San Diego Comic-Con wrapped up on Sunday with nearly identical attendance to the year before, around 125,000, because the capacity of the San Diego Convention Center has been reached.  This was the second sell-out of the show (see “Records Shattered at San Diego Comic-Con”), but the first time that tickets sold out before it began.  Hotel rooms were likewise tough to come by, with some bypassing conventional lodging for rooms rented from locals on Craigslist.

The scale of the show grew in ways other than raw numbers, though.  There was more programming this year, with the associated increases in the amount of talent involved.  The appearance by Tite Kubo, creator of Bleach, was probably the most significant single manga-ka to attend the show for over a decade (see “Viz Media Brings Bleach Creator to San Diego”).  TV seemed to have a bigger presence this year, with events for shows such as The Office with little connection to comics or genre entertainment. 

Even elevators were
marketing vehicles.
Marketing of all forms was up, with more of downtown San Diego in and around the Convention Center covered with banners, skins, and other forms of advertising. That increased level of marketing ranged from the Convention Center banners, display on the exhibit floor, massive presentation in programming, and swag for the upcoming Watchmen movie; to the rolling billboards on the streets around the show for the Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe videogame; to the skins on buses and signs on pedicabs; to the elevators with floor-to-ceiling treatments promoting Pixar’s Up at hotels surrounding the Convention Center.

The press coverage took another jump upward, both in the number of attending journalists and the number of stories we saw come out of the show.  Comic-Con Director of Marketing and Public Relations David Glanzer told us that there was a large increase in pre-registered journalists, as well as many on-site registrations.  Last year’s press contingent was around 3,000.

Another facet of the show that seemed even more frenzied was the chase for limited edition toys produced by every company from Hasbro down to the smallest designer toy garage operation, as well as the special editions of comics and other limited editions made for the show.  Wednesday night was even busier than last year, with fans chasing the limited editions making for long lines around booths.

The amount of free swag was also up significantly, with bags, posters, t-shirts, trading cards, and dozens of other items passed out to attendees from booths on the exhibit floor.  Notables were the different bags distributed every day from the Warner Bros. booth (we were in a re-enactment of the running of the bulls in Pamploma on Friday when we were passing the WB booth as they began giving away the Watchmen bags), the History Channels' Jurassic Fight Club bag, and the Fox poster tube (with handy shoulder strap).   

Models were one
way booths attracted
One form of marketing, the use of scantily clad models to attract attention on the exhibit floor, came to the attention of a local TV station, which ran a piece on the phenomenon, interviewing parents about how they shielded their kids from the models as they passed by. 

As has been the case for the last several years, there are those who see the presence of movie, TV, toy, and videogame companies as distracting from the “comics” in “Comic-Con.”  This year, that discontent bubbled over into the public.  An article in the San Diego Union Tribune titled “Comics feeling a big put out” quoted a number of dealers that exhibit at the show expressing their discontent with the expanded focus of the show.  Chuck Rosanski (Mile High Comics) was one. “Comic-Con, at least in terms of the comic-book collecting aspect, is disintegrating,” he told the paper.

USA Today, in an article titled “Has Comic-Con become a beast?” quoted David Goyer:  “It’s not as much fun as it was before the studios and networks decided they needed to be there every day.”

A surreal moment at
San Diego Comic-Con.
Lee Hester of Lee’s Comics, a longtime exhibitor, decided before this year’s show began that this would be his last year.  “I’m leaving because they took the comics out of Comic-Con,” he said of the move.

But other dealers spoke of record years and consistent profits as reasons why they’d be back next year.  This camp views the attendees drawn by movies, TV, and videogames as potential customers to be converted.  “Where else do I get to rub shoulders with Age of Conan,” Bob Brynildson of game retailer Adventure Games asked, noting the relative size of the tabletop and videogame industries with “That PS360 sign cost more than the net profit of the [tabletop] games business last year.”  His strong sales at the show were ahead of last year’s, last time we checked. 

“God bless the TV and movie people,” a retailer of art supplies said.  “They’re bringing in families, kids, and some of them want drawing supplies, or other things I’m selling.”

Chain and longtime convention retailer Jamie Graham of Graham Crackers Comics said his sales were up over a year ago, with Marvel “keys” his bestsellers. 

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s Charles Brownstein said that this year’s convention blew away last year’s record year for fundraising.

Ray Bradbury parting
the crowds on
the exhibit floor.
And comic publishers were, for the most part, very happy both with the promotional impact of the show and retail booth sales, for those that went that route. 

Not all sales were up, but we talked to more with increased sales than with lower sales, a very positive sign at a show with flat attendance and a troubled economy.  With the show locked in to San Diego until 2012 (see “San Diego Comic-Con’s Big Picture”), growth is going to have to continue to be found in areas other than increased attendance for the next few years.