It doesn’t seem like that long ago when geek culture was relegated to basements, comic shops, and ballrooms at your local airport Sheraton. These days, geek culture is pop culture. Comic book-based movies lead the box office. Fantasy authors are achieving celebrity status. Batman is…well, Batman is pretty much always popular.
But nowhere has this increased public awareness of everything nerdish been more evident than at comic book conventions.
Attendance numbers at comic cons around the world continue to climb as people choose to let their geek flag fly. At this point, even the most uninitiated of muggles are familiar with Comic-Con International: San Diego, the biggest and baddest of all cons. Nerds worldwide make the holiest of pilgrimages to this sacred event, to worship at the ultimate altar of geekdom alongside thousands and thousands of their compatriots.
This is done by paying a lot of money to wait in exceptionally long lines for a six-second audience with your favourite creator, assuming comic book creators can still be found amongst the Glee panels and Stallone/Schwarzenegger appearances.
Ultimately, the true legacy of events like San Diego is the spread of comic cons across the world. The Canadian Prairies are no exception.
The Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo has been consistently growing for years, making huge waves in 2012 with the first reunion of the Star Trek: the Next Generation cast in two decades. The Calgary Expo spawned the first edition of the Edmonton Comic & Entertainment Expo in 2012 which was also quite a success in its first year. And the Central Canada Comic Con in Winnipeg is no slouch, either, recovering nicely from an encounter with the folks at Wizard World a couple of years ago.
Saskatoon held its first event in 2011 with what is now known as the Saskatoon Blitz, run by Blitz Events. Birthed from their group’s love of anime and manga, the Saskatoon Blitz encompasses content from a variety of genres, much like comic cons and fan expos in other centres. And it’s done well in Saskatoon, which led to one inescapable conclusion…
Saskatoon needs another comic con.
It was recently announced that the first edition of the Saskatchewan Entertainment Expo will be taking place in September 2013, about three months after the Blitz. Naturally, there is the perception of competition between them, fuelled by the fact that SEE is using the same venue as the Blitz and a few of their guests are former Blitz guests.
In reality, these cons are not on a mission to take each other out. While both are attempting to appeal to many of the same attendees, each has their own focus.
The Blitz has a definitive concentration on anime, manga, and voice actors. This makes sense as that is at the core of the group that created the Blitz. This year’s guests includes voice actors like Todd Haberkorn and John DiMaggio, best known for his voice work as Bender on Futurama and Jake the Dog on Adventure Time. SEE, on the other hand, is being operated by a group whose passion is comic books and media guests. They have booked likes of comic book creators Kurtis Wiebe and Riley Rossmo, artist and comic con favourite Christopher Uminga, and guests from The X-Files and Lost.
Where their purposes cross is their common desire to promote the local creative community.
Kurtis J. Wiebe and Riley Rossmo are growing stars in the comic book world, both cutting their teeth in Saskatoon. Wiebe and Rossmo have worked frequently on projects for Image as well as on jobs with Marvel. While neither lives in Saskatoon anymore, both grew their craft here, and have appeared at the Blitz and will appear at SEE. Other local talents find venues to promote their talents at events like these. It’s why the loss of the focus on local creators at their hometown cons and beyond concerns those same local creators.
One of the true dangers of the contemporary state of comic cons is their growth into the media guest focused model, as evidenced in San Diego. Media guests from film and TV are big draws, bringing in thousands of fans that comic book creators just can’t. They spike the attendance in ways that helps the con grow and, in theory, gives a wider potential audience to those creators.
In reality, the side effect of this is that comic book creators become increasingly marginalized at comic book conventions, so much so that these same creators start new cons where they can bring the focus back to them. In San Diego, that new con is Trickster.
It’s a balancing act that both the Blitz and SEE are facing even in these early stages. The organizers of these cons are at odds with the desire to bring in as many local creators as possible while knowing that media guests are often where the money is. The increasing importance of media guests at comic cons is at direct odds with the original goal of providing a forum for comic book creators to connect with fans. It’s hard to talk shop with Gerry Conway when the line for Tom Felton separates you. Keeping local creators in the forefront of the show is a difficult task at best, particularly in Saskatoon where strong local support is going to be key to keep each convention going.
A prime example of how a creator focused con can be successful is Emerald City Comicon in Seattle. It’s the biggest con in the Pacific Northwest, though not one of the biggest cons in North America. It draws great guests, both creator and media, and grows in size, scope and attendance numbers every year. Even while growing, Emerald City has kept its focus on creators, both local and beyond, and been successful doing it.
Since its inception, the Blitz has taken pride in helping local talent make the jump from Saskatoon to the bigger con circuit. Success at the local level can garner invitations to other cons. Oh, and actually being talented helps make that jump, too. SEE has similar goals, hoping to provide another venue to showcase local talent to a larger stage.
As for the competition between Blitz and SEE, time will tell if that is just perceived hype or if there is something more there. The reality is that people love to see conflict where there is none. And this is definitely fertile ground for fan fiction. It’s more likely that attendees of both cons will see cooperative efforts between the two cons grow long before a war breaks out.
And why not?
Having two cons in Saskatoon could definitely be a benefit to local geek culture and creator talents. Each is a distinctly different offering but still provides local artists with a chance connect with a larger audience. As long as the focus stays on creators.
Ian Goodwillie is a columnist for the Spectator Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at@ThePrairieGeek and on Tumblr at iangoodwillie.tumblr.com.
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