Matt Dunford, Chairman of San Diego Comic Fest

San Diego Comic Fest, or as it calls itself, “The Friendly, Intimate Comic Convention Experience,” is just right around the corner. Comic Fest Chairman Matt Dunford has been making the social media rounds and doing some last-minute preparations. As usual, we at the The Beat checked in with him and inquired about the upcoming convention.

So Matt, did you even take a break from the last Comic Fest before beginning planning and doing the legwork for this year’s event?

Nope. We just jumped right into it. There were already things in mind for the 2018 show when you first interviewed me two years ago for 2017’s Comic Fest. We knew that 2018 was going to be a Frankenstein theme. And before we were jumping into that, Comic-Con founder and San Diego Comic Fest founder Mike Towry suggested, “Next year, I want to do for our theme the 50 years [anniversary] of the moon landing.” So, I said you know what, let’s go right into that. So really, I’ve been planning for this even before last year’s San Diego Comic Fest was even done. Unlike last year’s show, I had fourteen months to plan for it because we had gone from a February 2017 show to an April 2018 show. And now with this, we have gone from an April show to a March show, [leaving] less than a year to plan for this. That means we had to just jump right in and get the ball rolling.

Talking about the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon Landing, I’m looking here at some of the science-fiction guests that you have listed here, or as you have put them your “Killer B’s,” and I must say this is very impressive; Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, who is well-known for his and Larry Niven’s “Bowl of Heaven” and just had a new title come out recently called “Rewrite,” and David Brin who is a Nebula and Hugo Award winner. How did you land these guys?

The thing about the Killer B’s is that they’ve been staples for San Diego Comic Fest since the start. They’ve just been incredibly supportive. And of course I won’t put up a front and say I’m the most well-versed science fiction guy in the entire world. I’m more of a comic book guy. Fortunately, Mike is that science fiction guy, so he is always on the hunt for great guests for science fiction. The Killer B’s are always welcome and they always provide some great entertaining content. We are also ecstatic to have William Nolan be our Science Fiction Guest of Honor this year. He co-wrote Logan’s Run back in the day and authored more than 2,000 pieces of fiction. He’s pretty much won just about every science fiction award, even winning the Bram Stoker Award, and seemingly every lifetime achievement award. Now that he’s in his nineties and a World Horror Society Grand Master, we’re really fortunate to have him.

So, as you see, we definitely make sure to cater to the science fiction side of things, for those who are not comic book guys like me. We keep things focused as if it were the original comic conventions of the 1970’s, where it was the focus of comics, science fiction, film, and of course animation, because, you know, we all love cartoons.

Speaking of comic books, since this is after all “Comic Fest,” your guest of honor this year is Sergio Aragonés. Tell us about that.

I don’t think there’s a person alive who would debate the fact that Sergio Aragonés is the world’s greatest living cartoonist. So many industry giants look up to this man for his cartooning talent. The fact that he’s going to celebrate his 60th year at MAD Magazine with us, I could not be more thrilled to have him. Everyone loves his work. He’s so highly entertaining and funny. It just floored me when he actually said yes to being the guest of honor, because at the heart of it I’m still a fanboy and I do not know anyone on this planet that is not a fan of his work. To be able to highlight Sergio’s career and all that he’s done is immense and I cannot stop being excited about it.

Matt enjoying some of local artist Joe Philips’ work

Tell us more about the other guests that you have for the animation and comics side of things.

In recent years, we have brought in animator Willie Ito, famous for creating Hong Kong Phooey back in the 70’s, and also the man who animated the iconic spaghetti scene in the Disney movie Lady and the Tramp. This year, he has some friends that he’s bringing along; an animation writer from back in the day called Tony Benedict, writer for The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Top Cat, Huckelberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Magilla Gorilla, and pretty much everything Hanna-Barbera, as well as producer, animation storyboard artist, and pretty much guru of so many things at Hanna-Barbera Jerry Eisenberg. He worked on Wacky Races, Super Friends, The Jetsons, Jonny Quest, Space Ghost, and more. For these guys to be able to come out to the show and talk about that golden age of Hanna-Barbera, working with Hanna and Barbera, and working behind the scenes on things is just an opportunity that nobody should be missing.

How about some of your other guests, like John Semper, who is definitely not a new face to the convention, and the likes of James Robinson?

John Semper is of course no stranger to San Diego Comic Fest. As Chairmen [of Comic Fest], I have to take a step back from my personal fanboy and do things that I think would benefit the entire community. However, this is the year that I do get to step in with my personal fanboy and get to celebrate with John the 25th anniversary of the Spider-Man cartoon, which is my all-time favorite cartoon. John has been such a wonderful guest over the years, and he knows how important the Spider-Man: The Animated Series is to me and how important it is to our culture. How it essentially laid the groundwork for the Marvel cinematic universe that we know today. John featured Blade the vampire hunter on the Spider-Man cartoon after the character fell into obscurity for 20 years. Two years later, he’s got his own actual movie coming out. With this in mind, you pretty much see some of these pieces being taken out of Spider-Man: The Animated Series and into other films and other stories along the way. We’re even going to be doing a panel this year on the true origins of the Spider-verse. As much as I am a fan of the movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which was a phenomenal movie, the plot-points seem quite familiar. In fact, if you’re a fan of the animated series, you might recognize the plot is essentially “Spider War,” the final two episodes of the Spider-Man: The Animated Series. It’s really wonderful that John is preparing that talk and I’m really looking forward to it.

Another special guest that we’re looking forward to having is James Robinson. He’s nearly written for every major super hero character over the course of I think 30 years, but of those characters there’s actually one that’s going to be one very special in celebrating this year. That’s going to be the 25 years of Starman, which is arguably the best 90’s comic around, and I say that arguably. I know there’s going to be people who’ll want to fight me and say, “No! It’s Hellboy!” But that’s always open for debate and I love this talk. Anyone whose read James Robinson’s Starman knows its impact on comics for the time and how wonderful and how beautiful that story was.

I do want to talk a little bit about the venue for Comic Fest. In previous years, you’ve used the San Diego Towne and Country and that’s where the convention has really formed, or rather, taken shape. Couple of years ago you moved over to the Four Points by Sheraton, which I felt was a very good space. Last year you moved back to the Towne and Country, but again this year you’re going back to the Four Points. How has this changed the convention for this year?

Of course it’s a shift-up. You grow up in one space, then you try out another one, but then you go back to another one. I think we’ve just found a good home at the Four Points by Sheraton. That venue works better for us, much easier to orient for fans, and gives us a great layout to present our convention. I just got back from taking in a “lay-of-the-land” and taking to staff on things and I’ve told them our plans for how things could be carried out for the event. We had a trial run at this venue two years ago, but this time we get to approach things from a perfected stance. So, we will have a full-fledged dealer hall in the back and cosplayers can come out and enjoy the rest of the resort area and fountains and gazebos and open fields next to the golf area. This provides a whole-lot of room to move. Things may have felt a little confined two years ago, but we were also dealing with a lot of rain. Also, we really couldn’t use that venue last year because it had been going through some maintenance issues. Since then, the roofs have been fixed, they’ve presented a new bar area for the café that we always have. The layout is now much prettier, much more focused, and much more stable and better for Comic Fest.

Another major issue two years ago was the lack of available parking. How has that since been improved?

We worked out a nice deal with National University down the block so we can use their facilities for parking. I think that will alleviate issues from before.

One of my favorite aspects of the Four Points venue was that dedicated theater they had. Will you be able to use it again this year?

Absolutely. Some of the programs you can look forward to there, which has about 200 seats, are some great entertainment from new performance arts. We’ve actually got a Hugo nominated performer who does a one-man Twilight Zone act and it is very good. There will also be other related programming since this is the 60th anniversary of the Twilight Zone. You can expect to see Arlen Schumer, who was one of the most prolific voices of San Diego Comic Fest, coming back for a four-series visual lecture on the 60th anniversary of the Twilight Zone, as well as a visual lecture of the artwork of Jim Steranko and Captain America and 50 years of Neal Adams on Batman. I also plan to run some of those all-night serials of old Batman films from the 40’s, because they are always widely entertaining. They’re so bad that they’re good. You can’t turn away.

Finally, what are some of your hopes for this year’s Comic Fest?

I hope that you’ll take the opportunity to come out and have a great time. I want everyone to be informed, entertained, and know that I’m really dedicated toward putting together some amazing programming catered towards the fans. Whether you’re fans of comics, animation, or film, it’s just something for everyone. Come say hi to Sergio and meet the world’s-greatest-living cartoonist. Come and hang out with Allen Bellman, our golden age comics special guest. Bring the entire family around, because we do have something for everyone. Overall, I just want people to have fun and enjoy things in a relaxed and intimate environment. There’s no pressure. It’s all about fun here.

San Diego Comic Fest is March 7th to 10th at the Four Points by Sheraton. For those interested in attending, visit their website at SDCOMICFEST.ORG.