Comic-Cons International

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?

Via sillydesigner's Flickr

San Diego in 2007, by sillydesigner on Flickr

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:

Fourth place goes to Brazil’s biennial Festival Internacional de Quadrinhos (“FIQ!”) in Belo Horizonte, begun in 1999, with 148,000 folks checking out the most recent festival in November 2011.

FIQ 2011 by Dani Figueiredo on Flickr; Creative Commons license

FIQ 2011, by Dani Figueiredo on Flickr

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.

Lucca Comics & Games 2012. By chripell, via Flickr

Lucca Comics & Games 2012. By chripell on Flickr

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.

Angoulême 2012, by sebgonza on Flickr

Angoulême 2012, by sebgonza on Flickr

And the biggest kahuna of them all?

Comiket, August 2009. By Steve Nagata on Flickr

Comiket, August 2009. By Steve Nagata on Flickr

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.

Comiket, August 2009. By Steve Nagata on Flickr

Comiket, August 2009. By Steve Nagata on Flickr

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.

Hey, kids! Comics? (San Diego 2010, by Ronald Woan on Flickr.)

Hey, kids! Comics? (San Diego 2010, by Ronald Woan on Flickr.)

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).

Comic Market 63 catalog from December 2002

The Comic Market 63 catalog.

Over 1300 pages long, split into three days of exhibitors

Over 1300 pages long, split into three days of exhibitors

Each day has a separate double-sided, pull-out map of vendors

Each day has a separate double-sided, pull-out map of vendors

Each box represents a different vendor

Each box represents a different dōjinshi circle

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.

So. Much. Slash fiction.

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.

–Katie Moody

Librarian, the Center for Cartoon Studies

 

*August 2010 was the first exception; 60% of attendees were male.

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