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Is this Comic-Con? Fans debate 'mainstream' panels

By Henry Hanks, CNN
San Diego Comic-Con now includes many non-comic and non-sci-fi panels, like last year's "Glee" panel.
San Diego Comic-Con now includes many non-comic and non-sci-fi panels, like last year's "Glee" panel.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Longtime fans of Comic-Con aren't impressed by non-genre panels
  • Some think the pop culture expansion of Comic-Con caters is counter to original purpose
  • Many Comic-Con visitors were upset that "Twilight" fans created traffic jams last year

(CNN) -- What is seen by some as the holy four-day weekend for geek culture at San Diego Comic-Con has gone mainstream in a big way for the past few years.

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Starting today, there will be panels called "I Can't Write, I Can't Draw, But I Love Comics!" and "Indie Comics Marketing 101" taking place alongside "USA Network's 'Psych' " and "Aloha, Earth!" a panel about CBS' upcoming remake of "Hawaii Five-0."

But this recent spate of panels about movie and TV properties with no sci-fi or comic book elements has some fans fuming.

"The mainstream TV and film representation at Comic-Con has outstripped the original essence of the convention," said iReporter Brad Powers who attended Comic-Con the past two years, mainly for the panels on "Lost." He believed that this "mainstreaming" of the convention has played a hand in it being filled to capacity.

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For one panel, Powers said he arrived a full 45 minutes before it was set to begin. "Thirty minutes passed and I thought for sure I was getting closer to the front door. Finally, 10 minutes after the start, some nice Con attendee started walking back through the line to let everyone know that they were full up and no one else would be getting in."

Powers is not attending the convention this year since "Lost" has ended.

One iReporter, Michelle Cruz, has not attended in years. "I don't even try anymore," she said." "They should have a Commercialism-Con and bring back Comic-Con the way it used to be."

"It's too crowded, too commercial, and, oh yea, it sells out before you even know who's gonna be there," she said.

"I'd be really disappointed spending my money and seeing that I was gonna go to a panel discussion about [the Fox series] 'Glee.' "

The fact that "Glee" attended last year (and is returning this year) certainly seemed to fuel anger among some Comic-Con devotees.

"It used to be the coolest thing in the world and now it's just a reason not to drive downtown for a few days."

Erin O'Donoghue, a hardcore fan of "Chuck," is one of those who disagrees. "I am not one of those who believe it should remain solely in the realm of comics and their related forms of media," she said. "I personally really enjoy the fact that SDCC has become a celebration of popular culture and every entertainment medium."

Even those who have covered the convention have differing opinions about it. Vic Holtreman of Screenrant.com doesn't think that non-genre panels are a very good idea.

"I guess the studios figure, well, as long as we're here we might as well throw this movie out there. ... Maybe we give this a little boost," he said. "Last year, at one of the studio panels, they had the Mike Judge film, 'Extract,' and people saw the footage. Then the movie completely tanked."

Fanbolt.com's Emma Loggins, on the other hand, sees a place for these kinds of panels at Comic-Con. "I think that what it's really about is anything that has a strong fan base. It also brings in other people to the convention that otherwise wouldn't be interested," she said.

Quite a few people she has talked to, however, disagree with her. She even recalls a quite vocal reaction last year to a movie that, on the surface, would seem like a good fit. "Con-goers were protesting at the Summit Entertainment booth saying ... with signs, 'Twilight Ruined Comic Con,' because fans couldn't get into see panels earlier in the day because of the thousands of 'Twilight' fans that descended on Hall H."

This year, those fans can breathe a sigh of relief, since the cast of "The Twilight Saga" won't be there -- this year. But there are plenty of other panels, such as one for Will Ferrell's cop comedy "The Other Guys," which will ensure the debate continues.

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