Once upon a time, there wasn’t a San Diego Comic-Con.
Some would mark this period as “The Dark Ages of Conventions” (those being myself). It was in this “long-long ago” (1970) that a collection of comic, movie, and science fiction fans came together and formed a small and intimate convention that would someday grow to become Comic-Con International.
Why am I speaking in fairytale talk? It’s rather befitting given the grandness of San Diego Comic-Con now. It is hard to imagine one of the largest popular media events of the year, which takes up almost all of downtown San Diego and boasted an attendance of roughly 167,000 people in 2015, as once fitting it’s then 300 attendees into a small section of the U.S. Grant Hotel. The mustard seed that was San Diego’s Golden State Comic-Con since then has sprouted into the gigantic San Diego Comic-Con.
The story doesn’t have an entirely “happy-ending” though, mostly because there isn’t an ending. The convention has indeed prospered and grown, but much of the same fans who have watched it expand over the years have expressed their displeasures with it as well. From complaints ranging anywhere from the heavy “Hollywood” presence to the sheer numbers of attendees, they feel like they have lost something once intimate. To them, the original focus of Comic-Con is long gone.
It was from this pining for the early days of San Diego Comic-Con that Mike Towry (early co-founder of SDCC) and other fans agreed that something was to be done. This something was the beginning of San Diego Comic Fest in 2012. The “second convention”, produced by fans for fans, has placed an emphasis on the personal interface between creators and fans, as well as fans with other fans. Since then, the convention has been growing steadily.
Do we really need a “second – Comic-Con” though? Comic Fest may not boast the large exposure, big names, and huge crowds of Comic-Con, but in the same realm Comic-Con doesn’t have the intimate, personal connection that Comic Fest offers. I’ve been sad to witness over the years the small vendors and artist alley itself shrinking little-by-little at Comic-Con. Each of the conventions provide something that the other lacks. And let’s face it, Comic-Con isn’t for everyone either. That doesn’t mean fans should be turned away from celebrating what they love. Comic Fest is that experience to simply be a fan.
This year marks Comic Fest’s 5th anniversary, and to celebrate the date the fan-run convention has a number of things planned. During SDCF’s days of February 17th to the 20th, the convention will celebrate Jack Kirby’s centennial birthday with special programming and a “Kirby Café”, salute the 25th anniversary of “X-Men: The Animated Series”, feature Guest of Honor Jim Valentino, and more.
Whether you’re a fan of the early-years of Comic-Con, wish to relive how it would have been, or want to connect personally with creators and other fans alike, don’t miss out on this weekend’s 5th annual San Diego Comic Fest (and yes, now we lived happily-ever after).
Visit www.sdcomicfest.org for more information.
Nicholas Eskey is an avid reader and writer. When not contributing to The Beat, he works on his personal projects, the latest being a fantasy novel called “My Personable Demon.” He lives in San Diego, California, and is frequently bossed around by his cat.