Five Ways Comic-Con Has the Power to Make or Break Reputations

Illustration for article titled Five Ways Comic-Con Has the Power to Make or Break Reputations

Click to viewThough it was only a few short years ago that Comic-Con was just an underground scifi and comics con, the show has become a proving ground for pop culture aimed at anyone who likes escapist fun. With the show attracting over 100 thousand visitors, and all the major studios and comics publishers, it's clear that the culture industry knows that the reputations of certain properties could stand or fall at this con. But why? What is it that Comic-Con can give to an upcoming movie like Watchmen or a TV show like JJ Abrams' Fringe that heaps of mass-marketing and giant advertising budgets can't? We've got five answers for you.


Comic-Con Can Bestow Cult Status

It's hard to manufacture cult status — no matter how much a company puts into its advertising budget, there's no way to be sure it will result in the cult reputation of a movie like Donnie Darko or a series like Firefly. Still, there are good reasons to strive for cult status. Cult flicks stay in theaters for years, and spawn legions of tie-in items like books, special edition DVDs, games, and more. If any group is likely to form a cult around a media property, however, it's going to be the people attending Comic-Con. So if a studio thinks it has a potential cult hit on its hands like Watchmen, it had better be courting the Comic-Con crowds with special teasers just for the Con and lots of love from creators and actors involved with the production. Cultists like special treats, and Comic-Con is designed to give them what they want.

Comic-Con Attendees Are Pop Culture Connoisseurs

Just as the technology world has its "early adopters" and "alpha geeks," so too does the pop culture world have its connoisseurs. And most of those connoisseurs go to Comic-Con. What makes a connoisseur, instead of just a regular movie-goer or comic book reader? Connoisseurs spread the word in LiveJournals, blogs, and fan clubs. They are the taste-makers among their groups of friends and in their communities, organizing trips to the theater and making "word of mouth" a reality. Pop culture connoisseurs are almost entirely responsible for the popularity of movies like Blair Witch Project, and for the failure of Ang Lee's Hulk movie.

Illustration for article titled Five Ways Comic-Con Has the Power to Make or Break Reputations

Comic-Con Builds Mystique

Because you've got 100 thousand pop culture connoisseurs in one place at the same time, Comic-Con is the ideal place to build a brand and fast. No need to buy a zillion TV commercials — just create some mystique around your property. Hand out mysterious posters with glowing hands on them; design strange postcards that make oblique reference to your movie (like the creators of Wall-E did last year), or launch an alternate reality game (ARG) where Comic-Con attendees have to figure out clues in a website and meet somewhere in San Diego to get special swag. The point is, if you're going to do something that makes people obsess over your soon-to-launch movie/TV show/book, Comic-Con will provide the obsessives you need.

Comic-Con Can Make a Story Last for Decades

People who obsess over stories can also make one simple premise (a bunch of people flying around in a spaceship, say) last for decades. The people at Comic-Con are the children of the people who made Star Trek and Doctor Who into franchises that keep paying off nearly a century after they first aired on TV. They're the people who turned Star Wars into a religion. When a regular audience gets excited about a movie, they can make it last all summer. But only a Comic-Con audience can make it last for generations.


Comic-Con Generates Fan Bases, Not Just Audiences

What all these characteristics of Comic-Con add up to is the fact that the Con isn't just about showing off wares to a bunch of people who want to be entertained. A lot of people at Comic-Con want more than diversion and fun — they want to find stories that will turn them into fans. And to studios and publishers, fans equal cash. They're the built-in group of consumers that you never want to lose — the people who will stick by your show even when you swap in a lame new character or give Spider-Man radioactive sperm. Every major studio wants its properties to have fans, and that's why Comic-Con will be packed with producers, directors, creators, writers, and actors who are courting fan-bases. Especially for new properties that are coming out next year, like Fringe and Dollhouse. Other franchises, like Terminator and Lost, need less help. But they still need to maintain their fan bases, grooming them to consume yet another season or installment in the stories that obsess them. Top image via FigureThisRadio.

Illustration for article titled Five Ways Comic-Con Has the Power to Make or Break Reputations


Annalee Newitz

@Tim Faulkner: Leer if you like! I think the problem comes in when you feel the need to SHARE your leering and opinions about her body with the rest of us. I'm not saying it's bad to leer, OK? I think she's cute too. But notice that I was able to write an entire post around her cute body without EVER ONCE MENTIONING IT. Amazing, huh?