Is Comic-Con Really Hurting Nerd Culture?

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The first time I went to Comic-Con, the entire thing fit in about one half of what is currently the exhibitor’s hall. It wasn’t quite a longbox show, but it wasn’t that far removed from it, either. There was no viral marketing, no multi-story booths, no Hollywood presence at all, and though it was a lot of fun, it didn’t feel like the event it has become.

Over the years, the con grew. I remember the first year we expanded to the second floor, and how huge the whole thing seemed. I remember the first time I saw a Games Workshop booth that wasn’t promoting 40K or Warhammer Fantasy Battle, but was promoting the then-unreleased Lord of the Rings minis game. I clearly recall telling my friend who was with me, “this is cool, because I love GW games, but what does this have to do with comic books?”

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I’m not entirely sure if that was 2001 or 2002, but it was the first time I was keenly aware of Comic-Con changing. “I really don’t like how the entertainment industry is co-opting our culture,” I said, later that day.

Since that con, eight or nine years ago (!), I hear the same lament from my friends every single year: Comic-Con sucks. Comic-Con is too big. Comic-Con has been taken over by Hollywood. Comic-Con isn’t about comics, anymore. When do passes go on sale for the next Comic-Con?

Yesterday, I was talking on Twitter with Scott Kurtz (creator of PVP, and one of my very good friends) about Comic-Con. Scott quoted @leverus: “Comic-Con is hurting nerd culture, in a broad and systemic and probably permanent way.

I replied: @pvponline Disagree. Nerd Culture has survived and endured for decades. Comic-con doesn’t define us; we make it possible.

Scott said: @wilw I disagree. The people who make it possible are being shoved into corners and trampled by lines for hall H. #nerdfight

And I said: @pvponline Oh, I agree. What I mean is that our larger culture isn’t going to be destroyed by it. We will endure. #disappointingnerdfight

And then, because it made me laugh: *stabs you in the eye with a pen* _Now_ it’s a #nerdfight, sukka! (h/t @damnglitch)

What I was trying to say to Scott, and what I wanted to communicate to my fellow nerds, is that even though Comic-Con has changed (if it’s for the better is certainly debatable), I don’t see how those changes can hurt us, as much as they disappoint us. But I think we have to be honest with ourselves: are we really upset that Comic-Con is hurting our culture, or are we upset that something that belonged exclusively to us for so long clearly doesn’t, anymore?

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I hate the douchey agents and development people who are swarming all over the con as much as anyone. Like a lot of my friends, I wonder why shows that have nothing at all to do with what’s traditionally considered geek culture have panels and booths. I’m not thrilled when I sit in the lobby of my hotel, I see twenty fancypants Hollywood types for every authentic geek. But there’s a trade off: all of that means that Comic-Con has become so important to studios and networks, they’ll spend the money to make Flynn’s Arcade and Cafe Diem. They’ll bring out the people who make things we love, and we’re willing to spend a loooooooong time in line, we can meet them.

There’s something else to consider, too, when we ask ourselves if this is causing lasting damage to nerd culture: A generation of nerds who started going to Comic-con around the Lord of the Rings and Spiderman years have been going for almost a decade. They have grown up with a Comic-con that has always been like this … and they don’t care. They enjoy the same things we do, the same way we always have, and if they see a panel or a booth for something that’s nerd-adjacent at best … they ignore it. They are the future caretakers of our culture, and they – like us – simply tune out the things they don’t care about (speaking as the father of two teenage geeks, I have experience in this regard.)

Maybe I’m missing something, but I just don’t see how Comic-Con’s evolution is hurting our culture. Disappointing to some of us? Sure. Exploiting some of us? I guess you could make that argument, but I don’t know if I’d completely agree with you. I tell you what: we can talk about it next year, while we’re waiting to get into Hall H to see that thing we don’t even know exists right now.

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