I’ve checked off a lot of boxes since I became a comic book professional five years ago, but one thing has eluded me ever since going to comic book conventions became a job necessity. I’ve been to comic book conventions in Tennessee, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Maryland, Illinois, North Carolina and Oregon, but I’ve still never been to the convention. You know, the one in California. I’ve never been to San Diego.
All that changes this year, though, because I’m going to Comic-Con International in San Diego, and I’m about to experience something. I have no idea what I’m in for, because everyone that I’ve talked to about San Diego seems to be unable to accurately describe just what I’m about to throw myself into. The most accurate description I’ve heard from multiple people has to be, “It’s… bigger.” I’m only 5’6″; pretty much everything is big to me.
After going to shows of varying sizes in eight different states, I feel like I have a handle on what constitutes a convention. There’ll be artists and exhibitors. There’ll be huge, crowded displays for video games and cartoons that I’ve never heard of. My favorite superhero artists will be there, as will the people selling drawings of sexy baby Looney Tunes characters. There’ll be crowds. There will be absolutely horrible eating decisions made on my end. There’ll be great cosplayers (if you are dressed as Miss America Chavez, I want to take a picture with you!). I feel like I know what I’m getting into, but all the glazed-over stares I get from people after asking what SDCC is like leads me to believe I have no idea.
I had no idea what I was getting into back in summer 1995 when my dad took me to my very first comic book convention in Nashville, Tennessee. This was a few years before I had the internet, so I know we had to have learned about it through the radio or newspaper, and the big draw for me was Stan Lee. Yeah, Stan The Man was appearing in a hotel ballroom in Nashville for the few hundred comic book fans that existed in the years prior to the modern Geek-Splosion. The rest of the show didn’t interest me at the time, so I regrettably didn’t commit a lot of it to memory. I was eleven and had only been reading superhero comics for two years, so I did not care about whoever was there (I have no idea who else was there – this is bugging me). I also didn’t see the need in combing through back issues; I could do that at my comic shop. I just wanted to meet Stan Lee because he was famous!
To get Stan Lee’s autograph at that show, I had to buy something and get it put in a stack for him to autograph. I picked up a trade paperback of “X-Men: Rarities,” which contained a few random X-Men stories spanning the decades that had never been reprinted. Stan Lee signed it for me, complimenting my huge Star Wars “Empire Strikes Back” t-shirt (“Nice shirt!”), which made me feel super cool. When I got home I was surprised to learn that Stan Lee had actually written a story in the trade paperback, something I didn’t know when I had him sign it. Either way, I have Stan Lee’s autograph on a cover next to members of Generation X.
But that was it. I didn’t go to any other comic book conventions until thirteen years later when I was hired to be the Associate Editor of Wizard Magazine’s conventions department. So yeah, I went from being a fifth grader with a passing interest in conventions to planning and executing them. My second convention was 2008’s New York Comic-Con, which I went to as a professional mere weeks after getting my job. I was thrown into the deep end.â€¨
During my year with Wizard, I got to work on three conventions: the 2008 editions of Wizard World Philly, Chicago and Texas. I started to feel quite at home in the surroundings. I grew to love comic book conventions, and that’s a love that wasn’t deterred when I lost my job. If anything, it’s grown with each convention as I’ve become more and more familiar with all the weird and exciting things that you can only see at cons. If San Diego’s defining trait is “big,” then it has to have proportionally more of the stuff I like too, right?â€¨
The main complaint I hear more and more each year is that the show isn’t about comic books anymore. It’s as much about YA novels-turned-movies (what up, “Divergent”) and general pop culture (TV Land has a panel…?) as it is about Marvel and DC. So… so what? I wouldn’t expect it to be any different, honestly. The thing is, I’m fine with Metallica concerts and original USA programming getting people in the door and in close proximity with people dressed like “Kingdom Come” Superman and the Baroness. If people love a thing, then I want that thing to be at Comic-Con, and I want those thing lovers to be there, loving on it. I’m all for these experiences being more inclusive!
There are annoying things about comic conventions, and I’m sure all of those annoyances will be magnified as well, but my favorite thing about cons has to be the positivity. This goes back to that “loving” point. No matter how crowded I get, or how exhausted I become, or how many times I have a foam sword smacked in my face, I still get an emotional pick-me-up from something in my line of sight, be it a spot-on Banshee cosplay or a real copy of “Amazing Fantasy” #15.
Yeah, I expect San Diego to be unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, but I also expect it to feel just like home. As long as I don’t eat any convention center “hamburgers.”
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).