Comic-Con Newbie Finds Surprises in San Diego
Fans of cult classic John Carpenter film They Live attend San Diego Comic-Con International. Photo by Fernando Ortiz
The Dark Knight appears with beef jerky. Photo by Fernando Ortiz
Two Naruto costumes. Photo by Fernando Ortiz
This was my first Comic-Con. While I knew it would be crowded and crazy, there have been quite a few surprises along the way too.
Attending the San Diego Comic-Con International, which runs from July 18 to 21, I definitely expected the more than 100,000 people, the long lines, and, of course, the costumes. Yes, the costumes were amazing and sometimes surreal, like seeing Gandalf with an iPhone.
But what I wasn’t expecting was the camaraderie … and randomly bumping into people I know. I had thought, “We’ve imported this mid-size city of people. I won’t be able to find anyone.” Then, lo and behold, the first panel I walk into, there is a friend of mine. And even the total strangers were friendly. There was always something to talk about, and I met LOTS of librarians who were really fun to talk to and who all love comics.
In the first panel I attended, before I had even gone into the exhibit hall, comic artist Alison Bechdel said that she felt like an outsider at Comic-Con. That shocked me, because Bechdel has written one of the most-well-reviewed graphic novels ever. Time magazine named Fun Home Book of the Year in 2006, beating out authors like Cormac McCarthy. How could she be an outsider? Then I walked into the exhibit hall and immediately understood. While Comic-Con may have started as a comic book exhibition, it has become a media juggernaut. TV shows, movies, videogames, and toys all have space on the floor, as well as giant screens projecting sound and images from above.
Don’t get me wrong: Comics are there. But they are joined by so much else and are quiet compared with the other media. The great thing is the variety of comics. Booths range from the self-published to small publishers to art books to DC and Marvel. It is really those last two that rule the comics side of Comic-Con. I can understand how someone like Bechdel—who is not a superhero cartoonist and was published in the alternative press—would feel out of place here.
Also, I couldn’t walk down an aisle without seeing some image of women with helium-filled breasts. Seriously, I thought we were past that by now, but apparently not. I prefer the strong portrayals of female characters and the more realistic body types in drawings.
Books and panels
On the exhibit floor, I got so much stuff (mostly books!) that I had to ship a box home. And I spent only $35 on the floor. Some of the publishers were really generous. My favorite thing was a two-finger puppet of Long Tail Kitty, based on the book by Lark Pien. It was made by her sister, who is a puppet-builder for Sesame Street. I bought it as a thank-you gift for my cat sitter. The only book I bought was Nate Powell’s Swallow Me Whole, which really grabbed me. Both the art and the story about schizophrenia piqued my interest. Upon finishing it, I immediately reread it.
Before I arrived, I told myself that I was not here for the movies and TV shows. But a friend of mine was going to some TV panels one morning, and because it was the only time our schedules overlapped—and because Wil Wheaton (my secret sci-fi crush) was going to be on one of the panels—I decided to go. But what turned out to be better than Wil Wheaton was this great singing duo that called themselves Garfunkel and Oates. These two women, with their ukulele and acoustic guitar, were too funny: political, raunchy, adorable, timely, and smart. I highly recommend checking them out on YouTube, even though they’re not library- or book-related at all.
Another panel I loved was called “Oddball Comics,” in which the speaker showed covers of comics and then pointed out the subtle sexual references. Well, they weren’t that subtle. Usually he would put up a slide, everyone would laugh; next slide, laugh, etc.
One panel I attended, which was NOT library-related but was about bookstores, had graphic novelists who time and again kept bringing up libraries. They were really glad for all the support we have given their books. Matt Holm said something to the effect that all their books are still in print because libraries want the whole series to be available. They talked about how libraries bring new readers to graphic novels and expand their audiences.
My presentation at Comic-Con
My panel—which was about programming in libraries—went great. We had more people in the audience than I expected, close to 100. Some were librarians, and some were just people who care about libraries. Later I ran into someone who had been at our presentation. He said, “You were on that fabulous panel.”
I’ll definitely go back to Comic-Con in the future! And next year I will bring my teenage son. He was furious with me for not bringing him this time around.