Funny Books and Serious People: My First Time at a Comic Con
Has something ever been a large part of your chemical makeup and yet you never connected with it? Not from a literal standpoint – we all drink water, but, rather, our culture. That substance which makes milk curdle and opinions worthwhile. For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved Batman; rumor has it that “Batman” was the first word that escaped my lips as an infant. And still, for some reason, I’d never gathered with other fans. That changed this past weekend at the Long Beach Comic Con, and, perhaps, it changed me.
I’m known as a person that knows a lot about things, but, this weekend, I learned just how little I knew about the social side of funny pages. The extent of my interactions had been mostly limited to talking shop with others in comic book shops. I have friends I can talk with about The World’s Greatest Detective and his cohorts, especially in a filmic capacity, but my obsession is mostly a solitary one. Much in the way I ingest the mythologies of these American gods, I thought it was a personal experience. I was wrong.
I knew my hometown had gotten its own comic con several years ago, but being an attendee had never appealed to me. Perhaps it was the voice in the back of my head telling me it was the lesser sibling of the main event. San Diego Comic Con is obviously a big deal worldwide, but, when you live in Southern California, you can feel it breathe on your nape every year. It’s a colossal event that is dominated by Hollywood-starring panels, the place cinematic and televisual information is dropped for people to salivate over. The place where the tastemakers decide whose slate is more drool-worthy. Despite living off the 405 freeway, visiting this mecca has never been a serious thought to me. Maybe an afterthought, especially the year Disney opened Flynn’s Arcade on the streets of San Diego as viral marketing for Tron Legacy. Therein was my main problem with comic conventions though: I felt they needed to be a place for people to converge for the comics themselves, but Long Beach Comic Con changed my perception.
The show floor was dominated almost entirely by the things I wanted there: an artists alley, vendors, creator signings, celebrity sightings, and other miscellaneous booths on the threshold of geekdom. I wandered the floor twice over to make sure I didn’t miss anything, glancing at everything, perhaps gawking at things that were more interesting. My personal highlights included Dustin Nguyen, Jon Schnepp, HipHop Trooper, an entire corner dedicated to Lego building, The Flux Capacitors, and a booth demonstrating a Playstation Vita rhythm game. The fact that Marv Wolfman and Len Wein were spitting distance from tables dedicated to famous cosplayers brought a sense of humanity to these acclaimed creators – we could reach their heights. What I found fascinating mirrored the audience it was arranged for: varied and passionate.
There were, of course, panels, too, but they aligned themselves with the hometown feel my city has. How to assemble a portfolio, how to garner funds on Kickstarter, LGBT issues in genre fiction, how to write for characters that you didn’t create, how to make it in Hollywood, etc. There were some heavier hitters present: DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, and the Star Wars panel, the latter, of which I’m guilty of attending. I couldn’t help but smile that Sam Witwer, whom I best remember as Doomsday from “Smallville,” was on that Star Wars panel, and continued to smile every time he stole the show from his fellow panelists.
While comics were at the heart of the event, the convention was about much more than that. It was for those of us who want to embrace parts of ourselves that are generally suppressed for the public. Comics might be the basis for the biggest blockbusters currently and have caused a culture crossover, but these events are for those more passionate than the masses. Perhaps it’s by virtue of my modesty (which is probably apparent in my included meta photography), but I seldom reach out to others, let alone self-identify as part of a group; however, every artist, panelist, exhibitor, and attendee I interacted with seemed more than pleased to speak to me. It was like they knew, even with my poorman Woody cosplay on, that I was one of them, that we were all the same.