This may be–for me, at least–the year that the San Diego Con got too big. I haven’t heard any word on attendance, but I seem to have spent more time than ever more or less trapped in show-floor traffic that’s just not going anywhere. One panel I wanted to go to–not obviously a huge crowd-pleaser–was turning people away by the time I got there; the line for the Simpsons panel was so long that it was half over by the time I got into the room. I’ve also been barked at twice by con representatives for trying to jump lines when I was simply trying to use hallways to get from one place to another.
Part of the problem, I think, is that this convention isn’t about anything, other than the vague notion of “a celebration of the popular arts.” Not being about anything, it’s about everything, including comics, animation, fantasy movies, horror, science fiction, costume-making, toys, role-playing games, computer games, and myriad other topics. I didn’t see any scheduled events about tattoos, but judging from some of the attendees this year, the showing off of elaborate tattoos has become another theme of this show.
Conventions, like magazines, need to be edited. Most of the best comics conventions I’ve ever attended had a clear sensibility at work–often that of a single person, such as the old New York cons’ Phil Seuling, or Don Phelps, the proprietor of some amazing conventions in Boston in the 1970s. If there’s a sensibility at work in the San Diego programming, I can’t detect it. And while it may be a celebration of the popular arts, it’s anything but a celebration of excellence–over and over, the programming booklet applies the same superlatives to anything and everything. Veronica Mars is memorable. Shag has entered the pop culture pantheon. Gumby is magical. David Boreanaz is one of TV’s biggest stars. A blurb on a session about Pokemon season 9 uses two exclamation points (!!). And so on. There’s no editing going on, and that, I’m sure, is one reason why the con is so huge.
Oh, and would someone inform the management of the San Diego Convention Center that convention-center food can consist of more than ludicrously overpriced pretzels and cookies served at understaffed counters with nowhere to sit? I spend a lot of time in major convention centers as part of my day job; I don’t know of another whose food service is as bad as what we get in this otherwise lovely , highly functional city.
I’m not sure if there’s any way to change San Diego into something other than what it’s become, and to be fair, the people who run it do a mostly good job of crowd control and attendees are generally respectful of each other. But this is the first year I’ve said to myself, “Gee, I’m not sure if this’ll be worth the hassle next year.”
Of course, even a San Diego Con with more than its share of hassles also has more than its share of virtues–you just need to find the small, focused convention hidden in this mammoth enterprise. I’ve enjoyed hanging out with folks like Jerry Beck, Amid Amidi, Bob Miller, Milt Gray, Will Ryan, and others, and meeting ones like Craig Yoe and Leslie Carbaga. I’ve been to some good panels, including a Jerry Robinson one hosted by Mark Evanier, an Alex Toth tribute, one on Dan DeCarlo (an artist who, I discovered for the first time, I admired), and Jerry Beck’s Worst Cartoons Ever, which included not one but two Sam Singer cartoons I’d never seen. (Some of my favorite memories of the convention involve sitting in a huge crowd of strangers who were singing, snapping, and clapping along to the theme songs to things like Mr. Titan and Super President–who knew that terrible cartoons could bring people together?)
I’ve picked up some cool stuff, including the new issue of Amid’s Animation Blast (which is one of the best single issues of an animation magazine, ever) and Craig Yoe’s wonderful and wonderfully weird Arf Museum. And did I mention I bought three pieces of production artwork from Scappy cartoons? (More on that soon.)
In short, this trip hasn’t been a waste at all. But if you know of any smallish, focused, high-quality comics conventions anywhere, lemme know about them–I’m not sure what Comic-Con is these days, but it isn’t a comic con, exactly…