Pilgrimage, a reminiscence

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When I first attended Comic Con, it was 1991. I was on vacation from College and I had a spare day to drive to San Diego for the premiere comics event on the West Coast. Even though I’d been to a few smaller conventions, I was so eager that I drove from my home in Los Angeles to San Diego, arriving sometime before 6am. At that point, there was exactly one space left in the underground parking garage. When I got there, there were no other visitors in sight!

The plan was pretty simple: volunteer for a couple hours, thus securing entry. Then I’d walk around for a while spending money and looking for stuff I couldn’t find elsewhere. I don’t think I even realized there would be so many professionals there.

As it went, I think I did door duty for an hour (oh how many times I’ve been stationed at a door!) then gave blood for my second hour (it’s become a tradition), then I walked around completely dazzled by the sheer magnitude of the event. It may have been the first or second time they’d held the event in that gigantic San Diego Convention Center. The conventions I’d been to before seemed like mere yard-sales. I’d met comics creators before, but this time I stood within elbow-rubbing distance of Jack Kirby. I think I said something dumb like “I really like your work.” The entire experience was astounding.

Even though I’d planned to stay one day, by the time I got home that evening, I’d resolved to return the next day, and then to continue attending each year.

I did return the following day; I remember meeting Scott McCloud, years before he’d written the landmark Understanding Comics. At the time, he was still working on my favorite comic book of all time: Zot! He said he didn’t really do sketches, but I was able to squeeze a little one of Terry, my favorite character from the Earth stories. Yeah, it was a great time!

And then I didn’t return to Comic Con for over a decade.

Life changed a lot in that time. When I returned, I came as part of the Watcher staff for Score’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer trading card game. In 1992, I went with a bunch of buddies to help show off the game to an unsuspecting (and possibly uninterested) public. We loved the game, and we shared it with anyone who cared, and a few who didn’t.

It was a completely different experience going with a retailer. We got to enter early, we had to coordinate where everyone was, and Score gave us a stipend for food. I went with a short list of comics to find, and the things I thought would be hardest to find were what I found first. Among those was Justice League of America #29, the first appearance of the Crime Syndicate of America.

That visit was also the year that I realized I knew some of the other attendees. Some of my friends over the years had tables of their own. Other friends were upstairs waiting in the numerous lines to get their artwork seen by an editor. For once, I felt like I was part of a community.

At some point, I found the Masquerade. That’s the annual dress-up show that goes on. It’s pretty amazing to see what people can do at home. But more astounding is the number of people yelling out the countdown as the contestants enter the stage! I have my own ideas about a great display, and one of these days I may take up the challenge.

By 2004 the convention may have doubled in size since my first visit, over a decade earlier. The Comic Con website boasted that over 87,000 visitors attended the convention last year. Even after being in the midst of the throngs, I can’t even imagine what 87,000 people means. That’s a lot of people.

Here are some of the most important lessons of dealing with Con:

1) Be prepared to wait in line - I’ve heard that people waited two hours in line for their tickets to enter the show. Either show up early or bring a book. Alternatively, try to come with a retailer. Having a retailer pass is a great way to stay out of the ticket line. Some people bring rolling suitcases and folding stools.

2) Parking sucks - Parking in downtown San Diego during Comic Con is a nightmare, and it averages $15 a day. If you can take the trolley, you’ll be much better off, even though you’ll probably get stuck waiting for a while if you attend any of the evening events. Reading schedules is helpful.

3) Bring your own food and water - It’s a Convention Center. The food will be exorbitantly priced. You’re better off bringing a small box lunch, because the downtown district’s restaurants will all be crowded too. Seriously, would you rather spend that twenty bucks on a snack or something you actually want? Buy the same bottle of water at the market for a buck, and save the remaining four dollars for a back issue.

4) Sitting in on seminars and workshops is a great way to take some pressure off your feet - Back in 2002, I went to a Teen Titans panel and won free CDs and t-shirts for being able to answer the first trivia question correctly. I also met one of the members of Puffy AmiYumi, who sing the theme song to the animated series. Well, at least Ami handed me my winnings. This was before she had a cartoon series of her own. I also started sitting in on the writing seminars. If the prospect of sitting in convention chairs is daunting, then you might want to bring a small pillow.

5) Try not to stand in one place too long - People who do this will inevitably cause traffic back-ups. The best place to do your conversing is not in the walkways but rather in little out-of-the-way corners. If you want to avoid the jams, you might try walking around the hall outside the main showroom. Last year even the outer hallway was so crowded that I took shortcuts on the sidewalk or through the autograph alley upstairs.

6) Be cool - Your first time at Comic Con can be an overwhelming experience. If you’ve been a few times, then it can be frustrating. Just remember that the real reason that this event exists is because people love this stuff! Don’t forget to enjoy yourself, and be considerate of other people’s (fans and creators alike) feelings. One friend of mine always pays for sketches that he gets, even if the drawing is offered for free.

That wraps up my basic reminiscence. While I’ve been to Comic Con more than a few times I can’t say I’ve had an exhaustive experience; exhausting experiences, perhaps. Still, I feel that there’s always so much more to see.


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