From the long view, Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC) has been the same for years: big, loud, and unforgettable. But the shifting demographics of Comic-Con attendees are changing the playing field for this institution, and the fiery rhetoric about the convention’s code of conduct on inappropriate behavior has been heating up. This year’s show—to be held July 23–27—will doubtless be a testing ground for new realities, and policies that address those realities.
Throughout 2014, there’s been a national conversation on harassment at comics conventions—and now Comic-Con has been caught up in the discussion. For weeks, the nonprofit group Feminist Public Works has been pressuring SDCC to revise its language and training regarding harassment. With the website GeeksforCONsent.org and a campaign titled “Cosplay ≠ CONsent,” it’s bringing to light accounts––from SDCC and other shows––of sexual harassment of fans, primarily women, who often attend the con in elaborate costumes, many based on comics and movie characters.
SDCC’s code of conduct does prohibit offensive behavior, according to David Glanzer, SDCC’s director of marketing and public relations. It reads: “Attendees must respect common-sense rules for public behavior, personal interaction, common courtesy, and respect for private property. Harassing or offensive behavior will not be tolerated.” Feminist Public Works, the larger organization behind Geeks for CONsent, says that’s not enough. It also has a petition, now with some 2,500 signatures, asking SDCC to distribute materials to help fans report and deal with complaints of sexual harassment, as well as add signage to publicize the harassment policy. It’s also asking that convention volunteers participate in an one-hour training session on handling harassment.
“It’s really about the feeling of safety,” says Feminist Public Works director Rochelle Keyhan. “You can’t control every person and what he or she is going to do, but if people show up and feel like they’re protected and that the convention has their back... that’s all anyone is really asking for.” Along with her partners Anna Kegler and Erin Filson, Keyhan recently led antiharassment training for volunteers at AwesomeCon in Washington, D.C. At SDCC, they plan to survey attendees, costumed fans, and Comic-Con International volunteers about harassment issues. “We’re going to test the safety and the ability to report harassment, using that information to continue pressuring Comic-Con,” Keyhan says.
Feminist Public Works has applied pressure on Glanzer for weeks, and its rhetoric has caught the attention of the media. But Glanzer says the code of conduct isn’t changing, although it was under review. In fact, SDCC policies are under constant review, he notes. “We have spoken to our attorneys regarding our policy, and they have informed us that the policy, as it is currently written, affords us more latitude in dealing with people who behave in a manner that is inappropriate. So if an attendee feels he or she has been the victim of offensive behavior, [no matter] whether that behavior meets the legal definition of harassment, we are still able to act upon it.”
Controversy aside, SDCC remains as popular as ever among devotees of both pop culture and comics. In March, membership badges sold out in less than 90 minutes, and during the four and a half days of the show, more than 130,000 attendees will descend on San Diego’s downtown and convention center for the unique circus of costumes, celebrities, and comics. But on the ground level, some memorable plans are underway. Comics publishers are looking to capitalize on accolades and celebrate anniversaries, including those of influential creators and a certain dark knight.
Given the stress of just getting to the show, IDW Publishing has the advantage of being local—its office is a few minutes from the convention center. In 2014, it celebrates its 15th anniversary, with new comics, hardcover collections, and multimedia tie-ins to hype, including board games based on the indie titles Kill Shakespeare and Chew. IDW will have more announcements and exclusives on those fronts at SDCC.
It also plans to debut three “artist’s edition” collections—spectacular oversized hardcovers with reproductions of art taken from the original pencils when possible. Artist’s editions of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen, Jim Steranko’s Agents of Shield, and Mike Mignola’s Hellboy are lined up for IDW’s SDCC debuts, with all three artists signing.
IDW’s v-p of marketing Dirk Wood says a big focus this year is bringing more people to the booth. “San Diego is the premier event for debuting something. I think it’s got more competition than it used to, but it’s still the Super Bowl in terms of comics projects,” he notes.
While IDW is planning to draw attention with big-name creators, DC Entertainment’s celebrations center around one of its characters. DCE has declared July 23 Batman Day, marking the 75th anniversary of the company’s popular superhero: the Caped Crusader made his debut in Detective Comics #27, released in May 1939. In collaboration with comic book shops across the country, DC is planning to give away copies of a reimagined [em]
Detective Comics [/em]#27, designed by Chip Kidd and written by Brad Meltzer, with various artists contributing. DCE’s v-p of marketing John Cunningham declined to say how many free copies would be available, but it’s a “significant” number.
In addition, Random House Publishing Services, which distributes DC titles to the book market, is working with DC to distribute Detective Comics #27 to thousands of libraries on July 26. Those efforts, combined with Bat-focused panels and spotlights at SDCC, will amount to a massive push to promote the Dark Knight.“SDCC is the largest pop culture event of the year,” Cunningham says. “We’d be remiss not to celebrate there; however we see SDCC as one element of a larger Batman 75 celebration. ”
At SDCC, a number of publishers and creators will gather at the 2014 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards Ceremony on Friday Night, July 25th. An Eisner Award is considered to be the seal of approval by the comics industry, conferring prestige and new marketing opportunities on its honorees.
Image Comics leads the pack with 20 nominations, and Fantagraphics, the independent press based in Seattle, is just behind with 18. Eric Reynolds, Fantagraphics’ associate publisher, says 2013 was an interesting year for the company. Longtime copublisher Kim Thompson fell ill in February 2013 and passed away in June. Thompson was with the company for 35 years, working with co-owner Gary Groth to launch Fantagraphics’ comics line in 1981. But the drive to keep releasing quality books did not fade away, Reynolds says, noting that Fantagraphics put out 80 books, primarily graphic narratives in paperback and hardcover, last year. “I’d like to think the Eisner nominations show that we are still doing good work and doing what we want to do,” he says. “One of the best ways that we could process [Thompson’s death] was to keep working and invest ourselves in our work, more than ever, to pay respect to him.”
At SDCC, Fantagraphics will debut Eleanor Davis’s How to Be Happy, a collection of short comics on the hardships of everyday life. It’s also promoting Lucy Knisley’s travelogue, An Age of License, and Drew Friedman’s Heroes of Comics, a collection of illustrated portraits of comics artists.
Like Fantagraphics, First Second Books is building on its Eisner nominations. The Macmillan imprint, which focus on YA graphic novels, saw nominations for Paul Pope’s superheroic Battling Boy; Cecil Castellucci and Sara Varon’s spin on feathery weirdos, Odd Duck; and Boxers & Saints, writer/artist Gene Luen Yang’s take on the Boxer Rebellion of late-19th-century China, which is already a National Book Awards finalist in the category of Young People’s Literature.
Yang is a guest of honor at SDCC, and First Second plans to debut his newest book, The Shadow Hero, which is illustrated by Sunny Liew. Comprising six digital issues released earlier this year, the collection is a reinvention of the Green Turtle, originally published during World War II. The Green Turtle is considered the first Asian-American superhero to appear in comics, and Yang sees SDCC as a platform to discuss his cultural significance.
“One of the things that we, as Asian-Americans, struggle with is always feeling foreign, regardless of how long we’ve been in this country,” Yang says. “And just seeing that at the beginning of this quintessentially American genre we were there, on the page and behind the scenes, is reaffirming to me, as a lifelong superhero fan.”
He adds, “When I’ve gone to other conventions, people will buy my comic and come back the next day and talk to me about it. This the first time I’ve ever done an extended superhero story, and superheroes are all over the place at Comic-Con, so I’m looking forward to diving a little more into that culture.”
Rich Shivener writes about comics and graphic novels. His articles have appeared in Publishers Weekly, Writer’s Digest, and Cincinnati CityBeat, among others. He lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.