Comic-Con 2001: A Pro's Eye View

Danny Fingeroth recounts the San Diego Comic-Con, an event that has grown to include not only the best of the comic book scene, but also the coolest Hollywood talent and inside scoops and previews.

It doesn't get much bigger than the Con! All images are © Comic-Con International, 2001.

You're in one of the most beautiful cities in the country, known far and wide for its breathtaking scenery and the perfection of its climate. But you never actually go outdoors or have any sunlight touch your body. Instead of expertly prepared nouvelle California cuisine, you find yourself subsisting on very mediocre pizza and hotdogs.

You must be attending Comic-Con.

Comics conventions are unique among professional gatherings. Civilians aren't allowed into New York's Licensing Show, for instance, or L.A.'s E3, or into most trade shows and conferences. Certainly not civilian children. But at Comic-Con, fans and pros mix, the lines between them blurring. Last year's eager fan is this year's hotshot pro. And vice versa.

Any given individual's experience of the Con is just that: individual. As you could no more say what New York or L.A. is like from one visit to one part of town, so it is with Comic-Con. Comic-Con is actually like a small city, in a way, a sort of Woodstock for comics and pop culture folks, without the mud, but with the overpriced bad food.

That said, I thought it was a great show this year. Ostensibly, I was there to expand my contacts and my client base for my writing, development and consulting work. That means my goal was to take in as many panels and events as I could dealing with areas I'd like to become more involved with and knowledgeable about.

But of course, as a comics reader since age five, let's face it, I was gonna do my share of geeking out. I mean, come on, Irwin Donnenfeld was there -- the son of one of the founders of DC Comics. This is a guy who, at age 12, his dad shows him some art boards and says: "There's this thing called Superman we're thinking of publishing. Give it a read and tell me what you think." Talk about being there at the creation. This is just one of the many great panels mc'd by Mark Evanier, the god of us geeks. Thanks for the Donnenfeld panel and all the other incredible events, Mark. (And for answering a question I had about the Marx Brothers a couple of months ago, too.)

Alvin Schwartz was another rarely seen old pro, who wrote many early DC Comics and Superman and Batman newspaper strips. He left the industry way, way back to become a novelist and advertising man, but he, too, was there when the biz began, when things we take for granted were just starting. To a third generation pro like myself, these folks are the Lumiere Brothers and Orson Welleses of our business. In addition, they present an alternate-universe take on the lives of our parents and grandparents, almost as if they came from a scene in Michael Chabon's Kavalier and Clay novel.

Speaking of whom, Chabon, himself, was at Comic-Con, too. In one panel, he and the legendary creator of The Spirit, Will Eisner, dialogued. Will was as brilliant and articulate as ever, and the Pulitzer-winning Chabon showed himself to be a true comics fan (as if there was nay doubt), as well as a charming and intelligent guy. I'll try not to hate him too much for writing the novel I -- and every other comics pro -- wanted to write.

Cartoon Network let fans meet the folks behind Space Ghost: Coast to Coast! and get sneak peeks of Samurai Jack and The Justice League.

More often then not, there were two or even three simultaneous events I wanted to attend. Even the geek/pro rule of thumb wasn't always useful in determining what I would go to. Sometimes it was as simple as deciding that if a hotshot I wanted to meet was holding a panel and 3,000 people were in attendance, it was unlikely I was going to meet him or her in that context, so I'd be better off hitting a medium-shot's more sparsely attended panel. Often, if there was someone I thought I could meet home in NY, I'd go instead to see someone more L.A. or wherever based.

The Con, while the most heavily attended ever, seemed less crowded than in years past. I think they rented more space, and left wider aisles. It became less of an ordeal to traverse the convention floor. There seemed to be fewer kids than in previous years, which I find distressing, since they are the future of comics. Ya gotta hook 'em young.

Comic-Con is where professionals in a wide variety of entertainment media come face-to-face with their public, and vice versa. With its proximity to Los Angeles, plenty of Hollywood folks make their way down to the Con. Hollywood people come looking for the Next Big Thing. They are forever in search of talent and ideas. Which is why, fan or pro, it's a good idea to strike up conversations with people next to you at events or on a line. They might be someone whose work you've admired for years. Or they might be a fan of yours. They might be a source for your next gig, or your next date. For me, this was the highlight, meeting up with old friends and colleagues, meeting new people, catching up on gossip and news. Fan or pro, you feel like you're somehow part of this Great American pop Culture Machine.

Will you get to meet Steven Spielberg there? Probably not. Will you get face time with some of your favorite artists as they sit in Artists' Alley? Yup. Will you hear stories of the old days from people who may have been just names on a credits box or in a history book before? Definitely. Will you get a better deal from a retailer on the Con floor than you will on the Internet? There's a good chance, especially if you shop the last hour of the last day of the show, when dealers are packing up and eager to unload stuff.

And, of course, there are parties, awards shows, gaming sessions, and informal gabathons at bars and restaurants. Or if people aren't your thing and you want to just spend all day and night watching movies, that's there, too.

My biggest disappointment? I went to the autograph booth where Edd "Kookie" Byrnes was supposed to be signing (if you don't know who he is, there's no point asking). But Kookie wasn't there. People said they saw him, but he wasn't around when I was! There were plenty of other folks giving out their John Hancocks, though, including Kevin Smith, Joss Whedon, Julie Schwartz, John Romita (Jr. & Sr.), Greg Rucka, Michael Chabon and Brian Bendis. And these are just some of the official signers. Anyone you bump into at the ATM is a bonus. (Generally, however, it's considered bad form to ask for an autograph in the restroom.)

San Diego is a great city. There are beaches and restaurants and clubs. There's Coronado Island. There's the Zoo. I've been to these places. They're very nice. But the real reason to come to Comic-Con is the people and the hoopla. You meet old friends, make new ones, find original art and back issues of comics. You essentially get to spend time in an atmosphere where comics and anime and science fiction are not just tolerated, but extolled and admired, where you are not the oddball but one of a community that loves many of the same things you do. You come home exhausted but energized, whether your aim is to create the next X-Men or to read the next X-Men.

Go to the Con's Masquerade Ball! Can you name all of the animated stars depicted?

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Writer, editor and story expert Danny Fingeroth was a mainstay at Marvel Comics for many years where he ran the Spider-Man editorial line, consulted on the Fox Kids Network Spider-Man animated series and wrote many adventures of Spider-Man, Darkhawk and the immortal Dazzler. Danny has also written the Superman: Menace of Metallo Multipath Movie for DC and BDE, which appears on warnerbros.com, as well as prose novels and short stories. He started and led Virtual Comics for Byron Press Multimedia and AOL, where he co-created the Virtual line of comics. Most recently, he was Senior VP for Creative Development at Visionary Media, home of the Flash-animated sensation, WhirlGirl.

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