ComiCon: Not Just Funny Business


Today I'm blogging from ComiCon, the 39th annual comic book convention; it's sold out and tickets are being scalped online for over 400 dollars.

This year 125,000 fans are expected to hit the San Diego Convention Center for four days of fanboy heaven- presentations by comic book creators, movie directors and stars of movies based on graphic novels. You can buy a first edition Superman comic or a life-size Wookie.

Now ComiCon has evolved to be about a lot more than the books themselves- also a forum for related movies, TV shows, video games, online multiplayer games, and of course action figures. But I think it's important to point out, especially in this economic environment, that comic books are still huge business, a billion dollar business in fact.

Despite cyclical pressures (economic downturn) and sector challenges (the publishing industry as a whole is struggling, the comic book industry is holding up. The sales of comic periodicals or series (the thin magazines that come out every month) are flat to down, as teenagers look online for that kind of short form entertainment. But the sale of graphic novels (heftier collections of those series that often read like real books) are stronger than ever. Graphic novel sales were up 25 in May.

And then there's the boost the industry gets from comic characters dominating the big screen this year and setting box office records. Not only are Hollywood spin-offs great for royalties and licensing fees, they also drive comic sales.DDB Publishing CEO PJ Bickett tells me a movie can boost related book sales by as much as 30 percent. Which is why independent publishers like DDB are working with Hollywood to engineer hits, actually reverse engineering comics so they'll build a fanbase and provide a natural fit for a movie studio. And while Marvel and DC Comics (owned by Time Warner's Warner Bros. )dominate the vast majority of comic book sales, these new potential Hollywood partnerships are helping the independents grow. I'll write more about Hollywood's presence here later.

Julia Boorstin at Comic Con in San Diego.
Julia Boorstin at Comic Con in San Diego.

More than a couple times this morning I've wondered if I've really woken up or if this is just the weirdest dream I've ever had. There's nothing like having a group of grown men in full, realistic storm trooper outfits (from Star Wars) run by you, half of them holding their helmets in one hand, at 6:30 am in the morning. Or trying to squeeze by a group of costumed characters wielding light sabers as they have an animated conversation. (check out the image of me with "Elvis" as a storm trooper.)

And this isn't just kid stuff- while chowing down on breakfast a bevy of older women marched by in pseudo-goth wear and giant backpacks that looked like teddy bears strapped to their backs. You can't walk five feet without hitting a someone decked out in full Batman regalia.