Comic Conventions Culture Shift Should Be Welcomed
We are living in a time where an actual discussion happening amongst adult human beings is where they stand on the cosplay issue at comic conventions. One grown-up to another, legitimately asking if they would classify themselves as either “pro-“ or “anti-“ other people dressing up in a costume of a fictional character and displaying themselves in a public gathering of relevance to that interest. At this same time we have millions of others tuning into what will soon be no less than seventeen different live-action television shows based around comic book properties. Some of those shows will be competing in the same time slot as a popular sitcom that features its leads wearing Green Lantern emblazoned t-shirts. Movie studios are literally tripping over themselves to produce the next billion-dollar superhero-centric summer darling. This is an era where, so help me, my mother has actual opinions about Sam Wilson. The nerd is dead. Long live the nerd.
Earlier this week the aforementioned cosplay “issue” was raised by Denise Dorman, wife to illustrator Dave Dorman, when she suggested cosplayers at conventions were partly to blame for comic book professionals struggle to make any earnings at conventions. She cited specific costs that her husband and she incur to attend shows and claims several others in the industry shared their frustrations regarding the culture shift at conventions. In order to have a fully informed opinion on this particular stance, one would need to have the experience of being a professional at a convention and all the associated financial nuances that accompany it. I am not that person. Ask my girlfriend, my comprehension of base level economics is staggeringly incomplete as I am the same person who will spend hundreds on hardcover editions of comic books I’ve already bought in other formats, yet refuse to purchase a tube of toothpaste over three dollars. Better yet, please don’t ask her. A gut reaction to Mrs. Dorman’s piece might be that she is blaming a group of fandom that exists solely because of people like her husband that have created a furor within a sub-group fandom that they wish to express through spending their own time and money on costuming themselves. That’s valid. Also valid is that in order for creators to continue to be able to supply that furor, they need to go to conventions and promote themselves, which is become increasingly difficult to do as the focus at these types of congregations is shifting. What’s particularly extraordinary to me is that this conversation is happening at all. It is the direct result of a paradigm shift that is moving what was once considered a niche (i.e. nerd) world firmly into the realm of the mainstream. Let’s celebrate this.
Comic books and their multi-million dollar media inspirations are being examined, sometimes well and sometimes horrendously, by the likes of the New York Times, NPR, Fox News and The Colbert Report. Everyone knows about us now and sometimes that means there’ll be praise and sometimes there’ll be criticisms. Like any hipster claiming to be a fan of the band before they were ever known, or even before they ever existed, many long-time comic “nerds” long to fight back against the bandwagon hoppers and their relatively uninformed views on something they hold dear. If the recent fill-in-the-blank #gates have taught us anything, it is that with acceptance into the mainstream there comes a level of analytical discourse previously unseen in that realm. Some will fight back against these outsiders’ perspective, like the flailing of a dying, Spider-Man loving fish choking on unknown air, but many will and have welcomed new voices. That recognition is the result of acknowledging that nerd culture is now pop culture. This means changes, sure, and that is often frightening, which in turn is often expressed through frustration and anger. But there’s still room for everyone. Accepting a changing landscape and the challenges that come with it is nothing new; it’s called evolving.
If comic convention crowds are changing, it’s not solely the result of an evil corporation’s master scheme to steal and co-opt your beloved hobby nor is it due to an army of self-absorbed seamstresses and tailors clad in Elven headdresses looking to financially ruin creators. Its many things and all of them are worth discussing and examining, even the cosplay “issue”, but as always, let’s appreciate that these dialogues are happening at all and the reasons they’re happening. Something once loved by a few is now loved by many. Conventions can and will adapt, more creator-focused driven cons appear each year, and they will adapt to meet their attendees interests. Let’s not look to marginalize those inside what is now a shared culture. There’s room for everyone on that metaphorical con floor.