Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Remembering Comic Con 2010

The First Cut Is the Deepest

Everybody that regularly attends the San Diego Comic Con remembers their first San Diego Comic Con. I first attended in 2000, when my buddy Brent and I scoped out the small press section in anticipation of unveiling our self-published K.O. Comix the following year. I only attended one day, a Saturday, and was overwhelmed by the immensity of the event. Still, despite dense crowds, I approached some of my favorite writers and artists effortlessly, getting autographs and asking about writing technique. I fondly remember brief but meaningful conversations with Jeph Loeb and Greg Rucka. The whole ride home, and really most of the year in between, I eagerly anticipated 2001 and sitting on the other side of the exhibitors' table, like they did.

When that fantasy became a reality, it was a rollercoaster of realized and disappointed expectations all at the same time. Firstly, fellow fanboys weren't mobbing us for our little self-published comic, like they did in my delusions of grandeur, but periodically we experienced brushes with fame, like when a plain-clothed George Takai flipped through our book, or when we realized we were just a few tables down from Phil Hester and Ande Parks. While we weren't of the same caliber as our favorite personalities in the comic book industry, those exhibitor badges still made us one of them, an honor we wore proudly.

Then, one year, it was over. Comic Con became the premiere pop culture event of the year -- not that it wasn't already, but the media was now covering it more heavily than ever before. The small press section was already split into two, and now Comic Con International had more applicants than they could accommodate. We were placed on a waiting list, for naught. Brent and I became (gulp) mere attendees. We had to wait in growing lines like everyone else. We didn't have a table to house our swag, or chairs to sit in when our tootsies got tired. Worst of all, we weren't contributors, with comics of our own on sale. We were just consumers. Of course, this didn't stop us from attending, but the experience certainly wasn't the same.

I've heard friends tell similar tales. One of my fellow fanboys started attending Comic Con in the '80s, before film, television, and video games consumed the exhibit hall, and one could just slip into a panel without worries of long, potentially cut-off lines. Featured guests were comic book writers and artists, period. Even in 2000, I knew Comic Con was a multi-media event. Who could really blame Hollywood for seizing a chance to travel to San Diego in July, especially when they could write off the trip as a marketing expense?

Convention Retention

This year, I finally found a way to make the Con work for me. My girlfriend and I only purchased Friday passes, so I knew my time was limited. I made a list of the comics I hoped to find and set a goal for the amount of money I'd spend on them, and I was determined to chat with old friends in the small press section. Along the way, I decided to pass out my latest comic personally, sans table or booth, despite any awkward obligation on the receiving end. I'd purchased my Mattel exclusives on-line so acquiring those action figures in the fulfillment center was more of an errand and less of a chore. Overall, I'm satisfied with the results. I scored great deals on comics and put my fingers on the pulse of small press again. I even saw my favorite artist Erik Larsen drawing Spider-man and his flagship character, Savage Dragon (below). I actually felt that same excitement that gripped me back in 2000, when I went to Comic Con with the hope of experiencing comic book culture in a way I hadn't before.

Location, Location, Location

Of course, after Comic Con, the news media at large over-analyzes the event, a tradition as steadfast now as camping outside of Hall H, and the one that bothers me most. More so than A-list movie star cameo appearances, these analyses elevate the Con past its comic roots, making it a sociological experiment pop culture pundits can mock for both its scope and substance. When you read, "Is Comic Con too big for San Diego?" the author is often really asking, "Why is Comic Con too big for San Diego?" Conjecture that the Con will move to Las Vegas is the mainstream media's way of begging it to move there -- to an adult playground they can better understand. The Los Angeles area has been suggested, too, probably because Spider-man and Edward Scissorhands can already be found outside the Mann Chinese Theater, so the locals are used to the weirdness.

Alas, trust me, Hollywood loves San Diego. It's far enough away to be vacation but close enough to make transporting a whole faux Stargate reasonable and cost-effective. Move Comic Con to Anaheim or L.A., and you won't see Angelina Jolie there again. She deals with those paparazzi everyday, and enduring the 5 Freeway's crush isn't worth a hour in a panel for 4000 fans. Move it to Vegas, and the cost of transporting set pieces like sky rockets . . . well, sky rockets. What I, and most others that attend, love about San Diego is how it absorbs the Con so effortlessly now. It becomes the city, and the city becomes the Con. In Vegas, Comic Con would just be one of a million other things happening -- and worst of all, if it happens in Vegas, all that awesome stuff just might stay there, and I'd like to remember taking a picture between Teela and Evil-Lynn, thank you very much.

The Pen is Mightier . . .

This year will suffer from the Hall H stabbing incident, as well. In the post-Con analyses I've read, folks attribute the sudden violence to the event's exponential growth, and its inability to shuffle the crowd in a way to please everyone. The perp's problem was his neighbor camping through one panel to view another, right? I've griped about this issue, too, but I've never felt compelled to strike! Unfortunately, for the immediate future, all attendees will have to live with this stigma, that we're just that into it. The Westboro Baptist Church's protests, as silly as they were, could've been vindicated in that moment, especially in the "eye for an eye" justice of the incident. How policies will change to avoid incidents like this has yet to be determined, but I'm certain that word of next year's convention events will be preceded with changes to make sure Comic Con isn't in the cross hairs of another controversy like this.

Bringing It Full Cycle

Oh, and let's not forget the biggest news of the weekend: Tyrese got a speeding ticket on a bike courier. Thanks for keeping us in the loop, TMZ. The lesson is clear -- Comic Con is a fluid thing, perhaps moving too fast for its own good. It's only worth the ride when you decide to grab the handlebars and steer yourself through the experience.

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