Last Saturday was my first time going to a for-profit fan convention; my previous experiences have been with comic book conventions as exhibitor support, most notably (and for more than 20 years) Comic-Con.
As anyone who’s been there lately knows, Comic-Con has evolved from a regional comic book show into a pop culture powerhouse. The press of the massive crowd and the should-be-simple logistics of lodging and transportation drive me so insane that I refuse to go there any longer, and yet you still only have to say “hoteloween” or “ACE parking permit” to get my blood pressure up.
It might seem that Comic-Con is a better deal for the all-around fan than Creation Con. At Comic Con, for one base price, you get access to all the panels; a huge exhibitor floor, many of them offering exclusives and give-aways; a veritable army of cosplayers; and the opportunity to see your favorite actors as they have a few drinks or rush over to a free signing. It sure sounds nice, but the reality has an ugly side. You can get trampled if you accidentally find yourself near a booth that’s just put up a new exclusive item, hotel rooms in the vicinity book out in minutes with only a fraction of fans being able to book them, and there are lines for everything, with no promise of anything. For instance, if you want to get an autograph, you have to get in line to enter a lottery, so you better not have your heart set too hard on meeting any specific actor.
And the line for Hall H — the biggest hall in the convention center, which features the most popular panels — has become so mind-bogglingly long it is now a regular annual news story. You can get into the line, sure, but there is no guarantee you will ever get into the hall; it can only accommodate about 5% of the attendees at any one time. And if you do get in to any panel, you’ll find it already packed with people who are parking themselves there for the day. At that 2008 convention, I went to the Jim Butcher panel (in another convention room, thus a smaller one with less of a wait). While it seemed most of his fans got in to that 3 pm event, the front of the room were all taken up with DragonBall Z fans, who spent their time texting each other. The few of us who’d made it in to see the writer, including two super-fans dressed as Harry Dresden, had to wade through them if they wanted to go up and ask a question. Given that so many don’t get what they wanted, the whining gets off the charts.
The Creation Con Supernatural San Francisco show, on the other hand, had a basic price ($50) for a single day general admission to all the panels — which were (obviously) specific to a single TV show and in a smaller single hall. There were upcharges for almost everything else. It cost more to have a reserved seat in the center sections; more on top of that to get closer seats, culminating in $869 for 3 days of being able to sit in the front row. To get a photograph with the actors (singly or in a set) cost between $50-$299 per star; autographs were $20-$99 with you providing the material to be signed; and several private “meet-and-greet” opportunities were available for only 20 at a time and cost about $200.
In my opinion, having access priced out seemed far more pleasant to me than having to fight for such a scarce resource, or finding myself in the midst of such mayhem. The Supernatural convention was specialized, but everyone who came was guaranteed a seat. General seating on either side, plus video screens, gave us all we needed to enjoy the show, but if I go again, I’d be willing to spring another $20 to have a seat that I can count on finding instead of having to look for a free space.
Those who bought in to the premium access to the actors got far more than a grip-and-grin or a glassy eyed “how are ya?”. I saw some of the pictures which came out of the picture sessions and care had obviously been taken to capture personality and interaction between fan and star. The “high-rollers” in the front rows got extra attention (and better photographs) and could sleep in before the show started rather than sitting on a sidewalk all night for their primo spot. And since the meet-and-greets also had limited availability to the first 20 to purchase the time, they were a personalized experience as well.
In my opinion, it made for a happier show and a better experience. I suspect Comic Con remains non-profit just so the comic book dealers who used to be the backbone of the show can still afford to go, because (given that there is a years-long wait list for exhibitor space) we’d certainly be priced out at market rates. But the people who are there to see the entertainment previews are now the majority, and the most enthusiastic. Were Comic Con to sell reserved seats for its panels, they would certainly find buyers; and they could still keep a general seating section for those who prefer to pay with time rather than money to see a studio promotion and its actors. And with the seats changing for each panel, the permanent parkers wouldn’t be taking the spaces for the fans specific to a particular promotion. It may be anathema to the masochistic “culture” that has sprung up within the infrastructure struggles of Comic-Con, but it’s a saner way to serve a fan-base.