Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture (Book Review)

There are a few vacations I’ve taken that greatly overshadow any others I’ve been on. Ilha Grande, Brazil. Red Rocks National Park in Colorado. The San Diego Comic-Con. Ah Comic-Con, the only man-made stop of the aforementioned trio. After attending three Cons (’08-’10), I can honestly say I was extremely disappointed on missing last year’s and have been suffering from withdrawal ever since. So when a book came across my desk to review, aptly titled Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture, I took notice and gladly accepted the task to cover its content. What started out as a literary whetting of the convention appetite, turned into one solidly educating and entertaining read.

I am a self-admitted comic book geek.  I regularly read titles like Detective Comics, Aquaman and Grim Leaper.  They combine hand-drawn artistry with cleverly-woven and engaging storylines; a summation that cannot be found in other mediums.  They feature men of steel, mutant teams and the supernatural, and unbeknownst to the layman public, they do not always deal in superheroes.  Despite the popularity of characters, television shows and movies that comics are responsible for, the comics industry itself is in dire straits.  But, where there are dollars, there is hope.

In his book, Salkowitz describes in detail what’s wrong with the industry, what’s right with Comic-Con, and as his book’s subtitle says, “What the World’s Wildest Trade Show Can Tell Us About the Future of Entertainment.”  This isn’t simply a guided tour of what one fan’s experience was at the 2011 Comic-Con.  It’s a detailed look into the multi-faceted convention that started out over 40 years ago as comic book get-together, and has become a gargantuan launchpad for video games, TV shows, Hollywood, and of course, comic books.

As far as being a comic book fan, there are some shocking revelations in here as to just how bad comic sales are.  Plus with the advent of the Comixology app on the iPhone, iPad and Droid platforms, we’re possibly seeing the beginning of the end of dedicated comic book stores.  The laundry list of ailments goes on, including those pirating comics and the task of drawing people in to the comic book medium.  A friend of mine recently brought up a solid point that just because someone loved The Dark Knight or Iron Man 2, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to go out to buy a Batman or Iron Man comic.  Not a day later I got to a point in the book where Salkowitz echoes this same mentality, truthful and unfortunate as it may be.

It’s important to note the book does not focus solely on that one topic.  It also speaks on a variety of other levels, such as the pioneering of films/literary works like the Twilight series.  I mirror the author’s words when he says “I must admit that I have not cracked the cover of any of these books and don’t have much interest in doing so.  I wouldn’t watch the movies for free if they were the only available entertainment on a 12-hour plane flight,” but at the same rate recognizes the success and contribution to pop culture when he says, “…I’m all for any material that generates enough passion to get a completely new pop culture audience to stand in line for 40 hours and sleep on concrete for two nights…That enthusiasm is the rocket fuel that drives the industry and the artform forward…” Amen.

Salkowitz’s delivery in this 277-page work (excluding the index) is easy to pick up and dive into.  This is especially important because this book is part Comic-Con overview, part business analysis; the latter of which can be rather dry material.  The comic-appreciative author does a savvy job of keeping a reader’s attention not only afloat, but enticed when it comes to these areas.  Whether Salkowitz is talking about the works of famed writer Grant Morrison, the implementation of Comixology, or the financial figures of digital device sales, he manages to write in a consistently focused yet relaxed manner that makes it all incredibly easy to digest.

Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture is a read that comes highly recommended.  For those that have been to the San Diego Comic-Con before, it will be an appreciative revisit painted with exposure to new relevancies along the way.  For those never attending the highly touted media fest, it will be an eye-opening experience to a world like no other and the sea of footnotes that accompany it.  Rob Salkowitz has done his homework and it shows.  This book is the next best thing to being there, and believe it or not, can give you an education that actually being at the Con cannot.







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