Misadventures at SD Comic-Con

When writing about the San Diego Comic-Con, ostensibly the largest comic book convention in the United States, it’s a big temptation, to be sure, to open with some sort of snide remark about the legions of Stormtrooper wannabes filing out from the official Star Wars presentation or the barely clad otaku jailbait girls assaulting random passers-by with ‘Free Hugs’ signs.
But condescension is hard when you’re wearing a green dress and carrying a hand-painted cardboard sword, as I found myself doing on the final day of the four-day pop culture extravaganza.
A major miscommunication between my roommate and me had somehow put the idea in my head that if I dressed up as Link from the popular ‘Legend of Zelda’ video game series, Nintendo would lavish me with free stuff.
What was not made adequately clear to me at the time was that Nintendo ran out of things to give away on the third day and that all I would get for my trouble would be a healthy dose of humility and a handful of random strangers asking for my photograph (although I was complimented on my shield by Charles Martinet, the voice of Mario and Luigi).
By now I’ve focused on the costumed weirdoes and fallen into the trap that I had hoped to avoid, but Comic-Con has mainstream appeal, too.
In reality, to the dismay of some and the delight of most, Comic-Con, in its 36th year, is far removed from the basement meeting of superhero aficionados that transpired in the summer of 1970.
Science-fiction author Ray Bradbury and ‘Famous Monsters of Filmland’ editor Forrest J. Ackerman were among the guests at the first Comic-Con. Both reprised their appearances this year to reminisce about, among other things, their first visit to the fledgling gathering of comic book and sci-fi fans (Ackerman, incidentally, is credited with coining the term ‘sci-fi’).
‘The first time, 35 years ago, there were only 200 people here, so you can see it’s changed a hell of a lot,’ Bradbury said.
Ackerman remembered an even smaller turnout.
‘As the creator of the comic book character Vampirella, I was invited to be the first guest of honor,’ Ackerman said. ‘As I recall, there were 145 comic book fans.’ Ackerman noted that it was such a success, it was predicted that there would one day be 200 people in attendance.
The official tally of attendees in 1970 was 300. This year, it topped 125,000.
And when you get that many people together in one place, Hollywood is not going to pass up the opportunity for free word-of-mouth advertising, which explains the presence of a number of celebrities promoting films that are not even remotely related to comic books (‘Snakes on a Plane,’ ‘Final Destination 3’ and the upcoming Borat movie come to mind).
Bradbury and Ackerman, who appeared in a panel discussion with special effects artist Ray Harryhausen, drew a respectable crowd (more than 200 people, to be sure), but failed to fill the enormous ballroom to capacity, as the earlier ‘Lost’ and ‘The Simpsons’ presentations had done. The crowd for the ‘Spider-Man 3’ panel later that day easily outnumbered all three (6,500 people found seats with countless others turned away for lack of space).
Ironically, few of the young fans drooling over the new Spider-Man film managed to find their way upstairs to the panel on the Gold and Silver Ages of comics, where they could have seen, among other comic book pioneers, John Romita, Sr., who in 1967 illustrated the issue of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ that formed the basis of the second movie.
That panel attracted about 100 people, filling a comparatively tiny conference room only halfway.
Another small panel, but a definite highlight for me, spotlighted the career of Roger Corman, who has produced more than 300 films of questionable quality, including ‘Bloodfist VII: Manhunt,’ ‘Barbarian Queen II: The Empress Strikes Back’ and ‘Deathstalker III: Deathstalker and the Warriors From Hell,’ which he usually makes in ten days with budgets ranging from $60,000 to $80,000.
Oh, yeah. He also started the careers of Martin Scorcese, Francis Ford Coppola, James Cameron, Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro, among others.
Corman, to illustrate by way of an example, is the type of person who, when told that ‘Dinocroc 2’ would not be made because films with ‘2’ in the title are rarely as popular as their predecessors, countered, ‘Did I say ‘Dinocroc 2’? I meant ‘Supergator.”
Although purists bemoan the gradual transformation of Comic-Con from an intimate gathering of hardcore fans into a pop-culture marketing juggernaut, it really does have something to offer everyone, even if your interests don’t include cannibalizing your mom’s closet and running around in her tights.
Information and pre-registration for Comic-Con 2007 will be available on http://www.comic-con.org.