What a week! This year marked my very first time at not just THE Comic-Con, but my first time at any “con.” A new friend I met on line waiting for coffee let me know just how incredibly lucky I was to have had this experience. She explained that most people, members of the expanded “fandom” universe, spend many years going to much, much smaller cons before finally being lucky enough to make it to THE con of all cons, Comic-Con International, San Diego. Well, what can I say, when I go, I go all in. Go big or go home, ya know? That said, let me take you on the magic ride that was my first Comic-Con.
First, a little context. Like most things in our hyper-commercialized world of today, CCSD today is almost unrecognizable from its humble beginnings as the Golden State Comic Book Convention in 1970. Back then a bunch of comic book enthusiasts, most of whom were still in high school, gathered in a tiny rec center gymnasium to celebrate all things comics. Less than 100 folks were present at that first one, but by the next year attendance grew to 300 as the Con moved to the Grant Hotel. Flash forward 48 years and the Con has now outgrown the San Diego Convention Center, spilling out into nearby hotels and the streets of the Gaslamp Quarter, with an estimated attendance of over 130,000 and economic impact of over $140 Million. Not too shabby!
Of course, growth comes with a price. Today’s Con, according to some, is more about splashy studio panels in Hall H and surprise celebrity appearances. In these terms, 2018 did not disappoint. Nicole Kidman made her first Comic-Con appearance alongside Amber Herd and Jason Momoa. Millie Bobby Brown showed up with a giant lizard that may still be more famous than her, and Johnny Depp shocked the hall when he appeared seemingly out of thin air in full Grindewald…the production value of these panels rivals the movies they are meant to promote themselves. As I’m writing this on the convention floor I can hear the cheers of fans of KJ Apa, Lilli Reinhart, and Cole Sprouse. I would much rather meet Mark Conuelos, but I digress.
Some say that this new iteration of Comic-Con is nothing more than people paying to stand in line to see an advertisement. Before being here in person, I may have shared this thought. After being here however, I couldn’t disagree more. You see, just like in 1970, Comic-Con is still about one very important thing, THE FANS! It is four and a half glorious days of fans getting to immerse themselves in their beloved worlds. And all those worlds, be they in movies, TV shows, video games, or printed form, have something very important in common…they all come from the world of ART!
Make no mistake, Comic-Con is still all about the art. Sure, the “big studios” are here, but for every one of them, there are dozens of independent artists here to connect with their fans. There are demos of every kind. Drawing, sculpting, watercolor, make-up, digital and more. Have a picture of your favorite pet with you? There is an artist known for her work with animals to create a piece just for you. Your favorite comic book artist will sketch something special for you. Most importantly, the artists are happy to talk to you, to answer your questions, and to inspire you. The artists are here for their fans, and it shows.
There are also miles and miles (not joking here, the convention center floor is over a mile and a half long!) of comics books, brand new to classics and everything in between. Memorabilia ranges from first run Peanuts strips drawn by Charles Shultz himself to props and costumes from your favorite films. And the merch, oh wow the merch. If you can’t find it at Comic-Con, it doesn’t exist.
Returning to the “big boys” for a moment, one of the things that I had NO IDEA existed are what Comic-Con refers to as “activations.” Studios are getting creative with how they promote their upcoming productions. This year you could work your way out of a Jack Ryan inspired escape room, fight off walkers in AMC’s 4D-VR Walking Dead experience, visit the house from A Good Place (that one still confuses me), get spooked out in Castlerock, and more. The activations are intense and can only be described as living art. They immerse you in your soon-to-be, if not already, favorite show. What more could a fan ask for?
And, of course, there are the costumes. Whether it’s a 6-year-old and her dad dressed as Rey and Kylo Ren (the parent/kid combos were my personal favorites) or a group of friends dressed at the crew from Guardians of the Galaxy, the cos-play is truly a sight to behold.
Comic-Con is the excuse everyone needs to, simply put, be a kid again. Whether it’s the young in age, or the young at heart Comic-Con is for everyone that wants a day (or four!) of pure, unadulterated joy. I say, WHY NOT!?! As the world gets crazier and crazier, as more and more hate is spewed into the zeitgeist, why not have joy? Four and half days of capes, pointed ears, and tights (oh, so, so many tights) and that’s all right! So, keep bringing the joy Comic-Con! All hail the art. All hail the FANS!