The Comic Con Phenomenon

Anyone who doubts the existence of other worlds has never visited a Comic Con. A recent visit to the Magic City Comic Con in Miami revealed an entire universe — composed mostly of millennials demonstrating their individuality, their imagination and their own unique brand of consumerism.

Imagine being surrounded by thousands of young people, many dressed in outrageously extravagant costumes to emulate their heroes of comics, cartoons, anime and science fiction. The weekend of the Magic City Comic Con drew approximately 20,000 guests, primarily between the ages of 18-25, who swarmed the halls of the normally sedate Radisson conference center.

Although I chose to wear my black Dr. Who t-shirt for the occasion, younger enthusiasts dressed far more elaborately as their favorite characters. This phenomenon, known as “cosplay,” may involve simple, homemade disguises, or highly detailed costumes with painted faces. Mingling with Ironman, Klingon officers and Sailor Moon were popular and obscure characters from the millennials’ chosen fantasy worlds. There was even a Cosplay Medic on site to repair visitors’ torn outfits or touch up their makeup.

The opportunity to gather with peers is certainly one of the major attractions of Comic Con events, but so are chances to meet a wide range of “celebrities” who make appearances and sign autographs. While some of these celebs are young writers, animators and voice-over artists from comics, mangas, cartoons, movies and television, others are more established stars, many of whom collect $40 or more for autographed photos. At one booth was the very gracious John Wesley Shipp, television’s original Flash, who faithfully conversed with every fan who stopped by to meet him. Across the room was South Florida resident Allen Bellman, a legendary artist from the golden age of comic books who drew the famous cover of Captain America punching Hitler in the jaw.

One large auditorium-style room was reserved for question-and-answer sessions with famous guests, such as Jenna Coleman of Dr. Who and Ming-Na Wen of Agents of Shield. Upstairs, screening rooms showed trailers from animated and live-action videos, produced by small independent producers and major Hollywood studios.

Meanwhile, merchandise booths sold various types of exotic swag, ranging from swords, masks and hats to collectors edition comic books and animation cels. While I have no official estimate of spending at the Magic City Comic Con, 20,000 visitors paid $20 per person for admission and hundreds of thousands of dollars changed hands at autograph and merchandise booths over the course of the weekend. That’s real commerce coming from a very young audience of consumers.

Millennials are often thought to be a challenging generation, particularly to marketers. Yet the Comic Con phenomenon demonstrates that there is money to be made from members of this rising generation by thinking differently and understanding their interests.

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