Emerald City Comicon, having doubled in size to consume the Washington State Convention Center this year, has now become the leading place to take part in the “comic convention experience.” It has assumed this position in part to the hard work exhibited by convention organizers, but a large portion can be attributed to the luck of a near-perfect location—adjacent myriad hotels, tourist traps, bars, retail outlets, and sporting events—in a safe, pristine portion of Seattle. The convention’s determination to place comics first has also enabled it to secure the loyalty of fans as well as comics professionals.
However, it is not without its growing pains. The crowds yesterday were clearly overwhelming, on a weekday where the convention did not open until 2:00 p.m. and many potential attendees had to work. No matter. Exhibition halls were busy (though not to the degree found at San Diego Comic-Con or New York Comic Con); I spoke with several fans and professional creators who commented on the impressive size of the crowd. What was notable was the lack of complaining involved, perhaps due to the ease of simply stepping away from the crowd for a moment or two to decompress. Having the Sheraton Seattle directly across the street and other hotels within an extremely short walking distance provided the opportunity to grab a quick nap or shower between panels (an opportunity that was taken full advantage of yesterday and will be today)! This is a key bonus not provided by NYCC and SDCC. It allows for ECCC to be a family-friendly show. Yesterday, I met a couple attending their first convention with two toddlers and a tween in tow. I could not imagine how the two might be able to weather the long trek from Penn Station to NYCC’s Jacob Javits Center or even be able to locate a hotel to attend San Diego’s convention. (I certainly could not!)
But would they want to? The father had mentioned that he was a fan of comics. Not music, not film, not television—comics. Unlike its larger competitors, ECCC has been able to increase its size while maintaining its focus on comics professionals and the work they produce. The convention has not been descended upon by Hollywood as has SDCC; unlike NYCC, it is still an affordable experience for the average fan. Readers are able to have face-to-face discussions with creators about the creative process. At the “Parker/Brothers” panel helmed by Jeff Parker and David Brothers, attendees were treated not only to Parker’s premiere bottle of Jameson, but his fascinating explanation of what it means to be a successful writer as well. Attending “The Big Picture” allowed fans to listen in on a candid discussion between Allison Baker and Kelly Sue DeConnick on marketing and maintaining work balance while building a brand and interacting with fans/friends. Finally, at the “Putting the ‘Graphic’ in Graphic Novels” panel I discovered the hilarious (and filterless!) Howard Chaykin is the one comics professional you’d most want at your dinner table—though not at the same time as your mother. The frank look at sex and sexuality in comics, and Chaykin’s asides on everything from his early days cracking down on “pornographic” Katy Keene comics as a camp counselor to John Byrne’s purchasing habits was refreshing and entertaining.
It is clear by looking at the panels offered that comic books, publishers, and professionals are of key importance to ECCC. Still, it does not appear as if the feeling is mutual. Though well stocked, booths lacked the flashy nature seen at other conventions. And though a small number of announcements—such as Gail Simone’s upcoming work on Dynamite’s Red Sonja—were made, it was frustrating to see a number of creators, including the aforementioned Parker, state yesterday that they couldn’t talk about a major project until “an official announcement had been made.” ECCC is large enough to now be a place where those announcements should be made instead of reserving them for summer (SDCC) and autumn (NYCC).
Though ECCC is now in the “big leagues,” its after-hours activities still mimic those taking place at smaller conventions such as Baltimore Comic-Con and Dragon*Con. There is a distinct lack of segregation according to job function—consumers, creators, celebrities, and journalists all sit at the same dinner tables and later wander to the same bars. While this is perfectly fine for a homey convention with a “what happens at x stays at x approach,” the intermingling combined with exorbitant amounts of alcohol could be a clear negative for a massive convention with growing media attention. Still, I’d hate to see the private segregated parties found after hours at SDCC and NYCC spring up at ECCC. At the end of the day, sitting at a table surrounded by creators, journalists, and readers, all possessing a love of comics, to discuss the industry and the creative process is appreciated—and one of the many reasons why Emerald City Comicon is currently the best comic convention in the US.