MIKE GOLD: Getting Nostalgic For Nostalgia
As these very words see the dawn of a new week, I shall be at home packing my ComicMix shirts for the San Diego Comic Con International. It’s the most important event in the comics year. Really; don’t read that with any sarcasm because I mean that. I agree with every word Michael Davis wrote in his column last Friday the 13th: it’s a hell of an effort, it’s a hell of a show, it’s a huge event.
But I can’t help but get a little nostalgic for the old comic book shows, where the primary focus was on comic books as a hobby and an art form. These days, most of Hollywood and all of New York moves out for the SDCC; it’s a massive business. Meetings, negotiations, mega-promotions, dealers dealing comic books made unreadable by being embalmed in plastic to other dealers for very high-stakes, lawyers, agents, managers, suppliers… it gets to be overwhelming.
My first national conventions were back in New York in the late 1960s, where the sainted Phil Seuling created the model for the comic book comic book convention. When I was involved with the Chicago Comicon (now Wizard World Chicago) back in 1976 – 1985, I shamelessly ripped off Phil’s format and approach; thankfully, he saw that as a tribute. It was a different world then.
As I recall, I was at the first Seuling show to crack the 300 barrier. That’s 300 fans. Today, San Diego has more than 300 pros in attendance. Hell, it’s got more than 300 lawyers in attendance. Back then, most of us were amazed there were so many of us all over the nation. For the first time, we realized we were not alone. We weren’t that unusual. Comics were not hip; hell, from a real-world point of view, they weren’t even very profitable. This was before the direct sales market – we have Phil to thank for that, too – and comic book stores only sold back-issues. There were no action figures or posters or alternate covers; in fact, there wasn’t much of an original art market as neither DC nor Marvel returned the art in those days.
As a young fan, I was exposed to older fans’ nostalgia. I read The Spirit and Justice Society, and I met people who gave me access to Milton Caniff and to The Shadow and to old time radio and movie serials and other relics of The Greatest Generation’s lost youth. Guys like Jim Steranko and Al Williamson would personally turn me on to great artists and concepts and projects. I was exposed to America’s popular culture history, and it was great fun.
So, every year around this time, I get a little nostalgic for the great days of nostalgia.
There’s no question that we need a big business show like SDCC, and since they do such a damn good job of it, there’s no better show for that format. I find myself enjoying the smaller (in the sense that Wrigley Field is smaller than Yankee Stadium) shows where I can feel like a fan for at least a couple hours: the Baltimore Comic-Con in September, the Mid-Ohio Convention in November, Charlotte’s Heroes Convention in June. As I’ve said before, my favorite is the MoCCA small press / self-publishing show in New York – the energy in the awesome Puck Building can light Manhattan. These are all remarkable efforts, and I strongly recommend you check them out when you can.
I realize that for most of you who pay for your admission out of your own pocket, the SDCC is a wonderful, even amazing event. It’s fun to gawk at the stars, be they from comics, movies, television, or investment banking. To this I say, Crom bless. Enjoy. There’s nothing quite like it in America, and heck, a couple cans of Red Bull and you’re good to go for the run.
For me, the personal pleasure I receive from this year’s San Diego Comic Con International will be from seeing friends I don’t get to see at the other seven thousand shows I attend each year. Many of them are not in the media business – or, at least, not any more. Most of them come from friendships that were forged at comic book conventions long ago, including in San Diego. The good folks at SDCC provide me with this simple pleasure, and I appreciate it muchly.
Mike Gold is editor-in-chief of ComicMix.