an extra coat holder please reply off-line. I'm available.

    July 16, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • kake79

      Did you see Nathan Fillion's little brown coat posse? He found four fans (dressed as Wash, Zoe, Kaylee, and Jayne) that had been shut out because (he said) Comic-Con had oversold by 20,000 tickets (in case someone didn't show up) so he just told people they were with him. *LOL*

      July 16, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
      • eee

        And that's why fans continue to love Nathan Fillion.

        July 16, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
      • jimdog33

        Nathan Fillion's still got juice!

        July 16, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • Curmudgeon

      Actually, stars, go ahead and reply directly on this site. I won't quibble.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
      • Vincent

        Hmm, you would think guys who have very little to offer in the way of what tnliitdoraaly attracts a woman would be a little bit more forgiving in the looks department. I mean, I won't lie, I'm not thin, no amount of starving will solve that. I have a disorder called polycystic ovarian syndrome and it sucks dick but that generally hasn't stopped men from being interested in me. It seems to be mostly the guys I most like, the nerdy guys, who are most turned off by it.

        November 16, 2012 at 2:59 am |
  16. wrenthefaceless

    Bruce, you sum up my feelings about Comic Con exactly, its too....Hollywood and mainstream now. Its more of a giant commercial than a place for fans to gather.

    July 16, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • Pankaj

      suryalinaten10 on August 2, 2010 YES SHAWN AND GUS ARE SOOOO MARRIED.They're totally like Turk and JD. This Tabitha or Tami or whtvaeer has no chance!

      October 13, 2012 at 12:51 am |
      • Yuli

        Wow, ComicCon! If you've never been it will be an experience! Have attdened three or four times as a fan. And every time it was more and more crowded. With the football plus sized vendors area, it will make your brain go numb the first time. lol. Wait till you see the schedule and all the stuff on all at the same time you won't be able to see. Heh heh. (I hate that!)Last time I went got super lucky and they'd had the Torchwood cast, Dr Who peeps, Steven Moffat, Stargate SG-1 peeps (first appearance by the Colonel there ever!), Bones, Jeremy Piven, and more. Fan geek heaven!Hope you have a blast!

        November 14, 2012 at 4:45 am |