Vendors shift approach, bracing for less consumption

Packed panels and overbooked star appearances made Comic-con appear nearly recession-proof.

But while film and TV-related events seemed as frenetic as ever, comicbook and merchandising booths were showing a bit of economy-induced strain.

If anything, the recession created a Comic-Con of haves and have-nots, with definite schisms apparent in the crowding and excitement — and even how well the air conditioning worked. Some comicbook dealers looked bored, with many billing their wares at 50% off. Elsewhere, aisles closed due to logjams stemming from simultaneous “24” and “The Big Bang Theory” autograph sessions — available, of course, for free.

“Last year was our best year to date,” said Glenn Pogue of Super7, a San Francisco company that sells “lifestyle toys for the geek set” such as nine-inch orange vinyl monsters at $325 each.

“For the few days so far, we are hitting our numbers. But we did not expect that to be the case,” he said. “We were bracing for a Comic-Con that was a lot lighter in sales.”

However, in a sign of the times, one fan declared himself a new superhero by wearing a T-shirt with a sheet of paper stapled to it that read: “Budget Man.” And despite long, snaking hotel checkout lines of attendees clutching bags of merchandise purchased on the show floor, reality had a way of intruding on their pop-culture obsessions.

“Instead of buying everything in sight, people this year have lists and a budget. I have never seen that before at Comic-Con,” said Frank Kozik, who has brought his designer toys and vinyl bunnies to the Con for five years.

“I had tremendous growth over the first four years, and last year was insane,” he said. “My company sales are strong and normal, but I knew it would be weak (at Comic-Con) this year. I prepared by bring more exclusive product, bringing less people and having a small booth. We will still see a profit; it will just be smaller revenue.”

Meanwhile, some fans were willing to stand in line for three hours to buy exclusive toys from Hasbro and Mattel. Fanboy Joe Ries, an 11-year-Comic-Con vet, said: “People don’t want the everyday stuff, but the high-end collectibles or exclusives. They don’t care about random T-shirts.”

(Susanne Ault, Brian Lowry and Marc Graser contributed to this report.)

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