Comic conventions began in the mid 1960's in U.S. cities like Detroit and New York. As comic collecting became more organised in the 1960's, conventions were a natural development . Fans wanted to get together, along with professionals, writers, artists, and dealers. By the late 1960's conventions became a regular phenomenon, scattered all over the U.S. During the last 3 decades, cons have become huge events, attended by hundreds of celebrities and pro's & thousands of comic fans. The biggest and longest running con (began in 1970) was the San Diego Comic-Con, which today is run by a non-profit organizasion along with hundreds of volunteers. Reflecting the increasing number of exhibitors and fans from all over the world, the San Diego Con was officially renamed Comic-Con International : San Diego in the early 90's. Attracting greater numbers every year, this year the estimated number of attendees exceeded 70 000 people.

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COMIC CON INTERNATIONAL : SAN DIEGO
1-4 AUGUST 2002

report by Mahdi Abrahams

Four days of comic books, action figures, & pop culture merchandise - an absolute blast !!! The scale of this event just blew us away. We did months of preparation for this convention : checking the official website www.comic-con.org , reading reports of previous cons, and studying the events guide of the 2001 con, which we received from a customer who attended last year (thanks a stack Joel & Jill ! ). But nothing really prepared us for for the sheer size of the whole event. This year had an estimated 70 000 attendees as opposed to last years 53 000. The Convention Centre has 3 levels (total of 35 000 square feet). The heart of the con is the ground level, with 5 massive connecting exhibit halls - these contain the publishers & dealer booths, toy and anime/manga booths and movie & gaming related booths. The second level contains smaller rooms where panel discussions & talks are held. The third level was reserved for the Autograph Area (for official signings) and the Ballroom, where the Eisner Awards and and the Masquerade took place the Friday and Saturday evenings respectively.
We'll go through the report on a day to day basis, but on the whole it was 4 days of buying comics and toys, having comics signed, chatting to writers and artists & fans and attending events and programmes.

We arrived at our hotel the Monday evening, and after two 11 hour flights we were dead tired. Took a walk along the bay to the Convention Centre just to check out the place where we knew we were going to spend most of our time ! Since the con only opened the Wednesday evening we had 2 days to check out the sights and be regular tourists. San Diego is a beautiful city, located on the west coast of California and on the border of Mexico. Amazingly, its very much like Cape Town - the people are laid back, very friendly, and lots of American tourists visit during this (summer) season. Except for the south-easter, summer weather is exactly like Cape Town. Using the San Diego Trolley (tram system) we went to the main shopping mall, Horton Plaza; the quaint Gaslamp Quarter (a deadringer for Long Street !); Old Town, the original Spanish settlement; Mission Valley, a large shopping complex; Balboa Park, housing various museums and the famous San Diego Zoo; Coranado island, across the bay ; and crossed the border into Tijuana , the first Mexican city across the border in Mexico.

Wednesday 31 July
As pre-registered attendees with a 4 day pass, we could attend Preview Night i.e. for 3 hours from 5.30-8.30 pm we could enter the exhibit halls before it officially opened the following day. Taking the S.D. Trolley from the hotel to the convention centre took about 15 minutes, and we arrived about an hour before opening time - there was already about a 100 + people in line. At 5.30 the line moved. Everything operated on time - the level of organisation for an event of this scale was extemely high. Once we received our badge, events guide, and official souvenir book, we were set to go. The badge has your name and city you come from on it, and has to be pinned on you throughout the con - security guards check your badge whenever you enter the exhibit halls. Entering the halls with its thousands of booths gave us a shock for the first few minutes. You feel you want to run to every booth your eye can see ! Once we calmed down we decided to stick together and check out the booths systematically and co-ordinate our buying. On this night many exclusive items are made available : action figures with limited production runs, and variant edition comics (yes, we bought some for the shop :)

The Exhibit Hall was divided into sections, so that booths of the same type were grouped together : publishers, dealers, action figures, anime/manga, and movie related. We decided to hit the Diamond booth first, our major supplier. As retailers we were allowed to buy the Battle of the Planets Con Exclusive figure and the foil cover edition of Transformers Armada#1. Next stop, the hugely impressive DC booth - Jim Lee was already furiously sketching and signing for fans ! At the Spawn booth we met the Spawn.com board moderators, Brad Gould and Dion Bozmann and gawked at the incredible action figure display - some upcoming! These were mainly 2-Ups , this is the size in which the figures are sculpted, which is about 12" as opposed to to the actual 6" figures. We had heard a rumour that Marvel did not have a booth this year, so we made a point of looking for them. Eventually we found it - nothing fancy, just a Marvel banner, posters and a few tables and chairs. Joe Quesada (Marvel editor-in-chief), Paul Jenkins and Humberto Ramos were sitting there, handing out copies of Marvel's Convention Preview book. Quesada explained to us that Marvel's policy for this year was to focus on professionals signing at the booth around the clock every day, and not to have an elaborate exhibit. As a result of this policy, we managed - by the end of the con - to get more comics signed than we had anticipated. Time was running out by this point (the hall was only open for 3 hours on this night) and we hurried to the Wizard booth, where we found some exclusive comics. The manga & anime booths were particularly stunning, with huge displays and movies playing on big screens continuously. The highlight was the Lord of The Rings booth. They had a larger than life Wring Wraith on Horse and an Ork on display, surrounded by lots of LotR goodies. Three hours had gone and we hadn't even looked at dealer tables yet !


Street banner advertising the con


inside the exhibit hall

Thursday 1 August
We arrived at opening time - the exhibit halls are open from 10am-7pm, Thursday to Sunday. We immediately checked out the Marvel booth (this proved to be our favourite hang-out at the con). Yep, signings were taking place ! Nizar spent the morning standing in line to get comics autographed and running around dealer tables buying comics of writers and artist who were scheduled to appear, to get them signed. I spent most of my time at the dealer tables buying affordable comics which i knew were scarce in South Africa, and also managed to fill some long standing gaps in my own collection. By the middle of the day we needed a break and went to the food court in the rest area for lunch - Shock ! food at the con was seriously over-priced. Bottled water was usually $1 , at the con it was $2.50. After Thursday we bought lunch in town and brought it to the con, and we were even asked once when we sat down for lunch " Wow, where did you guys get a Subway around here ?"

J. Michael Straczynski was signing at the Marvel booth the afternoon, and the line was disgustingly long. As the line stretched way past other booths I heard the comment from a security guard - " Yep, its Marvel causing this sh*t again !" At some point, if the line for a signing gets too long, you can no longer join it. That's what happened to us - but we weren't too worried as we knew Straczynski had a signing session the next day. In the last hour before the halls closed, we took another look around the booths - there were just so many we had not yet seen. In fact, by Sunday afternoon (the last day) we were still discovering new booths. Four days is waaaay too short !


the wait before preview night


a comic dealer booth


the Diamond booth

Friday 2 August
This was a major day for getting books signed. The booths in the exhibit hall often had pro signings, very informal, and you could sometimes get items signed by just passing the right booth at the right time. However, today Stan Lee, Todd McFarlane, Grant Morrison and J.M. Straczynski were scheduled to sign in the Autograph Area, two levels above the exhibit hall. Both of us spent virtually the whole day in this area, hardly getting a chance to visit the main halls below. Strazynski was scheduled to sign at 11am , but Nizar got in line just after 10 am (no repeating yesterdays mistake!). I went for THE MAN himself : Stan Lee. He was scheduled to sign at 12.00, but by the time i got in line (around 10.30) there was at least a 100 people ahead of me. The guy in front of me had flown in from Chicago, a four hour flight. Thats when he saw my badge and realised i was from South Africa. He basically freaked ! Stan Lee appeared at 12, welcomed with a huge applause from the crowd. Half an hour later, i had met the Man and had the Spidey Movie Adaptation autographed by him. (only 1 item allowed!)

Met Nizar for a quick lunch in the Autograph Area. He had his books signed by Straczynski and met Todd McFarlane at the Spawn booth down in the exhibit hall. I next got in line for Grant Morrison, who was very chatty, and was sporting a cool "Filth" t-shirt. By late afternoon both Nizar and myself joined the huge crowd for the official McFarlane signing - as with Stan Lee, it was one item per person. We spoke to a local fan in the queue, who turned out to be one of the hundreds of volunteers who help put the con together. He mentioned that this years con had 9000 pre-registered attendees - a new record !
After we had our books signed, it was after 5pm and we were exhausted. We cancelled our plans to attend the annual Will Eisner Awards (sort of like the Oscars for the comics industry) that evening, and opted for pizza at Sammy's in the Gaslamp Quarter. This place really comes alive at night !

[ This was to be my lucky day, just passing by the Spawn booth, Todd McFarlane was hanging around and being mobbed by fans. This is when i had my Spawn #1 signed and got a great photo opportunity with him ! Also ran into John Romita Jr. at the Marvel booth. The funny thing is, he was supposed to be at the official signing in the Autograph Area earlier in the day, with Straczynski, and never pitched. Romita was quite happy to sign a few books for me and do a quick Spidey sketch! - Nizar ]


the DC booth


an anime booth


the Spawn booth

Saturday 3 August
The busiest day of the convention : most one day attendees come on the Saturday (why come for one day only? :). We immediately felt the impact as we entered the exhibit hall - the aisles were packed, and by the afternoon you had difficulty moving even in the wider aisles on the outer rim of the halls. I spent the morning checking the Marvel, DC and Image booths for any notable pro signings. There were no major signings and i spent some time checking out dealer booths. I focused on the booths selling Golden and Silver Age comics - these dealers were all placed together centered among surrounding general comic dealers. I had to spend some time viewing high-end books not available in SA ! There were quite a few dealers with high grade 1940's comics. One guy had a glass cabinet with top condition copies of Action #1 , Detective #27, Marvel Comics #1, Batman #1 - all the key early books. What a sight ! I noticed at least 3 booths who had N. Mint copies of Amazing Spider-man #1 , and a really battered copy for $500. These specialist dealers were noticably quieter, but were ringing up the sales nevertheless! Later that afternoon i attended a programme hosted by Jim Lee and Jeph Loeb. Both of them discussed their upcoming 12 issue run on Batman - Lee is very exited about the project and has already completed the art on the 6th issue !

Nizar had managed to get to Michael Turner's signing at the Top Cow booth despite the long line of fans. By late afternoon we headed back to the hotel to get a break from the con, as we were coming back at 8pm for the highlight of the evening : the Masquerade. This was a stage show, with participants dressing up in all sorts of fantastic costumes, including characters from popular comics. The event was held in the vast Ballroom in the upper level of the Centre. We arrived at around 7:30 pm, but the lines were already longer than a McFarlane signing ! The show started with previews of upcoming sci-fi movies on overhead screens : X-Men 2, Daredevil, Harry Potter 2, Matrix 2 &3, LotR 2 and the new 007 movie. Scenes from X-Men 2 drew the loudest applause :) Then the Masquerade began, with about 40 participants, some with incredibly detailed costumes. A stunning sight !

[ The pro's of note i met on this day were Michael Turner and Simon Bisley. The previous day Turners' line was just too long, although i did manage to get a pic with him and Marc Silvestri behind the Top Cow booth ! When Turner signed my books i asked him about his upcoming Faerie series. He said that it was still on track for next year - but here's the bad news, he also said that when he does that new series he will get a new artist to take over the art on Fathom :( Simon Bisley was quite a character, he's hair was dyed mostly orange, tattoos creeping out from under his t-shirt and just a plain don't care attitude. When i had some books signed and a sketch done (of Spidey - and all messy as he ate cookies while doing the sketch!) he mentioned that he had won an award but was not sure for what (Eisner Award the previous night). An all round easy going dude ! Also met Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, Angel Medina, Brian Holguin, David Wohl, Chuck Austen & Humberto Ramos. That afternoon i attended one of the programmes : McFarlane Toys - Anatomy of an action figure. Jean St. Jean (head sculptor) and Steve Hamady (head designer) discussed the process of how the action figures are made from concept until it hits the store shelves. The 1 hour allotted to this discussion was way too short but was very interesting and answered many questions as to how do they do that ! ( and yes to those wandering - a lot of hand painting is still used !) - Nizar ]


Stan "The Man" Lee


Mr. Grant Morrison


Simon Bisley !

4 August Sunday
The last day of the con, and we were beginning to feel the exhaustion ! As usual, we checked out the Marvel booth first. We were a bit late and Peter David had just completed a signing session. I approached him with some Hulk issues, and he agreed to sign them, although he was late for another appointment. Always the funny guy, he hurriedly signed my comics, and remarked "These won't be my best signatures, so i'll just sign them Grant Morrison !" Jim Lee was sketching for fans at the DC Wildstorm booth, so Nizar quickly got in line before it got cut (DC was quick to do this throughout the con). Since this was the last day, and we had managed to get more signed items than we'd hoped for, I focused on dealer booths for the rest of the day. Many dealers sale their goods on the Sunday as they don't want to cart them back to their stores.

[ Although this was the last day, which i meant to spend mostly bargain hunting for action figures, i ended up still meeting some artists and writers. Of note was Jim Lee - waited about an hour in line to get a sketch from him and some signed comics. This was all worth the wait as he did an awesome Wolverine sketch ! (this will be on display at our new shop). Later in the day Eric Larsen was signing at the Image booth and he too was willing to do a great Savage Dragon sketch. As luck would have it, McFarlane was again at the Image booth doing portfolio reviews of budding comic artists. You could see people were impressed with his tips and style, and the way in which he helped these future stars. At the end he also signed one item of everyone there:) After 4 days of meeting so many comic pro's, one's impression of these guys is that they are so down to earth and very likeable - very refreshing as most fans treat them like superstars. - Nizar ]

The last few hours were hectic as I tried to visit as many booths as i could - still discovering new booths at this late hour ! I'm sure we never saw everything (a good reason to go again;). By 5pm, when the exhibit hall closed, I had accumulated a box of comics and immediately posted it off to our shipper in the U.S. (this should arrive with our next Diamond shipment). Meanwhile, as luck would have it, Nizar spied McFarlane at the Spawn booth and managed to get another item signed - what a great way to end the convention !

 

GALLERY


Joe Quesada & Paul Jenkins


J. Michael Straczynski


Chris Claremont & Ale Garza


Mahdi & Todd McFarlane


Nizar with Marc Silvestri & Michael Turner


Eric Larsen with Nizar


Green Goblin & Spidey


Klingons !


Batman family


Star Wars ! (Natalie Portman look-alike)


a comic shop in San Diego


Black Widow


no idea who they are, but they looked cool !

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