When attending Wizard World Comic Con Chicago this weekend, I wandered into the Back to The Future cast reunion panel. Okay, fine — I waited for hours in line in order to walk into the Back To The Future cast reunion panel and get a nosebleed seat. I looked around the auditorium filled with eager fans taking in every moment of being in the same room as their childhood idols, and something Michael J. Fox said stuck out:
"I realize when I say 'heavy' or lines from the film — it makes fans feel good, and I just realized it's the gift that keep on giving from being involved with these films. What they mean to you and the relationships that I have with you guys through those films — it's important. The film itself is the extension of having something in common with people that saw I was in it, but we all experienced it. It's the magic of movies."
Michael's words spoke to me because they were from such a seasoned actor who by now had every right to be sick and tired of fans begging him to say the same lines or take a photo for over 25 years. So why do celebrities do these cons? And why do fans shell out upwards of $200 just to walk around for 10 hours a day and pay another $300 for a photo that doesn't include an actual conversation? With SDCC's economic impact over $180 million, the power cons hold on the entertainment industry is strong, and only getting stronger.
Comic Con: Disneyland For Geeks
It's not hard to understand why sci-fi and superhero fans spend a year or more making their plan to attend San Diego Comic-Con, Wizard World, and more. Anyone who is anybody is at SDCC every year; it is the mothership of fandom, gaming, sci-fi, and superheroes. The Geek Disneyland. Sure you have to wait days — yes days — in line just to have a seat in the back of Hall H to watch the panel for the latest Star Wars film. But out of 6 billion people in the world, you get to be the first to tweet about that exclusive, never-before-seen clip. In the geek world, you will be a hero.
I myself attend as many cons as humanly possible. The above photo was my Instagram post from San Diego Comic-Con 2013 the very moment Batman V Superman was announced in Hall H by Zack Snyder. I was one of the first people on social media to break the news to the geek world, and I was proud of it. At cons I am surrounded by people who are interested in the same things I am and are as desperate to talk about it. I have made some of my closest friends at conventions, and I've happily paid for photos ops with stars like Stephen Amell and Carrie Fisher.
For fans attending cons — while it can be a burden to the pocketbook — it is worth every penny to make a connection with your favorite superhero or be the first to witness something that hasn't even made it online yet (which in this day and age is huge). At the end of the day, you feel a part of something big and important.
What's In It For Celebrities?
For larger cons like SDCC, you might be surprised to find that networks and studios actually often include mandatory attendance to the event in actor's contracts. George Clooney once commented on being forced to attend SDCC for Tomorrowland saying “I got a call — you know I was on my honeymoon — and they said, 'This is very important you have to do it.'”
However, for the smaller cons like Wizard World and Heroes and Villains celebrities are not required to attend and networks generally have no connection. So do they attend for extra money? Sure, it's possible. But I think the main drive for celebrities to attend cons actually circles back to why the fans themselves attend.
When fans feel included, they become more invested, and thus bigger fans. Bigger fans means free publicity when said fans overload the internet with tales of their encounter with Arrow's Stephen Amell or how mind-blowing the unreleased clip from the next Star Trek film was to watch.
This kind of publicity is the kind Hollywood and actors can't buy, so if they wish to remain relevant they have to go out and seek it. Actors and studios build relationships with the fans on a one on one level. The actor increases their following, engages their fans, and meets with them on their terms. It is a win-win.
The Comic-Con Experience
When I walked toward Carrie Fisher shaking with every step, she reached out and took my hand. I told her I was her biggest fan — which I choose to believe no one has ever told her before — and she looked me in the eyes and smiled and said "Thank you sweetie." and pulled my cheek close to hers for the best photo in my life I have ever taken.
These are the priceless experiences for both fans and celebrities that have created the pop culture phenomenon that are conventions. They bridge the gap between fans and film studios and open doors of communication Hollywood so desperately needs when it tackles beloved material like comic book films.
The con experience is like none other and won't be going anywhere soon, so dress up in cosplay and join the fun! Because chances are you are a fan of something, and I'll just bet there's a con for that.
Have you attended any cons? How was it? Would you go again? Comment below!