The ballad of the boy who isn’t at Comic-Con
For the first time in 14 years, I’m not going to Comic-Con International in San Diego, not even for a day. I didn’t think this would bother me, but I have to admit that I’m bummed I’m missing out on the biggest week in comics.
There are numerous comics conventions across the country, and even around the world, that use the term “comic-con, but there’s just one Comic-Con. If you really need clarification, fine, call it the San Diego Comic-Con, or, as it’s becoming increasingly known, “nerd prom.” I scoffed at that nickname when I first heard it, because even after all this time, “nerd” still seemed derogatory (I blame my sister). But now I feel like it’s a perfect name for it, because just like your high school prom, everyone talks about it weeks and months beforehand, it seems like everyone is going, and if you aren’t, you feel left out of the fun.
Growing up in Massachusetts, I heard about two comic book events that were truly legendary, epic destinations that had to be experienced at least once in your life: One was in San Diego and the other was in Chicago. Only one of those two has really held on to its mythic status as a holy destination for anyone who loves comics, and the related family of genre and pop culture entertainment to which many of us have devoted so much. I moved to Los Angeles in 1999, and I knew an added bonus was that I would at last get to attend Comic-Con.
That next summer, I drove down, walked right up to the San Diego Convention Center, bought my pass, and breezed right in with my friends without a problem. Obviously a lot has changed since then — attendance has tripled, as has the event’s footprint. But even back then the size was overwhelming to me. It was total immersion in what I loved, and I’ve returned every year since. Sometimes it was for just one day, Friday and Saturday or the weekend, depending on what I could get off from work. I’ve gone as a fan, I’ve gone as a professional, and I’ve gone as press. Even with my terrible memory, a lot of moments pop out as I think back on Comic-Cons past. In a way, those memories reflect my own evolving relationship with comics.
I remember getting lost in back-issue bins for the first couple of years, in absolute bliss. As the final day of my first Comic-Con came to a close, I found a copy of What If-? #36 by John Byrne, with a Nova back-up story by Bill Mantlo and Mike Vosburg. I quickly paid, and as I was heading out, I caught a glimpse of Erik Larsen sitting at a table with pages of original art from his work in books like Amazing Spider-Man and Savage Dragon; a couple of fans stood at his table, looking through the art and talking. This was around the time Larsen was doing a Nova series for Marvel. Although I’d just spent the last of my money and announcements were made that doors would be closing soon, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity — I might never see Larsen again! Look, I kind of panicked, OK? To this day, I have no idea why I thought this was a good idea, but I walked up to him and asked him to sign my just-purchased copy of What If-? #36. Now, Larsen had absolutely nothing to do with this comic’s creation, but, but… Nova was on the cover and Larsen did Nova and, and … Yeah, needless to say, he was pretty confused by this request, rightly pointed out that he had nothing to do with that comic, and declined to sign it. I pathetically slunk away. Despite feeling like a total fool, I knew Comic-Con was a must from then on.
A few years later, I tried in vain to help a friend pitch his comic to some publishers, and created an odd photo series of Barbie going to Comic-Con; people like Becky Cloonan and Terry Moore graciously let me be weird and take pictures of them with a doll. That was perhaps a low point, but it got better. A few years after that, Edward James Olmos introduced and praised Dig Comics, a documentary I helped produce for its screening at the Comic-Con film festival. (Yes, did you know San Diego Comic-Con has a film festival? Check it out!) We even won Best Documentary. It was an amazing year. A Comic-Con or two later, we brought in a skilled two-man film crew and were given access to this secret room hidden in the corner of the convention center overlooking the floor. We shot interviews with amazing people like Jeff Smith, Trina Robbins, Carol Tyler, and so many more (including Larsen, who thankfully didn’t recognize me). I also embarrassed myself forever in front of Archaia’s Stephen Christy by getting the two of us completely lost while trying to bring him to the hidden room for his interview. I still feel compelled to apologize to him every time I see him. Despite that, he was friendly and patient the entire time, and ended up giving one of our favorite interviews.
Last year, I got to attend the Eisner Awards after Robot 6 was nominated. Miraculously, I think I barely escaped embarrassing myself at a table with fellow contributors Brigid Alverson and JK Parkin, who were so gracious to the over-eager newbie, and creators and staff from publishers like Marvel and Humanoids. I also covered some panels for Comic Book Resources, which resulted in me staying up way too late writing up reports and nearly burning myself out way too early. The upside is that I got to board the legendary CBR Yacht, and I was honored to cover the touching memorial panel for Kim Thompson, and the presentationl for the release of the historic March Book One by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell.
Each Comic-Con has offered an interesting snapshot at my own life in and out of comics. But alas, not this year. So why am I not going? I know some people have decided not to go as a protest of how Comic-Con is evolving, but that wasn’t a factor for me. It was strictly a financial decision. Despite some very generous offers from friends that would’ve saved me a lot, I had to go with the plan that consisted of me spending zero dollars. I definitely hope to return next year.
When I made the decision to not go, I was initially relieved I didn’t have to stress over making sure I had a pass, a place to stay and transportation. But as we’ve gotten closer and closer to Comic-Con, as the more than 130,000 people have converged onto downtown San Diego, it’s been more difficult to be completely satisfied with my choice. I’ve tried not to look too closely, but there’s Pat Loika posting glimpses of booths on the con floor before it opens. There’s Jill Thompson preparing prints to sell. There’s Scott Shaw! getting ready for his hilarious Oddball Comics panel. And there’s 10 billion awesome announcements that were already made!
So for all of you who aren’t going to Comic-Con this year but wish you were, maybe we can cry on each others’ shoulders for a while. For the next four days, we’ll all be on the outside looking in. Fortunately the Internet has wall-to-wall coverage, and usually you’re better able to keep up with all of the announcements coming out of Comic-Con when you’re not actually at Comic-Con. Of course news coverage can’t replicate the unique experiences of being in San Diego, and having memories both amazing and embarrassing. But that’s all the more reason to pull the trigger next year, and make sure we’re there for Comic-Con International 2015. See you then?