It’s been happening for a while now. Geeks, once at the bottom of the social acceptance ladder, have finally got their days, months, and years in the spotlight. The biggest evidence of this is the annual entertainment extravaganza that is the San Diego Comic Con, that grows ever larger with each passing year. From panel discussions with stars of popular TV shows to the release of trailers of big budget fantasy films, from fans dressed up as their favourite fictional characters (cosplay) to portfolio reviews with top video game and comic book companies, Comic Con has become a multi-genre entertainment convention, and one of the largest cultural gatherings in the world.
The first Comic Con in San Diego was put together by a group of young people who were fans of comic books themselves, felt a bit like outsiders in their social circles, and were trying to meet more such people from across the US. The growth of the event from that initial gathering of people discussing science fiction and comic books in 1970 to the recently-concluded 49th Comic Con, where the newest Aquaman trailer was released, is staggering. The event holds several Guinness World Records, including that of being the largest annual comic and pop culture festival in the world. One of the obvious upshots of such popularity is how lucrative the event has become not just for itself, but for all the allied industries that have come to depend upon it for publicity and fan engagement. As science fiction, superhero stories, fantasy franchises, and comic books themselves have, in the past few years, emerged from the shadows and “gone mainstream”, what was once a small gathering of like-minded people has inevitably become a glitzy mega fest of corporations, jostling with each other for space and the attention of thosethat attend it, or follow it from across the world.
Several other similar conventions — there’s been one in Delhi for a few years now — have sprouted around the world, and are hoping to achieve similar success. While this has certainly created space for artists to do more of this sort of work, it has also benefitted the large franchises disproportionately; and as is the wont with such things, created an oligopoly of sorts. The downside of such soaring popularity is the temptation to cater to the lowest common denominator. And while it cannot be denied that some excellent work is being done, much of the success of franchises such as Marvel’s Avengers is that the edginess of the content has become blunted in the service of maximising profits.