My first San Diego Comic-Con experience (it wasn’t “International” then) was way back in 1972. The convention had only been running a few years, and my parents said we were going to San Diego for a little family vacation and asked, “Would I like to go to Comic-Con?” I coudn’t believe it. Blissful shock and happiness. Kind of how it’s been the past few years each time with my wife and son.
Back then, it was held at the historic El Cortez hotel. My mother seems to think it all took place in the basement (it started there the first year, and I think it moved elsewhere in the hotel after that). There couldn’t have been more than 1,000 people attending – maybe even only 500, I can’t recall. But you could go up to a voiceover person for cartoons, or a comic book creator and just ask for an autograph. They might even scribble a picture for you. There were a few dealers in comics, but comic shops were more of a rarity. There were also a few panels and such, but it was loose – no lines, no waits, no real giveaways (though a swell little mimeographed booklet), and all about comics and a few tagents, like cartoon shows.
The following year, a friend of my parents was going to the Con (he was an actual comic collector of the then-old stuff, by my father’s age) and offered to take me. The convention may have been a little bigger, but not much – the same easy-to-access stars of the genre (depending who was there, of course). And I was still goggle-eyed by it all.
Flash-forward to the early ’90s. I’m a writer-producer for radio now (American Top 40, other special programming), music critic/interviewer/writer for various publications, including The Hollywood Reporter and Tower Pulse! No longer a kid at all, though still buying and collecting comics along with reading science fiction, fantasy, detective novels, and more. A publicity firm offers to take a bunch of writers down the San Diego Comic Convention by train out of Union Station in Los Angeles. The successful Indie Malibu Comics is launching an imprint called Rock-It Comix with a Lita Ford issue. Lita Ford? Metal girl of the ’80s? Only it’s the grunge-on-the-rise ’90s. Aren’t they behind the curve with this comic? No matter, it’s a free trip to the Convention, which I hadn’t attended in two decades (idiot me, but that’s another story).
So we leave Union Station early in the morning, get down to San Diego, get rooms at the Marriott nearby, get our Con passes, are taken over to the Convention Center, and get to wander about until a dinner in the early evening with Rock-It Comix to get the pitch and meet Lita Ford. This is not the same Comic-Con of the ’70s. Film (mostly cult still), Trek, and other Sci-Fi has entered the picture. It’s huge – thousands upon thousands of people. Why did I wait so long to come back to it? I ask myself.
We have the dinner in a room upstairs above the exhibit hall, are given copies of the Lita comic, and we meet her. She looks good – not quite rock slutted-out like her videos and promo pics. Also, surprise, surprise, she hates the whole grunge thing: “What happened to real music?” I didn’t say that hair-metal was pretty damned contrived (though looking back, fun for those who were into it, I guess). A bunch of us, including my Music Editor from The Reporter, who’s part of the press cadre, head to gaslamp to hit the bars and have a fine time, then walk back to the hotel. It’s a morning of hangover cure breakfast, then some pool rest, we leave luggage with the bellman and head over for more Comic-Con since we’re on a late train back to L.A. The Lita Ford comic? I still think I have it in storage with all my other comics. Sells for $3 to $5 or so on eBay. Maybe I’ll list it.
But back to Comic-Con. As big as I thought it had become in 1993, it was even bigger when I came back in 1998 and it’s seemed to be bursting at the seams every year since, with Movie and TV taking over, video games playing a part, along with card/role-playing games, giant booths for the major comics companies and major indies, plus screenings, previews, fine art, erotic art, dozens of small publishers in books and comics, fanzines, professional magazines, trinkets, toys, and those panels so packed in, people have to wait as long as hours outside to be sure to get a seat inside, plus the forever-lines for autographs. You might be able to walk up to a non-superstar artist’s table, but otherwise, expect a wait. And those lines all get so long, they’re capped/cut off as well. The price of it all becoming…wow….COOL. Really cool.
Sure, the dealers in comics, toys, action figures, and other memorabilia are still there, and the comics from the Golden Age of the ’40s through the Silver Age of the mid-’50s up to the early ’70s still bring the top dollar in the highest grades, of course. And several companies will gladly charge you to grade your comics, too.
Word of advice – not just from me but from dealers I’ve spoken with: Unless you’re sure your book is in superb condition or it’s mega valuable (like say Giant Size X-Men #1 or the first appearance of Wolverine, which happened in the Hulk, it’s not worth your money or time. I’m a realist about most of my comics. Some might fall into high grade, but as a kid and even as an adult, I READ THEM. What a concept. Yeah, I learned to buy doubles at times – some to read, some to put away. It got expensive too. Do kids even read comics today, or just bag them? It seems they do, based on the fanboy and fangirl talk you hear at the Convention. I know comics are part of what’s helping my little boy learn to read. And imagine.
That’s the heart and soul of Comic-Con: Those comics (and yes, the Sci-Fi/Fantasy shows, films, and even the games). Plus the all-important fans. Loyal fans. Devoted fans. Some, including a lot of the media, toss around the G-word. Go ahead. Call me a geek too – now it’s a badge of honor. And if you think all geeks, male and female, look dorky, you check out some of the eye-popping costumes each day of the now four-day EVENT – a family event as good or better as headin’ to Disneyland, Legoland and all that. It’s still about the comics and those fans, even with all the hype and promotion for the mega money-making films and TV shows. That’s why Joss Whedon was gleeful to write X-Men comics and J. Michael Straczynski Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and then Thor. When it comes down to it, they’re fans too. Something Comic-Con, as giant as it’s become, hasn’t forgotten.
Comic-Con is held every July at the Convention Center in San Diego, CA.