by Arnie Fenner

The celebrities’ limos have returned their charges to Hollywood, the exhibitors have palleted up their wares and entrusted them to the Freeman to ship, and attendees have returned home, either happy or sad but most definitely with significantly lighter wallets than they started out with. The dust has started to settle on another San Diego Comic Con International, the biggest, glitziest, and gaudiest “pop culture” convention in the US. Lucca in Italy is bigger (with over 264,000 attendees in 2013) and perhaps more prestigious, Comiket in Japan is certainly much larger (with over a half million attendees), but when it comes to buzz, when it comes to media attention, SDCCI is second to none. Sure, the New York Comic Con has quickly grown to match San Diego in attendance, but…no convention can take over NYC, especially not the way that SDCCI invades and occupies San Diego for the better part of a week each year.

I like to refer to SDCCI as Nerdvana, but my friend Heidi MacDonald prefers Nerd Prom, which was really popular for awhile until it started to be used to describe the President’s annual Washington Press Club Dinner. And while I use the term with fondness, it gets annoying when the morning news anchors say it with a smirk to describe all the fans and cosplayers (as if they’d never seen a fantasy film themselves or read a Stephen King novel). Anyway I think I attended my first Comic Con in 1991 or ’92 (my memory is fuzzy) and I admit I was a bit overwhelmed. I’d been to World SF and Fantasy Cons, I’d been to various regional shows, but they were positively quaint church socials in comparison. It’s only gotten bigger and more crowded and overwhelming (and expensive) ever since as the movie, TV, and gaming industries moved in and came to dominate the con. What started out as a modest little SF & comics get together has evolved into a gargantuan multi-million dollar corporate event that the network news covers, A-List actors line up to appear at, Cosplayers clog the halls at, and which everyone now wants to attend—and relatively few can. Now you might think that 130,000+ give or take is more than a few, but when you consider that somewhere around 300M live in the country that’s something like 99.85% (or less if someone with better math skills runs the figures) of the population who’ll never darken the convention center’s halls.

Above: George R.R. Martin and Donato signing the new calendar at Comic Con.
Photo by Lucia D. Correa.

Even with the heavy presence of the entertainment corporations, there are probably more fantastic artists from around the world under one roof set up, showing and selling their work than anywhere else in the country, perhaps the world. Anyone who says otherwise is saying so with their pants on fire. Illustrators, painters, animators, comic artists, concept artists, sculptors: you name it, they’re represented. In spades. Mix in the vintage illustration and comic art dealers and we’re talking Artpolooza. My fellow Muddies have been/are regular exhibitors at SDCCI: stories about Donato leg-rasslin’ all-comers after hours in the hotel lobby bar are now approaching legendary status.

Above: A group signing in the Spectrum booth. Back row l-r: John Fleskes, Gary Giani, Allen Williams, David Palumbo, Travis Lewis, and Matthew Levin. Front row l-r: Donato Giancola,
Todd Lockwood, and Daren Bader.

Is SDCCI for everyone? No. Most certainly, no. It’s incredibly crowded, particularly on Saturday. It is horribly expensive—to attend, to exhibit, to stay, to eat. And by it’s very nature it’s stressful—and if you’re an exhibitor, there’s never a guarantee that you’ll make a profit, regardless of the number of people in the hall. You can’t do everything, you can’t see everyone, and half the time you can’t even get from one side of the convention center to the other. But you know, there are islands of calm in the maelstrom, opportunities to converse and network and make friends. Besides, there’s something to be said for going to a 3-ring circus, at least once: and if you do, regardless of the experience you have, you’ll never forget it.

If you’ve ever wondered WTF’s the deal about Comic Con, I found the nifty brief history video at the top of this post. If you’re intrigued, well, the next SDCCI is only about 360 days away, give or take.