I submitted the following for my nonfiction assignment of the week, but I think it’s a nice contrast to me going on about more serious (to me) subjects. At the very least, I needed the change of pace…
My sister wants to go to Comic-Con. The one who couldn’t sit through a single episode of Firefly, complained through all of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and doesn’t know the difference between Marvel and DC. But she wants to go to Comic-Con.
“Can you even name the Star Wars movies—in order?” I asked her between fits of laughter. What you’re about to hear may be extremely disturbing.
She stuttered and fumbled for a moment, then began, “The first one…the second one…Return of the Jedi—uh, something, the one with the Ewoks—um, Revenge of the Jedi. I don’t know. Like I’m supposed to know any of that!”
Now I’m obligated through family to love her and ignore the fact that my soul is bleeding through any of the offensive wounds above, but what really makes me facepalm is I can’t talk her out of this. I’ve tried. I’ve explained what to expect, and the kind of people who go to cons—even the really scary nerd stereotypes that you think you won’t see until you do and then you will never unsee, or unsmell. People with her interests go to California for places such as Beverly Hills. People like me go to California for Comic-Con.
In August of 2008, I almost didn’t go to Otakon. There was the question of travel—not only between Virginia and Maryland, but into Baltimore as well—and at the whopping age of 19 the most I could get out of my parents were the rights of someone 13—God forbid after having been away at college for an entire year I go somewhere where I might stay out past sunset. However, after having spent the summer not-finding a job in an economy making a turn for the worse and sitting around with nothing better to do, I managed to convince my parents to grant me some manner of fun.
But there I stood in the lesser heat of Maryland’s August. Facing the direct shade-less, concrete walls of the Baltimore Convention Center, I knew I’d been led into the Promised Land. Before, I was thrilled to learn there were even five people like me. By the end of a weekend I mingled with over 26,000.
Previously, conventions were something I’d only heard about on TV. It seemed to only be a trait of the West Coast far, far away. When I learned there was not only a convention on the East Coast, but it was also the largest anime convention on the East Coast—and relatively close to me—I didn’t want to not-go. I didn’t want the rooms big enough to land jumbo jets, the thousands of thousands of people, the merchandise, the games, the panels, and more to exist only in someone else’s description.
According to the Baltimore Business Journal, “In 2009, [Otakon] brought in $12.5 million in direct spending and drew 26,600 attendees, according to the city’s tourism office.” In 2010, Otakon raked in $15.3 million. The last three years have seen over 26,000 attendees, making it the largest anime convention on the East Coast, second largest anime convention overall, and the third largest convention in the United States behind Anime Expo and Comic-Con. Since moving to the Baltimore Convention Center 1999, it has been the city’s largest hosted convention.[i]
From 2007-2009, it was the single greatest source of revenue for the City of Baltimore—including the Ravens and Orioles.[ii] In the interests of professionalism I will not take time to be my usual self and say, “Suck it, sports fans.”
However, in 2008 all I saw was the line of people wrapping around the entire convention center—people outside much longer than my late-coming self. In 2009, I stood in that line before eight in the morning as it wrapped around the entire Convention Center twice (I stood in a not-as-climactic wiggle for 2010 while everyone who didn’t get their badges the night before wrapped around the Convention Center). I stood amongst the cosplay and even recognized some of the characters portrayed. People dressed as Ash and Misty still today? As I discovered, a few staples of the geek world are always required, including your Mario Parties.
That first year, the moment when I discovered the fabled Dealer’s Room, the one large enough to hold a jumbo jet, and saw the wall-to-wall rows of tables and tables of stuff, was the first moment in my life that I truly loved shopping in the same manner as every other girl. The next year, I played it smarter and made a list.
Maybe Otakon is the Promised Land, but every good geek knows Comic-Con is something greater. If not Heaven on Earth, then at least the Mecca, Canterbury, Jerusalem, and the final resting place of a very large Holy Grail. For someone like me to travel to Comic-Con must be akin to a mountaineer scaling Everest—compare the brutality of climbing Everest to the financial costs of investing in a trip to Comic-Con. I could go to Vegas and spend less, let’s put it that way.
Like anyone protective of their holy relics, my sister’s unconventional declaration raised as much shock as it did outright cackles of ridiculousness. Geeks have but so few places to go safe from the forced swirlies and locker-stuffings of the rest of the world. I mean, I’d heard rising complaints through the internet that Comic-Con was bringing in more and more Others—but if the people that snub and dismiss you the other 360-something days of the year suddenly want to hang out in the same place, would you be all “with arms wide open?” I bet you’d be thinking, “It’s a trap!” too. Sure, the 2000s have been the Decade of the Geek with the advent of mainstream hits such as Lord of the Rings, Batman Begins, the Dark Knight, Iron Man/2, and plenty of things in-between and after previously associated with us, and considered only appropriate for us. Hollywood discovered the bank mu-lah to be made if you produce the material right—instead of textual complexity, make it visually engaging, or summarize decades of dense continuity with singular Box Office home runs—and the walls have been chipped at ever since.
I can only imagine the occurring shitstorm over the year Comic-Con first hosted Twilight stuff. Think about it, the entire science-fiction/fantasy genre is forced to wear that scarlet letter—but I’m sure fiction’s got plenty of equally unglamorous, fiber-less, dinosaur craps it doesn’t have to account for.
Thankfully, that’s not why my sister’s interested. While Comic-Con’s known for hosting guests and panels related to popular TV shows, Big Bang Theory is almost a complete crossover between the geek world and the rest of the world. If anything, it’s re-popularized how okay it is to laugh at the pale, socially awkward, nerd stereotype making up a very, very, very large percent of any convention’s population. As much as I want to go to Comic-Con, I do not want to babysit my sister in my idea of paradise when she (1) realizes that “Sheldon Cooper” isn’t going to whisk her off into the sunset, and (2) discovers she’s an attractive young woman in a convention center full of thousands of “Sheldon and the gang” equivalents, and (by the time Comic-Con comes around) she’ll longer have protection afforded by the term “jailbait.”
While the above begins to resemble a sitcom episode, the big reason is this: Comic-Con is five times the size of Otakon. From 2006 on the San Diego Convention Center has been privy to crowding issues, and seen years where it’s been completely sold out—complete with scalping. Over 130,000 people attended in 2010. According to the North County Times in San Diego, Comic-Con 2011’s Wednesday Night Preview sold out of its 15,000 passes two hours before the 2010 convention ended. Overshadowing Otakon’s $15.3 million revenue in 2010, Comic-Con contributed $163 million to San Diego.[iii] What began as a small expo where a few hundred comic fans showed off their collections in the 70s has grown to be the—and the largest—convention in the United States.[iv] So yeah, as the mature sibling I’m a little concerned about sending my sister across the country to something she might or might not (coughmostlikelycough) be able to enjoy
During one episode of Big Bang Theory, after spending an entire summer in the North Pole on a special, highly classified government-assigned physics study Sheldon laments, “And I missed Comic-Con.”
[i] Bernstein, Rachel. “Otakon and soccer mean big business for Baltimore Read more: Otakon and soccer mean big business for Baltimore | Baltimore Business Journal .” Baltimore Business Journal 30 July 2010: n. pag. Web. 9 Mar 2011. <http://www.bizjournals.com/baltimore/stories/2010/07/26/daily43.html?page=1>.
Proctor, Carolyn M. “Room to Grow.” Baltimore Business Journal 10 Dec. 2010: n. pag. Web. 9 Mar 2011. <http://www.bizjournals.com/baltimore/print-edition/2010/12/10/room-to-grow.html>.
[ii] Same as “i”
[iii] Wolff, Eric. “REGION: Comic-Con sells out 2011 Preview Night before Con ends.” North County Times 26 July 2010: n. pag. Web. 9 Mar 2011. <http://www.nctimes.com/business/article_0dd24a8a-a75d-53ae-a16e-3c0c244d5e0c.html>.
[iv] Rowe, Peter. “Invasion of the Comic Fanatics.” San Diego Union-Tribune 16 July 2006: n. pag. Web. 9 Mar 2011. <http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20060716/news_1n16comicon.html>.