KING CON: The 36th Annual San Diego Comic Con International

SuperfriendsBy Mercurio D. Rivera

My first excursion to the San Diego Comic Con took place in 1980, when I was a bright-eyed, innocent fanboy who had never even heard the word “con” before. My brother, Jesse, who lived in San Diego at the time, had heard that the top creators at Marvel and D.C. comics held an annual conference where they would talk about their books and interact with fans. The memories of that first con have blurred together over the years with those of all the succeeding cons (around 15 or so in San Diego), but I do have a distinct recollection of walking through the corridors of the downtown Convention and Performing Arts Center, wide-eyed, seeing the hundreds of dressed-up fans and the dozen or so colorful booths in the dealer room. I also remember walking up and shaking the hands of the artists and writers I idolized, including Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, creators of the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and Spider-man, among others. It was an intimate gathering with probably no more than a few hundred attendees.

Choked!Flash forward 26 years. My brother Jesse lives in Houston these days and I’ve been regularly attending the con with my childhood buddy, Luigi, and his brother Steve, for more than twenty years. The San Diego Con is an entirely different creature now. It has relocated to the new Convention Center, a mammoth facility literally six football fields long (1,500,000 sq. ft), able to accommodate (just barely) the 104,000-plus attendees. The dealer room has become a ludicrously cavernous space, jam-packed with vendors of every conceivable sort and so crowded that it’s impossible to move more than a few feet without banging against shoulder pads, holstered ray guns, various alien appendages and, of course, baby carriages. One of the meeting halls that seats 6,500 persons was routinely filled to capacity. And when I queued up for the Sony pictures “Spider-man 3” panel, I was astonished to find that the line stretched literally around the convention center; after thirty minutes of waiting, the line disintegrated into nothing. It turns out we weren’t actually on the line, after all.

JokerToday’s impersonal, celebrity-laden “presentation panels” made me nostalgic for the intimate panel discussions of the past. For example, this year Nicolas Cage (“Ghost Rider”); Toby Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and Topher Grace (“Spider-man 3”); Samuel L. Jackson (“Snakes on a Plane”); Jennifer Love Hewitt (“Ghost Whisperer”); cast members of “Lost,” and studio executives pushing their upcoming “Aragon” dragon movie all came, marketed, and quickly departed, hustled in and out of their respective rooms, carefully shielded from any personal contact with the fans who were there to support their various projects. Despite my misgivings about these types of promotional events, I’ll admit we were first on line to see the cast of Battlestar Galactica, the best show on television. Edward James Olmos warned that the upcoming season will be the series’ darkest. We also saw some humorous scenes from the upcoming “Simpsons” motion picture.

Battlestar Galactica PanelApart from the shameless hawking, occasionally, a panel discussion brought back flashes of the past and reminded me why certain aspects of the San Diego Con still have their appeal. Most notably, a panel of expert “robotologists” debated the fighting prowess of their various favorite robots. In a surprise upset, the Yul Brynner robot from Westworld actually defeated MechaGodzilla while Vicki (the robot girl from “Small Wonder”) vanquished the robot from “Lost in Space.” (“He has a weak spot for young kids,” one panelist reasoned, “and Vicki is just the right height to pull out his power pack.”) Who’d have thunk it? Finally, kudos to this year’s winners of the Masquerade Contest, three couples, including Ming the Merciless and Barbarella, who tangoed their way to the title in a hilarious skit entitled “Dancing with Celebrities from the Stars.”

Huge ArenaYes, big-studio promotion abounds, and the charms of the old San Diego Comic Con are forever gone, but occasionally the curtain of commercialism lifts and I can catch a glimpse of cons past, of a wide-eyed 13-year-old boy walking down the corridors of the old convention center with his brother, captivated by the colors and the sounds and the sights of his very first con. I guess that’s what keeps me coming back.

4 Replies to “KING CON: The 36th Annual San Diego Comic Con International”

  1. Evil One,

    Great synopsis. And of course you realize that any further attempts to deny your membership in the geek kingdom will be all for naught.

    Glad to hear the “Battlestar” panel was good, but please tell me that Ron Moore doesn’t constantly toss his hair about like he is in that photo.

    And I hate to say it, but I have a growing irrational compulsion to see “Snakes on a Plane” on opening night. Audience participation. That’s all I have to say about that.

    -Devin

  2. Dave,

    Nice job on summing up the Con throughout the years. As one of the people who has attended all those Cons with you (except your first few with your brother Jesse), I agree with everything you wrote. This last one was the worst, with way too many people (it’s so corporate, man!)
    If anyone is interested, I have soooo many pictures of Dave that I think you may find interesting. It’s too bad he couldn’t pony up the dough to prevent me from distributing them. I think the year he and Lou entered the masquerade as Blackbolt and Warlock is the best.
    🙂

  3. Dave,

    The con was fun but did we really have to wear those “Longing For Langalana” costumes this year? And *you’re* complaining about shameless promotion? By the way, I can’t wait for the extended novella…

    L

  4. Great writing, David. I especially enjoyed the arc of the blog, as you neatly tied things up by recalling the early days of youth and innocence.

    I’ll definitely have to go one day, hopefully before it becomes even bigger and more commercial.

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