One Fan's Opinion: Issue #80

Fri, July 27th, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Erik Larsen, Columnist

"So - you looking forward to San Diego…?"

I get a lot of that.

San Diego has become the comic book event over the last couple decades - or at least the event - the "comic book" part of the "Comic-Con International: San Diego" (as it's been most recently dubbed) has been gradually de-emphasized in favor of - well - most everything else. There are panels about TV shows and video games and porn stars have their booths, as do guys with card games and movie posters and t-shirts and bootleg DVDS and everything else under the sun. The San Diego Comic-Con has become a huge, sprawling pop culture and media experience and comic books are only a small piece of that.

I'll often talk to guys that have never been to Comic-Con International: San Diego. They'll ask me how this show or that show compares with San Diego.

They don't compare.

The biggest of the other shows is a fraction the size of San Diego. That show in New York everybody was all fired up about? You know - that big one earlier in the year? It doesn't hold a candle to San Diego. You could actually see the entire show in a day. You could go to every booth and see every guest. In San Diego you can't walk from one end to another without getting winded. It's easily four times the size of New York and that isn't even taking into account all of the programming - the panels, the movie premieres, the videos, the gaming and everything else upstairs.

Every year, I'll fly home and flip through my program book and I'd say to myself, "Oh hell, Bill Sienkiewicz was there - I would have liked to have seen him" or "Wow. Simon Bisley was at the show" or "I can't believe I didn't bump into Frank Miller."

And as a publisher it's complete chaos! Everybody wants to pitch a book or show me his or her samples or any number of things. Every creator in comics wants to get his or her book out for San Diego. They've bought plane tickets and paid for hotel rooms and they're convinced that they'll be the talk of the show if only they have their book on hand. There ends up being this huge volume of Image product that comes out this time of year. We can't play favorites - we need to play fair with these guys - we do our best to accommodate them and lord knows we don't want them to bellyache about their books missing in action when they've bought plane tickets and paid for hotel rooms and whatnot. It's incredibly hectic leading up to the show with all of the shipping and packing and unpacking and setting up and the rest. San Diego becomes this two or three month crunch for time.

"So - you looking forward to San Diego…?"

Well, kind of.

It'll be good to see the fans and see old friends. Comic-Con International: San Diego is like a giant high school reunion for most creators. It's a chance to see countless old acquaintances and catch up on their lives and talk about our shared passions and dreams and hang out and drink too much and sleep too little and look like hell in the morning. Some folks act stupid - some rake in a ton of cash - some get lucky - some get hurt - a few survive, unscathed.

I do love it.

I do.

But I miss the days when San Diego was a comic book show. I miss being able to easily find people and walk the floor and take in everything. I wish they'd take all the media stuff and everything that isn't related to comics and shove it to one side so the rest of us could get together and have a comic book convention. But that's about as likely to happen as Captain America staying dead.

There's a lot of pressure at San Diego. The panels fill huge cavernous rooms and being up there on stage can be pretty nerve-wracking. The pressure to be "on" is intense and everything you say can be "YouTubed" or taken out of context and blown up and distorted. You don't want to blow it. You don't want to tank. You don't want to forget the names of other people on the panel. You don't want to mispronounce the names of folks working on books.

I'm not a good names guy - I'm not even a particularly good guy for recognizing faces. It can be pretty frustrating to have folks tell me about a conversation we had six years ago in Chicago or even last year and have to mentally run through the old rolodex and be horrified to find out how many empty cards there are in that damned thing. It's especially exasperating when it's a fellow professional. There's nothing I hate worse than not recognizing somebody that I've talked to for hours at a time and believe me - it's no reflection on you - it's me - I'm the screw up!

The sad reality is that my memory is not what it should be. I don't know how I'm going to tell if I ever go senile because my memory for certain things just isn't what it ought to be now. Somehow, if my brain deems something unimportant, out it goes. And I've jettisoned some things that really shouldn't have gone, but out they went.

"I can tell you who lettered 'The Incredible Hulk' #186, but I couldn't tell you the name of my first girlfriend. How messed up is that?"
Other stuff? Weird stuff? Unimportant stuff? Forget it! It's there and it isn't going anywhere. And this is usually stupid stuff. Trivial stuff. I can tell you who lettered "The Incredible Hulk" #186, but I couldn't tell you the name of my first girlfriend.

How messed up is that?

Naturally, that leads to all kinds of problems. But I manage to make it through the day. I still remember to put one leg in front of the other when I'm walking. I still remember to breathe - that's an important one - but I have that dialed in.

But it gets me in trouble - did I write back? Did I answer that e-mail? Did I call that guy back? And more often those questions don't even occur! I'll just go along under the impression that everything's under control - and most often it is. I manage to make it through the day somehow.

But I digress…

"So - you looking forward to San Diego…?"

Not really.

I know it's going to be an ordeal. I know I won't be able to walk ten feet because of the crush of people. I know it's going to be a bitch to get a seat at a restaurant or find an open urinal in the bathroom. I know I'll get stopped to "sign just this one book" thousands of times. I know I'll get stopped to "sign just this one book" while I'm at the urinal at least a few. I know I'll be able to deliver the line, "you're in luck - I've got my hands on a gold pen right now. It's a little runny, but if I shake it a little bit…"

Sigh.

San Diego is the best of times and it's the worst of times. It's a blast and it's a drag. It's everything good and everything bad all rolled into one. And every year I hear folks say, "I'm just going to have fun this year in San Diego." And every so often they succeed.

But there's just so much of it. And there's so much to keep track of. Meetings and panels and all the rest and I'm not an exceptionally organized person by nature. Luckily, I've surrounded myself with people that are exceptionally organized people by nature. And they can point me in the right direction if I get distracted, and start following a particularly nubile young thing in a chain-mail bikini in the wrong direction.

San Diego is sensory overload. It's hard to describe to anybody that hasn't been there. And it's not just the fact that the floor is so big that every team in the NFL could be playing each other simultaneously without getting in each other's way. It's that there's so much to do and see. If you're a fan of anything you're going to find it at Comic-Con International: San Diego. And if you wake up feeling like dressing as a pirate or a superhero or a Klingon or Sponge Bob Square Pants you won't look one bit out of place. There are throngs of Klingons and Stormtroopers at this show and you never know who or what might show up. The only thing you know for sure - they're likely to be getting their picture taken.

So - am I looking forward to San Diego…?

Yeah, I guess I really am.

I'm looking forward to hunting for cool old comics. I'm looking forward to looking through stacks of original art. I'm looking forward to seeing old friends. I'm looking forward to signing stacks of comic books. I'm looking forward to all of it.

And when it's all over and the bills have all been paid and the debts have all been settled and the boxes have all been packed up and hauled away and everything has gone back to the was it was before this mad romp began, I'm looking forward to some chucklehead saying to me…

"So - you looking forward to San Diego…?"

And I'm looking forward to doing it all over again.

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