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Who needs the mainstream media?


Trick question. We all do. But sometimes you have to wonder.


When you see CBS’ Katie Couric and CNN anchors citing Twitter messages — a common occurrence during several recent news stories — you know there’s been a disturbance in the Force.


Couric repeating information that is readily available to anyone with an Internet connection is just one demonstration of an unstoppable trend. Pop stars, politicians and pundits have all had the same revelation: Going directly to the people with your message, via YouTube, Twitter or Facebook, is not only fast, but it can be a lot of fun.


Which means that the world has finally caught up to Comic-Con.


Four decades ago, fans of comic books gathered at a San Diego hotel not just to buy and sell rare issues, but to share their enthusiasm with each other and with the luminaries of the trade. The 40th San Diego International Comic-Con, which takes place July 23-26 and last year attracted a capacity crowd of 125,000, has always been about the cultivation of those direct, personal connections.


That is the reason for Comic-Con’s rise and its massive success: It’s about recognizing and honoring the bonds between the individuals who make movies, TV shows and comic books and people who care passionately about the best that pop culture has to offer.


Comic-Con isn’t important because superhero movies are successful. That’s like saying Twitter is successful because famous people are on it. No, Twitter is successful because it, like Comic-Con, levels the playing field.


Attendees may not walk away from ComicCon having had a personal conversation with the creative folks behind “Lost” or “The Twilight Saga: New Moon.” But attendees of those hot-ticket panels will walk away knowing that those well-paid creative folk care about what the fans think.


Any fears that the economy would put a damper on Comic-Con have been laid to rest.


Last year, passes to the event sold out online one week early. This year, passes sold out two months early, according to David Glanzer, Comic-Con’s director of marketing and public relations.


In addition to dozens of talks by comic book writers and artists, most tentpole movies, game-makers and toy-makers will once again have major presences. And in the TV realm, there are so many presentations that a couple of them, including “Heroes” and “Glee,” will take place at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront hotel next to the convention center.


Why is the Fox musical/dramedy “Glee” going to be at Comic-Con, which has typically catered to fans of genre fare? Because “entertainment properties that have a committed and opinionated fan base” now make up a genre. “Glee” and “Burn Notice” belong at Comic-Con because the event belongs to passionate fans, and those shows have quite a few.


At least one new, non-genre show, the fall comedy “The Middle,” will be launched at Comic-Con, which is a trickier gambit. Just how does that show, a family sitcom starring Patricia Heaton and Neil Flynn, fit in with the Comic-Con vibe?


“If we were talking about a conventional screening in the convention center, there would have been a lot more discussion about whether that was appropriate,” said Lisa Gregorian, executive vice president of worldwide marketing for the Warner Bros. Television Group, which produces the ABC show.


Then Gregorian found out that Heaton would be attending Comic-Con with her family and that the satellite location at the hotel was available (and it didn’t hurt that Heaton briefly appears in the first episode in a superhero outfit).


“When they opened the ancillary location at the Hilton and we came up with the idea of a ‘Mom-icon,’ we thought that idea was perfect,” said Gregorian, who notes that the convention has become more family friendly. Perhaps the “Mom-icon” is a sign of things to come. The convention wants to keep expanding into other venues, given that it has been at capacity at the San Diego Convention Center for some time. Glanzer said one option for the future is to begin hosting panels on Wednesdays (typically Comic-Con runs Thursday to Sunday).


And there’s always the chance that ComicCon could move to a bigger venue in a different city when its current lease runs out in 2012. Glanzer said that’s not the “ideal scenario,” but if a planned convention center expansion doesn’t go forward, it could happen.


Something does need to give, because Comic-Con is too good at what it does.


“It’s turned into the Sundance Film Festival,” one publicist sighed recently. He didn’t intend that as a compliment.


Executives in the entertainment business tend to believe that Comic-Con buzz is a key factor in a movie or TV show’s success.


Hence the ever-larger number of high-profile panels, which leads to ever more interest from media outlets. And when bloggers and other media can’t get into popular film and TV sessions, a problem that I predict will get even worse this year, expect to hear howling — some of which is perfectly valid.


Comic-Con is about the fans, but the studios and the convention’s organizers haven’t quite figured out how to incorporate the media, new or old, into that mix. (Glanzer said that about 3,000 media passes have been issued for the 2009 convention.) Given how hard it likely will be to get into the most popular events, I am guessing a rash of “I’m never going to Comic-Con again” pieces will appear in late July.


Comic-Con can be too much to take in and yet too superficial as well. That’s why I look forward to attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Pasadena, which begins July 28. At that event, there are ample opportunities for one-on-one interviews, which are the main dish to the appetizer that is Comic-Con.


In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I’m moderating the panel for the CW show “Supernatural.” Am I excited?


Sure. I’m also a little scared. I can’t predict what will happen, and that’s more than half the fun.


———


COMIC-CON ON THE INTERNET


For updates on Comic-Con programming and for reports from the four-day event, go to chicagotribune.com/comiccontr.im/s8Cf and twitter.com/moryan.

Tagged as: comic-con
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