Inside the Battle for Comic-Con's Soul

Illustration: Bryan Hitch

Damon Lindelof, "Cowboys & Aliens" and "Lost writer," examines the tension between geeks and suits as Hollywood increasingly invades San Diego's Hall H seeking a stamp of approval.

I've been hearing a familiar lament over the course of the past five years or so down in the wilds of San Diego, and I reckon you've heard it, too:

"Hollywood has ruined the Con."

The entire four-day adventure is sold out. Like a rock concert (blech!) or a sporting event (pah!), tickets are actually being scalped. That's right: This year, shifty dudes will be standing outside the convention center mumbling, "Yo, I got two for Hall H … Walking Dead panel … right up front …" And who has shut us out of our own birthday party?

Them. The Suits.

Before I go any further, a disclaimer:

I love comic books. Always have. Richie Rich was my first taste, but that was just sniffing glue. I wanted heroin, and that soon led me to the stuff of legend. Claremont's X-Men. Miller's Daredevil. Moore's Swamp Thing. I read those books until they fell apart in my hands.

These interests, shockingly, did not make me the most popular kid in school. Nor did they curry favor with the ladies. I share all this with you in an effort to make one thing perfectly clear, on the off chance that it is not already: I am a card-carrying dork.

And I mean that literally. I have a card in my wallet. And it says, "dork." (See, there it is, on the right.)

To further underline my general nerdiness, I have attended Comic-Con almost every year since I arrived out West in the mid-'90s. This doesn't make me an authority on the Con, but it does mean I've had a pretty good view as things have changed over the years.

And yes, fellow geeks, the studio fat cats now fly down in their corporate jets, clad in fancy $100 suits (that's expensive for a suit, right?), to corrupt our souls by flooding our precious convention with their vile product. Do they care about actual comic books? No way. Do they adorn themselves in Klingon battle garb? They do not. Do they often refer to vampires as "Draculas"? God help them, yes.

Since they're driven solely by greed and an unquenchable lust for power, how can we
possibly withstand their unabashed Piven-ness? They have come a-courting, seeking to bed a chaste yet hot-blooded wench who is not willing to give up her maidenhead to just anyone. And guess what, my friends?

We are that wench.

(I apologize for this somewhat misogynistic characterization, but I am absolutely obsessed with Game of Thrones right now.)

I know, I know. It's certainly in vogue to gripe about how the Con has lost its soul. How it has become a mecca of marketing instead of a place for like-minded fans to find one another in a world that would just as soon stuff them into a locker.

But let's just think about it for a second.

Multibillion-dollar corporations are coming to San Diego so that we can put the stamp of approval on their latest movies and TV shows. That's right: They're looking to us -- the very same people arguing over whether Ewoks live on Endor or its forest moon -- to tell them what's cool and what they should spend all that money making.

And who are "They" anyway? Who exactly are these people we've chosen to demonize? Is it possible that some of the studio and network decision-makers are not just human beings but -- gasp! -- geeks, too?

Is it possible that, slowly and insidiously, we have infiltrated their ranks at the highest levels?

Yes, my friends: We are the Body Snatchers. We are the V lizards. We have taken over the planet, and we did it from within. So if we really want to hate the suits, we must first hate ourselves. Which, let's be honest, is something we proudly do already.

And that reminds me …

I remember my beloved Comic-Con of the mid-'90s, when I was just inching into the business. Most panels were less than half-full. Our cosplay (then simply called "dressing up") was uninspired. The only parties at night were in some guy's hotel room -- and that guy was usually wearing a kimono. The panels were engaging but rarely gave us a look at something no one else had seen before. Truth be told, the only thing that kept me coming back were the incredible fans who needed a magical place to find one another.

And here we are, 15 years later.

The Con isn't just a fan event anymore -- it's an institution. Hall H will be standing-room-only, and it will be filled by us. The geeks. The dorks. The Chewbaccas. The Con is about the people. Always has been. Always will be.

And as long as we're there to cheer what we love and cross our arms in bitter passive-aggressive defiance at what we hate, it can never be ruined.

But then again, don't take my word for it.

I am, after all, a suit.

Damon Lindelof co-created and executive produced Lost, co-wrote Cowboys & Aliens and co-wrote the upcoming sci-fi movie Prometheus, directed by Ridley Scott. Bryan Hitch is a British artist best known for his groundbreaking work on Marvel Comics' The Ultimates and The Ultimates 2 as well as on Wildstorm's The Authority.

Lindelof's lively piece also appears in THR's special Comic-Con issue, guest edited by Jon Favreau, which hits the streets of San Diego July 20. The Iron Man director amassed additional contributions from The Big Bang Theory's Bill Prady, artists William Stout and Mort Drucker and actor Bruce Campbell.

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