Everything's Different Now: San Diego Con Report, 2006

Recently we went to the San Diego Comic Convention 2006.

It had comics.

It also had a lot of other stuff.

That's the way it is. That's the way it's going to be.

The other day I was at the library and I picked up a book entitled The Long Tail that was just lying next to me on the counter. The basic concept was that normally, everyone tried to have a product that sold a lot of units. Some big huge hit that would sell, and sell, and sell, and sell, and keep selling, a LOT. Like Harry Potter, or Rurouni Kenshin. But in the future, that's going to be increasingly almost impossible, says the theory behind The Long Tail.

Look at my Brudlos buddies at Alpha Shade. They're on Amazon, just like anyone else, even though they're self-published. A couple of high-school kids can mix their own song and get it on the internet just like a bigger performer. Someone clever with tech skills can make some amusing animated thing and put it on YouTube and get as may hits and links as anything else. If it makes fun of George Bush, they can maybe get on every news network...

In the past, and a lot now, some things do unbelievably well, and some do poorly. In the past, and a lot now, you've had all sorts of subcultures. You've had fantasy geeks, Role Playing Geeks, video gaming geeks, Trekkers, Buffyers, comics geeks, anime geeks, manga geeks, and on and on and on.

But that's changing. And it's going to keep changing. In this column, on previous occasions, I've discussed the perplexity felt by geeks I've known and seen who feel like, "I've founded some of my identity on my lifelong love of Lord of the Rings and Narnia and so on... now that they've been mainstreamed by Hollywood, how should I feel? What happens to the special unique identity I've grown into?"

Look, it's not even going to be like that in the future. We're not going to have just straight anime fans who watch all the anime they can get and nothing else, or all the indie comics they can get and nothing else. The average person is going to like a few anime series, a one or a few manga series, a few comic books, one or two tv shows, they'll have a few favorite movie franchises. They'll like several albums, but will follow even fewer actual bands. People will get into a wide variety of fannish things, but won't have this obsession to get more and more and more until they have a pull list of more than 20 things a month.

Important note on that last paragraph: I said the average person, and I meant it. Not the average FAN. The average PERSON. EVERYONE will like pop culture things, in moderation. Including you.

It's already happening. I ask people what they read or watch or like or play, and now it's a little of this, a little of that. "Exiles, 52, Teen Titans, a few indies..." I met a guy buying pocky at the store and asked him if he was into anime. "Only a little," he said. "I never really got into it big time or anything."

It's gonna be more like that. The Long Tail predicts that instead of being feast or famine sales-wise, creators or publishers or whatever can still expect a sharp spike of interest when they first offer some new thing... but after that, everyone who's interested will get it or they won't... a graph of sales will have a high part at the start, and then everyone will have to get used to a small, steady trickle of interested new buyers who find the product and buy it... the sales graph will have a long, long tail.

Sales won't dry up, and they won't stay strong. Everyone's going to like a wide variety of things. EVERYONE. Will the mainstream comics publishers or manga publishers shrink down to the level of indie publishers? No, because they have more going for them than that. Marvel and DC and Shonen Jump/Viz and even TokyoPop have the awesome power of merchandising. They'll still able to publish a wide variety of things and take some risks, because they have animation, plushies, T-shirts, and what the heck ever.

I'm not here right now to talk about a revolution in fan product. Marvel and DC and Tokyopop and Viz will still be a big deal. This is not about the Death of Comics.

This is about the Death of Fans.

Not like that time that Lobo went to San Diego in his convention special. I'm talking about the death of a concept -- nerds who like something so much they don't know what to do, and they're looked down on by society.

That's gonna die.

EVERYONE will have some understanding of fannishness, and thus, like a bad word, it'll get said so much that it'll start to lose its meaning.

People will just be people. Who like stuff. A little. But it'll be geeky.

But they won't. Because everyone will at least PARTIALLY understand. It'll truly be the utopia we read about in Japan where only the strongest obsessions can be pointed at. Soon when a girl says, "What a geeky fan that person is," the person next to them will say, "Oh, come on. Like when you were a kid you didn't love Harry Potter and Scooby-Doo and Superman and Spider-Man. Girl, you spent months playing like you were Jessica Alba in that Fantastic Four movie. And you STILL go nuts every time an Asian Horror movie comes out hoping it'll scare you like The Ring or Dark Water." And they'll sheepishly laugh, and not be so judgmental next time.

It'll die out. Everyone will understand you. Living in America (or Canada/UK/Australia/NZ/etc) will be a matter of trying a variety of different pop culture dialects until you suddenly find out which one you have in common with a new stranger -- "Oh, yeah, you play Final Fantasy, too? Oh, really, and you dig Trigun, too?"

We did a lot of stuff at San Diego. We shopped our projects around and made pitches and networked and showed people what Half Dead is gonna be like, making ourselves representatives of it since the artist of Half Dead, talented human dynamo Jimmy Bott couldn't make it to San Diego. You know who knows the most about Wicker Man Studios and its various creative endeavors?

Me. And Barb, and a few other people.

Let me tell you about the TOYS. And the GAMES. Mattel and Hasbro had some of the biggest display areas at the con this year. Barb stopped and played with these Star Wars toys at the Hasbro area that are like HeroClix but you somehow determine hits by twisting the spring-loaded waists of the little characters and hitting the other figures with your lightsaber or whatever.

We saw the video game preview of Naruto: Clash of Ninja 2.

We saw the previews of the next Final Fantasy games. Up on a screen as big as in a small independent movie theater, right on the con floor. It was like sailing into an area of the ocean where you realize there are shallow reefs: dozens and dozens of people walking by, and then quickly slowing, stopping... watching.

We saw a booth for Uglydolls, those plush, cute-without-being-overcute monster dolls that you see everywhere now with little fangs or long ears or three eyes or one eye or whatever. At the comic con? Whatever for?

Because it's a culture con, now. And that means so many people that it's too big for this huge multi-story building that's gotta be more than half a mile long. I don't mean it's so big it's packed. I mean it's so full it would be unsafe if everyone were allowed in. They apparently had to turn people away on Saturday. Sorry. No more room inside. We are not selling any more tickets for today.

You can't very well eat in the Gaslamp District any more, not at lunchtime. There's just too many people (and it's too hot. Global Warming means that everything's at slightly-hotter-and-muggier-than-is-average-for-Houston temperatures and humidity, but they aren't ready for it, so most places have insufficient or no air conditioning). Don't try to eat near the con. Get on the free buses that take people on the hotel routes and put some space between you and the con. The most northerly route will take you near Little Italy. Barb and I ate at Zia's Bistro, and it was very nice. Unairconditioned, but nice.

Why so many people? How the heck is this thing pulling in so many people and making them pay good money to get in if the comic book industry is in so much trouble? I know, it's the manga, right? Close... It's the movies, right? They were all there to see Snakes on a Plane! Oh, come on. Would you pay that much to see Snakes on a Plane a little early? Well, then, what is it?

It's the EVERYTHING. The booths selling old Big Little Books, the booths selling half-price graphic novels, the manga, the statuettes, the anime, the J-Horror, the costumes. Barb always feels an affinity with Jean Grey/Marvel Girl/Phoenix, mostly because Ultimate Jean's hair was made short because hers was short at the time and grew out because Barb grew hers out... but also because their (Ultimate) glasses were kinda the same, and also of course they share the power to destroy entire city blocks. Well, we saw rather stacked woman in the Phoenix costume, and we told her how great it was. She thanked us in a soft-spoken way -- funny, since anyone wearing anything so tight, you'd think would be quite outgoing. The next day, I saw her again, down the entry hall, walking and talking to some guy (not in costume). I nudged Barb and got in an anguished pose and yelled, "JEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAANNNNNNNNNN!" Phoenix got it--she laughed, as did Barb.

We met, in person for the first time, one of my aforementioned buds from the webcomic-gone-successful-self-publishing-venture Alpha Shade. I was hoping he'd be doing his podcasting from the con floor, but he was quite right to point out to me that the background noise would have made it a fairly wasted effort from there.

So, sure, you know, comics. There's still comics. Right now I'm reading quickly through a British-written short primer to all things Alan Moore -- The Pocket Essential Alan Moore, it's called. Written in 1990, it's aware of the movie From Hell, but it's a shame it's not even more recent as I would have loved to see what the author thought of the film V For Vendetta. Still, it has very well-written critique of Moore, and interesting little details, like how color was so expensive and rare that at one point half the artists on Judge Dredd thought he was of African heritage, or how one of the members of the group The Bauhaus helped Alan write V For Vendetta's song "This Vicious Cabaret," which incidentally I always felt was a particularly good song.

Barb's on a J-Horror kick right now, having just watched the film The Heirloom. Most J-Horror, let's face it, just can't measure up to The Ring, and even a lot of the Ringu series left a lot to be desired. One of my favorites, Phone, is, I'll admit, an excellent mixture of a lot of previously-used-with-less-effect J-Horror cliches. The Heirloom has a lot to like about it, although, typically for the genre, the pacing is too slow and I could have made the story better in at least four very different ways. Spanish horror, like Thesis, Fausto 5.0, and various other films by better-known directors, tends to reward a little more often these days. If you'll watch The Devil's Backbone (which Barb likes better than I), you'll get the idea, although I like it less than either of the films mentioned immediately above.

In fact, Barb's so worked up about the material she's currently working on, I'm just reading her Sfar and Trondheim's imported-from-France comic Dungeon: The Early Years as a sort of radio play, reading a couple of pages, then showing her the art, which she looks at for about three seconds each time. It's working so far, though.

Still, comics, even when you throw in manga, aren't the sole edge of cutting-edge pop culture any more. In music, I can't sufficiently highly recommend the importance of The Killers. After 1990, every new attempt at American music seemed to simply suck, or else manage one hit and then fail at every other attempt. Not only do The Killers seem to postmodernly turn a bunch of sounds that have already been used into more than one good song, but about as importantly, almost every band since The Killers seem to be trying to sound just like The Killers, although they fail. It's shocking -- it comes up every time we are out somewhere and hear contemporary rock (where else would we hear it? In the car, we have Brian Wilson on CD, Sirius satellite radio on the radio, and at home we play nothing but Roky Erikson). ("Lately," says Barb. Awww. I wanted to imply that that's all we've been listening to for years, like Brian Wilson and Be My Baby.)

This column can no longer even pretend to limit itself to sequentially-told stories, neat as that is. From now, on, we're just going to talk about geek-related pop culture, including but not limited to comics. Because if you like comics, then you're probably going to like one of the other things we're talking about, because we do... because that's the way it's going to be now, for EVERYBODY. I'm reading a Lovecraft collection when I need something to read real quick. Before that, I was re-reading the manga GTO, since we own most volumes of it. Before that, I reread our two collected volumes of Captain Britain. Before that, I read Barb a children's ghost story from the library (kids LOVE ghost stories. They love the very concept of dead kids who don't let death keep them from blaming whoever screwed up their lives). Barb and I just read the latest Fruits Basket (which has passed through a difficult transition from the fun of meeting every single member of the Sohma family to getting working on the long endgame of working out what needs to be done about the dysfunctions, natural and supernatural, of the Sohma family and now Tohru Honda herself).

But a final story, about costumes and cosplaying (wearing a character's costume or outfit and acting in character to some degree).

Barb and I were hot so we got on a hotel line bus in order to take us to the right bus stop to go to our hotel. It was pleasant and cool on the bus, so we just waited happily. On the bus was a mommy and daddy and a little girl and her even littler brother. The little girl was about 5 or so. So she's sitting on the bus, looking out the window at all the people.

And then she saw Spider-Man.

"Hey, there's Spidey-Man! Hey, Spidey-Man! Hey, Spidey-Man! Hey, Spidey-Man!" Calling to this guy dressed in a rather good Spider-Man costume, with some girl who was clearly his girlfriend (not MJ or anything, I mean, just the guy's real-life girlfriend). "Hey, Spidey-Man! Hey, Spidey-Man! Hey, Spidey-Man!" The little girl wasn't just going nuts or screaming this -- she was just repetitive. "Hey, Spidey-Man! Hey, Spidey-Man! Hey, Spidey-Man!"

And then Spider-Man and his girlfriend GOT ON OUR BUS. "Hey, Spidey-Man! Hey, Spidey-Man! Hey, Spidey-Man!" And she got in the aisle and shook his hand. Poor guy, I thought, he's probably hot. But even though anyone who hasn't taken his mask off already probably wasn't going to, he sure can't now, because now he's stuck being the REAL Spider-Man for this little girl, since odds are that's not actually Toby McGuire under there. "Hey, Spidey-Man!"

Then she paused. "Why aren't you shooting your webs and swinging home?"

Everyone paused for just a second. Then BARB jumps in, "Because he ran out of webbing!"

With the proportionate speed of a spider, Spider-Man jumped on this answer. "Mm-hm!" he nodded.

"Ohhhhhhhh!" said the little girl. "Well, hi, Spidey-Man!" And then she let he and his girlfriend sit down a few seats back. She still looked at him over the back of her seat for a little while. "Hey, Spidey-Man! ... Hey, Spidey-Man! ... Hey, Spidey-Man!" But her breath was sort of taken away, and she got quieter and quieter.

A minute later, she talked to her parents in whispers for a little bit, and then she seemed satisfied about something. Then she turned to little brother (about 2 years old or so) and explained to him matter-of-factly, in the same loud tone she'd started out with, so we could all hear, "Spidey-Man is very tired, and that's why he can't play right now! He needs to go home and take a nap!" And then she sat there, very satisfied with her answer, like the meaning of life had finally been explained to her, and it made sense -- after all, EVERYONE needs to go home and take a nap after they've had a long day.

After that she just sat there quietly looking out the window, watching the people again. She saw a large Klingon that briefly caught her eye, but didn't impress her nearly as much as before. Until...

"HEY, BATMAN! And Catwoman, too! Hey, Batman! Hey, Batman! Hey, Batman! Hey, Batman! Hey, Batman! Hey, Batman!" Batman and a Tim Burton-esque fetishy Catwoman were now coming slowly up the sidewalk, waving at people and getting their picture taken now and then. "Hey, Batman! Hey, Batman! Hey, Batman! Hey, Batman! Hey, Batman! Hey, Batman! Hey, Batman! Hey, Batman!"

They didn't get on the bus. They did wave at her, though, as they went by. She was delighted.