Comic-Con inspires fans from Riyadh to New York

More than 135,000 geeks and nerds will next week celebrate the 50th edition of Comic-Con, the world’s largest celebration of pop culture. (AFP)
Updated 16 July 2019

Comic-Con inspires fans from Riyadh to New York

  • The recipe has been so successful that imitations and spin-offs have popped up around the world, from New York to Saudi Arabia

LOS ANGELES: From Peter Parker’s run-in with a radioactive spider to Superman fleeing an exploding Krypton, comic book fans love a good origin story.
So when 135,000 geeks and nerds invade San Diego next week for the 50th edition of Comic-Con — the world’s largest celebration of pop culture — the event’s humble beginnings will be a hot topic of discussion.
The sprawling convention today draws Hollywood A-listers such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Patrick Stewart and the cast of “Game of Thrones” to its frantically hyped panels, where billion-dollar franchises are launched.
But the first iteration — the brainchild of an unemployed 36-year-old comic collector and his five teenage acolytes — drew just 100 people to a seedy hotel basement down the road in March 1970.
The “Golden State Comic-Con” was first designed as a way for fans to connect with each other and meet their heroes — the comic book creators — at a time when the genre was a million miles away from the mainstream.
“We never thought we’d be as big as we are. We never thought we’d be around in 50 years’ time,” David Glanzer, Comic-Con’s marketing chief, told AFP.
“They were the first people who really viewed comic books as art,” added Glanzer.
Comic-Con’s subsequent growth was gradual but inexorable. It increasingly looked beyond comics and catered to film and TV, as well as other genres such as sci-fi.
Oscar-winning director Frank Capra was the first genuinely mainstream star to attend. But arguably the tipping point came in 1976 when Lucasfilm’s publicist sent a team bearing posters and slides to promote an upcoming “little film called Star Wars,” said Glanzer.
The ploy to spread word of mouth about its ambitious space opera was “viral marketing before there was viral marketing,” he added.
It evidently worked. Big-shot studio executives who had previously attended for fun on their weekends began coming for the whole week, arriving in their business suits to close major licensing deals at San Diego’s top restaurants.

FASTFACT

Next week’s event is expected to attract 135,000 visitors

By the 1990s, studios and networks were sending the “talent” itself — star-studded casts and directors — forcing the traditional media to pay attention.
Francis Ford Coppola came to promote “Dracula,” while Quentin Tarantino went from wandering the halls as a fan to appearing front and center on stage.
“Back in the day we used to give away two or three thousand tickets on the radio because we couldn’t get people through the door,” recalled Glanzer. “Now tickets sell out within an hour.”
The recipe has been so successful that imitations and spin-offs have popped up around the world, from New York to Saudi Arabia.
This year San Diego will host a series of retrospective panels celebrating Comic-Con’s storied past.
But for some, the exponential growth has come at a cost.
What was once an intimate event now sees thousands of bleary-eyed fans — dressed in pitch-perfect monster, alien and manga costumes — lining up long before dawn to squeeze into packed events.
Comic retailers who maintained stalls at the event for decades have stopped coming, priced out by rising costs as Comic-Con has filled and spilled out from the 27-acre (11-hectare) San Diego Convention Center.
And many bemoan the fact that, in a world of Hollywood blockbusters and video games, the comic books themselves have been relegated to the back pages.
“Yeah, we do get a lot of Hollywood people, but entertainment now is very different to how it was in 1970,” said Glanzer. “I think that’s just a healthy progression and acknowledgement of art in its various different forms.
“As long as we maintain our roots in comics and other art forms, I hope we’ll be OK.”


Google says misinformation campaign used YouTube to target Hong Kong protests

Updated 23 August 2019

Google says misinformation campaign used YouTube to target Hong Kong protests

SAN FRANCISCO, US: Google on Thursday said it disabled a series of YouTube channels that appeared to be part of a coordinated influence campaign against pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
The announcement by YouTube’s parent company came after Twitter and Facebook accused the Chinese government of backing a social media campaign to discredit Hong Kong’s protest movement and sow political discord in the city.
Google disabled 210 YouTube channels that it found behaved in a coordinated manner while uploading videos related to the Hong Kong protests, according to Shane Huntley of the company’s security threat analysis group.
“This discovery was consistent with recent observations and actions related to China announced by Facebook and Twitter,” Huntley said in an online post.
Twitter and Facebook announced this week that they suspended nearly 1,000 active accounts linked to a coordinated influence campaign. Twitter said it had shut down about 200,000 more before they could inflict any damage.
“These accounts were deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground,” Twitter said, referring to the active accounts it shut down.
Facebook said some of the posts from accounts it banned compared the protesters in Hong Kong with Daesh group militants, branded them “cockroaches” and alleged they planned to kill people using slingshots.
China has “taken a page from Russia’s playbook” as it uses social media platforms outside the country to wage a disinformation campaign against the protests, according to the non-profit Soufan Center for research, analysis, and strategic dialogue related to global security issues.
“Beijing has deployed a relentless disinformation campaign on Twitter and Facebook powered by unknown numbers of bots, trolls, and so-called ‘sock puppets,’” the center said on its website, referring to fake online identities created for deception.
“China’s behavior will likely grow more aggressive in both the physical and virtual realms, using on-the-ground actions to complement an intensifying cyber campaign characterized by disinformation, deflection, and obfuscation.”

Misused by autocratic regimes
While social media platforms have been tools for people to advocate for rights, justice or freedom in their countries, the services are being turned on them by oppressive governments, according to the Soufan Center.
“Autocratic governments are now using these same platforms to disparage demonstrators, divide protest movements, and confuse sympathetic onlookers,” the center said.
Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous southern Chinese city and one of the world’s most important financial hubs, is in the grip of an unprecedented political crisis that has seen millions of people take to the streets demanding greater freedoms.
China’s government has publicly largely left the city’s leaders and police force to try and resolve the crisis, but behind the scenes online, Beijing is seeking to sway public opinion about Hong Kong, according to Twitter and Facebook.
“We are disclosing a significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong, specifically the protest movement and their calls for political change,” Twitter said.
It said it had pulled 936 accounts originating in China that were spreading disinformation.
Twitter and Facebook are banned in China, part of the government’s so-called “Great Firewall” of censorship.
Because of the bans, many of the fake accounts were accessed using “virtual private networks” that give a deceptive picture of the user’s location, Twitter said.
Facebook said it had acted on a tip from Twitter, removing seven pages, three groups and five Facebook accounts that had about 15,500 followers.
“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government,” Facebook said.