Book Review: Comic Con and the Business of Pop Culture

Rob Salkowitz at his book reading and signing.

Rob Salkowitz at his book reading and signing. (Photo by Dan Thornton)

As a life-long comic geek and a new student in the MCDM program, being asked if I would like to read a book about Comic Con and the future of entertainment was rather like asking someone if they want a warm drink after running around in their undies in a snowstorm.

Admittedly, when I got my copy of Comic Con and the Business of Pop Culture by Rob Salkowitz  I thought I might have gotten in over my head by adding yet another entire book to my first-term grad school reading list. Imagine my surprise when I devoured the book in one weekend. This included the many times that I would stop reading, go back and read it out loud to my friends. It was a complete nerdgasm.

At the University Bookstore where he introduced the book and read select passages, Salkowitz (who I should note is a member of the MCDM faculty at the University of Washington) made some excellent points in rapid fire. For example, he stressed it was important to realize how transmedia consolidation is changing the way we see comic books and the way that artists are able to reach out to their audience. He gave an almost exhaustive list of examples, not the least of them being new media capabilities for self publishing. Like most everything he talks about in the book this doesn’t just affect comics, but all types of media and business today.

Check out the video from Salkowitz’s book reading: (Shot by Scott Macklin, courtesy of the MCDM Youtube channel)

The book isn’t all adamantium, stardust and fluffy bunnies about the comic industry. Salkowitz lassoed some harsh truths, making it clear that this is the time when the comics industry – an industry that doesn’t just make millions of dollars during the Con, but also supports a vast array of movie franchises, toys, clothing and other goods – needs to really pay attention and learn to adapt without losing its rich history. Comics are in danger in their original (paper) form and need to look to their future survival. This is where the book strikes a universal chord as many industries look towards a transmedia revolution that could either make them or break them.

Rob Salkowitz reading to the crowd from his book, featured in the foreground.

Rob Salkowitz reading to the crowd from his book, featured in the foreground. (Photo by Conrado Tapado)

Like the author, who appeared at the reading in a shirt that loudly declared in no uncertain comic book terms he meant business, the book displays a passion for Comic Con and the people that make it a “pop culture singularity.” It does this without ever alienating the non-Con initiated. This was evident when my Mom and a couple friends wrangled deals over who got to read it next. The people who always just chuckled when I gushed about comics wanted to know where they could get a copy of the book.

That approachability, along with a quirky sense of humor displayed throughout the narrative, is where the strength of the book lies. It takes a pop culture phenomenon and shows you that it is not just some freak show where people get dressed up. It is a place for an important cultural art form. The book also explains that for anyone in the business of media it is a critical vortex for looking into the future.

This isn’t just for the comic geeks, as Salkowitz states, “Every industry benefits from looking strategically at its market and accounting for future uncertainty.”

So, while you might not have ever picked up a comic book or thought of going to Comic Con, this book is worth your time. While I feel a little more doomsday about the future of comics than the author, the book is a fascinating fun ride and might just change how you view the business of pop culture and the changing future of media.

Now, if you will excuse me…I have this sudden urge to go buy more comic books! Viva Comic Con!

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