Although the San Diego Comic-Con International maxed out the square footage in the San Diego Convention Center last year, growth in attendance appears to be continuing. Most exhibitors and attendees we spoke to had the same impression we did -- that traffic was a day ahead of where it was last year (i.e., Thursday traffic this year was as heavy as Friday's last year, and so on). The line to get in on Saturday started at 6 a.m., and continued throughout the day, with aisles in some spots on the floor in total gridlock at times. The show actually opened an hour early on Saturday, at 9 a.m. instead of 10 a.m., presumably to relieve crowd pressure on the key afternoon hours.
Convention organizers clarified at the show that the announced attendance of 87,000 for last year (see 'San Diego Attendance Up 24%') did not include exhibitors, and that with exhibitors, 94,000 people attended the convention in 2004. It seems likely that attendance will be up enough to cross into six-figure territory this year, making San Diego the first U.S. comic convention to do so.
Art has been imitating life for the last few weeks in the Luann daily strip by San Diego native Greg Evans. The storyline has followed two would-be comic creators who write and draw their own book, unsuccessfully try to sell it to their friends, and then take it to the San Diego Comic-Con, where they take a booth and try to sell their wares.
Although there were plenty of booths that could have been the characters from Luann and the San Diego show still carries the moniker Comic-Con, comics comprise well under half of the floor space, with movie studios, TV networks, toy companies, videogame makers, anime producers, and every other aspect of modern pop culture making up the rest. Anime presence on the floor was down this year, with ADV and Geneon, two island exhibitors last year, totally absent in 2005. On the other hand, there was a greater presence from toy companies, with lots of designer vinyl joining the big toy houses at the south end of the hall.
The average quality of booths was up again this year, with bigger, flashier construction, more big-screen video, more interactive events, more celebrity autographs, more costumed characters, and vehicles everywhere. Yes, that's vehicles, which ranged from the 18-wheeler flogging the Transformers movie to a tricked out yellow Cadillac a la Tony Montana from Scarface promoting die-cast from Jada Toys. Hot Wheels had a wild concept car, there were several low-riders around the floor, and a serial killer-mobile at the Lions Gate booth looked like it was promo-ing Rob Zombie's Devil's Rejects. Some booths were giving away cars, with a Pikachu Volkswagon at the Nintendo booth, and a Shojo Beat Mini-Cooper at the Viz booth both part of giveaway promotions this summer.
The Star Wars presence was even larger this year, with major space from LucasFilms, LucasArts, Lego, a Star Wars dream bedroom (furnished with a wide variety of Star Wars furnishings, decorations, and collectibles), and a variety of other licensees grouped together into a large area. The sign said 'Star Wars Is Forever,' which was either announcement or prayer, in the wake of the release of the final feature film in the series. Traffic around the Star Wars booth was already at a standstill on Friday, and it only got heavier over the weekend.
One element of continuity from years past was at the front of the room at the comic end of the hall, where Bud Plant, the only exhibitor present at every one of the 36 San Diego Comic-Cons, was set up with his usual assortment of graphic novels, strip collections, and art and pop culture books. And there were still some great back issue comics to be found among the many comic retailers set up at the show. It was great to see that in the midst of all the hoopla, a few exhibitors representing the old school of comic conventions were still in the house.