Perhaps it’s an understatement to say that Comic-Con International, held annually in San Diego, is the most exciting, influential, and competitive convention of the year—for comics publishers and so many more champions of pop culture.
This year’s Comic-Con will attract thousands of professionals and fans to the San Diego Convention Center—attendance has been capped at 130,000—July 12–15, in the city’s Gaslamp District. Badges and hotel rooms have been sold out for weeks. In fact, this year’s first wave of badges sold out in less than two hours.
“With help from the mayor’s office, the convention center, and hotels themselves, we have been able to secure additional space,” says David Glazner, Comic-Con’s director of marketing and public relations. “This does not mean we have every room, but more than in the past. We have been able to secure additional meeting space at local hotels and even some outdoor space for some fun activities. So while the demand is high, we’re working actively to try to accommodate that demand as much as we can.”
As Comic-Con looms, comics publishers are well aware of that demand, polishing strategies they hope will attract the masses, including the press, although the latter will likely see a drop in attendance by “people who really didn’t qualify,” Glazner says. “Hopefully, we’ll see a more focused group of press.”
To varying degrees, comics publishers are competing for time and space with the film, video game, television, and traditional book publishing industries, not to mention the convention’s scholar-focused Comics Arts Conference, and even Tr!ckster, a “creator-driven” series of events and workshops not affiliated with Comic-Con. Despite all that competition, publishers still find Comic-Con valuable.
“Anytime that you can get 130,000 people who love comics, in an environment where they’re interested in seeing what’s coming out and what new authors there are, that’s invaluable for a publisher,” says Gina Gagliano, assistant director of publicity with First Second Books, Macmillan’s graphic novel imprint. The imprint will be focusing on such fall 2012 releases as Zack Giallongo’s debut graphic novel, Broxo, and Thien Pham’s Sumo, about teen barbarians and sumo wrestling, respectively. She adds that Macmillan will be giving away advance copies of Hope Larson’s graphic adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time and hosting a related panel on the seminal novel of science fiction.
“It is such a big venue for getting attention far beyond what you’re able to get during the other 51 weeks of the year,” says Jeremy Atkins, Dark Horse Comics’ director of public relations. Dark Horse will focus on its emerging and high-interest comics series, including writer Brian Wood’s new series The Massive, and such licensed properties as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Mass Effect. Add to that a big Star Wars announcement—Dark Horse has the license for its comics—about “one of the biggest Star Wars books we’ve ever published.
The big two comics publishers, DC Entertainment and Marvel Entertainment, will be hyping their comics and multimedia tie-ins, including games, films, and toys.
“We’re always there to show the breadth and depth of our line, and there are certain focuses for us,” says DC’s vice president of marketing, John Cunningham, referring to the oft-debated series Before Watchmen, DC's controversial, much anticipated series of prequels to Alan Moore's (he's opposed to them) superhero epic Watchmen; “a few upcoming properties from Warner Bros. Interactive games”; and the company’s DC Collectibles toy line, formerly known as DC Direct.
No doubt DC will also focus on The Dark Knight Rises, director Chris Nolan’s third and final film on the Batman mythos, premiering from Warner Bros. on July 20. “I think that it’s going to be something at the top of the minds of all of our fans,” Cunningham says, "but I think that Warner Bros. marketing goes so far beyond the convention. It’s a lot more complex for a release of that magnitude.”
In a similar fashion, Marvel will be following up on the release of The Amazing Spider-Man, its summer blockbuster that reimagines Peter Parker’s origins as the webcrawler. That film premieres July 3.
“There’s usually some sort of halo effect from a movie on comic properties during the window of time that it’s released,” according to Axel Alonso, editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics. “The film also comes out the year that we’re celebrating Spider-Man’s 50th anniversary, which is a very pleasant coincidence.”
Alonso cites other summer releases likely to be buzzing in convention panels and signings: the Avengers vs. X-Mencrossover series, and the limited series Spider-Men, in which Peter Parker meets Miles Morales, the Hispanic–African-American Spider-Man of the Ultimate universe.
There’s also the matter of Astonishing X-Men issue 51, in which Marvel’s first openly gay character, Northstar, will marry his partner.
He withheld details about Marvel’s Comic-Con–exclusive announcements, adding that Marvel strategically times announcements to generate hype for upcoming seasons. “We may not offer a full peek behind the curtain, but we’ll certainly pull it back a little bit to tease people. There will be so much chatter about everything that we don’t want to compete with ourselves.”
Major publishers certainly have much to talk up at Comic-Con, but there’s still room for cachet indies and emerging voices. New comer Legendary Comics will be on hand as well as graphic novel lines from trade houses Del Rey/Pantheon, Penguin Young Readers and Yen Press. Viz Media is planning to make announcements and be sure to look for Indies NBM and PaperCutz, Oni Press, IDW, Image, Fantagraphics, Archaia Entertainment and Top Shelf, and others.
Comics are still important to Comic-Con International. “Because of new avenues like digital and changes in the market, there has never been a more accessible time to read comics,” says Atkins. “It’s a great time to grab attention from anyone and everyone who may have been hesitant to go into a comic store, or who may find it easier to download a comic.”