You know how you’re always reading about how great the first Comic-Con in San Diego was with everyone sitting around the pool at the El Cortez while throwing rubber duckies at Jack Kirby and Ray Bradbury? Well some of the surviving founders of SDCC have gotten together to put on an old-timey show called The San Diego Comic Fest, to be held October 19-21 at the San Diego Town & Country Resort and Convention Center. The guest list consists of some people who were actually at the first cons in the ’70s, including George Clayton Johnson, Jackie Estrada, Mark Evanier, Murphy Anderson, Ron Turner, and Tim Powers.
We can attest that listening to George Clayton Johnson is an authentic early Comic-Con experience, so if you want a slow-paced, intimate chat fest, this show is for you!
Several founders and other early organizers of the San Diego Comic-Con have reunited to organize an old-school comic con with a friendly atmosphere and an intimate scale. The San Diego Comic Fest will be October 19-21 at the San Diego Town & Country Resort and Convention Center.
“The specific occasion is the 40th anniversary of the first San Diego Comic-Con held at the El Cortez Hotel,” says Mike Towry, a founder of the San Diego Comic-Con and chair of the convention at the El Cortez in 1972. “That con set the pattern for a string of memorable Comic-Cons throughout the rest of the 1970s. For many long-time attendees, the El Cortez cons are a fondly-remembered golden age of Comic-Con.”
About a year ago, Comic-Con founders began talking about the pending anniversary. The San Diego Comic Fest was born out of those discussions.
“I envision the Fest as a fun, casual, friendly and quirky con like the ones that were at the El Cortez,” says Towry. “There was a real sense of community at the old cons and, I think, a certain sense of ownership that the attendees felt, that it was really their event.”
The Comic Fest organizing committee plans to hold a convention of up to 1,000 attendees – roughly the attendance at the 1972 Comic-Con – that fosters the spirit of those early fan gatherings. The Fest intends to bring professional writers and artists together with fans in an environment of creative exchange, much as the El Cortez-era Comic-Cons did. (Unfortunately, the El Cortez is unavailable as a convention site, but the Town and Country has served as the venue for many local fan-run conventions.)
To help foster this kind of social experience, the Comic Fest will re-create the Café Frankenstein, a beatnik-era “European coffee house” that will feature musicians, artists and assorted bohemians who will open the minds and delight the senses of patrons. The Café will serve as a place where fans and creators can mingle and hang out in a casual, personal atmosphere, and it will offer a great cup of coffee and snacks, too. Author and screenwriter George Clayton Johnson (Twilight Zone, Star Trek, Ocean’s 11, Logan’s Run), co-owner of the Café from 1958 to 1960, will be storyteller in residence.
The Comic Fest also will pay tribute to people who made important contributions to the early Comic-Cons and fandom in general, especially those who have not received the public recognition they deserve. These people include the late Ken Krueger and Richard Alf, both of whom were instrumental to Comic-Con’s early success. The convention will honor Krueger by staging several “pay-it-forward” sessions with professionals who he mentored; the information conveyed should be valuable to aspiring writers and artists. Convention attendees can celebrate Alf’s life with a big party on Saturday night (October 20).
The Comic Fest guests of honor are:
♣ Jackie Estrada, guest of honor, a writer and editor who has attended every San Diego Comic-Con and has been a Comic-Con committee member since 1975. She has been the administrator of the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, comics’ most prestigious awards program, since 1990.
♣ Mark Evanier, fan guest of honor, a comics fan since the 1950s, a comics writer since the 1960s and a television writer since the 1970s. He probably is best known in comics for writing Groo, an award-winning humor title created by Evanier’s friend, Sergio Aragonés, in 1982.
♣ Murphy Anderson, comics guest of honor, one of the premier artists of the comic book Silver Age who helped to define the look of such super-heroes as Adam Strange, Flash, Atom, Batman and Superman.
♣ Ron Turner, comix guest of honor, who began publishing underground comics (known as comix) under the Last Gasp imprint in 1970, the same year as the first San Diego Comic-Con. Last Gasp continues to publish “unusual and extraordinary high quality books” to this day.
♣ Tim Powers, science fiction guest of honor, the author of 13 novels, including The Anubis Gates, one of the core Steampunk novels; On Stranger Tides, the basis for the Disney movie Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides; and Hide Me Among the Graves, his most recent novel.
Other creators who have confirmed they will attend the Comic Fest include Greg Bear (multiple Hugo and Nebula Award winning science-fiction author), Jim Valentino (publisher and co-founder of Image Comics), Michael Gross (National Lampoon art director, producer of such films as Heavy Metal, Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II), Katy Haber (executive producer of Blade Runner), George Gladir (creator of Sabrina the Teenage Witch), Bill Morrison (art director and co-founder with Matt Groening of Bongo Comics).
In the spirit of the Comic-Cons of the 1970s, Comic Fest will offer individual talks, slide shows and panel discussions on comics, science fiction and other related fields; a dealers room; an art show; and film screenings.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.