Dennis O’Neil: The Fanatic Conclave
File this under: If the tail wags the dog for long enough, does the tail become the dog? Part I.
But first, a little reminiscence.
I had been in the comic book business less than six months, maybe not much more than one month, when I attended my first comics convention at the invitation of Flo Steinberg, known as “Fabulous Flo” during Marvel’s formative days. The event was held in the gym of the McBurney YMCA on 23rd Street in Manhattan. The guest of honor was Buster Crabbe. I don’t think I’d seen any of his filmed work yet, but somewhere I’d learned that he had done some comics-derived movie serials and that made him a celebrity and I guess I was impressed, not having met many celebrities.
I don’t know how many fans attended — surely fewer than a hundred, plus a small cadre of comics professionals. At some point during the afternoon, I found myself on stage with these gentlemen, whose work I had enjoyed as a kid and the hem of whose garments I should have been touching. Instead, if memory serves (and I’m afraid it does) I pontificated on the writing of comics scripts. I could not possibly have known much more than a paragraph’s worth of information on the topic, but that didn’t stop me from blabbering.
Maybe I should have had a career in politics.
Anyway, I recall it as an amusing Sunday, but not a significant one.
A few years later, I attended my first San Diego con. If you’ve been to that show in the last couple of decades, you may be picturing a gigantic convention center bordered by a fancy-shmancy marina and some impressive, glass-and-stainless-steel buildings. That’s the current SD wingding. But back then, it was convened in a smallish inland hotel that might have been at home in a Raymond Chandler story. It was kind of raucous, and fun, and featured one of the most astonishing virtuoso performances I’ve ever seen.
During the awards dinner the great Sergio Aragonés stood at the side of the platform with a large drawing pad on an easel and, as the emcee gave his little intros, Sergio drew cartoons illustrating the speeches. It was all, I’m pretty sure, ad lib, on the part of both the emcee and Sergio and, as noted above, an astonishing display of quick thinking, wit, and cartooning ability.
I don’t know how many of us attended the con. I’d be surprised if there were more than 500. Which, come to think of it, might have made it a pretty big deal.
For then. Not for now. The last time I did the San Diego show — in 1999? — more than 70,000 fans showed up, and I’ve worked conventions in Mexico City which accommodated more than 100,000 attendees.
Which brings us to the recent Second Annual New York Comicon. I’m not sure how many fans and professionals finally attended; I was there for a few hours on Saturday, the second of the three days the show ran, and someone guessed that at that point the attendance had about doubled that of the First Annual New York Comicon, which would have put in the neighborhood of 60,000-plus. Which is a pretty crowded neighborhood indeed and a long way from a Y gymnasium.
And, you might be asking, this has exactly what to do with the first paragraph of this meandering…the tail-wagging-the-dog stuff? Well! For that you’ve got to return next week.
Be aware that we professional wordsmiths call this a “cliffhanger ending.” And please forgive my pontificating. Again.
This week’s Recommended Reading: Letters to a Christian Nation, by Sam Harris.
Dennis O’Neil is an award-winning writer of comic books like Batman, The Question, Iron Man and Green Lantern and/or Green Arrow, all kinds of novels (such as his most recent, Helltown), stories and articles. These days he also teaches and acts kind of embarrassed if you ask him for his autograph.