I Will Tell You #8: Motown Has a Comics Scene Part 4

Part 4 of 4: Competition or Cohabitation?

For the past few years, the metro Detroit comic scene seemed to get by just fine without any kind of major convention in the fall. But in a fairly short period time, next weekend’s new Detroit FanFare has become a buzz-worthy event, and the return of the 2-day Motor City Comic-Con next month is starting to get some notice, as well. But, are two shows perhaps one too many? Or even two? Can both become yearly traditions, will one trounce the other, or will they kill each other? Can local fandom put its support behind two competing shows?

Or, perhaps if one show is promoting itself as a pop-culture show, and the other as a comic show, could it be that these shows are too dissimilar to even call them competitors? Green Brain Comics’Katie Merritt thinks so. “Each show has its niche audience,” she explained. “If you’re looking for the media guests, the movie stars, or you want to see the (Dukes of Hazzard car) General Lee, obviously that audience is more targeted by the Motor City show. If you’re looking for comic creator guests, (Detroit FanFare) is going more in that direction. I like to think that we have the fanbase here to support numerous events.”

If both are to succeed, the local area might need that fanbase to support them, because there’s a good chance it’s unlikely to come from anywhere else. A Star Trek convention is taking place this weekend in Dallas. Next weekend, in addition to Detroit FanFare, also plays host to the Long Beach Comic Con near Los Angeles, a three day show which has its own impressive array of comic and media guests. Also that weekend is the Chiller Theatre Toy, Model, and Film Expo in New Jersey. Not to mention the local Youmacon anime show, which will be held downtown. And don’t forget the ever popular Mid-Ohio Con the weekend after that. All of these shows tap into the same overlapping fanbase, and only on the morning after will it be known to what extent all of these shows siphoned off each other’s lifeforce.

Comic book purists seem to look at pop culture as the enemy, as though the presence of toys and video at “their” convention is about as welcome as that distant cousin who wants to stay over for a few weeks. But the truth is, comics are part of pop culture, and the two can’t be completely separated. “(Motor City Comic Con) has a broader appeal because they’re doing way more than just comics,” says Pop Art Funnies’ Marty Hirchak. “Comics have evolved. Comics and film have been tied together inseparably now.”

San Diego Comic-Con, circa 1973, before it grew far from its roots as a comic book show.

San Diego Comic-Con, circa 1973, before it grew far from its roots as a comic book show.

And nowhere is this more apparent than at The Big One, San Diego Comic-Con, which recall was ironically rooted in the infancy of comics and fandom but has now grown to the point where its origins are barely recognized by older fans and all but unknown by the younger ones. Like it or not, this growth didn’t come from comics; it came from other pop culture media, but it’s growth that nonetheless gave comics some positive exposure that they so desperately need and likely wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

And most anyone who runs or work at a so-called comic book shop doesn’t stay in business by selling just comics; they also sell toys and video and statues and candy and soda, even though they call themselves comic retailers, because they recognize that if it weren’t for the rest of pop culture and other peripherals, they probably wouldn’t be in business.

San Diego Comic-Con, circa 2010, where you can see the comics if you look real hard.

San Diego Comic-Con, circa 2010, where you can see the comics if you look real hard.

Several years ago, there actually was a successful precedent in Chicago that’s similar to the Detroit Fanfare / Motor City Comic Con situation. When the Chicago Comicon moved from the intimate confines of the Ramada O’Hare to the spacious caverns of the Rosemont Convention Center in 1993, it didn’t take long for fans to miss the friendlier, comics-centric days at the Ramada. So a well-known convention organizer stepped in and put together the now-forgotten Chicago Comicfest, a much smaller show than the modern Chicago Comicon that was essentially a recreation of the Comicons of old, running in March, months earlier than the modern Comicon. And by all accounts, these shows were considered a success for the several years that they ran, and were viewed as a compliment to the larger show rather than a competitor. Both lived together in peace during their time together. The reason for Comicfest’s eventual demise was not one of poor attendance or organization; it ended because the owners of the venue elected to demolish the building.

Jim Shooter & Stan Lee, circa 1986 Chicago Comic-Con, the same venue that later housed Chicago Comicfest.

Jim Shooter & Stan Lee, circa 1986 Chicago Comic-Con, the same venue that later housed Chicago Comicfest.

The organizers of Chicago Comicfest, by the way, were none other than Michael Goldman and Motor City Conventions. The irony, as is often said, is exquisite.

So it’s okay to try and segregate, but not amputate. And from all appearances, it’s not like Detroit Fanfare is trying to disavow other media; it’s simply calling comics to the front of the class so that they can get the recognition they deserve. And then come Motor City, they take their place with the rest of the class, like they always have.

If everything is done just right, we can all just get along.


About Jim Johnson

Jim Johnson (@quigonjimm) will tell you! He got a chance to write for the big boys at CBR, so we don’t see him around the site as much as we used to. Check out his stuff anyway!

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