As a pale-skinned nerd, I have an ambivalent relationship with the Earth's glorious sun, the source of all life on Earth and an endless producer of deadly ultra-violet rays. For the twisted pleasure of an irrational God I was born in San Diego, a place where every month and every season can be fairly categorized as "sunny," with only a worthless bottle of Coppertone spray to protect me from the maddening burns I have known since childhood. In a perfectly just world I'd have entered this world in a more suitable climate: perhaps Canada, or a dry subterranean hole.
But there is some justice in the world, and for the sake of the light-averse the city of San Diego has become one of the great capitals of Nerd Culture, as home of Comic-Con International. This weekend celebration of what the Convention's organizers refer to as "the popular arts" takes place in the heart of summer, within sight and smell of the Pacific Ocean. The most beautiful city in southern California beckons with its sun-drenched charms to thousands upon thousands of attendees, who then spend hours wandering through the cavernous exhibition hall in very silly clothes.
As part of an all-too-recent and all-too-frequently broken tradition, I return annually to my homeland in order to attend this most celebrated of Cons, communing with my similarly obsessed brothers and sisters and relishing the mass validation of our enchantment with comics and other media. I close my eyes and feel at peace, with myself, comfortable in place and space - and quickly open them again, because it's impossible to walk more than about ten steps without bumping into something sweaty. It's better to keep eyes and ears open in any event, because the heart and soul of Comic-Con is the indulgence of fans in all the sights and sounds that hold fast to their imaginations.
But even more important than the basal-nerd stimulation is the feeling of community one shares with all the people who care passionately about things the "mainstream" barely notices. I have the pleasure of sharing this feeling each year with my younger brother, a young man with a jock exterior and a vibrant inner-dork. As the eldest, it is my responsibility to teach him valuable information about life, a responsibility I routinely abuse by unsubtly indoctrinating him into adopting my taste in music, games, comic books, and anything else I deem important to his education. Although he (stubbornly) retains many of his own opinions, within the halls of Comic-Con my expertise rules the day.
Beginning in 2008 the powers-that-be eliminated sales of tickets at the door, requiring all attendees to buy their passes months in advance. With my largely oblivious nature I missed the convention that first year, a tragedy I regret to this day. I spent the summer of 2009 wandering aimlessly around Europe, but while wine tasting is nice, two years away from the Con of Cons is an awfully long time.
In years past, getting into the convention center was as much an experience as the convention, due to the lines of epic magnitude which encircled the building, winding in some cases into the marina. For many of my tribe, waiting in line is a valued tradition, a rite of passage that demonstrates that irrational devotion peculiar to both nerds and religious pilgrims. To them, I say this: there are plenty of lines for you to wait in once you're inside the convention center. Thank God the king line is dead.
Upon my glorious return I took stock of the show floor and found it much as I remembered:, a motley collection of artists, salesmen and corporate razzle-dazzle. Many things were almost exactly where they'd been years before: the Anime booths, the ridiculously-over-detailed resin statues, the acres of silver-age comics, the tragically circumscribed ghetto for webcomic artists, all of these were in their usual places. Even the creepy little hentai booth was tucked shamefully in its usual corner behind an imposing rack of T-shirts, safe from the prying eyes of media coverage.
Although the dominant media narrative in recent years has been the invasion of Comic-Con by A-list celebrities, even on the busiest day I somehow managed to avoid seeing any. My only confirmed celebrity sighting all weekend was Geoff Petersen over at the CBS booth, who doesn't count because he's a goddamned robot skeleton and technically neither a celebrity nor a real person. I am told that flesh-and-blood celebrities did attend, and I believe these reports because they come with very convincing photographs, but I did not see them and I assume they were hiding from me.
Although the exhibition floor is clearly the most interesting part of the Con, upstairs a number of panels, lectures and symposia are scheduled throughout the day, principally to give nerds something to wait in line for. My brother and I (mostly I) decided it would be edifying to attend at least one, and I selected Will Eisner, the Dreamer, a celebration of the late, great innovator of the "graphic novel." Among the old fellows seated at the panel was none other than Scott McCloud, a legend in his own right and the giver of the single most interesting lecture I ever saw in four years of college, waaay back in the spring of 2006. As educational as it was, the panel was surprisingly not boring, as even my attention-deficient brother had to admit.
Though I love the comics in all their forms, the highlight of the weekend was the opportunity to meet some of my favorite webcomic artists, the only people present who earned the right to take my money this year. This year my precious dollars went toward supporting the twisted souls of Tycho and Gabriel, AKA Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, the masterminds of Penny Arcade. Despite the free availability of their work on the internet, dark forces regularly compel me to buy the books they sell because they're just so damn good. Another lucky dollar recipient was Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content, from whom I bought a print because he was selling some awesome prints. I am unable to find an image of this print on the internet, so if you want to see it, you'll have to come and see it on my wall. Or, buy your own.
Alternatively, you could wait until the print becomes available online, and I return to edit this post with a link. Like I just did.
I also got this free pin-up from some guy named Erwin Haya, whom I have never heard of, but gets a free shout-out for handing out free prints. I think they call that networking.
Let's not forget the cosplay, a sacred tradition of the convention scene. Comic-Con costumes are always a hoot, but this year the selection seemed somewhat muted. Not to knock the very impressive clothes on display, but when once you've seen an eight-foot Galactus roam the halls in search of planets to eat, your standards become appropriately elevated. As if mocking my expectations, I saw no fewer than five young fellows sporting what I can only describe as Galactus-themed Burger King crowns. Other costumes displayed more imagination, at least by half: I saw one guy walk by in a movie-quality Spider-man suit, while his girlfriend accompanied him in a Mary Jane disguise that was, to all appearances, a bright red wig.
But my favorite costume of the year has to have been "guy with random clippings from periodicals taped to his trash-bag poncho," whom I assume was doing something post-modern. If you wish to earn my approval, tricking me into believing you're ironically subverting established aesthetic norms is probably the easiest way to do it. That, or building an eight-foot Galactus suit.
They say that if San Diego doesn't expand the convention center soon, it's possible that the rapidly expanding Comic-Con of the future may relocate to some godforsaken wasteland like Los Angeles or Anaheim, leaving my hometown with precious little to appeal to the terminal nerd. But as I left the convention, I saw cause for hope: festivities extending out into the street, costumed crusaders roaming through the Gaslamp Quarter in search of pizza and Scott Pilgrim screenings. If Comic-Con must grow, let it morph into a street festival: let the nerds take over the city, and transform it into a paradise of social awkwardness and joy. At least it'll get us out in the sun.