Comic Fodder

A Friendly Non-Attending ComicCon Rebuttal

I have a problem with Ryan: he brings up so many great points that it will take four or five columns to cover everything he mentions. I’m going to have to write five times as much just to keep up with him! Future topics will address things like bringing the comic convention to Las Vegas. For now, let me offer an insider view, if you will.

I was never one for traveling places, but the guy who owns the comic store I go to issued me an invitation one day, a few years back. It sounded like a good time, so a small group of comic guys went down to San Diego, and I went back every year since, until this last time.

My first encounter filled me with a sense of awe. The San Diego Convention Center is huge, and they have actually expanded the available square footage in the last few years. There was an endless area of convention floor space to walk, and upstairs there were panels and expositions in every room. Three years back they overloaded the room limits for fire safety, so last year the fire marshal and his people were present, to make sure it did not happen again. I was but one of more than 100,000 people all in one place, all enjoying themselves, with the most diverse range of interests you could imagine.

What You’re Missing

Everything. The comics dealers all have their own areas of interest. You want brand new stuff? All over the place, even as I wondered why they bothered, since we all got our new stuff at the store before we left our home towns. Golden age, silver age, war comics, westerns, weird horror stuff from fifty years ago, a single issue of which cost thousands of dollars, and no way would I ever pay that much for it, although the cover was awesome cool. Internet hookups to electronic comic stores with special discounts depending on the total purchased, and free shipping.

The comic booths were a small part. Every other aspect of pop culture that ever came from comics, that ever had a comic linkage or crossover, was represented. And every other film or literature aspect also had a presence. So, what are you looking for? Toys? Celebrity photos? Jewelry designed after the Wheel of Time series? Art drawn by Jim Lee to be auctioned off for charity? Medieval weapons, Magic: The Gathering cards, Heroclix, Japanese Manga videos, bootleg copies of the original Fantastic Four movie, posters, cards, trades, T-shirts, statues… Everything was there.

My first Con, I stood there for a second on Preview Night before I dashed off like a madman, striving to take in every booth, every sight to see. A few years later I had slowed down a little bit so my friends could keep up, and the new people we brought along froze for a second, then left us in their dust; the cycle never ends.

Now forget the merchandising and the stuff to buy. Let’s talk about the stuff that’s just there to gawk at and enjoy. Massive displays, like one year a re-creation of a ship for Pirates of the Caribbean or Harry Potter. Big tent-pole booths by DC and Marvel. An amazing area of Lego displays, one year consisting of nothing but items resembling Star Wars, to include an animated Star Wars Lego movie. A model dressed up as Baroness from G.I. Joe, who posed with you for pictures. A life-size cardboard standee of Radioactive Man from the Simpsons. The Batmobile from the TV show! A Superman costume from the black-and-white TV show! Everything.

Now forget the comics and the stuff to look at, and take a stroll down Artist’s Alley. You can get an autograph for your comic, commission your own artwork, stand and talk to Ramona Fradon, who did art on the Super Friends, or an up-and-coming artist at the time like Sean Chen. Get little sketches or pay extra for a nice drawing by Michael Kaluta. Some people go to the Con only to fill their personal sketchbooks.

My favorite bit of my first ComiCon was at the end of Preview Night, and they were ushering everyone towards the doors. I had been standing next to a table and listening to a very interesting scientific conversation, and had joined in. We talked for around half an hour, and after announcements had been made over loudspeakers that the night was over, he kept talking to me. A volunteer came up to interrupt, took one look at the gentleman’s nametag, and turned and walked away without uttering a word. When our conversation found a natural finish, the owner of my comic book store stepped over to me as we walked out of the convention hall. “So,” he says. “I saw you talking to Neal Adams for quite a while there.”

“Yeah, it was great!” I replied. “I had no idea he was into those kinds of scientific ideas!”

"Yeah," he said," I noticed you guys were real deep into it. I didn't want to interrupt!"

Now forget the comics and the stuff to look at, and the artists, and go upstairs to the celebrity sections. You want autographs from characters from Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5, Farscape, Battlestar Galactica (new AND original), Lost in Space… endless.

Now forget the comics and the stuff to look at, and the artists, and the celebrities, and look around at the other people. Tons of them are dressed up, and it became one of my personal joys to capture as many of them on my camera as I could. I have seen zombies, apes with lightsabers, Little Bo Peep (?), Arthur from the Tick trying to get a drink from a water fountain, Spider-Man beating Captain America in a spontaneous push-up contest while Wolverine just stood there watching. I’ve seen an endless parade of metal bikini-clad Princess Leias, Boba Fett and Darth Vader dressed in pimp suits, Laura Croft chilling in the corner with some Ghostbusters, had the Baroness step on me in her heels with us inside a life-size G.I. Joe action figure box. I’ve watched my friend have someone draw the Simpsons as versions of the Fantastic Four. I’ve seen Superman pose for a picture with Spidey and the Green Goblin. I could go on for hours.

Now forget the comics and the stuff to look at, and the artists, and the celebrities, and the other people, and go to a panel. Watch Mr. Evanier introduce a host of writes and artists who created your favorite stories decades ago, and pick on Julius Swartz just because he’s not on the panel, but sitting in the front row. Check out Marv Wolfman and Len Wein running around like kids in a candy store attending the same panels as you are. Check out Stan Lee as he attempts to get away from the thronging crowds pressing around him after his appearance is over. Catch a rare glimpse of John Buscema and chuckle at the tales of his reluctance to draw superheroes, only to hear when you get back to your home that he passed away a short while later.

One event that used to be hidden, but now everybody and their dog comes to, is QuickDraw. Imagine "Whose Line Is It Anyway?," but with an artist trying to draw a scene as fast as he can. A faux competition with the likes of Scott Shaw, Kyle Baker, and an occasional guest like Jim Lee or Jeff Smith. Throughout the whole thing, while the other artists draw, Evanier keeps giving Sergio Aragones additional things to do, because the guy NEVER STOPS DRAWING. The whole event is a ton of laughs and great fun, and sometimes they auction off a few of the sketches for charity.

Now forget the comics and the stuff to look at, and the artists, and the celebrities, and the other people, and the panels, and go outside. You are in beautiful San Diego, taking trolley rides or a petty cab, looking at the wonderfully-designed ships in the harbor, spotting Irv Novick and his wife on the street. Figure out with your friends what new place to try for dinner and debate whether you’re going back to the Con, or hitting up a museum or the beach or SeaWorld tomorrow.

Welcome to the Team

Reading was a solitary sport, I always thought, and I talked mainly with the comic store owner, and that was it. After my trip to the Con with others who went to the same store, we have all become friends for life. We e-mail each other on items we know are of interest, we have cookouts at each other’s houses, we attend their weddings. We keep tabs on them when they move out of town. The common interest of the ComiCon exposed me to a group of wonderful people, a circle that is slowly growing, even to this day, of outstanding individuals that has enriched my life in so many ways, again, I run out of column space. Without attending the Con, I might never have become a part of this special group. I count my blessings for these people, who have become as close to me as family in many ways. We even fight like family sometimes, we’re so close now.

I’m Not Going This Year

As fate would have it, not a one of us from our Vegas Contingent is going this year, not even the comic store owner who has attended pretty much every single one, almost since they started. Real life and commitments, and sadly a limit to our pocketbooks, has prevented our attendance.

One other factor has reduced our vigor: the con is possibly too big now. It used to be a small event of fans and their creators, and now it is loud and noisy and crowded and expensive. Some argue that the soul has been lost as Hollywood has overtaken the comic book roots, and the comic dealer booths dwindle in number and get moved ever farther towards the edges of the convention floor space. Both sides of that argument can be debated, and you can count on there being more coverage of it here. Why, I may even take both sides myself! This year, however, my vacation dollars will be spent buying back issues in my comic store.

I Haven’t Even Told You the Best Part Yet

Now forget the comics and the stuff to look at, and the artists, and the celebrities, and the other people, and the panels, and the outside. There was one other event that occurred because of the convergence of people to San Diego for this Con that is officially over, that was actually the highlight of the entire trip every year. It deserves an entire column to itself. Suffice it to say, I have barely scratched the surface of what can be seen, bought, and experienced at the San Diego ComiCon (I still refuse to call it ComiCon International). And even as great as it was, I can still be okay with missing it.

But you can bet I’ll be going back when I can.

Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.

The cardboard cutouts at comic con this year seem most impressive, makes so many of them.

-- Posted by: Joe at July 30, 2008 9:36 AM

You owe Travis a dollar for ad costs.

-- Posted by: Ryan at July 30, 2008 12:18 PM

Forget the comics, indeed. As they become less and less a part of the overall experience, calling it a "comic" con resembles more and more a classic bait and switch operation.
Don't get me wrong, I still like the thing, but it is no more a comicon than Wal-Mart is a comic store, even though they do have some comics. If we wanted to be honest, we'd think of a new name. Anyone got any suggestions?

-- Posted by: Jim Brocius at July 30, 2008 2:51 PM


-- Posted by: earl k jones at July 30, 2008 10:10 PM

I am 100% behind Earl's suggestion. "Ginormicon in 2009!"

I'm not sure the mish-mash of Hollywood and comics is a bad thing. After all, vetting movies and ideas for movies sounds good in theory. In practice, I think it sort of means a lot of fanboys get all excited and wind up giving bad movie translations of comics more credit than they deserve just because the director and stars show up to grace the plebes with their presence.

As for attention grabbers for less-known projects: who can blame those folks for trying to hit a critical mass of their potential audience and get the buzz out?

-- Posted by: Ryan at July 31, 2008 12:24 AM

In the spirit of seeing this thread live on a little longer (and to play devil's advocate):

In many ways, ComicCon was essentially a huge swapmeet, which is more or less my experience with Cons. Lots of dealers selling stuff that that the internet has put at our fingertips. Add in meet-and-greets with guests, and apnels which you can read online within an hour or so...

Certainly the Hollywood influence has changed things.

But one of the items that seems to inflate the ComicCon in the comics blogosphere is that folks reporting out are getting a very different experience. When Heidi McDonald from "The Beat" attends, people are putting party invitations into her hand. And folks from all walks of life from the industry show up to do some good old fashioned shmoozing... something that the usual attendee isn't getting to do. We're not getting the backstage pass to the show, or chatting it up with Brian K. Vaughn unless we stand in a line or somehow ambush the man.

I'm just saying, the coverage, especially week after coverage, is somewhat telling. Deals are going down. Everyone's got on their game face for either movie development or for to get their next gig. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but reading some of "The Beat's" coverage today kind of made me remember what a weird, insidery business comics truly is, and how that equates to the ComicCon experience and coverage.

Its one thing to say "wow, I bought all these great Jimmy Olsen back-issues!". It's soemthing else completely to report that you spent the evening haging with, say, Neal Adams, which I guess is possible.

-- Posted by: Ryan at August 1, 2008 4:39 PM