Sunday, July 20, 2014


Living in the Bay Area, San Diego is only about an eight-hour drive south. And in between my sophomore and junior years of college, I made that pilgrimage for the first time with a couple friends -- Chris, with whom I had attended both middle and high school, and Brian, a friend of Chris's from his college. It was 1999, and it was a simpler time. We bought our con tickets online, but we needn't have bothered -- badges were still on sale at the door when we arrived. The whole affair only took up part of the convention center, which seemed enormous at the time.

That year was my first SDCC, and though it remained relatively small for a few more years, that was the last time it really felt like a comic book convention, in the traditional sense, to me. I bought a ton of back issues while I was there; I was going through a Mark Gruenwald CAPTAIN AMERICA phase and plugged some big holes in that run. I got head sketches from several artists during signings at the Marvel booth, including two of my favorites, Alan Davis (at the time the regular artist and plotter of X-MEN) and Terry Dodson (then the artist on GENERATION X). I also paid for a full-figure commission of Moon Knight from Ron Lim, who has, for as long as I can remember, had the most consistently reasonable convention commission prices of any artist I'm regularly interested in.

But my most prized souvenir from the 1999 Comic-Con -- and indeed, all the cons I've attended -- is something that still hangs, framed, on my wall. It's a small head sketch of Dr. Octopus by Erik Larsen, who was briefly back working for Marvel at the time, with additions from certain other Marvel folks. See, this was back when you could just wander around the Marvel booth and chat with creators and editors. The booth wasn't the wall-to-wall cattle car experience, filled with pounding music, constantly hosting signings and costume contests and whatever else, that we have now.

So I got this autographed sketch from Larsen, then walked over to Kurt Busiek and asked him if he would give Ock some dialogue. He obliged with word balloons that read, "Curse you, Spider-Man-- You've foiled my master plan!", and provided his autograph as well. I wasn't done having fun, though, when I realized there were others around I could approach. I spoke to then-AVENGERS editor Tom Brevoort and asked if he would "edit" the piece. Brevoort informed me that "curse" and "foiled" were too clichéd for a villain, and changed them to "blast" and "ruined". He then signed the thing "OK - Tom Brevoort". Lastly, I went to Bob Harras, Marvel's editor-in-chief at the time, and asked if he would mind "chiefing" the whole thing. He took a quick look, told me that villains don't use contractions, and changed "you've" to "you have". He also signed it, "OK - R. Harras".

Since then, I've attended Comic-Con twelve more times over fourteen years. This year will be my thirteenth since 1999, and my fourteenth overall. I've seen lots of cool stuff, met some interesting people. I attended a panel where Mark Hamill gathered several of his voice actor buddies for a movie he was making and I think I laughed far harder than at possibly any panel I've been to since. I saw Tenacious D play a small concert following a presentation on Peter Jackson's KING KONG. I shared a bathroom with Kiefer Sutherland when I ducked out of Ballroom 20 after a 24 panel one year. There's been so much more; too much to remember and list here.

Comic-Con isn't what it used to be, and there's a part of me that misses my first couple times there. I got into it right on the cusp of the explosion which transformed it into the mammoth entertainment trade show it's become. The convention is still a lot of fun, but it's fun in a different way. And I may never be able to go back to the thing as I remember it, but I'm not the same person I was fifteen years ago, so I don't think I could recapture that experience even if I were able to travel back in time. But all I really have to do is glance at that framed Doc Ock sketch on my wall. It's weird to say it, given all the much bigger spectacles and experiences I've been through since, but that simple piece of art and text makes me happier and provides warmer memories than anything else I've ever seen or done at Comic-Con since. I look at the thing and it all comes rushing back to me; the exhibit hall floor, the less-crowded convention center and downtown San Diego, the Marvel I used to love, just the whole experience in general.

But, while that memory may be the best, there are plenty more I've made and have yet to make. So tomorrow the annual trip begins, as it's off to San Diego with my wife to meet Chris, his wife and two kids, Brian, his wife and two kids, and our other friend Aaron and his wife and two kids at a rental house. I'll see if I can post a trip summary when I return.

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