Sunday, August 05, 2012
Comic-Con International: San Diego 2012: Historical Perspective
To a certain extent, every San Diego Comic-Con is about history. An underlying theme of comic book collecting is preservation of the past -- both in collecting and viewing the comics of the last 80+ years, and in welcoming the creators who have worked in the field for decades. History is everywhere -- from the aging pencil-and-ink on original art in the dealer’s room, to panels celebrating fifty years of Marvel super-heroes, to the display outside the convention center this year showcasing 47 years of TV and movie Batmobiles.
But for us, in particular the theme of this 2012 Comic-Con International: San Diego was historical perspective.
Amy attended her first Comic-Con in 1992. She has attended every con since. So she embroidered and proudly wore a “20 Years of Comic-Con” shirt -- a terrific conversation starter.
For me, it was my 26th Comic-Con (my first was in 1980, and in addition to the 1987 con I’ve attended every one from 1989 on), so I approached the con from the viewpoint of someone who had watched the con’s evolution from the 5,000 attendee extravaganza in 1980 to the last few years, in which around 130,000 attendees compete for con memberships and for a scarce spot in the audience for the movie and TV presentations that make headlines around the world.
The importance of Comic-Con to our history was brought home to us Saturday evening at the convention. We attended a banquet held in remembrance of Richard Alf, one of the founders of the convention. The banquet was held in a ballroom in the basement of the U.S. Grant Hotel -- the site of the very first Comic-Con. (And, coincidentally, I stayed in the Grant with my father and older brother when we attended the 1980 Comic-Con.) The attendees, folks who had been involved in the convention since its earliest days at the beginning of the 1970s, included folks who had been part of my life for decades -- not just my comics life, but my real life.
Similarly, we attended the Friday panel for the Kickstarter-funded science fiction movie project SPACE COMMAND -- which included David Raiklen, the composer for the project and a friend of mine for nearly 30 years.
Comic-Con truly has been integral to my life ever since I was a teenager. It was my wonderful experience there when I was 15 that led me to attend UCLA as an undergraduate, eventually leading me permanently settling in Los Angeles after law school. Collecting was how I met my college roommate. Collecting started a few relationships for me. In particular, I met Amy at a comics shop, and we attended the 1994 Comic-Con (and every one after that) together.
History also provided us with some of our most enjoyable experiences at this year’s convention. Events related to steampunk -- the celebration of the future as envisioned by the past -- proliferated this year. At previous Comic-Cons, the programmers would schedule a single steampunk panel, usually held in the smallest meeting room (and usually filled beyond capacity). This year, however, we were treated to several -- from The Witty Women of Steampunk (held on the first day of the con),
to the reception Friday night at the Steampunk Exhibit at the San Diego Automotive Museum, complete with food, drink, and live music,
to the annual mass steampunk gathering on the mezzanine outside the con center (this year marked by folks dressed as steampunk versions of Marvel and DC Characters,
to the spotlight panel and book signing (held immediately after the gathering) devoted to one of our favorite steampunk authors, Gail Carriger.
But we also dealt with some of the negative aspects of Comic-Con’s evolution. On Friday morning, we were shut out of the panel that featured a reunion of the cast of TV’s “Firefly.” Although we lined up before 8:00 a.m. for the noon panel, the program turned out to be one of the most popular at the convention. Attendees therefore went to the first program in Room 20 that morning, and stayed. (At least the weather was nice out by the marina, around which the line snaked.)
And the explosive growth of Comic-Con really hit home yesterday. One of our traditions at the con was to pick up memberships for the next year’s convention. Full advance memberships were readily available. Last year, we had to wait in line for several hours, and still did not obtain full memberships -- we did not get to attend preview night. This year, no memberships for next year were sold onsite. They were sold online yesterday. And even though we signed in the second the passes went on sale, we did not get full memberships, or even four-day memberships. For the first time, we did not get passes for Friday and Saturday, the most popular days.
To some extent, evolution is the gradual discarding of history. But careful evolution keeps the elements of history that work. Evolution that prevents folks who have attended the con for decades from getting full memberships is not (in my admittedly biased opinion) adaptive evolution.
I hope Comic-Con remains a part of my life -- even when Comic-Con itself seems to discourage me from participating in it.