I don't have the greatest memory and have only a few photos from these early years in the days before the convenience of digital and smartphone cameras, but fortunately personal letters from the time helped in these recollections, as well as the outstanding souvenir coffee table book published by Comic-Con in 2009, Comic Con: 40 Years of Artists, Writers, Fans, And Friends, to help with some of the chronology...
|San Diego Comic-Con helped me meet many distinguished fellow pros like Sergio Aragones (2014)|
For those of you too young to know, there once was a time when you could decide on a whim to attend Comic-Con, drive down at the last minute, walk up to a registration booth, and purchase an attendee badge for the day or the entire show! I did this several times those first few years. This included booking hotels at the last minute as well—boy, those were the days! And no doubt like many attendees today, to save some bucks on the then-$79 per night hotel fee, my friends and I would double up (or more) in a room.
|Cover to 1986 San Diego Comic-Con|
(from Marvel Comics of the 1980s)
Though I had been reading and producing my own “home-made” comics since my tweens in the early 1970s in New York where I was born and raised, I wasn’t aware of “comics fandom” until I moved to Northern California and discovered my first comic-book shop. These pioneering comic-book stores had a grungy/garage sale feel, often run by aging hippies in dilapidated, stripped down store fronts—and I don’t mean this in a bad way! You usually could hang out all day reading comics (then leaving with some purchases). By the time I hit college in the early ‘80s, comics—always a boom-and-bust industry—were on an upswing with independent comics like American Flagg (1983) and Love and Rockets (1982), which themselves had been preceded by early breakout hits like Cerebus the Aardvark (1977) and Elfquest (1978), to be soon followed by landmark mainstream series like Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985-86), Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns (1986), and The Watchmen (1986-87), all energizing the era’s comics scene.
I know people whose attendance date back to the very first year of the show in 1970. Before I attended, Comic-Con had been held at a variety of locations in San Diego, notably the El Cortez Hotel. By the time I began attending, the show had moved to the San Diego Concourse and Performing Arts Center, a rather drab facility that felt dated even then. But I wasn’t there for the ambiance!
|Catching a glimpse of comics legend Will Eisner|
As an aspiring cartoonist, Comic-Con was an eye-opening experience. It gave me the opportunity to see and meet my first comics pros in person. In these first few years, this included Frank Miller, Howard Chaykin, Jerry Bingham, Gary Groth, the Hernandez Brothers, and Steve Rude.
|San Diego Concourse, 1982 – Photo by Alan Light (posted at Marvel Comics of the 1980s)|
|Steve Rude drawing Space Ghost for a|
Comic-Con art auction/fundraiser
Those early days also gave one the luxury to methodically walk each aisle of the show aisle to check out the different booths, deciding where I might come back to make a purchase. As the show got larger, however, this became impossible as the surging crowds tended to determine which aisles to navigate and which to avoid.
But in subsequent years, Comic-Con began to change and grow, starting in 1991—the year the San Diego Comic-Con moved to its present home at the San Diego Convention Center.
Next: Comic-Con Explodes
|Jonny Quest, also by Steve Rude|
A photographic timeline of the San Diego Comic-Con from the Los Angeles Times
San Diego Comic-Con: The Untold History, Rolling Stone Magazine, July 19, 2017
Comic Con: 40 Years of Artists, Writers, Fans, And Friends (2009)