Industry Mini Dive: Comic-Con

comic con banner

It’s April, and with Star Wars Celebration 2023 in London this past weekend, it’s kind of the unofficial start of con season. Just like summertime is trade show season for the promotional products industry, it’s con season for us nerds!

What is Comic-Con?

Comic-con has kind of turned into a catch-all phrase for a convention that is pop culture-centric. For example, Star Wars Celebration isn’t exactly a comic book convention – it’s all about Star Wars! But it falls under the same category, same with D23, the Disney exclusive convention. Plus, some conventions might not be called conventions at all. Others, like ReedPop’s Fan Expo or Fan Days are also pop culture conventions. And you can find pretty much anything there that interests you, from Japanese anime to cartoons, to video games, to movies and TV shows!

The Culture, Camaraderie, and Celebrity

The culture at these kinds of conventions is like nothing else I, or really anyone, has experienced before – it’s beyond special. There’s a camaraderie there, knowing you’re celebrating something you love with like-minded folks. You bond with people that you meet in line, whether it’s waiting for a panel to hear your favorite actors speak or waiting to meet them and get a picture with them. Plus, you’ll also see dedicated fans roaming around the show floor in highly detailed and amazingly crafted costumes – these fans are called cosplayers!

Meeting the actors behind your favorite characters is one of the biggest draws to a comic-con. Tickets for an autograph and photo can range from $25-$500 separately or together, making it a big money-maker for both the convention and the actor.

When it comes to admission to comic-cons, a one-day pass usually costs about $25-$50, while a multi-day pass can range from $100-$500 depending on the tier the attendees choose. VIP packages are offered, which give you access to all three-four days of the convention with perks like a VIP relaxation room, seats up front during panels, and early access to the show floor.

The show floor is probably my favorite part of conventions! You can buy exclusive merch from your favorite companies like Marvel or DC, you can test-play upcoming video games, and peruse the aisles to find that nostalgic toy from your childhood. It’s definitely not just comic books that are there – though you can find those too. It’s a collector’s dream! You can find rarities like many important comics or Disney concept art. Or, if you’d like, you can head over to the artists’ alley section and check out any one of the many talented artists selling their art.

When it comes to panels, there’s everything from educational panels to celebrity interviews. But the biggest crowd pleasers are the brand and IP-specific panels like the Mandalorian and Star Wars or Marvel. These will often come with announcements for upcoming projects, interviews with the stars, and trailers that are exclusive to congoers.

Dwayne Johnson
Dwayne Johnson at SDCC 2023

What Do Promotional Products Have To Do With It?

So, let’s break down the numbers. What does a comic-con look like? I decided to break down the two biggest cons in the U.S. – San Diego Comic-Con and New York Comic-Con.

comic con stats

While San Diego might be the most well-known comic-con, it certainly gets dwarfed in attendance by the New York Comic-Con in the fall. In San Diego, the average attendee’s spend is around $700. This includes con exclusive merch, food and drink at the venue, and artwork purchased in the artists’ alley. That comes to a total of $90 million in direct attendee spending each year – that’s a whole lot of money!

In New York, there were 670 exhibitors in 2022, which included lots of big names like Marvel, Sideshow, PlayStation, Nintendo, DC Comics, and Hasbro. And the best part about those exhibitors? Just like our trade shows: it’s the freebies! What kind of freebies can we find? Well, anything! Let’s talk about some popular con swag and merch.

The Con Bag.

comic con bags
The best bags ever

This is the preeminent bag. This is the bag that you get when you first come into any con – and everyone takes this bag. Not only is it a perfect billboard to catch attention, but it’s the best way to keep track of all the merch and freebies people are going to take. Plus, it’s a backpack, so you don’t have to strain just one of your shoulders. It’s perfect.


pizza rat plush
Pizza Rat by Squishable for NYCC 2023

Inspired by the infamous video of a giant New York City rat carrying a giant New York City slice of pizza down the stairs of the subway – the pizza rat has become the mascot of New York Comic-Con, so it’s only natural that there’s a plushie of the cute lil guy.

Action Figures

papa nihil action figure
Papa Nihil SDCC 2020 Comic-Con Exclusive

Action figures and pop culture go hand-in-hand, so it’s only natural that there are action figures all over comic-con! Even popular bands are part of the comic-con universe, as we see here with this Papa Nihil action figure exclusive to the (albeit canceled) 2020 San Diego Comic-Con.


spider-man lego
SDCC 2019 Spider-Man Minifig

That’s right, Lego! Lego has a huge presence at cons, and every year they give out exclusive keychains, minifigs, and bricks that are so sought after that they have random instant win drawings to make sure people don’t trample each other in line.


franklin button
SDCC 2022 Franklin Exclusive Button

When it comes to freebies, buttons are probably one of the most popular options. Not only are they inexpensive, but they’re a fun way for patrons to show off which booths they’ve visited. Some exhibitors will even have multiple designs that they release each day to keep people coming back!


big hero 6 poster
Big Hero 6 NYCC 2014 Exclusive Poster

Smaller to legal-sized flyers are perfect for freebies at cons because they’re inexpensive to print in bulk, but they also are a great way for fans to commemorate their experience.


nycc spirit jersey
NYCC 2023 Exclusive Spirit Jersey

Of course, it wouldn’t be promo without apparel! Each big exhibitor has their own apparel for sale or for free, including the con itself. And it’s not just limited to t-shirts! Hoodies, sweatshirts, and even silk jackets and scarves can be found!

Cons, like trade shows, are the perfect way to advertise your product to the masses and like-minded groups. Everyone likes freebies, and cons are full of them!

So many of these same products can be branded for industries you might not have considered before (like comic-con merch)! That’s why we’re breaking down niche industries, one mini dive at a time, in this new blog series. Stay tuned for my next article, and let us know in the comments below if there’s an industry you want to break into but don’t know where to start! To check out other industry mini dives click here!

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(Marketing Content Writer)

Betty is the Marketing Content Writer at SAGE. She is a self-proclaimed, bonafide nerd, and when she's not writing, you can find her playing video games, watching documentaries, hunting for heavy metal records, and going down rabbit-holes on Wikipedia.

One Comment

  1. Great article. Thanks.

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