Thursday, July 25, 2019

SDCC 2019 Report Part I: The More Things Change...

This year, the San Diego Comic-Con marked its 50th anniversary gathering, providing an opportunity for the show and attendees to reflect on the show's history and legacy. To mark the milestone, Comic-Con held a variety of events, including a 50th anniversary celebration and reception that I had the opportunity to attend, which featured remarks from San Diego’s mayor and other officials; invited special guests that included people who contributed to the success of the show over the years; and scheduled panels that looked back at the early days of the show.

2019 marked my 32nd Comic-Con since the mid-1980s (missing only 1987 and 2000) and my 22nd as an exhibitor. While I wasn’t there at the very beginning in 1970 when about 145 comics fans attended the first Comic-Con in the basement of a dingy hotel in downtown San Diego, I watched it transition from an event of several thousand fans in those early years at the rather drab San Diego Concourse facility to the then newly-opened and sleek San Diego Convention Center in 1990. Today, the show hosts over 135,000 attendees, encompassing thousands more who flock to the area to soak in the atmosphere and take advantage of ancillary events that don't require an attendee badge.

While Comic-Con was originally rooted in a love for comics (as well as science fiction and movies in those early days) and a bit of nostalgia, it’s always been forward-looking in finding ways to reflect and accommodate the interests of modern fandom, which of course now extends way beyond the comics fans who started the show, encompassing gaming, television, animation and anime, and cosplay. So looking back also offers the opportunity to reflect on how much the show has evolved.

As such, though there are some who decry what Comic-Con has become, often insisting that comics have been lost in the mix, I come down with those in the other camp who point out that if you’re only interested in comics, there’s actually plenty to keep you occupied and happy—all the major publishers hold panels to talk about their upcoming titles and plans, there are numerous panels focused on creators both past and present, you can still find plenty of comics and original art on the main exhibitor floor, and of course one of the show’s signature events is the Will Eisner Awards ceremony, often referred to as comics own “Academy Awards.” As I (and many others) have said in the past, Comic-Con is very broad and encompassing, so it’s easy for things to get lost amid all the hyperbole and sensory overload—Comic-Con is what you make of it. The show is many things to different people and it would be practically impossible to experience everything.

For me personally, this year underscored several transitions. I do miss the days when major comic-book retailers—particularly the late Rory Root’s Comic Relief and Bud Plant’s Art Books—anchored the exhibition hall. (Fortunately, Chuck Rozanski’s Mile High Comics continues to be a presence at the show.) This year also marked a move by DC Comics to the far end of the hall to share space with its parent company, Warner Bros., in the media section while Matt Groening’s Bongo Comics—publisher of the Simpsons comics and another mainstay in the center of the floor—transitioned to Bapper Books, publisher of comics related to Groening’s new Netflix series, Disenchantment.

But as I mentioned in a closing post on Facebook, change is inevitable and we can never go back to our youth. The Comic-Cons of today are much different than the ones I first attended starting in the mid-1980s. But still at the center of it all and in its DNA are the comics and creators who built this industry and entertained and thrilled readers and fans since childhood. Comic-Con deserves a lot of credit for continuing to honor and remember its comics roots, and becoming a big tent for multiple fandoms that allows people to follow their bliss!

Next: My Comic-Con Report

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