Shortly following the badge sale for next year’s Comic-Con International: San Diego, the festival’s organizers announced on Twitter the passing of John Rogers, Comic-Con International’s president since 1986.
I didn’t know Rogers well, but each year Comic-Con would conclude for me with him leading the closing Talk Back session. I was impressed by Rogers’ composure and sense of wry humor as a long line of fans would present their complaints and feedback. Each session was filled with grievances about the difficulty of getting a badge, the support services for attendees, and the very, very long lines. “I thought I was running a comic convention; apparently I’m running a lines [convention],” Rogers would quip.
At each Talk Back session there was also a great deal of praise for the dedication of Rogers and the staff of Comic-Con International by the many fans who appreciated the difficulties of running an event at the scale of San Diego Comic-Con.
Rogers brought an engineer’s analytical sensibility to managing the complex logistics of the massive festival. At the 2014 Talk Back session, a fan complained about the height of the supplied plastic badge holder. “Try to get the badges to fit into the badge holders next year,” he grumbled.
“Ah, you’ve decided that something that is a feature is a bug,” Rogers responded. He explained how the hologram on the badge holder was strategically placed over the attendee’s identifying barcode, shielding it from being scanned without permission. Yet, if the attendee wanted to remove the badge to allow a vendor to capture the information, it would be difficult to extract if the badge was flush with the plastic holder. “So, we said, ‘Hey, if we make it a little taller, you’ve got something to grip and lift.’ So, you see it as a bug, we saw it as a feature.”
As Rogers would patiently explain why Comic-Con International made judgments seeking to balance the competing desires of attendees, I was struck by how his decisions remained squarely focused on choices that would help to grow a sustainable community of fans. At the 2013 Talk Back, an audience member expressed the frustration of many long-term attendees about the difficulty in getting badges, suggesting CCI should make all the tickets each year available for current badge holders who want to return for another year.
Rogers’ response illustrated his focus on building a lasting fan base. “I don’t want … us to become the same 100,000 people in this building every year, with just this little, tiny fractional turnover,” Rogers stated. He explained how many science fiction conventions attracted the same attendees each year and eventually faded away as their audience aged out. “The younger generation never came along, and never fell in love with it.” Rogers was determined that wouldn’t happen with San Diego Comic-Con. “I don’t want it to be like the Boston Red Sox, where someone you know has to die to get a seat.”
At the outset of the 2013 Talk Back, Rogers jokingly identified himself as the “president of the 503(c) non-profit that runs this controlled chaos that is Comic-Con.” Through the dedicated efforts of Rogers, the chaos of the annual fan fest did, indeed, remain well-controlled and filled with joy and adventure for attendees.