You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Unlike Fans, It’s Past Time for Comic-Con to Grow Up

The massive convention has become about a lot more than comics - and a logistical nightmare

This might be tough news to deliver to a venue full of middle-aged people decked out in full “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” regalia, but it’s time for Comic-Con to grow up — not the attendees, mind you, but the convention itself.

Much of Hollywood will descend on San Diego next week, and the general attitude toward the by-now-obligatory ritual tends to be a mix of excitement and dread. Excitement because Comic-Con International — with 130,000 attendees, many of them colorfully clad and almost all passionate about movies, TV and entertainment — has become the center of the pop-culture universe. It’s a huge promotional opportunity, a giant buzz-creating machine oiled with the sweat (sometimes literally) of the media’s most ardent fans.

The dread part has to do with the logistics of the July gathering, which has become a giant, sprawling mess. And that’s where Comic-Con hasn’t adapted from its roots as a confab with several hundred comic-book collectors in a hotel ballroom into the big-business proposition it currently represents.

Comic-Con is still run by a nonprofit entity, San Diego Comic Convention, which describes its mission statement as “creating awareness of, and appreciation for, comics and related popular artforms, primarily through the presentation of conventions and events that celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution of comics to art and culture.”

Understandably, “making you hate throngs of sweaty people crowding you in line” was omitted from the fine print.

Despite its shortcomings, the event has been getting by on the fidelity of its fan base and the burgeoning popularity of its key genres. As a result, it has outgrown not just many of the ballrooms — where people are packed in like sardines, and hundreds or even thousands sometimes turned away — but the very notion such a sprawling showcase can be organized like a ragtag group of rebel fighters.

Comic-Con needs the military efficiency of a Disney theme park, the organizational rigor of a playoff football game. An entity with larger ambitions and skin in the game, frankly — as opposed to a nonprofit — might be what’s ultimately required.

Instead, the four-day marathon is heavily staffed by volunteers, whose answer to every question generally seems to be either a shrug or simply directing you to go stand in yet another line.

For a convention-goer lacking the wherewithal of Warner Bros. or Sony, Comic-Con can easily become a logistical nightmare. Finding a hotel room within hailing distance of the convention center is always a challenge. The flow of people into and out of major sessions — especially those within the cavernous, 6,500-seat Hall H — is chaotic at best. Food available within the venue is lousy, expensive and the lines are usually long — a rare triple whammy.

Yet Comic-Con has endured and thrived, in part because it’s an annual occurrence. One suspects customers would never stand for it if the whole thing happened more frequently. As a once-a-year pilgrimage, veterans have come to accept these indignities as part of the convention experience — their eagerness trumping the abundant headaches.

The main problem is there’s little incentive to address the problems. The studios probably have the leverage to pressure organizers but have a very specific agenda to promote and don’t really care about the fans as long as they bring their credit cards and dutifully fill the halls.

Just to provide some perspective, this assessment comes from someone who began attending Comic-Con long before anybody paid me to do it, having watched the convention grow from a relatively intimate gathering at the Grant and El Cortez Hotels (the event shifted to the Convention Center in the 1990s) to the massive construct it is today — one where bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 5 freeway is merely a harbinger of the malodorous jostling to come.

As cranky as this diatribe might sound, it’s delivered in the spirit of improving Comic-Con — a plea for a structure worthy of the behemoth into which the 43-year-old enterprise has been transformed.

Until that day comes, if your enthusiasm for Comic-Con begins feeling tested shortly after you set foot inside the convention center, as they say outside Hall H, get in line.

More Film

  • Bob Berney

    Bob Berney to Leave Amazon Studios' Head of Marketing and Distribution Position

    Bob Berney, Amazon Studios’ head of marketing and distribution, is stepping down, Variety has confirmed. Berney was hired by Amazon in 2015 and recently reached the end of his four-year contract. His last day will be Friday. During his time at amazon, the film veteran oversaw a number of successful films including “Manchester by the [...]

  • NEW YORK, NY – JUNE, 24:

    LGBTQ Stars Honored at Variety’s Power of Pride Celebration

    New York City felt the full power of pride on Monday, as Variety celebrated its inaugural issue devoted to the annual recognition of LGBTQ people worldwide. At an intimate gathering at lower east side Manhattan hotel The Orchid, rooftop bar Mr. Purple hosted Variety’s cover stars and luminaries for cocktails and the unveiling of the [...]

  • Joel Silver Exits Silver Pictures

    Joel Silver Exits Silver Pictures

    Top Hollywood producer Joel Silver has exited his production company Silver Pictures, Variety has confirmed. “Joel Silver recently indicated that he intends to leave Silver Pictures and go out on his own,” Hal Sadoff, a former ICM Partners agent who joined Silver Pictures several years ago as CEO, said in a statement. “We are working [...]

  • Billy Eichner Power of Pride Variety

    Billy Eichner on Taylor Swift's 'Calm Down' Backlash

    When Taylor Swift released her “You Need to Calm Down” music video, it seemed like every member of the LGBTQ in Hollywood was included — except for Billy Eichner. “I’m still not gay enough for Taylor Swift — or too gay — I don’t know what it is,” Eichner joked at Variety’s Power of Pride [...]

  • Ewen Bremner as Alan McGee in

    Danny Boyle-Produced ‘Creation Stories’ Adds Jason Isaacs, Steven Berkoff

    Jason Isaacs, Steven Berkoff and a host of other new names have signed on for “Creation Stories,” the film being exec-produced by Danny Boyle about Creation Records co-founder Alan McGee. The producers also unveiled the first shots of Ewen Bremner (“Trainspotting”) as the music mogul. Production is underway on the Irvine Welsh-penned project, with “Lock, [...]

  • 'Annabelle Comes Home' Review: This Grab

    Film Review: 'Annabelle Comes Home'

    In a country that should probably think about renaming itself the American Entertainment State, fan culture now produces an obsessive level of pop scholasticism, one that can parse the rules and details of movies and TV shows as if they were fine points of law. In a review of a horror movie, I once called [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content