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.”


US media questions Bezos hacking claims

Updated 25 January 2020

US media questions Bezos hacking claims

  • Experts said while hack “likely” occurred, investigation leaves too many “unanswered questions”
  • Specialists on Thursday said evidence was not strong enough to confirm

LONDON: An investigation into claims that the phone of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was hacked has been called into question by cybersecurity experts and several major US media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and the Associated Press (AP).

Specialists on Thursday said evidence from the privately commissioned probe by FTI Consulting is not strong enough for a definitive conclusion, nor does it confirm with certainty that his phone was actually compromised.

The Wall Street Journal reported, late on Friday: “Manhattan federal prosecutors have evidence indicating Jeff Bezos’ girlfriend provided text messages to her brother that he then sold to the National Enquirer for its article about the Amazon.com Inc. founder’s affair, according to people familiar with the matter.”

Experts said while a hack “likely” occurred, the investigation leaves too many “unanswered questions,” including how a hack happened or which spyware program was used, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

Steve Morgan, founder and editor-in-chief of New York-based Cybersecurity Ventures, said the probe makes “reasonable assumptions and speculations,” but does not claim 100 percent certainty or proof.

UK-based cybersecurity consultant Robert Pritchard said: “In some ways, the investigation is very incomplete … The conclusions they’ve drawn, I don’t think, are supported by the evidence. They veered off into conjecture.”

Alex Stamos, former chief security officer at Facebook, wrote that the FTI probe is filled with “circumstantial evidence but no smoking gun.”

Matt Suiche, a Dubai-based French entrepreneur and founder of cybersecurity firm Comae Technologies, told AP that the malicious file is presumably still on the hacked phone because the investigation shows a screenshot of it.

If the file had been deleted, he said the probe should have stated this or explained why it was not possible to retrieve it. “They’re not doing that. It shows poor quality of the investigation,” Suiche added.

Reports on Wednesday suggested that Saudi Arabia was involved in the phone of Bezos being hacked after he received a WhatsApp message sent from the personal account of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Saudi Embassy in the US denied the allegations, describing them as “absurd.” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan called the accusations “purely conjecture” and “absolutely silly,” saying if there was real evidence the Kingdom looked forward to seeing it.

A Wall Street Journal report quoted forensics specialists as saying the FTI investigation’s claims that Saudi Arabia was behind any possible hacking of the phone “appeared to forgo investigatory steps.”

CNN reported that critics of the probe highlighted a “lack of sophistication” in it, quoting Sarah Edwards, an instructor at the SANS Institute, as saying: “It does seem like (FTI) gave it a good try, but it seems they’re just not as knowledgeable in the mobile forensics realm as they could have been.”

The New York Times said the probe tried to find links between the possible hacking of the phone and an article in the National Enquirer about the Amazon CEO’s extramarital affair with Lauren Sanchez, but any link remains “elusive.”

National Enquirer owner American Media said in a statement regarding the source of the leak on Sanchez’s involvement with Bezos: “The single source of our reporting has been well documented, in September 2018 Michael Sanchez began providing all materials and information to our reporters. Any suggestion that a third party was involved in or in any way influenced our reporting is false.”