If San Diego Comic-Con was a geologic feature, it would be the Grand Canyon: strata upon strata of distinct, well-defined, colourful variants comprising an arresting, alluring travel poster for destinations Geekward. Every summer, America’s Finest City hosts Hallowe’en in July wherein layers of sci-fi, fantasy, history, science, IT, comics, gaming, cosplay and countless other substrata converge on the San Diego Convention Center to make each year’s Con more popular, more profitable and more prohibitive to entry than the last.
It’s arguable which strata top the bunch, but it’s clear the lone comic dork is at the bottom of the pile, at least where acquiring a badge or an independent press pass is concerned. Press passes, unless associated with a major outfit, are becoming more difficult to garner; online badge purchasing for the individual comes earlier and earlier each year and your clicking finger better be younger and faster than your competition’s. Badges sell out in mere minutes and second chance lotteries just play with a dork’s heart like a cat with a wounded bird. Still, if you can get in the air-conditioned doors, press or otherwise, the event will present you with an experience fantastic and powerful enough to drain you of all common sense, vacuum up all your hard-earned dough, morph your feet into Chinese feet-binding and deliver claustrophobic flashbacks for years to come … and leave you salivating and shaking to do it all again next year.
San Diego Comic-Con, the grandfather of all DorkCons and once a purist, geek Mecca, is now a Gigantor, world-class, Cannes-scale, multimillion-dollar, media bash of Big Bang proportions. Always something of a boon to the local economy, SDCC has become a veritable pot o’ gold over the past decade, the rainbow streaming in from Hollywood-way and infusing hundreds of millions of dollars into San Diego coffers and wallets, not to mention luring paparazzi, as well as legitimate photojournalists, to San Diego’s sunny harbor for five, titillating days. The byproduct of the manic, short-lived press coverage? Unquantifiable results in healthy tourism the rest of the year.
Although no exact figures have been released yet, attendance for 2013 threatens to easily top 130K. As far as local pockets? Last year’s Con delivered the area a vintage, Adam West-era Batman KAPOW! of 180 million clams. Add approximately three million more clams in local tax revenue and no wonder San Diego and The Simpsons‘ Comic Book Guy have been scratching, clawing and letter-writing to keep The Con in town and out of Anaheim.
Why would anyone want to move The Con, other than the obviously jealous Anaheim? (Anaheim, you have WonderCon for a bit; be happy with that.) The Hakken-Kraks, Buzz Killington and young and old biddies alike will complain about the crowds, the late-night boozing in the Gaslamp Quarter and the annual, predictable proliferation of Leeloos, Slave Leias and Sailor Moons. No worries though, Comic Book Guy. Leeloo’s ass, Slave Leia’s gold bra and Sailor Moon’s navel will remain in place, relatively firmly, in San Diego at least through 2016.
Conventioneers and the correspondents covering them bound in from around the globe to gather and gawk at all Comic-Con has to offer: the costuming being the loudest Call of the Wild. Cosplay becomes more and more the focus each year. When Charlie Rose reads “The Babes of Comic-Con” on his Teleprompter with a stilted discomfort in his voice, the Con is reaching its alternative threshold. What used to be counter-culture and Mom’s Basement-nerdy, is now the pinnacle of geek chic. Comic-Con is, for now, the Hurley of Geekdom. Even though H-town seems to have taken over, the core elements are still there, like Spanx: tightly bound and working feverishly to hold the whole thing in place. Akin to the Colorado River, subtly trickling through the Canyon it created it in the first place, the Old School comic strip and graphic novel can still be found at Comic-Con. You have to walk your Duff Man off to find them, but they’re in there.
Clearly, Comic-Con’s focus is still based in comic-as-art-form; just look at some of this year’s themes. Superman, Sandman, Bongo and Aspen Comics are all celebrating milestones of great note. Still, H-town’s involvement, Hulk heavy-handed since the mid-2000s, turns the global focus over to the folks at Entertainment Tonight, Huffington Post and the heaving, final gasps of air coming out of the crew at Variety. Every one of their correspondents tripping over their own phone chargers to cover Halle Berry’s baby-bump, Hugh Jackman’s stubble and Tom Cruise’s impromptu, Rock of Ages serenade. Meanwhile, the Clark Kents of Comic-Con quietly and sagely keep the homefires burning in small, cheerful booths, oft near the lavvies, along the side doors or buttressing Café Express, the indoor, overpriced hot dogs-and-shady-nachos stand. The booths are manned by company execs themselves whom happily snap and post Instagram pics of their fans and heartily shake each and every hand that wends through the maze of aisles to seek their comic wares.
Whilst the Craigslist-hire, brand-ambassador models and bouncers working the behemoth, Hollywood studio booths poorly hide their sneers and eye-rolls at overzealous fans and, with tight-lipped smiles, begrudgingly hand out buttons and bandanas for shows they will likely never watch, the head honchos, chiefs and veeps at smaller media companies like IDW, Diamond Comics and GoComics are happy to stand with a fan for a picture (Plus, help her find the last X-Files: Season 10 comic book in the booth … sadly sold out, though.) or enthusiastically proffer pro subscriptions “for special folks” and other goodies produced from behind the curtains and posterboard.
Whether they be creators and publishers like IDW Publishing (X-Files, Star Trek, 30 Days of Night, Doctor Who) and SLG Publishing (Haunted Mansion, Tron, Gargoyles), distributors like Diamond Comics Distributors (Dark Horse Comics, DC Comics, Marvel Comics) or syndicators like GoComics (Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts, Get Fuzzy, Foxtrot) and its parent company Universal Uclick, these folks are the lifeblood of any comic book convention, the River to the showy Canyon walls. Without their conveyance, nobody gets Wolverine costume claws, The Big Bang Theory t-shirts or Sandman annotations. Even within the river, notable and gifted creators like SofaWolf Press fight the current of mass media, straining and mushing like sled dogs just to get the Kudos they so deserve. Read Caterwall or Nordguard? If not, acquaint yourself with the Disney-level artwork and storytelling of Jack London proportions.
True, the course of the river has shifted dramatically; it’s more of a culture-con now, and that’s fine. Most folks love some glam, some flash and even boobies, naturally. To boot, when more eyeballs seek a curiosity such as Comic-Con, it can mean a lucrative, pleasurable outcome for all. Art and the creatives will always progress, should progress; it’s the nature of the beast. Still, amidst the après-hours, high-end hotel-bar, cocktail parties, the Gaslamp pub networking circuit and even the intrageek debates about cosplay inaccuracies, it’s nice to recall the original trickle from whence such a gathering came.
Comic-Con International has a mission statement. Brief and to the point, it reads:
Comic-Con International: San Diego is a nonprofit educational corporation dedicated to creating awareness of, and appreciation for, comics and related popular artforms, primarily through the presentation of conventions and events that celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution of comics to art and culture.
Clearly, the hot Poison Ivys, the intricately detailed Walking Dead, the frenzied sightings of Halle Berry and Neil Patrick Harris and the rumours of surprise appearances by Tim Burton or Guillermo del Toro will always win the gaze of amateur phonecams and AP entertainment reporters alike. Yet, even when the Con is gone, if years down the road the flash and dash dim, all our fave comic characters will remain: Betty & Veronica, Citizen Dog, Sherman’s Lagoon, Calvin and Hobbes, Vampirella, The X-Files, Peanuts, Haunted Mansion, My Little Pony, Wonderland, Gargoyles, Foxtrot, Get Fuzzy, The Simpsons, Sandman, Superman, Spongebob Squarepants, Dick Tracy, Savage Chickens, The Avengers, The X-Men, Pearls Before Swine and so many other familiar, longtime and new-found friends. Tiny, tireless warriors one and all, they will surge ahead quietly, like the greenish-grey Colorado River forever playing second fiddle to the colour-saturated travel posters of breathtaking, Canyon sunsets. Diligently they will trudge so we might enjoy their quirky company all year long … until the Con, the crowds, the chicks and the claustrophobia return to San Diego next year, at least through 2016. Better start getting your clicking finger in shape now.
Miss Hannah Hart, ghostdame (a.k.a. authoress Jennifer Susannah Devore) contributes regularly to the official San Diego Comic-Con Souvenir Guide. Read her articles here: BongoComics/The Simpsons, Peanuts & Tarzan! She also loves a Pikachu!
All photos by Twisted Pair Photography