If you read comics blogs at all (I do not quite qualify this here site as a “comics blog” because it is so, so much more than that, he said modestly) you know that this upcoming weekend is the San Diego Comic Convention, nerdvana for the masses, and that every comics blogger who is any sort of comics blogger goes to San Diego, and yadda yadda yadda. Naturally, a bunch of people have asked me if I am going to San Diego.
The answer is as it always is: “of course not.” There are myriad reasons for this. Some of them apply specifically to the SDCC (like, for starters, it is in San Diego, which is far the fuck away). Some of them generically apply to everything (like, for example, that I am one broke-ass member of the blogging persuasion). But there are also a bunch of things that are specific to comics conventions that make me not want to go to them.
1.) I don’t like the fan-pro interaction at cons. This might sound weird, but bear with me.
A couple of years ago, I am in Dangerous Dan’s, a somewhat notorious burger joint, when Jim Cuddy from Blue Rodeo walks in. (One of the benefits of living in Toronto: lots of Canadian celebrity run-ins.) I, being a huge Blue Rodeo fan, am torn between my wish to talk to him and my respecting his privacy. Finally, when it becomes apparent that he, like me, is just standing around waiting for a takeout burger, I finally apologize for bothering him in the same breath as I ask him a question about Five Days In July. (This is a technique which requires some mastery, but once you combine self-effacing delivery with probing questioning, you can go far with it.) And, because he is Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo and therefore awesome, we talk for about five minutes about the album until our burgers show up.
I mention this because that, to me, is how ideally fan/pro interactions should be: on a mostly equal basis. (People dis the internet for sorta-anonymity allowing one to act like a fuckwad, but the things I read online when pros interact with fans are almost always more interesting than what you hear “in real life” at cons.) I like talking with professionals I admire, but the atmosphere of conventions – where, all too often, professionals (who nonetheless try to be polite about it, don’t get me wrong) exude an air of “this time is part of the job” – just makes me feel uncomfortable. Never mind that unless you aggressively invade private space (like I did in the above example, let’s be honest) you’re not really going to get to ask much anyway; most of the time you get your one question at a panel or your thirty seconds during a signing and that’s that. And invading private space at a con is considered bad manners because the pros need their Alone Time to get the smell of fans off them.
2.) I don’t buy single issues. Well, nothing except old back issues of Legion of Super-Heroes, anyway, and at this point the internet has turned collecting into sort of a beginner level challenge.
(There’s a great old Doonesbury strip where Jimmy Thudpucker, the super-rich rock star, tells his wife he has taken up stamp collecting – then calls a stamp dealer, asks for a complete run of Monaco stamps, hangs up the phone and says “well, that was fun. I guess I’ll do Morocco next.” The internet, and eBay in particular, have essentially turned us all into Jimmy Thudpucker.)
Let’s be honest: cons offer two main attractions, namely the opportunity to schmooze and the opportunity to shop. If you don’t buy single issues, though, there isn’t much point to shopping at a convention, because it’s mostly available at retail or via the intertubes. (Especially for me, because I live in a city with fucking great comics stores, where I can get practically anything I’ve ever heard of – and a ton of stuff I haven’t – at a decent price.) And it’s hard to find enough good deals at any convention to justify the pricetag of entry if you aren’t into singles.
3.) I don’t buy tschotkes either. Hey, no question, cons are great for silly novelty crap. I just don’t, you know, want any of it. I have no need for a stuffed plush Ambush Bug that glows in the dark, or a neon beer sign that says “BAMF Lite,” or anything with Spawn on it. (You could offer me a free car with the Spawn logo on it and I would probably turn it down.) And artists signing things? I have never in my life given a shit about something being signed because I long ago realized that an autograph didn’t really mean a damn thing to me. So…
4.) The smell. JESUS FUCKING CHRIST PEOPLE. Seriously, what is it about nerd cons that make people stop showering?
5.) You’re not going to learn anything really illuminating at the panels. Every panel I have ever attended can be boiled down into one of three categories:
9:00: You’re a Retard And You Think You Have A Future In Comics So Here Are Some Really Basic Baby Steps You’ll Probably Ignore Anyway
9:45: Hey, Remember That Old Comic We Did? Want To Hear Some Rambling, Only Intermittently Entertaining Stories About It?
10:30: Big Comics Company Wants You To Hear About Its Exciting Upcoming Projects! Guaranteed To Be As Exciting As Any Marketing Initiative Has Ever Been!
This isn’t the fault of the participants, who are almost always polite and typically want to give the best possible performance they can. But comic creators aren’t stand-up comedians or even good lecturers, for the most part. And the material is inevitably only marginally informative; it’s the nature of the beast. (I mean, consider how useful a Learning Annex class is, then knock it down to about one-twentieth its helpfulness value and you’re about at the level of a con panel.)
6.) There are better places to hang out with friends you don’t see often. Like a titty bar, for example. (You sneer, but come on: the average titty bar is probably more respectful of women than the average comic convention. Plus they’ll have beer, and usually also Buffalo wings.) Or a sporting event. (Baseball is great for this sort of thing, because you can watch the game and still have a decent conversation through the whole thing and nobody thinks that’s weird. Plus, again: beer.) Or a casino. (Which at least offers the illusion of profiting off meeting with your friends. Also, the beer is free!)
7.) People dressed up in superhero costumes are inherently creepy. I am not wrong about this.
8.) The increasing prevalence of cynical media types trying to exploit your fannish interests in order to promote their product. You know the drill. Patronizing appearance by a Hollywood celebrity or six, all insisting that they love comics and that they were big nerds in high school, and how their favorite superhero when they were growing up was the Green Wolverine. (Memo to all nerds: even when Jessica Alba was seventeen, she still wouldn’t have talked to you.) Four-minute glimpse of a trailer that’s going to be on the internet a day later (and with better image quality) that you can’t hear anyway because the assholes in front feel the need to scream “WHOOOOO IRON MAN” or whatever. Someone very rich in a very nice suit explaining how they want to be “good to the fans,” then leaving before they touch him or something. Come on: don’t you just want to punch all of these people in the face repeatedly? And then the security guards act like it’s your fault.
So, to sum up: no cons for me. At least not until I am rich and famous, at which point I will cynically exploit them and all of you in order to advance my own social standing. But I’ll be genuine about it, so you’ll all be grateful for me keeping it real.
(DISCLAIMER: One thing I do like about cons is the opportunity for sketches, which are about the only thing cons offer on a timely and reasonable basis that you can’t easily get elsewhere. And I love single-character dedicated sketchbooks where the owner has sketches of the same character by different artists over and over again, like Kevin Church’s J. Jonah Jameson sketchbook, and I think that’s awesome. If I ever had the time to go to cons, I would totally start a Brainiac Five sketchbook.)