ComicCons Are So Boring!

What makes a good convention? Better yet, what is the one thing you must accomplish at your convention for people to think it was awesome? I think that it comes down to one basic thing: everyone has to have an awesome time and want to come back. That’s it, right? Sounds easy.

But wait! Problem number one is that different people like different things. Is there a single event/type of programming/awesome thing that would please all of the people? No. So that means you need a variety of programming. Something for everyone? No, you need more than something. You need to have so much stuff that at any given time there is almost always something for almost always everyone. So much stuff that it would be impossible for one person to do everything that they want. This makes them want to come back so they can try to do everything next year. This, in my opinion, is what makes a good con.

But wait again! Should Fear The Con con try to be equal parts gaming, literary, art, and My Little Pony? No. They are gaming focused. I’m guessing though, that will try to have board games, D&D, indie games, miniatures, and maybe some card games. Enough gaming opportunities for all of the projected attendees to play something cool at any given time all weekend long. And you know what, they probably will.

The reason that ComicCons are so freaking boring (San Diego is an exception) is because they are typically designed from the ground up with just two areas of focus: 1) Buy stuff from the massive vendor room and 2) get an autograph/picture with a celebrity. There are usually costume contests and some panels or a concert or gaming or something, but these are often presented as an after thought. I have seen ComicCon program books that don’t list all of the programming, don’t list all of the rooms, don’t include much at all except info on the celebrities and a map of the vendor room.

Let me put it another way. There are two reasons for you to go to a con of any type. Either you are there to get awesome stuff or you are there to discover awesome stuff. If your goal as an attendee is to consume more of what you are already a fan of (Firefly, Star Wars, Magic: the Gathering) chances are good that you’re not going to accidentally wander into one of my concerts. On the other hand, if you are there to discover, you might test a new game from a new game designer or you might go to a panel about something you don’t know much about.

ComicCons do not promote discovery. They promote the siloing of your own fandom and encourage convention day trippers. If you want to spend your weekend discovering and growing, I humbly suggest you do not plan to do so at a traditional ComicCon. However, if all you want is Rowdy Roddy Pipers autograph and picture for Facebook, have at it.

About jonahknight

Jonah writes, records, and performs songs about ghosts, monsters, steampunk, and creepy Christmas tunes. Is that geek music? Nerd music? Filk? Who knows. Find more at He also co-hosts (with Mikey Mason) the Pros and Cons podcast. A Parsec Finalist, the show is about geek music and convention culture.

13 thoughts on “ComicCons Are So Boring!

  1. You must not be going to the right cons, or perhaps aren’t looking at it from a broader perspective. I just went to Planet Comicon in Kansas City. Was the biggest event they ever had. Yes, lots of things for consumption, including interesting art from local and non-local artists. Tons of people in cosplay demonstrating a great deal of creativity and effort into their costumes. Lots of parents with their kids running around getting their chance to share their passions with their parents. Great panels with Wil Wheaton, among others, who were very generous to the people who had questions to ask and were highly entertaining to listen to. I came away not having been a consumer of anything except the latest book from a local artist who I really like. And that was just this year.

    Yes, cons are full of lots of consumer driven silliness, but boring? Hardly. The people-watching alone makes it worth the price of admission.

    • Hey Carl.
      I think that the vast majority of cons are not at all like what I described. I do think that the experience Red describes below is pretty common. Not the majority experience, but common enough.

      Generally speaking, ComicCons are massivly different animals from the rest of the convention world. Having been to dozens of cons of all shapes, sizes, and varieties, ComicCons and Horror Cons are providing products for attendees to purchase. The rest of the con world (literary, gaming, mixed media) are focused on providing experiences.

      Consumption of products, of course, is not the only option at ComicCons but it is front and center. If you don’t go though the vendor room at a ComicCon, you have missed THE core part of the con. Compare this to Balticon, a general con with attendance in the high teen thousands. You could spend all four days of Balticon without knowing where the vendors are and walk away with an entirely fulfilled, exhausted experience. This, I think, is the key difference. Which is not at all to say that ComicCons are without merit. I would, however, tell people not to go unless their goal was to buy stuff.

      • I hope I didn’t come off like a jerk as that was not my intention. Just answering back against the “boring” allegation. I imagine your point was right on in that I too see that cons over the years have turned from something really fan friendly to a money pit. I remember going to Trek Expo events in Tulsa, OK when I lived there and “celebs” would not charge you if you brought something to sign. Sure, you could buy a pick from them to sign but they were cheap and if you had your own thing they would just sign it out of courtesy. No more. Now it costs 20-30 bucks, if you are lucky, to get them to sign anything.

        On one level I understand with B-listers who didn’t get another job after their 15 minutes of fame. But I wish those still making money would give back to the fans by not charging at all, or very little, for a brief encounter with them.

        What you need to do is come to Spectrum Fantastic Art Live next month in Kansas City. It is chock full of well known SFF art talent and they sign for free, interact with you as much as you want, and have reasonable merchandise if you are so inclined. There are a ton of panels and it is an AMAZING experience. All the artists I talked to last year said it was like what San Diego used to be like before it became all about Hollywood. It really is like a Con done old school.

        Your point is taken, there is way too much commercialism influencing cons. That doesn’t make them boring. But is does put an unfortunate taint on them.

        • Not at all like a jerk. I’m kind of afraid that people might read the post and think I’m trolling.
          You know that there are some incredible conventions that can actually improve the quality of your life. I’ve experienced those lasting effects. I just feel like those moment are harder to come by when the con has a strong focus on the vendor room.

          That Kansas City con sounds awesome. If it were closer I would definitely try for it. I hope you have a great time!

  2. My closest analogy to a comicon was DragonCon. It was a freaking circus. It was Fun ! But a circus. There wasn’t any real new discovery, just re-affirmation of the things that amuse me: a famous author, lots and lots and lots and lots of cool costumes. But the best cons, and why we go to them, are the small ones where we can actually talk to people, attend a concert, listen to informative panels, and have cool brainstorming sessions.

    There are very much different styles and types of conventions that cater to different things and reasons for being there.

  3. the first ComiCon I went to was a smaller regional one. There was a giant vendor room, and we did buy some cool stuff, and you could stand on line to get stuff autographed by a few celebrities and lots of D-list folks. The program booklet said NOTHING about other events, like an anime room, some cosplay programming, and a few other things that i found out about after the fact. There were no author, comic artist, or celebrity panels of any kind.

    That experience turned off to Cons for years. Good thing a friend dragged me a much better regional Con a few years later, and I had the time of my life, and am now hooked!! and I’ve heard the little ComiCon I was at is now doing much better and actually has more programming than “buy stuff!” and “stand in line for an autograph!”.

    What I want out of a Con is exactly what you said: something that makes me want to come back. I want discussion, author panels, oodles of programming, getting the chance to interact with authors, maybe seeing the same people each year, casual schmoozing. . .

    • I’m mildly concerned that non-con goers- kids, teens, casual/curious- will go to a comic con first and then get turned off to the good ones. Yours is a dark warning to us all!

  4. comicons are kind of a different animal than the “fandom” conventions – the MarsCons, Ravencons, and Balticons of the world. In most cases, it’s not so much about discovery as it is about combing the dealer room for the half-a-dozen elusive issues you need to fill your complete run of Legion of Superheroes. Each has it’s place in fandom, though they don’t always mix.

    Very few of the comicons I’ve attended do much at all in the way of programming, although they often do try (I once sat in a great panel with Larry Hama and Michael Golden, each rhapsodizing about the experience of creating GI:JOE). The VA Comicon does do a couple of panels on the small press experience and trying to get your product out there, but it’s generally not the focus.

    Not that I haven’t discovered some neat stuff – but you have to work for it – I’ve gotten to know some great small press and webcomic creators whose work I’ve become a fan of – but it’s all a matter of just taking a shot at trying something, which a lot of attendees aren’t interested in, given the relative quiet one finds in the small press artist alley at these things.

    I kind of wish more folks would spend more time discovering new stuff rather than chasing the old at these events.

      • bad example…that task is too daunting for me. I was watching a guy this week at my local comic shop trying to fill out his run via the huge stack of long boxes of $1 comics that were taking up space for 48 hours before getting shipped out in the store – he had several 3 ring binders just to track his Legion collection.

        Sadly, I didn’t find any of the last few GI:JOEs I need, but I did get almost a whole run of Secret Wars for under ten bucks!

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