Comic Fest is now the true comic convention

Kevin Smead, Entertainment Editor

Kevin Smead, Entertainment Editor

by Kevin Smead

I’m willing to bet there is something in your life you would consider yourself a fan of. Be it baseball, movies or even something more off the wall such as collecting coffee mugs, fandom is an experience universally shared among human beings. However, not all fans are created equal. Some are dedicated to their object of fandom, as it defines some portion of their life. Others are passing observers, acting as surface dwellers on a much deeper sea. This past weekend’s San Diego Comic Fest was comprised nearly entirely of the former.

Many attendees were devout to the cause they came to represent, whether comics, art or collecting. Those in attendance displayed love for the various comic-related art forms in a variety of ways, all of them wonderful and entirely sincere. Stepping into the dealer room, Comic Fest was clearly made by the fans, for the fans.

The background of this festival’s debut seems quite simple, though upon attending, it’s clear there is a much richer history than initially apparent. Comic Fest was organized by some of the original founders of what is now Comic-Con International. These are artists and writers who were fans themselves and decided to come together and celebrate fandom and the media they love. In recent years, Comic-Con evolved from a smaller convention for those heavily invested in the comic arts, to a mass-media free-for- all, complete with “Twilight” panels and plenty of other popular activities not pertaining to comics.

Please don’t assume I am a grumpy old man; I promise I’m not. I grew up going to Comic-Con and still love it. Hell, I went this year and had a great time. Comic-Con is just such a different experience than it once was; it’s almost unfair to compare it to the days of yore when it was at the El Cortez hotel. This was a time when attendees could talk to all of their favorite writers and artists and maybe even make a few friends.

Now, it seems there is a physical line or an unspoken barrier separating the fans from everything they love at Comic-Con. This year, I waited in line for a good 20 minutes to have award-winning sci-fi author Greg Bear sign a copy of his new “Halo” spin-off book at Comic-Con. Now, I have no interest in “Halo” and no intention of reading this book. I just wanted to shake Greg Bear’s hand and tell him thanks for inspiring in me a deep- seeded love for science fiction.

At Comic Fest, Bear sat in the recreation of Café Frankenstein, having coffee with Hugo Award-winning author and former San Diego State professor Vernor Vinge, listening to another writer talk about his upcoming story as I listened in. The whole thing felt very casual, as if this wasn’t one of my biggest influences several feet away from me.

Perhaps the most inspiring and most encapsulating words came from George Clayton Johnson, the original founder of Café Frankenstein, an old coffee shop in Laguna Beach where some original Comic-Con folks hung out. He spoke about how being a fan made him who he is and how fandom makes it worthwhile for artists and their admirers. Speaking before him, Earl Terry Kemp claimed this level of fandom has been missing from Comic-Con since the late ‘90s.

I hesitate to use the word “missing,” because I don’t think it is. The focus changed and I don’t think it will ever be like it once was. However, thankfully, that’s what Comic Fest is for. People can come together and talk about their passions with equally passionate people. This is what being a fan is all about; making connections, making friends.

This first Comic Fest captured that completely, and it will prove interesting what direction the convention takes in subsequent years. For those still in need of a serious fan fix, there’s always ConDor to look forward to in the spring. For now, may you nerd out in peace and may Batman, pulp magazines and bins upon bins of Golden Age comics watch over you all.