Guest post by Jeff Gomez
Much noise has been made about the “selling out” of San Diego Comic-Con; how it used to be all about the allure of four-color power fantasies wrought out on pulp and poly-bagged for safekeeping by nerds who were always last when choosing sides for basketball. And it’s true that in recent years huge movie studios, television networks and video game companies have swooped into the halls of the San Diego Convention Center, drawing more than 120,000 attendees, and turning a quaint annual gathering of outsiders into the kind of pop culture event that shoves comic books into the far corner and touts Charlie’s Angels and Hawaii Five-O as much as it does Star Trek or Doctor Who.
But walking the floor on Day 1 of this year’s Comic-Con, there’s something slightly different in the tenor of things. Gone are the huge studio booths: Paramount, Universal Pictures, they’re nowhere to be found. You can attend lots of panels on the latest genre TV shows, the next Halo game or upcoming blockbusters from Sony or Legendary Pictures, but the exhibition floor is not dominated by any of these. Iron Man 3 and The Dark Knight Rises have been relegated to the Marvel and DC Comics booths.
At the same time, a remarkable proliferation of events by fans for fans has sprung up in and around the Con. These are not shiny corporate publicity stunts, nor are they here to sell us on the next installment of some colossal movie franchise.
On Thursday and Friday the creators of the Geek & Sundry YouTube channel, for instance, are putting up a collection of panels, games, mixers and dance parties that allow for fans to directly socialize with the G&S team. They’re even offering a whole block of time where fans selected through Twitter can play board games with Wil Wheaton (Star Trek’s Ensign Crusher and current uber-nerd)! All of this is being held free of charge!
In “The Course of the Force,” a light saber is being carried from the Santa Monica Pier to Comic-Con. Participants (including a passel of celebrities) have been encouraged to wear Star Wars garb, and are running the marathon alongside the saber-bearer, with 100% of proceeds from registrations going to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The Nerdist’s Chris Hardwick is broadcasting the event live each day.
Zachary Levi, star of Chuck, has traded on his geek cred to build The Nerd Machine website, and he’s working double-time to bring Nerd HQ to Comic-Con this year. The space, Block No. 16 Union and Spirits, is free to enter and will be open for the duration of the convention. More importantly, the panels being held there are organized under a series called “Conversations for a Cause.” 100% of the ticket sales to these benefit Operation Smile. These panels include conversations with nerd royalty, including comic book king Stan Lee, director Guillermo Del Toro, the cast of Robot Chicken, Joss (Avengers) Whedon, the stars of Psych, and actors from Twilight. These run Thursday through Sunday.
On top of all this, we’re seeing an array of fan-generated content emerging from the Con, including video-blog reports, photo-exchanges, hotel room-based costume contests (which can get a bit bawdy, we understand) and an array of podcasts, including one by fans of the Fox series Fringe, who are also arranging a meet-up at the Sails Pavilion in the Convention Center, and will be going to out dinner en masse when it’s over. The convention, one might say, is back in safe hands.
So why have the studios run away? Proven by the amazing array of fan self-organization, perhaps the best explanation is that nerds are no longer sitting on the benches or huddled behind computer screens. Message boards have evolved into social networks, making it easier to plan, put out calls to action, and execute. That’s what’s happening at San Diego Comic-Con, but it’s also what’s happening in the world. Watch out jocks (and studio suits…and tyrants for that matter…): the geeks are inheriting the Earth!
Jeff Gomez is CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment, the world’s leading producer of transmedia entertainment franchises. He has consulted on such properties as Pirates of the Caribbean, Avatar, Halo, Men in Black and Transformers, maximizing their value by helping to extend their story worlds across multiple media platforms. You can follow him on Twitter: @Jeff_Gomez.
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