Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture: What the World's Wildest Trade Show Can Tell Us About the Future of Entertainment

Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture: What the World's Wildest Trade Show Can Tell Us About the Future of Entertainment

by Rob Salkowitz

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Action! Excitement! Transmedia! Step inside Comic-Con to discover the cultural trends that will shape our world

“I’ve been in comics so long I sometimes think I invented ’em! But I just read Rob Salkowitz’s terrific new book and, y’know what? Even I learned new stuff! If you’re a comic book nut like me, miss it at your


Action! Excitement! Transmedia! Step inside Comic-Con to discover the cultural trends that will shape our world

“I’ve been in comics so long I sometimes think I invented ’em! But I just read Rob Salkowitz’s terrific new book and, y’know what? Even I learned new stuff! If you’re a comic book nut like me, miss it at your own risk!”
—Stan Lee, Legendary Comic Creator and Publisher

“Salkowitz tells it pretty much like it is: the good, the bad, and the ugly of the commercialization of one of America’s greatest art forms, as well as the indefatigable artistry of its creators. He is at once informative, insightful, sobering, and inspiring.”
—Douglas Rushkoff, pop culture analyst and author of Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age

“If you care at all about comics, this is an essential read (and if you don’t, Salkowitz just might win you over). But it’s also grab-worthy for anyone interested in the fascinating, conflicted, unfolding future of digital publishing and transmedia entertainment.”
Booklist (Starred Review)

“What began more than four decades ago as an intimate gathering of comic book creators, fans and legends has become a packed entertainment event. Although it doesn’t have the same ring to it, Comic-Con could more appropriately be called the Transmedia Pop Culture Con where buzz for a year’s worth of projects is created, prolonged or squelched. Yet, despite the awareness that the con is a giant marketplace where producers sell directly to customers, there has been shockingly little analysis of the business of the event before Rob Salkowitz’s new book, “Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture.”
—CNN Geekout

“The true gift in Rob’s book is how very hard it becomes for you to decide, whether you’re a business reader reading a pop culture book, or a comics fan reading a business book.”

“The book explores the business aspects of the show and how it is a microcosm of the growing transmedia aspects of both comic books and their connection to things such as film, TV, and video games. All the while, acting as a travelogue by a long-time fan of comics and Comic-Con.”

“Salkowitz’s first hand observation makes us feel like we are walking the convention floor with him. In some chapters you sense his thrill as he meets a few of his fan favorites. Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture should be a great book for comic book fans, moviegoers, pop culture followers, and marketing gurus.”

Welcome to Comic-Con: where the future of pop culture comes to life

Every summer, more than 130,000 comic fans, gamers, cosplay enthusiasts, and nerds of all stripes descend on San Diego to mingle with the top entertainment celebrities and creative industry professionals in an unprecedented celebration of popular culture in all its forms.

From humble beginnings, Comic-Con has mutated into an electrifying, exhausting galaxy of movies, TV, video games, art, fashion, toys, merchandise, and buzz. It’s where the future of entertainment unspools in real time, and everyone wants to be there.

In Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture, author Rob Salkowitz, a recognized expert in digital media and the global digital generation (and unabashed comics enthusiast), explores how the humble art form of comics ended up at the center of the 21st-century media universe. From Comic-Con’s massive exhibit hall and panels to its exclusive parties and business suites, Salkowitz peels back the layers to show how comics culture is influencing communications, entertainment, digital technology, marketing, education, and storytelling.

What can the world’s most approachable and adaptable art form tell us about the importance of individual talent and personal engagement in the era of the new global audience, the iPad, and the quarter-billion-dollar summer blockbuster? Here are some of the issues Salkowitz explores:

How do you succeed in the transmedia maelstrom? Comics have hopscotched across the media landscape for decades. What can we learn from their successes and failures as we careen toward a converged digital future?

Have comics cracked the digital code? Everyone is scrambling to deal with the business disruptions of digital distribution. Does the recent success of comics on tablets demonstrate a new model for other industries, or do dangers lie ahead?

What’s next for “peak geek”? Will the ascendant nerd culture of the early 2010s keep its new audience engaged or burn out from overexposure?

Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture combines the insights business leaders need with the details fans crave about the future ofthe world’s most dynamic industry. Even if you can’t be in San Diego in July, this book brings the excitement into focus . . . no costumes required!

Product Details

McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture



The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Copyright © 2012Rob Salkowitz
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-179702-3




It's a cold, rainy March day in Seattle, and my wife, Eunice, has taken the morning off to dial the same telephone number over and over until she gets through. Across the room, I am on two different computers trying to load a website that went live just seconds ago. The hourglass on the browser spins as the page starts to fill one character at a time, as if we were still in 1988 and connecting to CompuServe with a 300-baud modem.

Welcome to "Hoteloween," the term coined by comics journalist Heidi MacDonald for the dreadful day when the hotel reservation lines for the San Diego Comic- Con open. Though the show itself is still four and a half months in the future, the next moments are crucial. In a high-stakes game of musical chairs, more than a hundred thousand frenzied attendees are angling for a limited supply of discounted rooms in hotels near the San Diego Convention Center. If you don't get through in the first hour, you are likely to be stuck miles away, out in Mission Valley. If you wait more than a day, you will be lucky to get a room for the "special rack rates" that apply that week, which can run over $500 per night. Before the end of March, just about every hotel, vacation rental, catered apartment, and couch in the greater San Diego area will be reserved by fans who are willing to do anything to make it to the big show.

Securing a place to stay is just one of the many hurdles facing would-be Comic-Con attendees in recent years as the show has become the pop culture event of the summer. Tickets, hotels, airfare, onsite registration, lines that make Disneyland look like a county fairground—all these make going to Comic-Con an uncertain, frustrating, expensive, and complicated undertaking.

What's so special about Comic-Con that it generates this much crazy activity so far in advance? After all, not many people read comics these days. Sales of the bestselling titles in early 2011 topped out at half the annual attendance at Comic-Con. Even if you're a fan, there are plenty of other conventions around the country that don't require nearly the same effort and preparation.

Yet starting around 2000, attendance at the San Diego Comic-Con has skyrocketed, breaking record after record, to the point that it now takes over downtown San Diego for the better part of a week. During those five days in July, fans have been known to line up for days, sleeping on the streets just to get a chance to see one panel. Parties go on all night. Entire blocks are transformed by giant floats, banners, and structures erected just for Con-time. Every year, the Con is accompanied by thousands of reports of different aspects of the proceedings that amount to a room full of blind men describing an elephant. Even when you separate the signal from the noise, there is still so much signal that it is impossible to get a clear reading on what just happened.

Comic books and Comic-Con alone are not responsible for this; comics culture is. Comics culture is the blend of superheroes, animation, movies, video games, television shows, art, fashion, toys, accessories, and personalities that has emerged as the result of a postmillennial convergence of media and the concurrent explosion of online channels for connecting fans with the objects of their fandom.

Comics culture is a tightly woven matrix of art and commerce. Extending out in one direction is the "comics as art form" continuum, in which the medium of graphic storytelling (pictures in sequence with text) is applied in all kinds of formats (comic books, webcomics, graphic novels, comic strips) and all kinds of styles (minimalist, "mainstream," fine art) to tell all kinds of stories, from superheroes to satire to autobiography to political commentary. The other path heads toward "comics as genre," where the distinctive graphic look and storytelling elements associated specifically with superhero comic books, such as plot-driven continuity, the creation of entire fictional universes, and the predominance of supernatural and power-fantasy motifs, have taken hold in other media like film, television, and video games.

Over the past 20 years, comics have expanded in both the artistic and commercial dimensions, moving from the fringes of the high culture and entertainment worlds to the centers of both. The comics art form has been embraced by some of the most serious and accomplished creators working today all around the world. Comics aesthetics and comics genres, especially superheroes, are mainstays of the entertainment industry, responsible for billions in revenues across various media and through various licensing tie-ins.

The appeal of comics-related subject matter, whether it is fantasy-based, humorous, or in a more literary style, is rooted in the medium's unique use of words and pictures to tell stories. Comics are catnip to consciousness. They engage us at multiple levels: through stylized visuals; through narration; through their ability to create convincing, self-contained worlds; through the way they make preposterous characters and situations more real and plausible than everyday life; and through the distortions of time and space that are possible only with the medium of sequential art.

The simplicity and accessibility of the comics medium appeals to kids who might be too young to read the words, but who can follow the story through pictures. The fanciful story lines capture young imaginations, especially when they are reinforced across media through cartoons, video games, and prose fiction in comics-type genres (fantasy, mystery, heroic adventure, and so on). Comics exert a powerful allure for older folks who remember them basted in the glow of nostalgia. Graphic novels, webcomics, and manga (Asian-style comics, typically embracing a wider range of genres) engage readers who have no interest in traditional comics subjects.

The power of the medium combines with the curious history of comics in the United States to create irresistible intrigue for certain kinds of people. Comics themselves are full of details and story points to amuse obsessives. Every artist has a unique approach to storytelling, layout, and rendering, giving the connoisseur much to appreciate. Comics are sequentially numbered, making them easy to catalog, giving them a built-in appeal for completists and collectors. Publishers and creators are the subject of gossip and lore; real insiders know the stories. Even comics fandom has a history. All of this renders the world of comics more than a hobby and more than a category of "media content." In terms of stickiness—that intangible factor that keeps the audience coming back for more, so desirable in today's attention-deficit world—the medium makes superglue seem like Teflon. That extra richness is what makes comics important in the wider spectrum of entertainment media, and what makes the adaptation and evolution of comics so problematic.

Comics fandom transcends economic class, race, region, educational attainment, and (despite stereotypes) gender. For decades before the mainstreaming of comics and nerd culture, those who remained fans beyond childhood tended to be intellectuals, autodidacts, and outsiders whose peculiar interests turned out to be well suited to the emerging information economy. A disproportionately large number of creative professionals are or were involved in some aspect of comics culture at some point in their lives. This secret army of comics fans includes sleeper cells throughout the entertainment, marketing, high-tech, and media industries who signal their affiliations by subtle and overt means, ranging from the occasional adept use of comics-tinged imagery to the advocacy of comics- oriented projects "done right" (as fans would want the

Excerpted from Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture by ROB SALKOWITZ. Copyright © 2012 by Rob Salkowitz. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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Meet the Author

Rob Salkowitz is cofounder and Principal Consultant for the Seattle-based communications firm MediaPlant, LLC. He is the author of Young World Rising and Generation Blend and teaches in the Digital Media program at the University of Washington.

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