Luke Y Thompson covers the Con for Deadline:
By the time The Simpsons makes a joke about something, you know it’s out there. Last Sunday, when Comic Book Guy was mocked by Lisa for being a fat guy who didn’t conform to the “jolly” stereotype, he responded that nobody could be happy if they knew Comic-Con might move to Anaheim.
Certainly, few in the biz want that to happen either; even Comic-Con’s director of PR, David Glanzer, told me that “We were born in San Diego, we’d really like to stay in San Diego: we just have serious challenges.” But in fact, this talk isn’t new. For several years now, there has been talk of Comic-Con International using Anaheim as a negotiating tactic, feeling that the city of San Diego is taking the convention for granted; the lease expires after 2012. More recently, Los Angeles has stepped up a bid of its own to bring Comic-Con to the L.A. convention center, and comicsbeat.com has done a good job of covering the various offers and counter-offers out there.
Glanzer and others frame the issue as primarily one of space: he cites a waiting list of 400-600 exhibitors who want to get in but can’t, and the fact that 4-day passes for this years show sold out last September. But when pressed on the issue of the city’s appreciation, he replied, “I can’t say that they haven’t been supportive, but I can say that with this recent negotiation, the outpouring of support has been really dramatic… from the center, from hotels, from the mayor’s office, and it’s something we truly appreciate.”
But how do the professional attendees feel? My sources invariably see it as a battle between San Diego and Los Angeles, with Anaheim an irrelevant factor, despite the fact that it has the most hotel space. First of all, it’s Disney’s backyard, which could put the other movie studios ill at ease (Glanzer denies that this would be an issue, saying that it was originally a question they had, but that all parties involved have assured him it would not be a problem). And secondly, it’s enough of a commute from L.A. to be an annoyance, and not quite enough to be a vacation (though fans and exhibitors who actually live in OC are for it, nobody else seems to be).
Jeff Katz, a comic-book writer and former executive at Fox and New Line, sees the struggle this way: “Are you a fan show with trade elements, or are you a trade show that lets in fans…or is there a happy medium? They have to decide: if it’s about servicing the larger multimedia needs, as though Comic-Con is a piece of the pipeline as opposed to a destination event, then sure LA makes a lot more sense. If it’s a destination event that wants to reach out to families and keep that branding, that is San Diego.”
Though the general sense is that attendees who are already fans like the San Diego setting, while executives more concerned with the bottom line do not, Katz notes “There’s a whole group of us in the middle that like going down to San Diego, because it gives us a chance to get out of LA and see our friends from a host of mediums.”
Mark Evanier, a comic-book writer who has been attending the convention since the first one in 1970, agrees. “When we go to Comic-Con, we all go and stay down there, and it becomes like a retreat, we’re all together night and day, and when you pass people on the street, they’re people that are on the way to the convention. It’s a whole city of common interest, which it wouldn’t be in Anaheim or LA. There’s something nice to the vacation aspect of it.”
He also adds that he doesn’t think the convention organizers or attendees in general want to move, just that all options are being considered as a negotiating tactic, and a temporary one at that. “It’s not a question of never getting bigger – San Diego’s expanding that facility. It’s just a question of whether they wanna move for a few years and then move back to San Diego. If they could somehow magically speed up that development, I don’t think this would even be an issue.” Not that he’s unbiased: “I’ve MASTERED that place. I don’t wanna start over at the convention center.” If it goes to L.A., though, he says he has a plan. “I had to pay $50 in the parking lot across the street [for the E3 convention] and if Comic-Con moved it would be bigger than that, so I would buy that real estate.”
Evanier and Katz are also in agreement with most others about the pedestrian and family-friendly nature of San Diego — L.A. live and the Nokia Theater may be nice improvements, but they really aren’t for kids. Anaheim is, but it would be competing with Disneyland’s peak season for hotel space.
Recent offers by San Diego businesses to help shoulder the cost are seen by some as too little, too late…but those who attend regularly are overwhelmingly in the camp of keeping things as they are. Katz thinks this will come to a head soon, noting, “Every year we say that this is the year that might see the breaking point; it feels to me like this year might be it, between the frustration people had booking hotels, you have another convention down there…it seems to me that we’re now getting to that point where, coinciding with the lease coming up, decisions have to be made. Whatever they do, it’s gonna be unpopular with one segment of the audience.”