The Comic Cons Research Project
On November 15, the federal Minister of Science formally announced the results of last year's Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) funding competitions, including my Partnership Development Grant, Comic Cons: An Emerging Urban Media Industry. The grant establishes a formal research partnership between Carleton University, Ryerson University, the University of Calgary, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, and the Ottawa Geek Market, and I'll be leading a research team that includes my colleagues Bart Beaty, Miranda Campbell, and Brian Johnson.
Over the last decade or so, the number of comic cons, comic art festivals, and related media fandom events has obviously been growing, and many individual events have seen their attendance numbers jump. There's obviously a significant demand for people to connect with the media that they're passionate about. Yet, we don't actually know very much about what's happening in this sector.
While there is some research done on conventions, most of it is written from the perspective of attendees. Furthermore, they tend to assume that cons are an organic outgrowth of fandom, an arm of media industries' promotional apparatus, or both. Rarely are these events understood as a media industry in their own right.
Over the next three years, we're going to be conducting a series of research activities to start better understanding this diverse and growing field, including:
- surveying the representation of comic cons in the media;
- conducing a cultural mapping exercise that will build a public, searchable directory of comic cons, comic art festivals, and related media fandom events in North America;
- developing baseline indicators for attendees and exhibitors;
- and writing organizational ethnographies of our partner conventions.
As a result of this research, we will have a better idea of the sector's scope and internal diversity and how convention organizers negotiate the interests of the different publics and stakeholders involved. It will help cons and their organizers argue for their contributions and impacts to sponsors, funding agencies, municipal governments in the cities where they're hosted, and to the public at large. Furthermore, we hope to turn our insights into some best practices for convention organizers and lessons for cultural planners and policymakers.
Thanks to SSHRC and our partner organizations for supporting this work. The whole team is very excited. Stay tuned for more updates – including some opportunities for graduate students to get involved in the project.
Image credit: New York Comic Con 2014 – Day 2 CC-BY-NC Dan Alcalde