Though I’ve been a comic book lover for decades and have attended my share of midwest and east coast conventions, I’ve never been to the grandest con of them all, San Diego’s Comic-Con. All things financial considered, I don’t see myself attending it any time soon in the future either, but like many stay-at-home fans, I won’t stop reading the on-line reportage once the event kick-starts.
Timed for release ahead of this year’s Comic-Con, Rob Salkowitz’ Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture (McGraw Hill) is designed to provoke plenty of thoughtful panel talk about this monolithic pop cultural event, its role in the broader entertainment industry as well as the future of the medium that sparked its existence in the first: the humble floppy comic book. Salkowitz approaches his topic as both a business analyst and a longtime fanboy—and he shows a commendable breadth of knowledge about both the medium and the somewhat clannish fan culture. Though he grew up on superhero comics, he is capable of discussing alternative/literary comics, manga, digital comics, et al. As such, the man balances a futurist's focus on the struggling comics industry with an amused appreciation of the medium’s history and the workings of what’s become “the world’s wildest trade show.”
Accompanied by his wife Eunice—herself a fan with her own distinct interests— Salkowitz takes us on a day-by-day trek through the 2011 Comic-Con, describing its functions as an archival celebration of comics history, a p.r. hub where Hollywood and game companies unleash their promo hounds for an ultra-critical fan audience, a marketplace where artists and dealers try to score big sales (and discerning collectors try to score that one item that’ll make their collection complete—at least for a moment) and a forum where industry folk and their readers consider the future of the medium they love.
As Salkowitz repeatedly makes clear throughout his book, at this point in history, comics’ flagship format—the 32-page floppy—is struggling to stay alive. Currently dependent on the gasping direct market as repped by funky little comics shops across the U.S. along with the big bucks optioning of Hollywood studios, the “mainstream” comics industry is in a tenuous position. As with the rest of the publishing industry, the digital wave of tablets and e-readers has made the business end of the industry confusing. And as Salkowitz points out, the major comics companies—perhaps feeling cushioned by their movie moneys—have been calamitously cautious about embracing the digital.