Brian reveals the shocking truth:
"Originally, this was a convention where you had comic dealers who would schlep down or across the country ostensibly to sell. There just weren't that many things outside of [comics] to keep you occupied. Now there are panels all day long and events that go into the evening. You could easily go to Comic-Con and basically never venture into the dealers' area. I have gone to the dealers' floor a few times over the years and heard people grousing that [the organizers] aren't doing enough to get people to come out and actually buy. And when all the emphasis is on panels and movie presentations -- things that keep people out of the dealer areas -- it doesn't help them in terms of selling their stuff."
It's entirely possible that most modern Comic-Con attendees will leave San Diego without ever buying a comic. But Adams argues that the current state of the convention has still been good for them:
"Let's say in New York you have a comic book convention in the Penta hotel [the Hotel Pennsylvania]. Well, you're maybe going to get 3,000-5,000 people, and that's a crowd. Well, right now we have a convention in the Javits [Center] that has 90,000 people. You certainly have enough people there to buy comic books from the guys who bring the long white boxes. You also have enough people who will buy signatures from actors and enough people who will go there and do cosplay."
"You've got a much larger population of people who go to conventions, and if the people who are selling comic books want to sit and cry into their beers that every one of the cosplayers aren't coming and buying comic books, they should be ashamed of themselves, because that's ridiculous. They get enough people in. I've had conversations with guys as little as two weeks ago who will tell me, 'Hey, we had a good weekend, we did $50,000.' Well, you didn't do $50,000 back in 1977, believe me. You did $1,000 if you were lucky, maybe $800. So people do tend to complain, but it just falls on deaf ears if you have any experience and a little bit of history."
The other group of people who did big business then, as Adams recalls, were the toy vendors. A lot of their business was actually helped along by Adams, but the whole comics industry was so primitive that he didn't make a dime:
"What the comic book fans would buy at the conventions would be toys, Batmobile toys from Mego and the various companies. The toy market was essentially licensing of toys, and DC Comics for the most part, when I started working for them, they would 'borrow' my drawings and send them to these licensors, and the licensors, seeing an upgrade of their favorite characters, would buy more licenses, and they would have toys, games, T-shirts, pajamas, and pillowcases. The licensing grew very quickly in the '60s and '70s, and my art appeared everywhere. And once in awhile I would go to them and go, 'Shouldn't I get a little money from this?' [And they said], 'Don't you feel privileged that they're using it on all their toys and stuff?' [I said], 'Yeah, but I gotta feed my family.'"
Yes, aside from the eternal problem of going broke due to various collectible-buying-related issues, it was truly a different era. And that's especially true because ...
Comic-Con 2017 will spawn the creation of enough pictures and videos to fill several Libraries of Alexandria. But it's actually pretty hard to find good photos of some of the older cons. This collage from 1975 features a Stan Lee who is either about to sing in a seedy lounge or shout into a microphone beside Hulk Hogan:
Honestly, considering that it's Stan Lee, those careers don't sound too crazy.
You'll notice absolutely no evidence of costumes. Check out that banquet on the bottom left. People are wearing suits. It turns out Comic-Con didn't even add a costume competition until 1974, and Adams for one didn't see a lot of cosplayers in the early days:
"It didn't exist, who would do such a thing? You wouldn't put on a Halloween mask to go to a comic convention; you go there to buy comic books. It kind of snuck in under the radar. You'd get somebody who'd come to a convention dressed as Dick Tracy, and you'd go 'Huh, Dick Tracy, cool.' Then you'd see somebody else as Betty Boop. It was kind of a by-the-way entertainment, but suddenly it just evolved."
Even when you look at pictures from that first costume competition, it barely seems like people are dressed up compared to the crowds at a modern Comic-Con. Half of these people look like they're about to stop you in a Los Angeles coffee shop to explain their new script:
"I'd like to get Jennifer Lawrence for the lead. But barring that, two Tom Cruises will work."
Ten years after the competition began, a Japanese journalist gave cosplaying its name, and it took off into the hobby it is today. So when you see multiple people drop from heat stroke while waiting to get Stan Lee's autograph, just know that it took a long time to get to such a grand place.
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