I recently attended Planet Comicon, Kansas City’s largest comic book convention. Between the artists’ alley, cosplayers, panel discussions, and vendors; I had a blast. My wife had a good time. We even brought a non-nerdy friend with us on Sunday and she had a good time. Five or ten years ago, I’m not sure it would have went down this way.
Comic book conventions used to aimed solely at the comic book collector. Now, they’re for everyone.
Five years ago, Planet Comicon was held in the Overland Park Convention Center, a small space latched onto a hotel in the Kansas City suburbs. Local comic creators like Ande Parks, Jai Nitz, and Jason Aaron (KC has some serious comic book talent) attended. Most of the local comic book stores brought their wares to sell. A few traveling vendors would be there. Big-name creators from out-of-state were pretty rare.
Then, a few years ago, Planet Comicon announced they were moving to Bartle Hall, THE major convention center for the Kansas City area. With the move, they announced a slew of television and movie guests. The comic creators and vendors bulked up as well. Amateur, pro, and group cosplayers came out in droves. Planet Comicon went through a few difficult hurdles with the quick growth, but the paradigm had certainly shifted.
If you spend much time reading on the Internet or listening to people, you’ll find all kinds of criticisms about comic book conventions now compared to a decade ago. Collector purists take issue with the TV and movie guests headlining the conventions. Denise Dorman went on a now-infamous rant on why she thinks cosplay is ruining conventions.
Here’s the thing: conventions are big. There’s room enough in a massive convention center for the cosplayers, the shoppers, the groupees, AND the hardcore collectors. There is something (or many somethings) for everyone and no reason to exclude anyone.
I have a friend that does photography. He doesn’t read comics, but he’s big into cosplay. He dresses in it and photographs a lot of it. That’s why he went. My wife reads few comics, but she was quite excited for the hand-crafted items available for sale. Another friend and his wife came with their three young children, looking to just walk around and enjoy the atmosphere. I spent most of my time in artist’s alley chatting up creators and buying signed books. I also scoured the vendors for deals on graphic novels.
All of us were there for different things. All of us had great times at Planet Comicon. Possibly my greatest joy was watching those young children’s eyes light up as they saw their favorite superheroes walking around in the flesh (cosplayers) and more than willing to kneel down for pictures. There’s something beautiful in a child’s belief, no willful suspension of the contrary required.
Of course, not every convention is as inclusive as Planet. San Diego Comicon has become a media circus and comic books themselves take a back seat. Wizard World conventions put the media guests front and center as well. While these are some of the biggest conventions, they comprise the exception more than the rule.
Planet Comicon is like so many conventions that are doing it right. They lead with media guests in their promotions, but put the the creators front and center once you’re through the door. The Stephen Amell swooners had to walk through artist’s alley and the vendors to get to their favorite muscle-bound actor. Chances are, some of them saw a comic book that caught their eye. They picked it up, chatted with an artist, and just became a comic book reader. Most of them didn’t, and that’s okay, too. Comic book conventions are for everyone.
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