San Diego Con 2006 – Size Matters?

WHAM! Whoa, did anyone get the license on that truck? I can still feel the tread marks running up my back. Four massively jammed days. Is there a point past which “big” is “too big”? I’m not sure, but when veterans with lots and lots of experience start to grumble that the annual San Diego Comic-Con book mass media culture smackdown festival expo and cookout has stopped being enjoyable, is something going on? At any rate, here’s one tired person’s overview of the fun and games. (Click on each picture to get a larger image.)

(Note to self: Don’t use the karking camera in the cell phone any more, ever again. Just because it’s a better camera than the one in the phone you traded in, doesn’t make it a good camera. Use the nice digital camera you always use, that you’re familar with, so you’ll get nice photos, in focus, etc. etc. Hopefully the nice people reading this report will be in a forgiving frame of mind.)

 Through these doors (and about a dozen more like them) passed a hundred thousand people over the course of four days. The town I grew up in only had fifteen thousand people in it. I’m sure this convention, all crammed into one (admittedly large) building  qualifies as a major city all on its own for the time it’s running!

Once inside, well, there are just no words to describe the size of this place. Photos won’t do it justice. I’d be willing to bet at least some of you have been to conventions where pictures such as this  are representative. Large room, bunch of people milling about. Standard stuff, right? Uh-uh. You have to be able to imagine this scene multiplied literally by a factor of a hundred. The aisles and rows are marked out like the streets and avenues of downtown Manhattan  except that the signs march off into infinity and beyond. You cannot see from one end of the hall to the other.

Arlo Guthrie is famous for a song he wrote, that was made into a movie that is shown every Thanksgiving. The song is “Alice’s Restaurant” and there’s a refrain that is very well known (well, at least among the folks I tend to hang out with): “You can get anything you want, at Alice’s Restaurant.” Comic-Con is very much like that refrain. If there’s anything having to do with comics, science fiction and fantasy, movies, or other popular culture genres that youcan’t find in the immense exhibition hall, maybe it doesn’t exist. For some reason there seemed to be an avalanche of tee-shirts this year. Comics don’t interest me nearly as much as they used to, though there are still some good titles being published. Not coincidentally at all, the United States Post Office released a new set of stamps commemorating DC Comics’ superheroes  and one could purchase first day covers right at the convention. (I find it amusing that once upon a time, postage stamps honored momentous historical events and significant people. Now, methinks, if you’re a sufficiently major pop-culture supplier, you can “arrange” to have your own stamps. I’d bet the USPS is more than happy for the additional revenue.) One happy lagniappe was that we again met the legendary Neal Adams, with whom we’ve had some dealings in the past and who did the cover artwork in the 1970s that became one of the new stamps. And if you’re into autograph collecting, there were so many celebrities great and not-so-great, you could have your hands full. So to speak… 

Lest you think, from this and other things I’ve said, that I’ve given up on allareas of collecting, I say “nay, nay.” I did manage to stumble upon a small booth that rather quickly captured my attention. Ahhh, wasn’t the future wonderful?  Now this is what NASA’s efforts ought to look like!

I take it back. (Sorry, Arlo.) There is one thing you cannot easily get at Comic-Con. High Ones help you if you suddenly discover that you are hungry. There are several of these  scattered about the convention hall, but the name is misleading in the extreme. There is nothing whatsoever “express” about trying to score some nutrition from these places! The line you see going off to the right extends three times further than the photo is able to show.

All the goodies you can purchase and take home aside, the main purpose of Comic-Con is for people to show off their stuff. And “stuff” can range all the way from individuals wandering around the huge hall in costume, to the largest media conglomerates trumpeting their upcoming movies and other projects. Want a bigger-than-life Lego Batman?  Got it. Want to get swallowed up by a gargantuan exhibit touting the new thriller “Snakes on a Plane”?  You could do that. (There’s always someone who’s impossible to please, however. “What do you mean, they made a movie about snakes and they didn’t call me?!”) 

Everywhere you turn, there is something to see. The Sci-Fi Channel put up a display that looked for all the world like the watersnake from “The Abyss” on steroids.  It was liquid and gorgeous and changed colors and I wondered if, at night, it became the chicken heart and ate unwary people. Characters from recent movies glided about the halls; here’s “V for Vendetta” with (oh come on, you knew I was going to do this) some of his many fans. Another well known web-slinger was spotted hanging around the exhibit hall.  Wendy (who’s long had a crush on Hawkeye the archer) snagged the chance to take a refresher course in arrow-dynamics. 

Batgirl  and She-Ra  and a Star-Wars-stormtrooper-Elvis-that-sings…”  These are a few of my favorite things.”

In the Elfquest category, we didn’t see a lot of costumes (but then, you could have hidden an entire tribe’s worth of characters in the hall and we’d never have noticed them). However, one lovely WaveDancer  showed up at one of the autograph sessions, perhaps to help us celebrate the release ofThe Discovery #4. Many thanks!

In addition to all of the media play and retail activity that goes on every Comic-Con, one of the most important aspects of the show is that literally hundreds of artists gather to show their work, look for work, and generally schmooze. An entire section of the exhibit hall is given over to what is called “Artist’s Alley.”  Imagine row upon row upon row of tables set up for artists of all persuasions – comics, science fiction, fantasy, cartooning, animation, famous, newbie – to set up mini-galleries for your viewing pleasure.

And of course, no Comic-Con would be complete without the charity Art Auction which runs over the course of the weekend. One corner of the hall is turned into a stage where artists put themselves on display  and produce wonderful works to be auctioned, all proceeds going to a worthy cause (it can vary from year to year) championed by the convention organizers. Yes, that’s Elfmom down the stage a bit, getting ready to tuck into her 2006 contribution – much more about which you can read in her latest WendyWords. (There, you’ll also get a report on her adventures inGargoyles-land, where she met and got to partake in mutual admiration with Greg Weisman,  the creator of the wonderful animated Disney television series.)

And there was so much more, so much more – but as the saying goes, “You really had to be there.” Maybe next year, eh? And if you decide to do it, and if I decide to do it, then afterward we can all sit around the campfire and swap war tales about the Great Chaotic Comic-Con Combination Congregation and Conflagration of 2007.

Shade and sweet gladness to have done it, gladness it’s over!

Richard Pini