Frames of Time...
061_04 - San Diego Comic Con #1
My first comic convention experience was one day at a Houston comic convention in 1969. I flew down for one day and flew back that night. My next convention was the gigantic Multi-Con in Oklahoma city. I went for the entire event, sharing a ride and room with some Dallas friends, including author (and future store owner) Buddy Saunders and author Larry Herndon. More on those cons later.
In those days, the "big" comic con was the New York Comic Con held over the 4th of July weekend. Probably second were the triumphant of Houston/Dallas/Oklahoma City that rotated locations. The West Coast was considered pretty barren in con terms, even though Hollywood hosted several famous used comic shops.
Upon hearing about "The Golden State Comic-Con" in San Diego, I made plans to attend. Still not a driver, I decided to bus down to the con. I also purchased a dealer's table. I had no items to sell, but my friends back in Dallas were bidding for the 1973 World Science Fiction Convention. They shipped me a batch of posters (with art by the late, great George Barr), buttons and flyers. Dallas picked up the cost of the table and shipping. And, in true convention fashion, a free badge came with a table!
I arrived the Friday morning of the con and was horrified to find the "close" bus station was really around 8 blocks from the con hotel, the U.S. Grant. Not a terrible walk... lest one has a suitcase and several boxes of posters. It took me several hours to get there.
The convention, itself, was of moderate size. I have heard ranges of 300-500 attendees. (Not a bad start, considering the longer running Midwest cons were getting around 1000.) Guests included Forrest J. Ackerman, who has attended most of the following San Diego Comic-Cons and Mike Royer, whose credits at that point were as inker for Jack Kirby. Future distributor Bud Plant had a table there, giving me my first real look at "underground comics". Others I have heard of being there include Scott Shaw! and Mark Evanier.
This was my first con "behind" a table, and I found it to be an excellent way to handle a con, if you can afford it. Having a base of operations makes so many other aspects easy. When you have a table, the con comes to you. You find almost everyone will eventually walk by, giving you a chance to chat.
As the first day ended, the convention folk discovered a major security issue. It was found that the dealers' room doors could not be locked. Since there were a number of dealers who could not conveniently take all their goods to their rooms, the committee was looking for suggestions. It was proposed that several of the dealers sleep in front of the doors at night. If someone tried to come in, the doors would bump the sleeping guards.
I volunteered and, being associated with another convention group, was put on the security staff. So I slept my first nights at a San Diego Comic-Con of the floor in front of the doors of the dealers' room. Of course, to me it was a boon. Not only had my badge been free with a table paid for Dallas, now I didn't need to rent a hotel room!
When the con ended, I had made a few contacts with folks who lived up in the Los Angeles area. (Orange County was still largely Disneyland and orange trees.) However, I had not sold a lot of posters, so had the arduous task of having to lug them back to the bus station.
I have seen the event grow from the U.S. Grant to the University of California at San Diego (a most fun con with a circular dealers tables from the cafeteria and cheap room rates in the dorm, with a bathroom on every floor), to even larger hotels to the San Diego Exhibition Center and finally the San Diego Convention center. The con has grown from just comic dealers, to exhibits by publishers and studios. In fact, by the late 1970s, the San Diego Comic-Con eclipsed New York as the premiere comic convention in the U.S., and probably the world.
No longer a haven for guests from Southern California (I remember the year when everyone was thrilled to hear New Yorker, Carmine Infantino would be coming), the con hosts talent from around the world. Thanks to San Diego, I've had the chance to say "hello" to everyone from all American, Charles Schulz to the king of Anime & Manga, Osamu Tezuka.
The cons have gotten bigger. The selection has gotten bigger. The guests have gotten bigger. The fans have gotten... more aggressive.
Since that historic first appearance at what has become Comic-Con International, I have attended as a dealer, a fan, a speaker and a guest. I was even given one of their "golden passes", which is supposedly life-long. (I often wondered if I showed it at a Comic Con International registrar if they would even know what it is.) I have only missed a few, usually due to scheduling conflicts.
Even though I am no longer into collecting, I still can not resist looking through a box of comics, checking out some old toys or looking at someone whose name I recognize from a variety of media. After 35 years, cons are still fun!
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