As you’ve heard by now, all pop-culture eyes are on California this weekend for the 44th annual Comic-Con International: San Diego, the biggest show of its kind in North America. Begun in 1970 with around 300 attendees, the show has swelled to capacity at over 130,000, with tickets selling out in February after just an hour and a half. With a big expansion of the convention center in the works, and the show promoting itself as “the premier comic book and popular arts style convention in the world,” it’s easy to believe that SDCC is the largest comics event on the planet. What other show could possibly compete?
Surprisingly, San Diego ranks fifth at best— and New York Comic Con is already at its heels in only six years, with 116,000 attendees in 2012. Grab your passport; here are the others:
Coming in third is Lucca Comics & Games in Lucca, Italy. Founded in 1966, the show’s 180,000 paying visitors last year made it three times larger than its 2005 incarnation.
Second place goes to the annual Angoulême International Comics Festival (or Festival international de la bande dessinée d’Angoulême, which is a mouthful) in southwestern France, started in 1974, with 220,000 visitors descending on the city last January. If none of them were locals, that would have tripled the city’s population. Artist Chris Kaw has a rundown of the show and a fantastic set of photos here.
And the biggest kahuna of them all?
Japan’s Comic Market, or Comiket. Its attendance dwarfs even Angoulême’s— August 2012 saw over 560,000 attendees— and Comiket happens twice a year! It began in 1975, and next month its 84th show will run from August 10th-12th in Tokyo. Here’s a report from the 83rd show, held in December, and the official site’s “What is the Comic Market?” PDF has even more information. Google’s image search is mind-boggling. Their impressive costume scene (cosplay) is even bigger than San Diego’s, which has an annual Masquerade.
What I find most interesting about Comiket— besides how the majority of its attendees and sellers have been women and girls since it began, over 35 years ago*— is that its take on comics is fundamentally different from San Diego’s.
San Diego has drawn Hollywood’s attention; movie, TV, and gaming properties are heavily promoted throughout the show. Though many of those are based on comic books, Artists’ Alley is shunted to the side in favor of flashier industry exhibitors.
In contrast, Comiket’s primary focus is on self-publishing (dōjinshi), with around 35,000 “circles” participating in each show. Many thousands more apply, and a lottery is used to assign space. These dōjinshi circles sell limited-run fan comics that riff on established properties, such as Pokémon and Street Fighter— which is tolerated in Japan, but try doing that here without getting a cease-and-desist! And while there are industry players in the house, according to the PDF above only around 130 companies exhibited in 2007.
Check out this show catalog from December 2002, donated by CCS alum CJ Joughlin (class of 2011).
Starting on pages 323, seventeen pages listing nothing but Naruto fan comics:
Again, each box is a different dōjinshi circle! Such pages make up 90% of the catalog.
Compared to San Diego’s glamor, celebrity panels, and press releases, it’s fascinating that the biggest comics convention in the world is all about self-publishing. Food for thought.
Librarian, the Center for Cartoon Studies
*August 2010 was the first exception; 60% of attendees were male.