Comic Con History
In 1964, the first real comic book convention was held in a meeting hall on 14th and Broadway in New York City. While it had a very low budget and an attendance of just 100 people (an absolute failure of a convention by today’s standards), It would also be the first spark of a national firestorm that would continue to blaze brightly decades later.
While varying in size, scope, and attendance, the convention circuit has had such massive and explosive growth that every state and every major city not just in the United States, but across the entire planet plays host to a comic book convention. The central focus of these events will always be comics, of course, but they have also become entertainment epicenters in the 21st century. They are huge parties where the fan can not only interact and shake hands with the creator, but become the creation by way of cosplay.
Whether it be for gaming, or comics, or art, or even television and movies, they are the very definition of the words “safe haven” for those who revel in being different, being nerdy, or are nerd friendly. Below, I’ve listed six of the greatest and biggest conventions currently still running in the United States, and given an incredibly brief historical overview of each.
The History of Popular Comic Book Conventions
San Diego Comic Con
Of course, we have to start with one of the biggest ones! San Diego Comic Con, or SDCC for short, is easily the most well known comic book convention on the planet. From its humble beginnings as “San Diego’s Golden State Mini-Con” in 1970 to today, it took on multiple name changes before finally sticking with on the one we all know and love in 1973.
The first official “SDCC” was put together by Shel Dorf, Richard Alf, Ken Krueger, Mike Towery, Barry Alfonso, Bob Sourk, and Greg Bear. It was a three day event, was held in the basement of the U.S. Grand Hotel and had 300 attendees (which, when you consider the literal thousands that attend millions more that only wish they had tickets nowadays, is almost nothing in comparison). It featured guests such as Jack Kirby and Ray Bradbury, and A. E. Van Vogt.
Obviously, the event has grown to behemoth proportions and had a couple of venue changes in the many years since, and has become not just a comics nirvana, but an entertainment industry one as well. It’s grown so big, in fact, that a lot of it’s long standing events (such as the Comic Con Independent Film Festival and the Eisner Awards) take place at “satellite locations” and not within the confines of the actual convention center.
SDCC has always been a place where celebrities are found in abundance and movie studios come to show off their coolest blockbusters, A place where you can get a look at the next adventures of your favorite TV show’s long before your friends, and a place where you can literally interact with Hollywood via the dozens of guest panels the event hosts in the San Diego Convention Center’s infamous Hall H during its five day run every July.
One of the biggest and most amazing staples of any true comic convention is the long lasting tradition we know as cosplay. The idea of attending dressed as your favorite Sci-fi, Comic, and Fantasy character is part of what makes these events an incredible experience to be apart of, and nobody does cosplay better than Dragon Con in Atlanta, Georgia every year.
Started in 1987 by Dragon Alliance of Gamers and Role Players (or DAGR, for short) members Pat Henry, David Cody, John Bunnell, and Robert Dennis on an incredibly meager budget, it was originally presented as a convention for a large criss-cross of Fandoms. A place where, in a world where conventions usually focused on a single subject, gamers and comic fans could come together and embrace their equal love for all things fun and nerdy.
1400 fans attended the first show, which included guests like Michael Moorcock (who was the debut show’s guest of honor), Robert Adams, Brad Strickland, Richard Garriott, and Gary Gygax as well as musicians such as Jonn Serrie (who performed while wearing a NASA flight suit) and Blue Oyster Cult’s Eric Bloom. There was even a radio broadcast performance of H.P Lovecraft’s “Call of Cthulhu”, put on by the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company.
It was with that formula of hardcore nerdom and rock and roll that Dragon Con continued to impress until it truly hit its stride in 1990 with its hosting of the Origins Game Fair. Being that Origins was the biggest gaming show at the time, it of course increased Dragon Con’s attendance numbers from the previous year to 4800 people. Attendance has only grown yearly since then, hitting well over 77000 people and encompassing the space of five hotels in 2016.
But again, the thing that truly draws people to Dragon Con in recent years is the cosplay, something that the event itself takes pride in things like it’s Cosplay Masquerade (one of the oldest cosplay events on the convention circuit) and that attendee’s consistently raise the bar on with their insane attention to detail every year.
New York Comic Con
Probably the second most recently conceived comic convention to turn up in this article (as it was started in 2006), New York Comic Con does not have any relation to its San Diego counterpart. It has, in fact, instead become the east coast’s answer to SDCC.
Started by company ReedPOP, NYCC was so popular on its first weekend that it literally filled over capacity, even shutting some of its more famous guests (like Kevin Smith and Alan Moore) out of the building, and it has only grown in the last 10 years with 180,000 people attending in 2016.
After that sort of substantial growth, awarding the iconic Stan Lee with the first New York Comics Legend Award in 2008, and moving to Halloween season from it’s previous place on the calendar in April, NYCC merged with the New York Anime Festival in 2010, solidifying its place as the biggest con in in the eastern United States. The next year after that it brought competitive gaming into the fold and expanded to a four day extravaganza. NYCC is now the largest comic book convention in the US.
Emerald City Comic Con
Emerald City Comic Con (or ECCC) was started in 2003 and was first held at the West Field Plaza in Seattle, Washington. That remained its home for for six years before moving to the to the Washington State Trade and Convention Center in 2008 and expanding in both space and size in size in the years going forward, and in 2016 had an attendance number of 88,000 people. Over that time it has hosted panels with Hundreds of comic and Media Industry Guests, including names like Joe Quesada, Geoff Johns, Will Wheaton, George Takei, Leonard Nimoy, and Stan Lee.
Wizard World Chicago
Wizard World Chicago originally started as Nostalgia ‘72 in Rosemont, Illinois by Nancy Warner. Its initial weekend housed around 20,000 attendees, It went through a slew of name changes and a decline in popularity over the next few years before being bought by Wizard Entertainment in 1997. Behind New York Comic Con and San Diego Comic Con, it is now the third largest Comic Convention in the United States, with 75,000 people attending in 2016.
Though it was initially started as just a simple comic book convention, These days, it runs the gamut of showcasing every fandom imaginable: Everything from Sci-fi/Fantasy to toys to even professional wrestling has a showcase. In 1996, the Chicago show (Wizard has multiple conventions strewn throughout the country) also became home to their Wizard World Fan Awards (which were eventually discontinued). The show has hosted panel’s from all of the biggest names in comics, and the 2016 show in particular also featured special events like a Back to the Future Reunion and an autograph signing with the cast of The X-Files.
Stan Lee’s L.A. Comic Con
Stan Lee’s L.A. Comic Con was started by Regina Carpinelli and her brothers in 2011, after realizing that Los Angeles lacked a major comic convention of its own, and is held at the L.A. Convention Center, which also houses the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the most famous, press-only video game convention in the United States.
When it started, it was known as the Comikaze Expo and featured gaming tournaments and booths for artists and vendors of all flavors. On the initial weekend, there were 35,000 attendees and it is famously known as the place where horror icon Elvira held her final convention appearance. A year later in 2012, Carpinelli made a partnership with Stan Lee and the show was rebranded Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo. The partnership brought a slew of guests, events and vendors to the convention (including game developer Activision). It wasn’t until 2016 that the show was renamed Stan Lee’s L.A. Comic Con, where it featured an attendance of well over 75,000 fans.
Comic Book Conventions have a long and storied history in the United States. Now you can find a comic con in every state!