Here at Comic-Con 2010 it is a standard and recurring complaint that the event has been taken over by branding: An event that started out as a grass-roots gathering of comic-book culture has been overrun by corporate money, corporate product, and above all corporate advertising. Sure, it’s easy to see what they mean. The entire exterior of my Hilton hotel is covered with an ad for Scott Pilgrim (“an epic of epic epicness” — it’s a comic, soon to be a game and a major motion picture starring Michael Cera). The hotel elevators are wallpapered with promos for True Blood. Other buildings are draped in similarly vast posters for the game Red Faction and the upcoming movie Skyline.
The overall effect is a little overwhelming. It is also kind of…awe-inspiring.
First of all, there is the sheer technical achievement of making a 10-story-tall vinyl banner. The ads are an impressive showcase of what current graphics technology can do: extremely large-scale digital images printed directly onto enormous sheets of vinyl mesh. At a conference that is in no small part a celebration of the graphic arts, this kind of over-the-top element seems apt. Then there is the public art aspect of the thing. The San Diego skyline around the convention center here isn’t the most inspiring thing to begin with. The ads, garish as they may be, are more creative and personal than the jumble of generic modernist architecture they are covering.
And really, the application of digital technology to realize visuals that previously existed only in the realm of imagination is a central theme of the conference. In the “State of the Geek” session here, former Digital Bits editor Bill Hunt evocatively recalled a childhood memory of making copies of the USS Enterprise from paper plates and toilet paper tubes–and then being amazed to when Star Wars came out and showed for real the kinds of images that had been dancing around in his head. At the same session people lavished praise on the digital dreams of Inception.
In the exhibit hall, a showcase of special effect designs from Stan Winston Studios powerfully illustrated how the special-effect master progressed from latex and paint to far more elaborate and evocative imagery conjured directly from bits. His creations also blurred the boundaries between solitary vision and corporate branding. Which category do the Iron Man suits belong to? Which category properly holds the military tech from Avatar?
Looking out at the cityscape here, San Diego looks like nothing so much as a giant comic book. If that is the effect of branding run amok, I’m strangely OK with it.