Brainiac On Banjo #009: The Four Million Dollar Fan

I’m going to start with two facts.

Fact #1 – The first big-ass comic book convention that attracted lots of people from beyond its immediate environs was the 1964 New York Comicon. It, in turn, led to thousands of comic book conventions, many called “comicons,” “comic-cons,” and similar-sounding derivatives.

Fact #2 – There is a difference between law and ethics. Our laws usually try to be precise. Ethics tend to vary a bit from person to person and, certainly, from time to time. One person easily could steal from another – particularly in the area of intellectual property – and be cool with our laws.

All of this comes to mind because there was a verdict last Thursday in the case of the San Diego Comic Con versus the Salt Lake Comic Con. San Diego said they trademarked the term, and this is so. They didn’t create it, they weren’t even among the first to employ it, but they did trademark it. And so, last winter, San Diego won a $20,000 judgment against Salt Lake for trademark infringement.

I’m thinking of trademarking “U.S. District Court…” but I digress. 

According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Salt Lake asked U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Battaglia to put aside the ruling and order a new trial. Instead, in a series of orders issued late Thursday (August 23rd), Battaglia has not only upheld the jury’s verdict and issued an injunction, but ordered the defendants to pay almost $4 million in attorneys’ fees and costs. The decision comes just a week before the Salt Lake convention was about to get underway. Thanks to this court case, it’s already been rebranded the FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention.”

Technically, this ruling only affects Salt Lake City. I should note the public-domainyness of the phrase “Comic Convention” was upheld. However, this ruling does establish precedent, and San Diego may choose to go after their other competitors. Otherwise, they will have not shown interest in defending and protecting their mark, and they will look exceptionally petty having gone after the guppies but avoiding the sharks.

The San Diego Comic-Con is a not-for-profit organization. Their mission statement includes the following: Comic-Con International – San Diego is a nonprofit educational corporation dedicated to creating awareness of, and appreciation for, comics and related popular artforms, primarily through the presentation of conventions and events that celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution of comics to art and culture.

Umm… well… no. There’s some serious bullshit there. It probably wasn’t when it was written, but it certainly is now. Those who attend the San Diego Comic-Con, no matter what their purpose, will find the part about “creating awareness of, and appreciation for, comics and related popular artforms, primarily through the presentation of conventions and events that celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution of comics to art and culture.” For the past decade or so, they have really focused on that “related popular artforms” part to the point where any real comic book presence – and I mean comic books and not its media derivates – not only dominate the show, they completely overwhelm it.

Outside of the humongous booths operated by the likes of Warner Bros. (DC Comics) and Disney (Marvel Comics) and outside of a comparative handful of panels and an artists’ alley – you know, the stuff you find at every single comic book convention that has the wherewithal to run two or more days – for the week of the San Diego show, the convention has become Hollywood South. I once found myself stuck to Kevin Bacon while both of us were trying to escape the wall-to-wall humanity in order to get to our respective panels. Yup, I’m one degree separated from Kevin Bacon!

This was mocked by no less an institution as Futurama. Eight years ago this very week, the teevee show did an episode set in the year 3010. They had only one comic book booth among the thousands at the show, and Sergio Aragonés was the guest. True to the show’s form, Sergio’s head was in a bell-jar. Yup, it’s my favorite episode of the series.

The San Diego Comic-Con, by the way, also runs WonderCon. Note what’s missing from that name.

ReedPop, proprietors of the October New York Comic Con, has not announced plans to change the name of the show they’ve been running for 12½ years. This is despite the court’s ratification of the misuse of what has been, 54 years, a generic application.

As for me, at the end of September I’ll be appearing at what is, for now, still called the Baltimore Comic-Con, along with a thousand other guests and a million other comic book fans. For the record, I’ll be there with my pals and collaborators John Ostrander, Timothy Truman, Howard Chaykin, Denys Cowan, Denny O’Neil, Joe Staton, John Workman… the list goes on and on.

As do comicons.

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