Then and Now
So I survived a one-day trip to the San Diego ComicCon. I rather expected to be bummed out, as happened previously. Instead I had a great time. The reason? I reconnected with two old friends and coworkers I hadn't seen in nearly 15 years. One was Stefan Martiniere, genius illustrator and computer-game art director; the other Ricardo Delgado, ace of screen, print and fossil records. It was such a pleasure talking with them that I felt elated the rest of the day.
I had half-hoped I'd run into fellow bloggers like Joakim Gunnarson. Having made no advance plans and given that the convention center didn't do paging, I didn't stumble into any of them. At least I finally got to meet Don Rosa. "I've admired your work for years." "Thanks. And you're...who?"
I first attended the Con back when it was at the El Cortez Hotel. Its attendees were 99% fanboys. Today, as everyone knows, the Con's a cross between a trade show and an advertising spectacular. All the big media companies roll out their latest and biggest products in hopes of sparking positive word-of-mouth. All the little companies try hard to look like big companies. And everybody wants to sell you something. It's mind-boggling: books, clothes, weapons, statuettes, posters, prints, DVD's, and on and on. At ComicCon you'll see more ways to present violent images of nearly-naked, huge-breasted women than you imagined existed.
It's both ironic and sad that the Dealers--once the mainstays of comics-related enterprise--have been relegated to a tiny ghetto at one extremity of the hall. One still finds long cardboard boxes full of bagged comics (much more expensive than they used to be, of course!), but now selling used comics is a quaint sideline. ComicCon today is about comic book characters, to be sure, but not about comic books themselves. Other livelier media have overtaken them.
Other livelier marketers have overtaken the dealers, too. The really desirable old comics are hermetically sealed in plastic crypts which treble their value but make them difficult to read. Prices on primo original art have risen so high that I can't even feel sorry about being unable to afford them (e.g. paperback cover art for $30,000). Above everything towers Heritage Auctions, whose huge display included priceless Golden Age comics and an enormous (real) safe.
I was surprised there weren't more full-out geeks. There were plenty of shoppers, but the number of hardcore decked-out costumed sword-toting fanatics was small. This may have been due to the convention's recent policy of selling all tickets in advance. No more spur-of-the-moment "Hey, let's put on our Star Wars shirts and stand in line for three hours to get into the Con!" Advance buyers tend to be older, more organized, more goal-oriented, and more affluent than your typical middle-school geek. Still there were enough underclad lovelies wandering around to make it worth cleaning my glasses (not too underclad, though; the convention has rules about that sort of thing).
Amidst the din of the media promoting games, movies, comics, and web series, anyone with half a brain could hardly miss the theme informing most of them: sexualized violence. If you'd taken away the images of bloodthirsty seminude women holding huge weapons and those of terrified seminude women being tortured or butchered, the entire Con would have fit into the local Denny's. But more of this in another post.
When I'd had enough Con, I wandered around downtown. San Diego is a visually delicious city. Many of its oldest buildings were saved from development (mostly thanks to the town's reputation as a shabby Navy port) until people appreciated them again. A neighborhood of nineteenth-century structures has been sanitized under the name "The Gaslight District." Like most Old Towns the district is filled with restaurants, bars, and upscale boutiques. A wine bar seems to occupy every other corner. Conspicuously absent were the drunken sailors. In fact, during an entire afternoon's stroll I didn't spot a single uniformed Navy man, drunk or sober. I don't know where the sailors party these days, but it sure isn't in the Gaslight District. Most of the patrons of the sidewalk bars were young, hip-looking men and women with expensive watches and television wardrobes. They probably live in the many condos filling the area's old office buildings.
But old San Diego wasn't far away. You could still turn a corner and catch a faceful of the aroma of sewage, beer and urine. A block beyond the Gaslight District's border, homeless men idled in front of hollow-eyed office buildings that had thus far resisted gentrification. Here were the dollar stores, the (sleazy, non-hip) tattoo parlors, and the mini-marts. The all-night cheapie theaters, though, are all gone. Like the waves on the nearby ocean, affluence in San Diego ebbs and flows.
Next: Girls, Gore, and G-Strings!