The San Diego Comic-Con can become a blur after four days. Less than two weeks after this summer’s installment–the first time my wife Wendy, our daughter Eloise, and I were able to get passes for each and every day–I can only sort photos by looking old T-shirts that I took out of storage just for the occasion.
But how about going through memories over 40 years? My brother Greg, our friend Mike, and I were 10 when we started attending the Con in 1979. Since then, Greg and I have missed one. Mike, zero. Our first trips were to the old convention center and then to the El Cortez, its original site, before the new convention center opened.
There wasn’t nearly as much cosplay in the Bronze Age of Comics, and definitely way more Trekkies and swords and sandals wearers than superheroes. I think it’s safe to say that the modern age of cosplay was ushered in by anime otaku in the ’90s and then cemented by mainstream Star Wars fandom, the Harry Potter generation, and movie studios paying attractive models to wear capes, and not just nerds.
Fancy pavilions erected by movie studios, video game companies, and publishers (comic books or not) weren’t present, either. Mostly it was shops setting up simple tables with back issues in cardboard boxes or original art arranged under plastic. There were also vendors that sold vintage lunchboxes and Big Little Books, genre movie posters and lobby cards, duped VHS tapes of horror flicks and kung fu movies, weapons for real life D&D players and Civil War re-enactors, and T-shirts for all types of fandom. There wasn’t a lot of glamour in the good old days–although I recall seeing the likes of Jack Kirby and Will Eisner walking the floor. Once, John Byrne decline to sign an L7 concert poster that ripped off his Dark Phoenix art for me.
There have always been panels and spotlights, and some of the earliest events and panels that stand out for me include a Klingon Ascension Ritual, midnight reading by Neil Gaiman, and advance screening of Natural Born Killers. Sometime in the earlier ’90s I took a picture with Go Nagai at a spotlight panel. There is sort of a blackout between the mid ’90s and 2010 when I was sequestered in the GR booth–first in the Small Press area and then on the main floor–but now that am free to enjoy every aspect of the Con once more, I find myself transitioning from being one of the nerds in black T-shirts who gets excited about the most obscure, least popular panels to the AARP members who make up the balance.
Not having a vendor pass anymore, Hall H getting absorbed by mainstream celebrity culture, entertainment conglomerates taking over the Gaslamp District, and difficulty of getting passes make it easy for us lowly fans to scoff at Comic-Con and stop caring about it. So do the other conventions that are popping up everywhere. But I attended it before all the hoopla and will continue after it passes.
Where else can you buy new comics straight from the likes of Jason Lutes, Johnny Ryan, Charles Glaubitz, Lawrence “Raw Dog” Hubbard, and Debbie Huey, and have them signed and sketched in? Gush to comics book legends such as Bob Burden, Robert Williams, Geof Darrow, and Sergio Aragones? Hang out with old and new friends from all over the continent who make comics and other cool stuff including Eric Nakamura, Keenan Keller, Tom Devlin, Peggy Burns, Tracy Hurren, Brian Flynn, Gabe Soria, Louie Perez, and Henry Mortensen? And catch up with Sacto and San Diego pals Scott Bradley, McHank, and Rob Crow on top of everything else? (Shown in that order above, but unsorted.)
Where else will I get to see panels with Nichelle Nichols, Bobcat Goldthwait, and underground comix legends or discover news about an unseen Harryhausen documentary and museum in the works? Eloise would be upset if I didn’t mention Supergirl and DC Superhero Girls. Same with Wendy regarding A Discovery of Witches. There was so much more, and that wasn’t cosplay but the real Bootsy Collins with Peppermint Patty and DJ Lance Rock who we encountered and took a picture with. Wow!
Beneath all the layers of showbiz and after all the difficulty of getting passes–and perhaps a little bit because of them–Comic-Con is still as awesome as you want it to be once you get in. And my love for the institution has only become deeper now that Eloise is as exactly as old as Mike, Greg, and I were when we first convinced our cool moms to take us. How lucky am I to see it reflected in her eyes? What will she and Mike and Greg’s kids say about it 40 years from now? With Crom’s blessings, we dorky parents will get to see that conversation unfold one year at a time.