Comic-Con turns a new leaf at 50
So when 135,000 geeks and nerds invade San Diego next week for the 50th edition of Comic-Con—the world’s largest celebration of pop culture—the event’s humble beginnings will be a hot topic of discussion. The sprawling convention today draws Hollywood A-listers like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Patrick Stewart and the cast of “Game of Thrones” to its frantically hyped panels, where billion-dollar franchises are launched. But the first iteration—the brainchild of an unemployed 36-year-old comic collector and his five teenage acolytes—drew just 100 people to a seedy hotel basement down the road in March 1970. The “Golden State Comic-Con” was first designed as a way for fans to connect with each other and meet their heroes—the comic book creators—at a time when the genre was a million miles away from the mainstream. “We never thought we’d be as big as we are. We never thought we’d be around in 50 years’ time,” David Glanzer, Comic-Con’s marketing chief, told AFP. Star Wars to Tarantino “They were the first people who really viewed comic books as art,” added Glanzer. Comic-Con’s subsequent growth was gradual but inexorable. It increasingly looked beyond comics and catered to film and TV, as well as other genres such as sci-fi. Oscar-winning director Frank Capra was the first genuinely mainstream star to attend. But arguably the tipping point came in 1976 when Lucasfilm’s publicist sent a team bearing posters and slides to promote an upcoming “little film called Star Wars,” said Glanzer. The ploy to spread word of mouth about its ambitious space opera was “viral marketing before there was viral marketing,” he added. It evidently worked. Big-shot studio executives who had previously attended for fun on their weekends began coming for the whole week, arriving in their business suits to close major licensing deals at San Diego’s top restaurants. By the 90s, studios and networks were sending the “talent” itself— star-studded casts and directors—forcing the traditional media to pay attention.