by Chris Eaton-
Well, its that time of year again. The sunny sea side city of San Diego will play host to the largest gathering of Nerds and Geeks this side of Lucas Ranch on Star Wars appreciation day! Over 126,000 people crammed the convention halls last year in what was the first ever sell out of the event! A tremendous achievement. Yet, for this 15 year veteran, all was not shiny in Convention land
I’ve been going to Comic Con since the age of 10, all the way back in the solid year of 1994! Back then, it was still all about the Comics. The convention center was only HALF the size it is today, yet, this being my second convention going experience ever, (first being the Los Angles Comic Con) it was bigger, and better than Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm and the rowdiness of Kwanzaa all rolled into one! In this age, the biggest booths were the BIG 4. Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Image Comics held the center of the convention center with an iron fist. There weren’t so many give aways, instead, there were more dealers. Rows upon rows of comic vendors selling titles that were old when my grandparents got married! (that was 60 years ago mind you!) Golden and Sliver Age books were the standard. My dad picked up an Avengers # 8 and a copy of Spiderman #29 that year.
My first purchases were from the good old fashion bootleggers. Back then, before the Internet, the only way to get import movies from Japan was if some Wiley bastard copied import films onto VHS and sold them with out even blinking at copyright infringement! I had purchased a copy of GODZILLA vs MECHAGODZILLA 2 and GODZILLA vs KING GHIDORAH, along with a chibi King Ghidorah key chain. Oh.. to be young again!
These were the glory days to me. To my dad, this was the twilight years for him. He had attended the show back in their nascent days at the El Cortez hotel. My dad and his best friend were publishing they’re own fanzine during these days, my dad doing the art for the zine. To him, the celebrities were the writers and artists. Neal Adams, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko. He regaled me of stories of meeting his heroes, Frank Frazetta and Jack Kirby. Frazzetta, his biggest hero and influence, chatted with him for over an hour at his table. My dad later had a beer with Kirby (and what I would learn much later, James Doohan a few years later!) His wanting to return after almost a 10 year absence was for only two reasons, Nostalgia, and to have a father/son day with me.
That day in 1994 was a significant one. Rivaled only by my first viewing of Godzilla 1984 when I was 4 years old, and again in 1999 when I sat in a cold theater in Cerritos California, and watched movie history in the MATRIX, that day, my first at Comic Con, made an impact in my life.
I was a mild comic book reader before, afterwards, it was all about Spider-Man, Spawn and X-Men! Next to the wall mural of a Brontosaurus my dad painted for me was Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man with the Black Suit Bolted to the wall behind him.
My first Spiderman TPB my dad bought me, at the next years comic con, was the Venom origin story, and thus, embedding Venom as one of my all time faves! It only snow balled from there!
Each year, I would look forward to Comic Con more than Christmas, Halloween and the 4th of July combined! I would save every nickle, dime and penny I found through out the year for the event. Hell, one year, at the age of 13, jobless and underage to work, I collected almost $100 in change! A feat I only repeated once more for novelty purposes. But that was the power of con. Pre Internet, pre collector shows, when I knew that I only got one shot a year to pick up that new Godzilla figure, to grab back issues of Guyver, to get my books signed. Much like for a Klondike bar, I would do anything for Con.
Hell, my first year, I met my first Celebrity. SIR ADAM WEST. It was the last time he had signed at the show till this year, and we were at the right place at the right time. The 10 year old me loved the old Batman Show, and meeting Batman was one of the biggest treats in my life. I was first in line, and I was flabbergasted. My dad reminded me years later, that West mentioned that he was shocked to see a kid my age with a love of that show like I had. I got an autograph but unfortunately, no picture. A regret I hope to rectify this year.
3 Years later, I meet my first real artist, Art Adams, a man with one of the most unique styles in comics. If you’re not familiar with Adams work, he created Longshot in the X-men universe, worked on the Fantastic Four and was a power house at Dark Horse Comic during the mid 90′s. He also drew alot of GODZILLA comics. Being a Godzilla fan himself, when I finally got to meet him, I got a precious few moments to chat Godzilla with the man, and got an original Godzilla Sketch that hangs over my bed to this day!
Unfortunately, a few years later, my parents split up, and I was unable to attend with my dad again. I did however, start going with other people. People who were part of the “NEW GENERATION”, the front line of fandom that we know it as today. Some family friends that I could rap a little Highlander and Predator with. Guys who were more about buying a replica sword from Conan and some original art that had Rouge nearly nude under a waterfall. As I entered my latter teens, more aspects of Con opened up to me. It wasn’t until my 7th year that I actually WENT UPSTAIRS to the upper pavilion for more than just registration. When I turned 18, and got my license, I started taking some friends, who had only heard the stories I brought back. I was pusher, they were my buyers, and I got them hooked on the sweet white powder that was Comic Con.
It was then, 2003, that the POSSE as we came to call ourselves, attended our first MULIT DAY convention. That year was significant too as the convention center decided to expand, as more and more people had caught on to the goings on in San Diego.
With each passing year, the Posse would pack up, fuck around in San Diego and take in the sights for 4 days. Nights of playing video games projected on the wall of the cheap hotel we stayed were only rivaled by days of walking what seemed like MILES around the convention center grabbing freebies and standing in lines for signings and panels. It was also at this time, that, much like my dad had seen before, Con had changed yet again.
No longer were comic books the main focus. Pop Culture in general had taken control. It wasn’t just about Spiderman and Superman, it was also about Mario, about the Simpsons, big summer movies and continuity heavy tv shows. The Studios had finally taken notice, and like termites, had moved in to my beloved con, drawing the STAR FUCKERS that had no heart for the soul of what the convention was all about. G4 would start broadcasting from the floor, pushing away the small press for their poser of the month news casts. A shadow had been cast.
Yet, today, on the eve of the 40th con, and my 15th anniversary of my first attendance, there’s still that 10 year old in me that looks forward to driving 90 miles south to San Diego, to be with my people, the fans of pop culture. Those who love Japanese films, Marvel Comics, and celebrating being geeks!
While the unnecessary coverage and onslaught of the movie studios have dampened the once brightly lit convention, much like Disneyland, there is still a bit of the old magic down there that keeps me coming.
See you in San Diego!