As we begin 2019 I was spent quite some time reflecting on the year that was in 2018 for myself and for cons and pop culture in general.
Another year is ended one of an increasing amount of cons, con merch, as well as changes within fandom, some impact by events and person outside of conventions.
Many of the conventions I have attended in the past year which seems far away and also not too long ago have been the for-profit conventions from ReedPOP, LeftField Media, and of course the non-profits WonderCon, SDCC, and DragonCon.
Every year these cons expand bringing in new people into our ever-expanding realms of fandom bringing in new people, new challenges for staff and organizers, and changes in the ways we experience fandom. Also every year the badges for regular attendees (I am usually press and/or professional) sell out within minutes.
So before we get into the cons themselves, let me go through some of the major changes and themes of the year.
Consolidation and outside investment/acquisition was one of the big themes in America where now Disney started to announce what will be coming to it’s new streaming service Disney+ in terms of Marvel, Star Wars, and other such fan favorite properties, this is as Netflix ends their streaming of Marvel properties and original productions. In the near future more data and analysis will be used in what we watch and how as more and cut the cord and like the cable wars of the past we will need to sign up for more and more separate digital services just to watch the shows we want to watch (including classic ones). It’s like the old cable wars which caused more piracy to happen.
At the same time however Disney and Marvel have also made a number of concerning decisions pertaining to these same fandom properties. The firing of James Gunn (which was prompted by alt-right) and the announcement and almost immediate removal of Chuck Wendig from writing a Star Wars series at Marvel which was also promoted by the alt-right.
Also in November The Daily Beast brought this up as well as the general treatment of creators through comics history.
Comics and pop culture being one of the unique things here were amazing creators who have multiple accolades in original works want to work on corporate owned characters, and all the harassment that can entail from entitled “fans” who have more in common with the very Nazis and evil organizations that our favorite heroes have always fought against.
There are more and more questions now about do the companies care about the creators and the stories? While various initiatives in diversity (which those evil fans try to resist) are being developed by the companies, in the monthly books, and also in the more common media that fans first encounter the characters TV series, movies, and video games.
In some cases salaried staff (editorial, hosts, etc) also become the creators of creative content with in some cases various books coming out from them supported by the company. This is not necessarily bad, but it does lead to questions between the differences in creative and business side, if that even exists anymore. It also brings in more questions about breaking into comics and pop culture, even for if that is more things on the business and support side, and not creative.
Licensing has become more important and while this is great in many aspects for fans and the variety of merch (as well as the businesses it does create) it makes you wonder is the IP more important than the stories that made it a valuable IP in their first place. (To reference this, think about Guardians of the Galaxy and how they were not a top tier IP till the movies.) However as is been starting to get noted with some Disney properties the effects are great, but the stories do not connect, which causes the audience to wane. While the licensing benefits many small companies (and there is a rise in licensed goods from small companies), and several very large ones, is the sheer amount of licensed product basically making it like the sports tshirts we bought when we were younger simply because it was available, though bought at cons, and online through a variety of retailers? This is a discussion to have because there is no shortage of products with elements, inspired by, or even looks just like the characters we know and love.
At the same time in unlicensed merchandise such as prints and digital items including such things as Patreon has transactions in the millions if not billions of dollars globally annually, with some cosplayers earning yearly six figure incomes of $100,000 through Patreon and partnershipsor more (more than many creators [including original creators], even if they have some sort of royalties for their creations). Now the effect of patreons have been very interesting to watch, in some countries it has helped raise individuals from more dire economic conditions because $1 USD can go a lot farther in some countries than others, and it has also allowed others to have significant supplemental incomes (anywhere from several thousand dollars a year to more than one would make on a full year on minimum wage). The significant supplemental incomes are becoming more common especially when you take into account the multiple forms of monetization platforms that are also used such as Twitch, as well as any referral links. An interesting note is that when comics artists sell these things they are regularly hit with takedowns. These transactions will be the kind of things the big companies will look to as another licensing and revenue source, especially as more of the companies are hiring cosplayers for promotion and featuring them on their social channels and in some programming for their events as well, Marvel now regularly does this and for a long time has also not enforced certain aspects of unlicensed IP use.
In and out of fandom we have seen a sharp increase in hate and bullying. The Southern Poverty Law Center has noted an external (external meaning not in cons and pop culture spaces) in the increase in hate crimes and across the board bullying mostly prompted and definitely inspired by Trump and his rhetoric. The tactic of attacks, fake news, and discrediting has also become more pronounced within con culture as well as denoted by the above, but also on the smaller scale where individual groups (sometimes encouraging others) will create false narratives to try to discredit, bully, or remove from con culture as well as individual cons. Social media allows people to make wild claims (and prior to that 4chan did) with no proof (and sometimes manufactured content) and little to no accountability at least from a legal perspective aside from making reports of harassment on the platforms many times because even with larger followings people go by usernames. We have seen how little twitter, facebook, and others have done this in stopping and how others such as Sarah Sanders the US Press Secretary and others lie and continue to spread lies of Trump, what it is a national and international level of some of the same toxicity that has always been a part of con culture, just now in a form that more people outside con culture understand, because they are seeing it unfold in the news (unless they watch Fox “News”). The Washington Post has a great article how who the spread of lies happens in at least the political landscape.
Though in the case of these unlicensed IP use the brands can use their legal power (as some have) to cut off the use on hosted platforms such as Patreon, Storenvy, and the like as well regular cease and desists and lawsuits.
One of the easiest ways to cut down hate is to cut off funding sources, a process and method known as deplatforming which has been used against truly vile individuals like Alex Jones. Deplatforming at the IP level can do a lot to combat toxic culture. This will become even more important as a new generation of fans particularly those in gaming spaces as they watch YouTubers and Twitch celebrities and emulate them, as they started to with PewDiePie and Logan Paul. These people have acted online mostly without consequence because of their popularity and this is something that needs to change because at all ages it encourages negative behavior.
This was also a major year of losses inside the comics and pop culture spaces. The most known being the passing of Stan Lee who has been a significant force in the shaping of not only Marvel Comics, but on pop culture as a whole as we know it. Many tributes, showings of love and memories and wonderful stories with Stan from all levels and aspects of fandom. There were many others as well such as Len Wein, Jon Schnepp, Douglas Rain (the voice of HAL 9000), Scott Wilson, William Goldman, Neil Simon, Nick Meglin, and so many others.
However it has also one of growth and hope. This year marked a League of Legends final that introduced a virtual K-pop star group inspiring many across the world, K/DA. Castlevania in its second and full season showed the power of what a great video game adaption could be along with thrilling most American made animation from Powerhouse Animation, and produced by the amazing Adi Shankar who will producing more fan favorite series as well as social relevant series with iconic characters such as Superman versus the Ku Klux Klan.
She-Ra was reimagined by a team of queer creators making another awesome show on Netflix.
The DC Universe streaming platform has begun to bring us amazing and incredible works of fiction with more coming down the line.
Afrofuturism shown it could be not just relevant, but fun and most important to the studios profitable with Black Panther winning at the box office as well as awards.
Into The Spider-verse continuing to show the awesomeness of representation in media while also connecting with the classic and original versions of the characters.
More types of people LBGTQIA are being represented in media than ever before (or were at least announced for appearances), inspiring even more than the minority of loud voices that wish to destroy them.
More people are connecting to each other through shared fandom and it’s becoming easier to find the media to connect with and watch it legally, which itself was a point made Kun Gao the Crunchyroll CEO. Core streaming platform systems are working to make their titles and offerings even more available to those around the world. Social networks for all the toxicity that gets spread on them, sometimes by state-sponsored entities, allows people to connect and bond over various fandoms from many different countries and just appreciate and share each other’s art and passions (even if they may be from a country that spreads propaganda and tries to influence elections).
My Hero Academia has become of the most loved and celebrated series in the past year in anime spaces inspiring people across the world.
Multiple great games have been released around the world such as Monster Hunter World a game that encourages cooperation, Spider-Man perhaps one of the best experiences of Spider-Man ever to be released and it includes a Stan cameo.
Avengers Infinity War came out and caused an emotional impact for many people and an excitement for the conclusion.
Disney+ was announced with multiple exciting series announced for it including with many diverse casts.
Goku the star of the Dragonball, Dragonball Z, and Dragonball Super Sagas flew in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade showing a massive shift in the appreciation of anime in America and it has coordinated with the rise in streaming, the growth of the anime fandom fanbase in the United States.
As we start 2019 we’ll see more expansion in fandom as well as new changes and new challenges as there is more consideration, an era of Marvel ending with the aptly titled Endgame.
For conventions my year began with BookCon which while a smaller ReedPOP show actually has a lot very interesting programming that would not have at other cons such as having speakers like former Presidents of the United States. It also has a lot of programming focused for kids such as with Jeff Kiney artist of the Wimpy Kid. Seeing the reactions of the kids it’s like seeing things for when we were first doing things when Harry Potter came out over 20 years ago. These kids have grown up with Diary of a Wimpy Kid just as we did with Harry Potter and other properties.
In more comics and graphic novels Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis spoke about the country, his experiences, and the new graphic novel trilogy Run the sequel to March. Along with him was Andrew Aydin (co-author and also his policy advisor) and artist Afua Richardson. This was the most powerful and inspiring time at BookCon.
Next up was WonderCon the smaller con run by CCI that as many know also runs Comic Con International (SDCC). As a much smaller event it is not as all encompassing as SDCC is on your senses. It is a lot of fun. Though this year they had the NFC badge scan further back so they prevented photo/cosplay ghosting. (Ghosting is basically attending a convention without a badge. Ghosting was quite common with cosplayers and photographers who just want to get photos especially in the last few years but as cons have been exploding in popularity, NFC technology and credentialing have been more invested in.) A much smaller show than SDCC, WonderCon has plenty of wonderful panels and events and it’s actually a great time to get photos because it is much less busy, so it’s great way to spend more time with friends who you might be way too busy to spend more time with at cons.
Following this was PAX East (run by ReedPOP) in April where I normally work as an enforcer. An enforcer is the name given to staff that helps make the convention run smoothly. There is an entire enforcer culture that is unlike most others at conventions. This system was created by PRD (Krysten Lyndsay who retired this past year). PAX is mainly focused on games and gaming which perhaps even more than comics unites people globally because now many people are playing the same games and know it (as evidenced by online interactions in game and out). It was here I met Mariya in person who many know as Fenix Fatalist. Coming from Ukraine she had a lot of different insights on things but also it was a unique chance to see how technology also unites and brings together those in pop culture and works to even eliminate language barriers.
The power of smartphones was one of the key things here, it is a way to show, share, connect, and even help fill in the gap on things like language. We looked at different things on each other’s phones at cosplayers on Instagram, apps, and even when there was words we didn’t understand we used Google Translate to find the word we knew in our native language to share.
PAX always great things to see with various games, discussions, programming etc., as stated in the article.
After PAX was of course the biggest show in pop culture the one and only Comic Con International which is always a highlight of the year many busy times, always great content. Many of the things talked about then are already comic out such as the DC streaming service and it’s great content, Disney+ is shaping up, and several movies have come across the Christmas screens to much acclaim.
DragonCon followed and as I wrote there is no con like DragonCon. It is perhaps one of the most diverse celebrations of pop culture, being something more celebration than industry driven.
NYCC the second largest convention and always a heavy hitter along with its own awards show the Harvey Awards which will expand more in 2019 more great and well run shows that awards the comics in comics are always welcome. There were multiple important panels such as We Spoke Out and many other enjoyable panels and fan favorites.
AnimeNYC it was fitting that I ended this year, one of many changes inside pop culture with a convention mostly dedicated to how I and many others still got into pop culture an anime one. While it has been quite some time since I went to a purely anime con, it’s been a few years, this one also had an academic conference the AniBiz which had a lot of insights from people in the industry or have recently left the industry. It was quite insightful and Japan Society has posted the talks
There were many first timers at this con, which has a feel of a very local con with a lot of great programming. New publishing from DENPA was revealed from longtime industry Ed Chavez and Jacob Grady of Fakku.
Most of the panels were industry which is something different than you get from most small cons. You may get one but since this is corporate backed con run and founded by long time anime organizer, industry leader Peter Tatara who has been a part of anime and cons most of his life. It had a lot of great things wonderful panels and screenings, which were wonderful such as Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki.
Seeing all the new faces excite over the various properties and celebration was something you can loose among working in the more pro side of things, especially as you do more in the more comics side of things.
Seeing the new levels of excitement was a good way to end the year of cons. Though con season never really ends. More like takes a week or two off at most. 2019 will and in some cases already has new challenges and new possibilities.