With three major conventions on their collective calendar, including North America's biggest pop culture show in Comic-Con International in San Diego, the non-profit Comic-Con organization always has its hands full. But in recent years, the San Diego con has rapidly expanded beyond its normal summer confines to snare the interests of both fans and industry types months and months in advance of its July kick off. This year is no exception as earlier this month, Friday passes for the event sold out hot on the heels of sell outs for Saturday tickets and four-day passes.
To help parse exactly what this means for the running of the show, as well as for fans interested in taking part of the Comic-Con experience, CBR News reached out to Comic-Con Director of Marketing and Public Relations David Glanzer for his thoughts on how the organization plans to make the show more accessible in the face of its growing popularity, as well as getting the scoop on some early word on April 2's WonderCon in San Francisco, which is facing down a holiday conflict.
CBR News: David, we've reached that now-annual point in the con season where Comic-Con is starting to see online ticket sell outs. Does it feel for you like the show is in some ways a full year event, even though it's only one week out of the year?
David Glanzer: Well, for us it's been like this for many, many years. Even though the show takes place one week out of the year every summer in San Diego, the planning for it has always taken at least a year, and in some cases, several years – whether that be booking hotels or considering who to invite as guests or any number of the infrastructure building we have to do. There's always been, certainly, a growth from year-to-year where we see people buying passes earlier and earlier.
Is this the pace you expected people to be buying at this year, considering the downturn in the economy?
It seems to be getting much more rapid than I think we thought it would. When the four-days went last year, I don't think anybody foresaw that happening. So we'll probably end up doing what we did last year where we wait to see who ends up canceling for whatever reasons, whether it be illness or just not being able to come, and we'll probably make a lot of those passes available again, either through an online site or something like that. So, as we get closer, there will be some passes available again.
In the past few years, you've been capping attendance to some extent, saying, "We know what we can handle, and that's all the tickets that will be made available." Do you have a number you're aiming for this year, whether it be 125,000 attendees or whatever?
It's always going to be around that number, but a lot of it is going to depend on the floor. An example I like to use is that if [every exhibitor] had only one ten-by-ten booth on the floor, we could accommodate a lot more than 125,000 people. We always have to ride the balance of the exhibitors at the show, but it really depends on the configuration of any number of booths. If we had a series of rows of ten-by-ten booths, that might accommodate a different number than if we had, say, one booth that was the size of one of our halls. It's really complex and depends on how we configure the floor. We always try to be really good about having several major islands that are 20-by-20 as well as our standard ten-by-ten booths. Some conventions can have bigger aisleways, because they can afford to do that. Unfortunately, we have so many exhibitors, we just can't. Once we have a floor plan, we'll be able to figure it out, but it will always be a run around in terms of figuring out an exact number.
Things seem to be going well with the city right now, and last year you expanded programming off-site just a bit. Will there be more of that growth outside the main convention center this year?
Yeah, we're going to try. We used the Bayfront Hilton last year, and I think it went really well. I think anyone who was over there for programming or just staying at that property was really pleased at how welcoming the property was to our attendees. We didn't receive any complaints from people having to walk across the street, and we were very encouraged by that. I think we want to do something similar this year and maybe even expand that to a certain degree, especially since we're still facing a limited floor space situation.
WonderCon is the next big event for your organization. How is planning for that show coming along right now?
I'll be very honest with you when I tell you it's going really well. I want to use the words "surprisingly well," and the reason I say that is because the only day we could really get this year was Easter weekend, and we were really afraid that that would have a big negative impact on us, and that doesn't seem to be the case. We have some really impressive guests lined up. Programming that I'm working on right now is shaping up really, really well. We've got an amazing rate at our host hotels that will allow us to do some fun things over there, so it's shaping up well overall. I'm personally very excited about WonderCon. I think it's going to be an amazing show, and I'm not just saying that as the PR guy. Personally, I try to be as reserved as I can, and while still being reserved, I think this is going to be a really fun show.
WonderCon has grown a lot, along with Comic-Con, in bringing Hollywood talent out and making it more of a nationally watched event, but at its core, it's still very much a regional show. Do you expect that audience to be out regardless of the holiday situation?
San Francisco's a great tourist destination, and with WonderCon, there are any number of clubs and bars and museums and a litany of stops that make it just a fun city even if WonderCon weren't there. But the addition of all these comic fans and pop culture fans over that weekend make it super, hyper fun. And you're right. One of the things we've noticed about WonderCon is that it isn't so much a regional show anymore. We're starting to see a lot of exhibitors come in, and some of them are bringing things they bring exclusively to WonderCon. Last year, Paramount made a big deal of bringing the cast of "Star Trek" to WonderCon. I've got to tell you, that that was a treat for WonderCon. We couldn't get the cast to San Diego! We had, a couple years ago, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson at WonderCon, and they had never done any convention together before. We had Christian Bale – some pretty impressive guests in terms of Hollywood involvement, and when you add that to the already impressive comics lineup, and it turns it into a show not to miss.
Any early word on what kind of programming is in store for this year's show?
Programming is always something that can change right under you. You want to have something where people can be where they're supposed to be at the time they're welcomed to be, but that doesn't always happen. If somebody says, "Yes, yes...I can do this," well, then that has the potential to change the rest of the programming as well. So programming is one of the last things that we can announce, but we are working on some cool stuff, and that makes me really excited for WonderCon. It's going to be a really fun weekend.
WonderCon hits San Francisco April 2 through 4 with the next Comic-Con International in San Diego slated for July 21 through 25. More info can be found online at http://comic-con.org.