Commentary: Comic-Con should stay in San Diego

Premiere Geek Nation event has issues, but solvable ones

More than a week after 125,000 geeks descended on San Diego for the annual pop-culture mecca that is Comic-Con International, organizers are conducting postmortems on what worked and what didn't and whether Comic-Con should even stay in San Diego or begin looking for another location.

Some in the media are taking potshots at the event, crying like little girls in Sailor Moon outfits that they didn't get special treatment. Reading some articles and blogs, you might get the sense that this Comic-Con wasn't that successful, that it was frustrating and out of control. Don't believe the whiners: This year, the Con, on the whole, was better run than last year, when the San Diego Convention Center hit capacity for the first time and studios began running junkets and conducting post-panel roundtables for the media.

After a shaky start to the 2008 Con that saw the normally quiet Preview Night become like any other day of the confab, a nice rhythm developed as people realized that waiting in long lines was a way of life and the price of success Geek Nation must pay for captaining the pop-culture spaceship. You had to develop strategies for what you wanted to see and do and come to grips with the fact that you couldn't do it all.

Most were able to, including manager-producer J.C. Spink, an avid comic book reader and producer of the comic adaptation "A History of Violence" who also had his own booth this year.

"What Sundance has become for launching products, Comic-Con has become for launching pop culture," he says. "It's good and bad at the same time. The crowds make it more of a pain to navigate, but Comic-Con has helped make science fiction and genres pictures as legitimate as romantic comedies and dramas."

Those who complain tend to be those who feel that their secret favorite rock band is now a mainstream hit; the Hollywood Johnny-come-latelies, accustomed to slipping around the velvet rope, who discover that it doesn't work that way at the egalitarian Con; and the press, who find out that flashing a blog badge means squat.

But there is a real problem for the Con: location, location, location. For the event to remain relevant, it needs to be able to morph and evolve. Right now it's being reined in on several fronts. Physically, it has no room to expand.

The question of where to put all these geeks is on everyone's mind. The Con has a deal with the convention center through 2012, but after that, it's free to go anywhere it wants. But where?

Las Vegas is one possible location but a poor choice. It's made for conventions, but the Con is not a trade show. Rather, it's a place where mom-and-pop operations sit next to big retailers. That family element would be lost in Vegas. And as comic writer Geoff Johns notes, "Nobody would go to panels because everybody would end up at the casinos."

A few years back, Los Angeles made a bid to host the Con, delivering a strong case. Although organizers ultimately declined the offer, they will look at L.A. again, especially if its downtown revitalization continues.

Anaheim also is a potential destination, but it lacks the charm and hipness of San Diego's Gaslamp District, Seaport Village or the beaches -- the places everybody hits after finishing their day. And besides, where would you throw the parties, which are now a scene unto themselves? Can you imagine the Maxim party at an Outback Steakhouse?

A possible if far-flung pick would be Cleveland, home of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the men who arguably ushered in the superhero age. Hell, since we're dreaming, we might as well pick the moon, where all those dressed-up Slave Princess Leias and Cobra Commanders can fly Richard Branson's plane for the first lunar convention.

Alternatives notwithstanding, the Con doesn't really want to move out of San Diego, its home for the past 39 years. But it needs to tackle some key concerns, most of them not its doing:

-- The city needs to stop taking the geeks for granted. A recent study found the 4 1/2-day event attracts a quarter of a million people with an economic impact of $60 million. That's serious coin, and probably even a conservative estimate. In exchange, some respect would be nice. True story: At one of the hotels, one comic book guy called the front desk to change rooms. The friendly concierge needed to transfer him to another desk, thought she had put him on hold, then proceeded to say to her colleague: "Can you take this call? It's one of those comic freaks." Not cool.

-- The city needs to act on its promise to expand the convention center. Is nonaction worth losing $60 million? I'm no city politician, but "Great Caesar's ghost no!" would be my answer.

-- The TCA effect. Starting next year, the Television Critics Assn.'s summer press tour will be held after the Con, which will make the Nerdapalooza even more important as a jumping-off point for the fall television season. Expect more news to come out of San Diego, more press to attend and more headaches. Organizers should seriously consider moving the TV side off-site, perhaps to the new Hilton being built behind the convention center. It at least will get rid of that darned Sci Fi spaceship.

-- Meet the press. In light of the TCA situation, and as much as I hate to agree with some of those pansy press people, the Con needs a media area. The only problem is that it never will be big enough for the 3,000-plus reporters who show up, so you'll still have complaints.

In the end, no one from the Con -- from the organizers to the professionals to the attendees -- wants it to move. So stay classy, San Diego, and make the right decisions to keep it there.
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