To the casual observer, the annual comic book and pop culture extravaganza known as Comic-Con may be little more than an opportunity for grown men with serious Peter Pan complexes to indulge their love of fantasy and penchant for Star Wars costumes. This is, after all, an event that includes discussion panels about television shows and autograph sessions with graphic novelists. But for San Diego, the convention is far more than an oddball attraction; it's a cash cow in nerd's clothing.
Beginning with a preview Wednesday, Comic-Con is expected to have an economic impact of more than $32 million this year, putting $692,000 in tax revenue into the city coffers. Last year's event attracted about 100,000 people, and over the next few years, the city estimates it will have an economic impact of $96.3 million. In the next four years, the convention is expected to bring in $3 million in tax revenue.
"This represents an enormous economic shot in the arm for the city," said George Biagi, deputy press secretary for Mayor Jerry Sanders.
Milton Griepp, publisher of the online pop culture trade magazine ICv2, called Comic-Con "the biggest show in the business." And that business is pretty big. According to Griepp, comic books and graphic novels (longer, often more serious comic books) retailed for about $550 million in the United States and Canada last year. Not bad for an industry often perceived as quirky and under the radar.
Nate Shelton, a marketing supervisor for Diamond Comics, the largest comic book distributor in the United States, said trade figures showed more than 18 million comic books were sold in February 2006 for about $6 million, a mark Shelton said is pretty average. Diamond Comics distributes comic books to 4,000 stores nationally, 2,500 of which are primarily focused on comics.
Both Griepp and Shelton noted that these numbers include only the books themselves and not lucrative tie-ins like toys, video games, apparel and perhaps the biggest moneymaker of all, movie deals. Comic-Con includes such spin-offs and more. Though it's called Comic-Con, the convention celebrates movies, television shows, books and games. Almost anything with a cult following or sci-fi/fantasy bent, from the "Lord of the Rings" to the Japanese-styled animation known as anime, to filmmakers like "Clerks II" director Kevin Smith, will have a presence at Comic-Con.
Robert Scott, owner of the retailer Comickaze Comic Books and More and publishing company AFC Studios, said the comic book industry has a strong presence in San Diego, with large publishers like his company, as well as Wildstorm (which is part of DC Comics), IDW and Alias all headquartered here.
"Comics Retail is definitely a multimillion-dollar business locally," Scott said in an e-mail. "We are in the middle of an expansion that should see the opening of four to five more Comickaze Comics Books and More (stores) throughout San Diego County in the next five years and that our sales have grown at a pace far outstripping national numbers for the last two years."
According to Griepp, however, the main reason the city has come to be known as a Mecca for pictorial literature is because of the annual convention, which will run through this Sunday. And according to the mayor's office, that convention will be putting millions of dollars into San Diego's general fund, which in turn pays for police and firefighters, infrastructure projects, and arts and tourism projects, not to mention bringing a different kind of tourist to the downtown area.
"The people who come really bring an energy and an enthusiasm to the downtown area that is unmatched by any other group," Biagi said. "We have people in costume walking around the Gaslamp area. It's truly a fun week for everybody involved. These are dedicated, passionate fans."
Most Comic-Con attendees are young as well, and not shy about spending money, which could provide long-term repeat business, Biagi said.
"Our hope is they'll continue to make San Diego their home for years to come."