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Four academics, a superhero, a skunk and a goat explain why Comic-Con should stay in San Diego

July 26, 2010 - 10:11 am

We’ll get to the goat in a minute. But first…

One of the lesser-mentioned parts of San Diego Comic-Con is the annual “Comic Arts Conference,” an academic program of discussions and panels for headier discourse on comics, culture and sociology. Wittenberg University also sponsors undergraduate, masters and PhD students to conduct field work on site at the convention.

On the final day of Comic-Con, these students presented their initial findings at a panel titled, “The Culture of Popular Things: Ethnographic Examinations of Comic Con 2010.”

A little something about me: I’ve got a masters in social anthropology, so I felt compelled to ditch out on the Bill Hader (SNL) and Matt Fraction panel halfway through to attend this one. During the Q&A, I hit the students with the question on many San Diegans’ minds:

There’s been a lot of talk about Comic-Con leaving San Diego—and it’s been here for several decades now—and  I was wondering if there’s sense of… how much the building itself, the city itself affects the culture that thrives here and how much that will change if it leaves?

Here are the truncated answers.

Evan Dossey, an undergraduate studying anthropology at Ball State University, was the first to jump in:

Honestly, I have no idea. You do notice that a lot of the city seems to be catering towards the convention center and I know, personally, that there are other conventions themselves that are in other areas of the country that are equally as large as San Diego or gaining the amounts of people—like New York Comic-Con and they just started C2D2 in Chicago… I personally don’t see why you would leave San Diego, when it has such a close proximity to a large number of prominent creators and properties, but I don’t know how the decision would be made to leave San Diego from a marketing standpoint, since it seems to be a very perfect place to hold such a convention, particularly during the summer, when the weather is very conducive to dressing up like Shazaam, or Captain Marvel, actually, but I would like him to yell “shazaam” by the end of this panel.

Dossey is talking about Kane Anderson, who—he shits us not—is earning a PhD in Super-hero-logy at UC Santa Barbara. He conducted his field work in a skin-tight suit, surveying other masked avengers. See:

Here’s how Anderson responded to Dossey:

You know, I would say real quick, the other sites that are suggested—LA, Vegas, Anaheim—they already have this fantasy side to them, an escapist side. There’s something really interesting about San Diego. It’s a transformation that happens, that actually shifts it to a new fantasy realm that I really enjoy. I also enjoy coming here when it’s not Comic-Con, because everything’s cheaper, but it would be a shame, I think, to lose that sense of crossing the boundary.

It’s at this point that I realized I had asked the right question. I think it was the only one in which more than two panelists chimed in. Emily Saidel, who is pursuing her masters in Media, Culture and Communication at NYU, had this to say, and, really, this was the answer I was waiting for:

This is absolutely hazarding a guess, but I’ve found that there is something of a mystique to this convention center. When you say “Hall H,” people know what you’re talking about, people know, “Ah, you’re gonna be in a long line and you’re probably going to be seeing one of the big productions.” Or “Ballroom 20.” These rooms have traditions of their own and people can identify with those traditions as well as the community that sort of sits in that room. So, moving the site would require completely reestablishing those traditions or translating them into a new geographic location.

I followed up with a second question: “Would the dynamic between the people who come to the convention and the city itself change?” This time, Jacob Sigafoos, an undergraduate at Wittenberg, answered:

There’s a joke that someone told me: “All roads run to Comic-Con.” It is downhill, it’s the center thing…. People around here are so used to adapting. Conversations are flowing with people. We were in the hotel and the guy working the counter had nothing to do about comics, but he had a very educated conversation with me about it…. That’s something you’re going to lose when you start at a new place. Anytime you go anywhere new, you’re going to lose this. Like Emily was talking about, the level of dedication and the level of tradition, I think you’re definitely going to lose something.  And I think one of the things about San Diego is they’re used to this horde of comic fans and movie fans and all that coming in this one great way. I think to go somewhere new, yeah, the shops [in the new city] may be like, “Oh, it’s Comic-Con, so let’s do this,” but, honestly, the people who live there aren’t going to have an idea what to do with this.

So, there you go. The culture of Comic-Con certainly would suffer if it was to leave San Diego.

Now, for the goat. At 5 p.m., the Con shut down and as the conventioneers were swarming out into the late-afternoon sun, they encountered Captain America, a skunk and a real-live goat demanding that Comic-Con stay here, in its home of 40 years.

And, en Español:

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