by Lorne Caplan
Director of Content
San Diego's sophistication and civility is juxtaposed against comics mayhem
Romance, passion and intimacy are alive and well at this years Comic-con. The city continues to boast one of the largest, if not THE largest comic conventions in the world and it does it with a sophistication and civility that belies what's reflected on the covers of many of the graphic novels, comics, books, movies, television, online media and other outlets at the event.
Primarily driven by the fans themselves, you can feel and see the passion of these people, for the actors, illustrators, writers and all those who make their fantasy worlds come true. Young children dressed in Ewok costumes walk hand-in-hand with their parents and think nothing of passing by a buxom Steam-punk wench, over-sexed Power Girl or any number of close to Hantei manga cos-players. It is all for a good time with an understanding that whether the character is PG or XXX, the lines would not be crossed and everyone's morality would not be forced on someone else or over-stepped. Wouldn't it be nice if society as a whole operated on the laissez-faire code of conduct without imposing someone else's view on anyone else? Ah, but I digress!
In order to get a sense of how important this convention is to the city, all you need to do is visit the Gaslight district in downtown San Diego while the convention is going on. You'll find the usual corporate suspects promoting their programming like a new season of Grimm taking over a city block, or a park that has been converted into a promotion for the new Tim Burton film about to be released "Frankenweenie". A large bust of Finn the human is inflated and omnipresent on top of one low rise building and various storefronts and lots have also been taken over by Dodge, Yahoo and other corporate outlets to get in on the action.
Huge, polite crowds reveling in the chance to escape the "dailies"
While there have been some reports of people snatching posters out of the hands of little kids, for the most part, the Comic-con has been an orderly expression of fan-dom. People are lining up around multiple 40x40 booths for over an hour to get a chance at buying branded merchandise for Nickleodeon, The Hobbit, BBC's hit shows Dr. Who and Sherlock among many others. Why they do, to get a pin, a foam or cardboard hat or poster, is beyond most non comic fan types, but if you could see and feel the passion of these people, you would understand. This is their escapism from daily life. It is a way to express themselves, to be part of a community and to show their expertise in an area that invites those in, as opposed to excluding them as so many of our institutions and attitudes do in the real world that we live in.
Security has certainly been beefed-up this year, with individual companies hiring their own security firms as well as those employed by the convention center and the police force of San Diego proper. Sure, there are the usual empowered types who find a new strength in barking orders to stay off the walls, "don't lean on the staircases", exit this way or that, no entry etc... but overall, the flow and ability to fit as many of the thousands of people into the hundreds of artist, character, company and other sessions, seems to have gone well, including the overflow capacity crowds that came to see such fantasy, film and media luminaries as Tim Burton speak in the large capacity (between 6,500 and 7,000) Hall H of the convention center.
There was plenty of self-expression on site as well, including the usual dooms-dayer Jesus Christ fanatics using Baptist religious preachers screaming for salvation at the top of their lungs to those dressed in Batman costumes, as well as the placard holding religious fanatics trying to scare Comic-con attendees with threats of damnation and hellfire while scores of scantily clad Iron Sky "Babe Army" members walk by with Hellboy and various other trolls, demons and friends of Satin close at hand.
That counter-culture and joyful, good-natured self expression is exactly the kind of feeling you get when attending this event. People run up out of nowhere to hug you, if you are a couple of trolls and the story-line calls for it. Strangers making friends, chatting about a common interest and despite plenty of jostling for space, bumping and some shoving, very little anger, hostility and commotion. All you had to do was ride the special event trolley from points outside of Mission Valley to see and feel the anticipation about another day at the Comic-con. It was a delight when you compare it to the daily grind of trying to cram onto a commuter hour subway train in New York City. These people were happy to offer up seats, help repair costumes that might come unhinged and on one occasion this author was storing his bags before taking a flight and a stranger offered to pay the $2 cash that I didn't have. I can't say enough good things about these people and frankly, it should be Comic-con every day. The world would be much better off if it was.
Serious issues debated at the Comic-con as well
Despite the carnival-like, light-hearted atmosphere, there was plenty of time to discuss legal, fan and competitive issues that impact the industry. One particular area of concern was the recent confiscation of manga by Canadian border customs and control. The bizarre activity continued when a man was arrested for having manga on his computer. He was finally released in May of 2012 and will not face any criminal charges thanks to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. "Brandon X" was accused of having child porn on his computer and all someone has to believe is that it is child porn to them. Comics have been seized before in Canada under the same law and as ridiculous as this seems, especially for the tolerant country above our Northern border, the comic industry has taken notice and is concerned that many other titles may face the same banning by this flimsy law.
Certainly, there is plenty of pushing the envelope when considering the aggressive, hyper-sexuality of most of the female characters presented at the Comic-con. This issue has been covered by me before and won't change anytime soon. Not that it has to, as readers of these titles are perfectly happy with their heroes. However, we have seen these genres change many times over the past 100 years and will see them change again as both legal and reader issues impact the comic community.
Some adult content was visible on the show floor and while this may be objectionable to some, the general consensus was that you as a reader will consume what you want to. If you don't want to read Hentai, then don't. If you don't want to read an erotic graphic novel, then put it down. of course, there were plenty of sexy cos-players about, augmented by some corporate promotions that used the stereotypical babes in bikinis like Cnet and the Iron Sky Babes. Short of any judgement, if the Bible thumpers could be out, then why not the party girls. A culture that promotes characters such as Jersey Shore's "Snooki" needn't be concerned about a little skin when so many reality television stars can barely string a sentence together!