The era of comic book, gaming, and television and film conventions is on the rise, and is here to stay. Every year, studios and companies make hundreds of millions pumping out superhero movies and record-breaking games like Call of Duty and Halo, helping to strengthen the global economy.
Whether a grassroots effort that brings in just a few thousands attendees, to hugely, corporate-sponsored festivals that bring in hundreds of thousands, one thing is clear: Comic conventions are economic powerhouses. They are a celebration of all things entertaining, and there’s a convention out there for everyone.
Oftentimes, these conventions are the pride and joy and the biggest money maker for cities around the world. Places like San Diego, California and Angoulême, France, have comics expos that generate more revenue than any other citywide event. With the amount of attendees constantly rising, and the amount of money being made at these conventions, it’s easy to imagine these cities fighting tooth and nail to keep their entertainment conventions at home, but it isn’t always easy. Here are 10 of the biggest comic, gaming, and entertainment conventions in the world, by attendance.
10 Salt Lake Comic Con - 120,000 Attendees
The Salt Lake Comic Con is easily the youngest and fastest growing con on this list, and perhaps in the world. And while you might not think of Salt Lake City as a contender for comics conventions, it has become one of the most popular cons in North America. It was first inaugurated in September 2013, and became the largest inaugural Comic Con in North America, with over 70,000 tickets sold.
SLCC has since become a biannual convention, and the second event in 2014 sold out with over 120,000 attendees. Fire marshals had to close the event several times for safety reasons. Special guests included Stan Lee, Leonard Nimoy, Lou Ferrigno, Ron Perlman, and over 100 other guests.
SLCC co-founders Dan Farr and Bryan Brandenburg have promised the September 2015 event to be “bigger and better than ever,” with over 200 celebrities from film, television, comic books, and video games scheduled to appear.
9 San Diego Comic-Con - 133,000 Attendees
Surprisingly, North America’s most hyped and popular comics convention doesn’t even crack the top five in terms of tickets sold, but that number is misleading. That is because while other cities have conventions spread out over a building or two, Downtown San Diego becomes a hub for all things Comic Con during the Summer season of SDCC, partnering with neighboring hotels such as The Omni, The Hilton, The Marriott, Grand Hyatt, and other places such as the San Diego Public Library, The Harbor Club, Petco Park, etc, which help bring in out-of-towners and locals for events outside of the Convention Center.
SDCC is San Diego’s largest convention, and Forbes has called it the “largest convention of its kind in the world," which isn’t quite true, but the sentiment is. Publishers Weekly wrote, “Comic-Con International: San Diego is the largest show in North America." Despite its size and massive popularity, SDCC comes from humble beginnings.
It began in 1970 with just 145 attendees. Since then, it has grown into a showcasing of all things anime, comic, sci-fi, fantasy, TV, movie, and game-related, with 1,100 panels and over 1,000 vendors each year. SDCC has shown up in movies and television, such as The Big Bang Theory, Numb3rs, Entourage, and more. Just to show how much San Diegans love Comic-Con, a recent poll asked whether people cared more for Comic-Con to stay in San Diego, or the San Diego Chargers to stay, and SDCC won, culminating in a deal to keep Comic-Con in sunny San Diego through 2018.
8 International CES - 140,000 Attendees
CES, or the Consumer Electronics Show, is a renowned tech and electronics trade show that takes place annually each January in Las Vegas, Nevada. Even though it is not open to the public, CES brings in 140,000 attendees each year. The show previews upcoming products and announcements, and is largely followed by global media.
CES began in 1967 in New York City, with 17,500 attendees. The event relocated to Las Vegas in 1998, and remains one of the city’s largest shows. Some ground breaking products that were first debuted at CES are the VCR (1970), Camcorder and Compact Disc Player (1981), HDTV (1998), Microsoft Xbox (2001), Blu-ray (2003), Tablets, Netbooks and Android Devices (2010), and Android and Firefox OS Smart TVs (2015), among many others.
One subject of controversy and geek fantasy are the “booth babes” that CES has employed since its inception in 1967. CES organizers have claimed that forcing these scantily clad women to wear business casual attire would be impractical and would detract CES staff from their main focus of security. Whatever that means, most attendees aren’t complaining.
7 New York Comic Con - 151,000 Attendees
New York Comic Con is a fast-growing convention dedicated to comics, anime, video games, movies, TV, and all things related. It’s been held every year since its inauguration in 2006 in the Javits Convention Center. While its numbers show its attendance size is larger than San Diego Comic Con’s, the numbers are skewed.
First, the SD Convention Center is 800,000 sq. ft. bigger than Javits. Second the number of panels at NYCC (336) is significantly lower than SDCC’s (1,075). Third, NYCC’s ticket process counts every ticket sold, while SDCC’s has a member ID system. That means that if a person attending NYCC buys four one-day passes, that is four tickets sold for one person, whereas someone going to SDCC would have the same four one-day passes count under their one member ID.
That being said, NYCC is quickly becoming the largest comic convention in North America, with a US-high attendance of 151,000 in 2014, with notable guests such as Bill Nye, Kevin Bacon, and Patrick Stewart. NYCC has been combined with the New York Anime Festival since 2010.
6 Angoulême International Comics Festival - 220,000 Attendees
The Angoulême Comics Festival is the second largest comics festival in Europe, bringing in around 200,000 attendees on average for the four-day event. In 2012, the festival broke its own attendance record, with an attendance of 220,000 around the town of Angoulême, France. The festival was founded by French cultural ministers Francis Groux and Jean Mardikian, and comics scholar Claude Moliterni, in 1974.
Besides turning the entire town of Angoulême into a walking festival of all things geeky, the festival hands out many notable and prestigious awards and prizes in the fields of cartooning, comic books, young talent, student artists, albums, artwork, and more. Unlike other comics festivals, the Angoulême event is primarily focused solely on comic books, and not TV, games, or films.
5 Japan Expo - 240,000 Attendees
Since its inauguration in 1999, Japan Expo has grown to be the largest event of its kind in the world, outside of Japan. The expo takes place in Paris, France, and is a convention celebrating and spotlighting Japanese popular culture of all kinds. It is held in the Parc des Expositions de Villepinte, the second-largest convention center in France, and is a four day event. Attendance began with 3,200 in 1999, and has steadily grown over the years. The 2014 edition housed around 240,000 visitors.
Japanese video game producers, pop bands, manga artists and writers, media personalities, and anime creators are all presenters at Japan Expo, and every year has more and more special guests. Since its inception, the expo has expanded to four other cities in three countries: Japan Expo Centre (Orléans, France), Japan Expo Sud (Marseille, France), Japan Expo Belgium (Brussels), and Japan Expo USA (Santa Clara, California), though none are nearly as large as the original.
4 Lucca Comics & Games - 240,000 Attendees
Lucca Comics & Games is the largest comics festival in Europe, and one of the biggest conventions in the world. It is held in Lucca, Tuscany, Italy, at the end of October every year. It is also one of the oldest comics conventions, first inaugurated in 1965 after the “International Congress of Comics” was launched in 1965 in Bordighera. In 1977, funding issues reduced the event to once every two years, until it moved to another city. In was held in Rome from 1995 to 2005, until moving back to Lucca’s city center in 2006.
Numerous pavilions and tents are arranged within and outside the walls of the medieval town, and the event is notable for presenting the Yellow Kid award - awards in categories such as Best Cartoonist, Best Newcomer, Best Foreign Artist, Lifetime Achievement, and more. Writers such as Art Spiegelman, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Neil Gaiman have all won Yellow Kid awards.
The four-day event brings in huge crowds from in and around Europe, including musical acts and co-splay specialists, special guests, and an area aptly called ‘Japan Town.’
3 Tokyo Game Show - 270,000 Attendees
The Tokyo Game Show, or TGS, is a video game expo and convention that is held every year in September in Chiba, Japan. Only the final two days of the expo are open to the general public, but that didn’t stop the convention from bringing in a whopping 251,832 attendees in 2014. The event has been held in the Makuhari Messe in Chiba since its first show in 1996.
TGS is the second biggest video game convention in the world, and while Japanese games are the show’s main focus, many international video game developers use the expo to showcase upcoming software and hardware releases. Although starting as a biannual event, TGS has been held once a year since 2002. The 2013 show broke records with 270,197 attendees.
TGS is a well-structured, efficient expo, in that it showcases around 11 exhibition areas, each with a specific purpose. One area covers gaming devices, another introduces emerging game developers from Asia. There is a merchandise sales pavilion, a general exhibition with demo areas, a smartphone and social gaming area, a PC house, a children’s pavilion, a business area, a college and university area, a cosplay section, and a cloud/data center pavilion.
2 Gamescom - 335,000 Attendees
GamesCom (stylized gamescom) is the world’s largest video gaming convention. It is a trade fair that has been held in Cologne, Germany since its recent inauguration in 2009. It is one of the fastest (if not the fastest) growing entertainment conventions in the world. It is largely used by video game developers to showcase their upcoming games and related hardware.
In its sixth year in 2014, more than 335,000 visitors, 6,000 journalists, and 700 exhibitors - from 88 countries - attended the show. Notable exhibitors include executives and creatives from Electronic Arts, Konami, Bandai Namco, Activision, Microsoft, Sony Computer Entertainment, Sega, Square Enix, Unisoft, Warner Bros., and more.
In 2011, the first Dota 2 International Championships were held at the event. The esport tournament held the biggest prize pool of any esport tournament at the time ($1.6 million). League of Legends and StarCraft II tournaments are also regularly held at Gamescom. The 2015 event will be a five-day fiasco from August 5 to 9.
1 Comiket - 590,000 Attendees
It should come as no surprise that the far-and-away largest comics convention in the world is held in Tokyo, Japan. Comiket, or the Comic Market, is a biannual event that first began in 1975, and attracted around 600 attendees. Attendance has swelled since then, with regular attendances of over half a million people showing up during the August and December festivals.
NatsuComi is a three-day event held during August, while FuyuComi is a two to three day event held towards the end of December. The festivals are a bit different than other comics expos: The main focus is on dōjinshi, or self-published, DIY Japanese works. Some products sold at Comiket are very rare, since dōjinshi is rarely reprinted, and many items found on the Internet can fetch from 10 to 100 times the item’s original price.
Combined, the winter and summer editions of Comiket have found an attendance of over a million people in recent prior years. There have been a number of security issues because of the thousands of people arriving in the Tokyo Big Sight convention center during the events, but one thing is for sure: Comiket is the king of comics conventions, and will likely remain the king for a long, long time.
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