I can't believe it's this time of year again. Where did 2009 go? Where did my summer go?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining, I'm just perplexed at the passage of time, especially summer time. Since it was snowing in my corner of the prairie through May, I suppose this is partly why I'm discombobulated. But it feels like I was just posting the first images of Iron Man 2, and crossing my fingers to get into the Hall H panel.
A lot of people loathe ComicCon. A lot of industry people regard it with a mixture of sadness, regret, and nostalgia. This is an event that began in a guy's basement, and boasted nothing more than a few boxes of comics. Now it's this megalith of pop culture where comics and their longboxes are taking a smaller and smaller seat at the table. Actually, I think many -- not just comic book professionals -- feel the con has been taken away from them. Fans lament the focus, the crowds and occasionally grim "Welcome to ComicCon, time to queue up!" atmosphere. ComicCon used to be a casual geek party. Now it's an obstacle course that even Rambo would sweat to navigate. (Since Stallone is coming to the con this year, we should totally put it to the test!)
SDCC is a weird event for me. On one hand, it's become something I almost dread, but it also feels like a bit of a homecoming or renewal. This is where I started this oddball job of mine. Now, I hate to get sentimental and mawkish, but it felt right to do a more personal column and save up all agonizing "Why did they ruin it?" ammunition for upcoming weeks. Plus, I may even have some interviews to run in this space instead. Neat! So, bear with me -- and hopefully share your own deep, dark, and wistful stories at the end.
My very first ComicCon was 2006. This isn't that long ago, yet I have friends who have married, reproduced, and divorced in that time. So that's kind of off-putting. I also went from a serious "I think I've decided I want to be a medievalist!" student to someone who has to try and explain to people she writes something called The Geek Beat. It's actually really hard to say The Geek Beat, and not laugh or roll your eyes at the way it sounds.
I've also seen ComicCon change drastically in even that short period of time. I caught up with a reader (hi, Beth!) last week, and mentioned that the very first year I went to SDCC, I was able to book a hotel, a plane ticket, and two con tickets a mere two weeks before the event. Granted, our hotel was in Balboa Park and close to Miramar (oops!) but still. That was the first year the fire marshal had to come and shut it down because they oversold on Saturday tickets. (At least, people claimed it was the first year. Someone could correct me on that.) These things are unheard of now. Saturday tickets available on site? Open hotels? Cheap flights? That stuff was gone as of 2007, and by 2008 was the year I stayed up all night to make sure I was up early enough to nab a hotel. Or maybe that was 2009. Who can keep track?
But my first impulse convention was bizarrely affecting. I knew it was supposed to be madness, but I was still unprepared for the sheer size of the place. We spent our first Thursday lost on the second floor, and walking around in the display hall. It was an overload. I don't need to tell you readers how lonely and odd a geek feels most of the time, and how shameful it can feel getting the slightest enjoyment out of shallow stuff like comics, movies, video games, and television. I've written before how college was essentially four years of my trying to shove down those impulses, and care about dead language, the rise and fall of Communism, and war in the Middle East. Now I did (and do!) care about those things, but no one ever seemed to allow for any actual fun. Discussing a movie was wasting time that you could spend protesting or arguing about philosophy. To see people happily digging through longboxes, buying t-shirts, dragging friends to see action figure displays, getting excited over posters, pins, or plush toys -- and to realize many of them were normal people I could hang with -- that was thrilling.
I confess my sister and I were stargazers, those who are now disdained and spit on for preferring the Hollywood panels, though in my defense it was because Hall H and Ballroom 20 were the only rooms we could find in a hurry. (I really wanted to attend comic panels. Had my sister been the avid reader of Jonah Hex and Fables that she is now, I may have succeeded.) But I have to confess, the entire reason we'd gone on a whim was to see the 300 panel. Everything else was a bonus, and we were just open mouthed as entire casts were trotted before us. Hilary Swank and Richard Donner were practically within throwing distance. We saw Brandon Routh and Quentin Tarantino. Growing up in Denver -- a city that always believes its on the verge of becoming the next Hollywood -- and we'd never actually seen famous people. (Except for John Travolta, but we shouldn't speak of that Battlefield Earth tour.) And yes, there was also Gerard Butler and David Wenham. We actually spoke to them. Butler signed an 8x10 for me, back when he was "that guy from the Tomb Raider sequel" and absolutely no one was impressed that I talked about pug dogs with him. That changed. Just like ComicCon changed! I doubt he could sit at a Warner Bros table with that small of a crowd again. And now everyone knows he has a pug.
Suddenly, ComicCon was Hollywood and movies, and that was just awesome. ComicCon was everything we wanted. Pathetically, we knew this -- some form of this thing -- was what we should be doing. We wanted to be makers and insiders. My sister is still working on her angle, I found mine. The return flight from San Diego was my last day as a civilian and I knew it, but it seemed too goofy to admit to anyone. Saying "I want to have a job where I write stuff, and I go to ComicCon and work!" was pretty preposterous. It seems like something a little kid would say. While it sounds absolutely damning to say that -- Cute, you admitted your immaturity and lack of a life plan! See what comics to do you! -- it's true. I did revert to some kid form of myself there, and return a grown up wondering what her angle into that world would be. I contemplated writing Heidi MacDonald and begging for her help, and I probably should have, because I'd have saved a lot more student fees as I talked myself out of chasing a life with Wolverine.
It seems like such ancient history now. We've all lost our original ComicCon. For some people, it was that tiny basement that spawned it all. Others went as kids and got to shake Stan Lee's hand, and had Frank Miller sign single issues. My friends tell me about the time when nothing could be bigger than Ballroom 20 panels, and that's where they had all four hobbits from Lord of the Rings. My own "original" ComicCon was when a fan could still get into Hall H without too much heatstroke and get an autograph or a photo from the likes of Butler without suffering internal injury.
I'm on my third year working this con, and I've had a lot of incredible experiences in and out of the convention center. Enough of my wide-eyed self exists to walk in and get all wound up over the idea that there's comics and stuff from movies and there's these panels .... even if I'm also mentally calculating whether I can run from a junket a block away and score a seat in Hall H. I wouldn't trade my spot for anything. But man, do I miss my shiny and slightly-less-threatening ComicCon. Don't you?