I went to the San Diego ComicCon twice, in a row, but it was back when I was a teenager in 1994 and 1995, and I had no idea what to expect. It was a big deal back then, no doubt, but it was a different kind of big deal than it is now, having completely redefined the term in the interim. However, at its heart, the convention operates on the same guiding principles: meet your idols, buy stuff you don’t need, and also get free stuff you don’t need. The first year I went, I only did so for the most obvious goal: to have books signed by my hero, Image Comics founder and penciller extraordinaire, Jim Lee. I was 13 the first year I went, so I certainly had no money to spend on wares––I also was under the self-deprecating ideal that any of the “important” comics that I wanted I would never be able find at a price I could afford. It was only until I got there that I realized the third guiding principal––free stuff––was a thing at all, but that was a bonus and never a reason to drive the six hours every year.
In 1994, the Image Comics revolution was about as big as it could get and I proudly joined that movement, having followed Jim Lee from Marvel’s X-Men to his creator-owned X-Men-adjacent title, WildC.A.T.s. I played the dutiful acolyte, standing in line. It took two hours, and with every step my excitement crested and waned as the optimistic aspect of my personality wrestled with the defeatist. By the time I got to Jim Lee, my psyche was exhausted and all I could do was hand him books with a shaky hand and ask questions, none of which I really remember.
|Presenting Jim Lee with the mystery card.|
I wanted desperately for him to reveal that it was akin to Wonka’s golden ticket and it meant that I was chosen from millions for bigger and better things, an heir to be trained for rule...over comics. Instead, Jim Lee did his best to come up with an answer that wasn’t just, “I don’t know,” and, as he did so, fumbled with the card in its hard plastic case. Failing to open it and needing to move things along, with a few flicks of his wrist, he signed the case and handed it back to me and thanked me for stopping by.
|The spoils of my ComicCon (the card is still in storage somewhere).|
“That Final Fantasy series is a good one,” the heavy-breathing man behind the counter said.
“What is it?” my friend and I asked.
“It’s a cartoon based on Final Fantasy.”
Being rather familiar with the franchise, we asked the most logical question.
“Which one what?”
“Which Final Fantasy is it based on?”
“I don’t know,” he said, and that rhetoric was good enough for us (for what it's worth, it is a loose sequel to the events of Final Fantasy V).
|High "quality" reproductions.|
Almost as soon as I walked away from Jim Lee’s table clutching my signed books the curtains of comic book fandom closed behind me. I had achieved more than I had ever thought was possible––I had climbed the mountain and returned with tablets marked with the words of god himself (in my teenage eyes). Any further goals I could have crafted for myself as a comic book fan would only be shadow puppets in comparison. In that vacuum, however, ComicCon filled the void. It’s not an encampment to keep the heathens out. It is a place to gather and see what else our faith can consume, which is what makes the modern ComicCon so impressive––our faith has consumed the entire world.
ComicCon may have grown and changed from what it was in the past; it may have even become an event that we feel doesn’t welcome us anymore. But––back in the fabled “good old days”––I took from ComicCon what I wanted, but it was also there for me when I needed it, and now I see that the whole world wants what I had because they realize that the heart of ComicCon is not comics, or movies, or television shows, or toys––it’s about getting what you want and finding what you need, even if you didn’t know you were looking for it . At its best, ComicCon is a transformative experience so many people are chasing because that’s what they heard it could be, and they heard that from people like us. I can’t argue with that, and I can’t discourage it even if it’s not somewhere I want to be anymore.