KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando spoke with veteran exhibitors last year about the changes they have seen at Comic-Con over the years.
Related Story: Video: Exhibitors Talk About Comic-Con
HOST INTRO: Comic-Con, which begins tomorrow, has capped attendance at 130,000 for the last few years. It also has to limit the number of dealers and artists who have booths on the exhibit floor to about a thousand with at least a 3-year waiting period to get in. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando spoke last year to veteran exhibitors to get a view from inside the booths.
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TAG: Comic-Con kicks off tonight with preview night and officially runs Thursday through Sunday at the San Diego Convention Center.
From inside their booths or behind their tables, exhibitors at Comic-Con have seen a lot of changes. Ira Hunter has been inspired by his experiences at Comic-Con as he’s moved up from a small press table to a booth selling his comics, t-shirts, and original art.
IRA HUNTER: I came here in 1999, the first year I remember I came it was 30,000 people, biggest one in the world, and I had sensory overload then so you can imagine 13 years later it’s just grown and grown and grown.
KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando spoke with veteran dealers last year to provide this portrait of Comic-Con from inside the booth.
CLIP: Attention exhibitors…
The exhibit hall at Comic-Con is a quarter-mile long with enough nooks and crannies to keep an intrepid pop culture explorer busy for days. You can find vintage comic books selling for thousands of dollars, Yoda ears for your dog as well as original art depicting everything from little vampires to zombie Jesus. Hollywood may have the flashiest booths but the heart and soul of the exhibit floor are the smaller dealers. Some, like cartoonist Rick Geary, have been coming for decades.
RICK GEARY: The crowds have changed remarkably over the years from back in the early days at the El Cortez Hotel when it was mostly white and male crowds and now it’s everyone, every age group, and race, creed, color, gender, you can imagine…. I haven’t noticed any crowds are drawn away from traditional comics and art, I think this is large enough to accommodate everyone.
Ira Hunter is the creator of Champions of Hell and Zombie Jesus. He remembers coming in 1999 when attendance was a quarter of what it is today, and Hollywood wasn’t as dominant a presence..
IRA HUNTER: Back then no one from Hollywood wanted to touch anything to do with comic books and now it’s switched over and Hollywood’s taking over but at the end of it, the Convention Center did grow by twice as large so there probably is still the same amount of space for comic books as there was it just doesn’t seem like it.
Brad Sloane of Terry’s Comics says fan enthusiasm for comics remains steady.
BRAD SLOANE: We get fans here that are so wound up about comics, even if they are buying a $5 book, they’re so excited to get it and you can’t take the passion away from comic book owners.
But he says that most vintage comic book dealers would like to see Comic-Con split into two different conventions.
BRAD SLOANE: Let’s go back to comic book related convention and let’s do a media and the movies too just split it up and let us have an old fashioned comic fest and I think we’d all be happy.
Exhibitors like Sandra Chang-Adair of Banzai Chicks have simply learned to adapt.
SANDRA CHANG-ADAIR: So what I did is I actually tried to shift and do something that was cutesy and more for like girls, so my art work changed a little bit. I noticed that when I started making jewelry that I was getting a lot more sales. So I noticed selling comics at $3 and you’re paying $1.50 for printing, you’re not making a lot of money. But if you make handmade jewelry where your costs are less you can actually make a little more.
Rebecca Hicks creates the web comic Little Vampires. She says that both demographics and buying habits are changing.
REBECCA HICKS: I do think indie comics and original art work are not nearly as popular as they were like let’s say the late 90s, early 2000s.
Her approach is to make sure she has something new at each convention and that she doesn’t just sit in her booth waiting for attendees to come to her.
REBECCA HICKS: You gotta work it at this show and if you work it, I believe, it pays off.
Hollywood also impacts the show by providing massive amounts of promo items or free swag, says Chang-Adair.
SANDRA CHANG-ADAIR: I think a lot of people are looking for freebies and so when big companies are giving away like I think Fringe gave away Fedoras, I mean you can’t compete with that.
Illustrator Paul Wee says you also have to factor in the economy.
PAUL WEE: I think people are a little more hesitant to spend a lot of money nowadays, so they want to get a lot of swag. So a lot of business cards and postcards get taken but they aren’t willing to drop a lot of money.
Small press tables are $400 and a basic booth starts at about $2000 if you pay a year in advance. Dealers hesitate to give up a space even in tough economic times says Chang-Adair.
SANDRA CHANG-ADAIR: There’s a seven year wait on these tables, we’re definitely coming back.
And attendees should definitely explore Artists Alley, Small Press, and the exhibit space at the opposite end of the convention floor from Hollywood and Hall H.
Beth Accomando, KPBS News.