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REVIEW: Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture

Rather than a fluffy business book, this is actually an insightful look at fandom-related enterprises in the American entertainment sector and elsewhere, with observations about Comic-Con and commentary on its history and future within the world of comics and beyond.

Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture
Rob Salkowitz
McGraw-Hill Education, 2012
publisher site | WorldCat

The first thing Salkowitz gets right is explaining (and demonstrating) that he is a genuine comics reader/fan/nerd, and as a result is not interested in just laughing at all the "weirdos" who attend such an event.  This perspective allows him to write about geek culture as a hotbed of creativity, passion, and community, as well as one of prejudice, exclusion, and scenesterism, rather than just stopping with "Look! Nerds! With money!"

Salkowitz takes us with him and his wife as they attend the con, starting with pre-show setup (a luxury they afford by volunteering for the Eisner Award program), through as much attendee activity as possible, and even some exclusive after-hours events, all the while explaining the history and significance of this or that detail.  His descriptions cover panels and programs, controversy over vendor table geography, the culture of book-signing/sketching, the debatable significance of comics awards, competing conventions and the ways they do and do not overlap in function and attendance, and even the economics of event attendance.  He also looks at these and other phenomena through time, examining their past and speculating on their possible futures.  Although I have not attended the San Diego Comic-Con myself, this appears to be as thorough as you can get without doing an intense ethnography.  All this, and it's well-written and engaging, presenting the event without fawning or being ignorantly critical; there is certainly room for praise and criticism of the event, but Salkowitz's middle-of-the-road perspective is exactly what's needed for the book he set out to write.

In spite of being explicitly business-oriented, this book has a lot to offer comics librarianship, particularly any librarians who are interested in comics-related programming or who want to understand the commercial side of comics culture and fandom. Salkowitz helpfully breaks down Comic-Con's programs into several categories (pg. 59) and explains their purpose and structure in enough detail that programming librarians can consider how these can be modified for use in the library setting.  His exploration of the relationship between allied or competing conventions (pg. 171) is a great jumping-off place for discussing the library's relationship to existing comic shops and events.  He even devotes a significant amount of space to comics in the library (pg. 179), a discussion that he effectively segues into a consideration of changes in comics culture generally and problems with the many names that people use for the medium.

The book's biggest contribution to the body of comics librarianship, though, is his extensive look at the rise of digital publication and its implications for publishers, sellers, and readers (pg. 190).  I don't have to tell anyone reading this review that ebooks are a major concern when it comes to libraries, even more so as library-oriented services like Hoopla adopt digital comics.  Comics publishing's variable nature (issues vs. trade paperbacks vs. web-only, etc.), along with their serial storytelling, periodical format, and visual component make them an especially interesting challenge to consider in the library of the future, and Salkowitz provides an excellent introduction to these issues.  Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture is an accessible, enjoyable, and informative book, and a quick read as well, so I'd definitely recommend it for comics librarians and anyone else interested in the future of ebooks in the library.