Celebrating 40 years of SD Comic-Con
by Guy Hanford
Two momentous events happened to me in 1972. In June, I got my first teaching contract in Ramona, and two months later I attended my first Comic-Con Convention.
Back then it was called San Diego’s West Coast Comic Convention and had been conceived two years earlier by Shel Dorf and a handful of San Diego locals. It was held at the U.S. Grant Hotel and drew about 300 attendees. My first Con was at the historic El Cortez Hotel with about 900 fans.
I got started in the whole Comic-Con phenomenon because of my interest in sci-fi movies and comics. The El Cortez holds great memories for all of us who were early attendees. Lines were not long. Attendees were truly devoted fans of the ‘baby boomer’ media culture. We had seen the black and white episodes of Superman with George Reeves on our 12-inch diagonal sets, knew the plot lines of Star Trek episodes, and had our favorite comics in tow from the Golden Age (1938-56) and Silver Age (1956-69).
Notable memories of the early Comic-Con include meeting legendary writers like Ray Bradbury, sci-fi writer extraordinaire. Amazingly talented artists like Bob Clampett, George Pal, Jack Kirby, Matt Groening and Chuck Jones were accessible to talk about their work. Film legends spoke while you stood awestruck 3 feet away from such luminaries as Frank Capra, Kirk Alyn and Gene Roddenberry. I was truly the grown up “kid in the candy store.” Here was my chance to leave my regular daily routine and enter a world of fantasy.
It was as if everyone there spoke a universal language that was unknown to non-attendees. All right, it gets even geekier. Once the party got started, there was no curfew. Around 9 at night, we would move to one of the larger upstairs rooms at the El Cortez and watch 16mm films of sci-fi and horror TV shows until the early morning hours. I know this to be true because I was one of the projectionists showing my own personal collection of Addams Family and Twilight Zone episodes from a Bell & Howell to a modest group of die-hard devotees.
As the Comic-Con continued to grow in attendance, it moved to the SD Convention and Performing Arts Center and eventually to its current venue, the San Diego Convention Center. Estimates placed this year’s attendance at 140,000. The number of bumps and bruises I sustained while maneuvering through the convention hall seems to confirm that number. With a bit of perseverance and a decent zoom lens, I could still see my celebrities. Sometimes I even got close enough to meet a sci-fi icon like Leonard Nimoy.
For more than 38 years, I collected one-sheets, autographs, collectible toys, magazines, comics and every kind of memorabilia that my budget would permit. As my wife has asked me on more than one occasion, “Do you ever get rid of any of this stuff?” My answer is always an incredulously voiced, “No.” Some of the great treasures that I have accumulated over the years consist of a complete collection of the Classic Illustrated Comics, autographed comics of industry legends, photographs, trading cards, great friends, and wonderful memories.
Even though the Comic-Con has outgrown its good old days, I still love to see the old-timers who have faithfully attended or operated a booth over the years. These people are the nicest people that you would ever want to meet.
Here is where it may get a bit sappy, but to me it’s genuine. Last year, I introduced my daughter, Cathy, to her first San Diego Comic-Con experience. Yes, I’ve got to leave my collection to somebody who will appreciate it, and I already know that my wife will sell it all on eBay.
Anyway, I take Cathy to this comic booth that I have faithfully patronized over the years. I explain to the owner that my daughter has never bought a comic book in her life. The owner is awestruck, maybe even dumbfounded. He is so overwhelmed to meet a 21-year-old female Earthling who is wishing to purchase her first comic from him that he picks out Groo by noted artist Sergio Aragonés and presents it to her free of charge. Whereupon, we get Sergio to autograph it for free. These people are incredible.
This year, my daughter Cathy could not attend. She is in Costa Rica studying Spanish. So, I go up to my same comic book vendor and ask him if he remembers my daughter, Cathy, and her first comic book gifted by him. He says, “Of course, I’ve told that story to every one of my fellow vendors and Sergio.” I tell him that Cathy is in Costa Rica with a host family and their little boy loves Batman but has never owned a Batman comic, so I want to buy him one and send it to him. OK, you’re already ahead of me? That’s right, here comes another freebie, and he’s got another story to tell his fellow collectors.
Even though the Con has increased exponentially, the great people who have attended over the years are still the same. Where else would humanoids, Vulcans and Klingons rub shoulders with Storm Troopers, Watchmen and Airbender Aang?
In the past few years it has been my great joy to introduce new attendees to the Comic-Con. Justin Sebenius and his Ramona family got hooked last year. As soon as he arrives at the Con, he’s off to his favorite booths.
The attraction is addictive. The fun is contagious, and the experience is an E-ticket ride for the senses.
On the down side, it’s a bit corporate, parking is atrocious, the crowds are massive, and the food is high-priced and mediocre, but where else can you bump into one of your favorite TV stars. My daughter, Jamie, is all smiles when she runs into James Purefoy, star of The Philanthropist and HBO’s Rome series.
The Comic-Con has morphed into anime, video games, Hollywood premieres, sword and sandal gear, costumes, posters and Asian martial arts DVDs. However, one constant still remains—the comics—thousands of them. Investors are seeing them as a great investment that may outperform your 401K. Just think, Action Comics Issue 1 (1938) introduced Superman and recently sold at auction for over $317,000. It might be time to ask Grandpa what’s inside the box in the attic.
See you next year at the Comic-Con. Buy your ticket early because they WILL sell out by April. Go to http://www.comic-con.org.
Guy Hanford teaches at Ramona Elementary School.
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