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Rants and Raves: Comic-Con From the Inside

A Video Postcard From Fans and Exhibitors

Above: One fan's creation at the Lego Booth at the 2011 Comic-Con.

Comic-Con officially opens next Thursday. Upwards of 125,000 fans from around the globe will arrive at the San Diego Convention Center for a celebration of comics, gaming, TV, movies, and more. Here's a video postcard from interviews I did with fans and exhibitors at last year's convention. Thanks to Comic-Con for use of their footage! Watch the video or read the extended interviews.

Tyler Hewes, associate director of Mainly Mozart, calls Comic-Con "nerd prom."

San Diego resident and veteran attendee Kathy Lee says, "You can kind of boast about having been through the war if you've been to Comic-Con."

Justin Ishmael, from the Austin, Texas company Mondo Posters adds, "You can do a show anytime but Comic-Con is only once a year."

Evening Edition

Above: KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando spoke with fans and exhibitors at last year's Comic-Con to get an insider's view.

Whether you call it a nerd fest or geek heaven, Comic-Con is the largest pop culture convention in North America. It's my home away from home, the place where I can find kindred spirits who are as consumed by pop culture as I am. It's the place for fan boys and fan girls to revel in their passions and obsessions. To outsiders, it's a time for superheroes and costumed characters to descend on San Diego but to insiders it's much, much more. Here's a look at Comic-Con from those who know it best -- the fans and exhibitors who've been going for years.

"First make sure that you pack the essentials. You're going to need at least 2 bottles of water, maybe some vitamin water, some granola bars, some gum, some deodorant depending on how hard you're running around," says Hillcrest resident and longtime attendee Matthew Rice.

For Larissa Galarza it centers on costuming: "We've been coming here for 12 years, so this is a big family thing, we always come to see artists and enjoy events and workshops, we love doing costumes so this is a good opportunity to show ourselves."

Then there are the artists at the portfolio review.

"I am Robert Bermea from Washington and I'm here trying to get a job in comics. They look at your art and they tell you what to either work on, what you need to do to improve your work. It's very, very useful, the few times I've done it before in the past I've been able to take what I learned and applied it to things I do later and it's been a noticeable improvement."

"My name is Sarah and I from Washington and I'm here to get my portfolio reviewed. It's nerve wracking, I'm still shaking. There are only a couple of, like a handful of girls here but it's kind of cool being the underdog."

Godzilla and friends stomped Comic-Con last year at a booth.

Beth Accomando

Above: Godzilla and friends stomped Comic-Con last year at a booth.

For others like Tyler Hewes, Comic-Con is where you can get your geek on: "I'm an executive during the day and so to be able to be a nerd for 4 days and not care is really cool. I really love the floor and finding those hidden gems."

For Justin Ishmael it was a single big ticket item: " I'm a big collector of a lot of things so my big purchase this year was X-Men number one. So like I'm kinda done for the whole convention."

Ivy Ratafia arrived with her daughter from Simi Valley, "And we get here and we look around and like, we're home. And there's a feeling of camaraderie that you feel here that even if you don't manage to get into a panel you still, you meet cool people, you talk to people, we see friends, that we see once a year."

Rice offers more advice: "You have to mark your priorities. there's going to be lines and there's going to be crowds. If it's super, super popular, you want to get to the panel about 2 panels before it actually starts. That way not only can you secure a spot but you can also move up as soon as the panel ends."

Kathy Lee, who's been going since the 1980s, has noticed lots of changes since the days when she was the only person covering panels for the very young Internet, "Now you are fighting for everything and it is a little less fun but you still come because this is part of your identity of being a fan. But I mean I am definitely at a tactical disadvantage without Twitter access. People around me kept going oh line's full, I'm like how do you know that? Because I don't have an iPhone."

But Hewes notes that there can be unexpected benefits to the crowds, "So Hall H is packed out to a 5 hour wait, lemme just go find something else, and finding a really cool comic artist who's talking, that's how I found 'Scott Pilgrim' 3 years ago."

Mark Rosewater is both a fan and head designer at Magic: The Gathering, "When I sit in line the person next to me has interests with me so I talk to them and so it's a shared environment and experience where I can talk to other people who think like myself and enjoy the same things I enjoy and rather than seeing the lines as a negative I actually see it more as a positive."

Jeremy Atkins is director of public relations at Dark Horse: "There's probably no other kind of entertainment where your heroes are so accessible to you."

Hall H last year.

Beth Accomando

Above: Hall H last year.

"In the 80s there was that whole black and white independent boon of all these amazing creations and creators coming out," recalls Lee, "And when you came to Comic-Con, these people were sitting at tables and completely accessible and you could talk to them for hours, this is how I know Ivy because her husband is Scott McCloud. Just going through all those independent comics and meeting and being able to talk to everybody."

Jane Lui is the publicity and events manager at Viz Media. She says, "I think panels are a great way to get the news out about what out new projects and titles are, upcoming projects, it gets the fans excited about everything. It's also a nice way of rewarding them cause what we like doing also is giving out lots of free swag at the panels. You definitely get a lot of feedback and of course you get kudos and you sometimes get the folks who have constructive criticism about what you're doing or what direction you are heading."

At Marvel Entertainment, Michael Pasciullo is senior vice president of brand management and communications. He says, "Personally, the best part is actually being able to talk to a fan one on one, be it that they are asking a question about what we have upcoming or something specific characters about what their favorite stuff is... you work on this stuff and a lot of times I would have a great opportunity to interact with fans, but you actually get to sit down and hear the passion and show some of your passion back to them and just have a great conversation one-on-one, it's almost like two friends talking about something they are both passionate about at the same time."

Over at DC Entertainment, co-publisher Dan DiDio adds, "As I always say when you get fans at conventions they're here because they want to be here, they're paying money, they're coming to see you at panels, they are making the effort to go meet the people that they enjoy, creators, and because of that you really want to hear what their opinions are, you want to hear what their voices are cause these are the diehards, the true fans and we want to listen to them, hear what they have to say and then more importantly trying to incorporate what's important to them in our books."

Bruce Campbell always makes for a great panel. Last year he headlined on about the Sam Axe movie.

Beth Accomando

Above: Bruce Campbell always makes for a great panel. Last year he headlined on about the Sam Axe movie.

"One of the great things I think about comic book fans and Comic-Con in general is the fact that anybody can ask a question, that you get real concerns, there a character called Flash, that's changed a couple time Wally West used to play Flash and now it's back to Barry Allen," says Rosewater.

DiDio and his panel got a bit of a grilling last year about the changes about to be brought about by the launch of DC's New 52. But DiDio took it all in stride: "You try to give the answer as best you can you try to be as respectful as you can but you want to have as much fun as you can too but we want to be respectful because it's something that's so important to them that they got up to ask the question."

"The thing is," says Atkins, "Comic-Con has become the epicenter of pop culture, I mean it's not only just comics any more and on many levels we're not only a publisher any more."

Pasciullo agrees: "Our company's evolved over the last 5 or 6 years from strictly just a publishing and consumer products company to now where we're doing theatrical, and we're doing television, video games."

Part of that change is reflected in the fact that both Marvel and DC have dropped "Comics" from their corporate title and replaced it with "Entertainment" to emphasize their diversification into various media and platforms. So if Comic-Con has "gone Hollywood" maybe it's because the comics industry it focuses on has gone Hollywood as well.

So to Atkins, it makes sense: "There's so much happening and so much changing that the industry changes along with the convention."

"There is a similar paths that are going there," says Pasciullo, " I think if you look at the origins of Comic-Con being the foundation of comics as it is with Marvel and there's this evolution that's kind of happening at the same time between the two companies, the event and the company and it's worked out very well."

"The convention has grown by leaps and bounds over the years but at the core of it it's still about comics," says DC's DiDio, "And DC being one of the premier publishers in the industry should be represented at all times and we always want to have a presence here regardless of how much other things take place here in regards to movies and videos and everything else, at the heart of it it's still cool comics."

"It's one of those things that the media starts to grab your attention more because it's hotter material in an odd sort of way," says Lee, "The comic book is still here and it's still very much the same and still just as vital but it's not as popular."

But for recent dad Tyler Hewes it's all good at the nerd prom: "I have a son, he's 4 months, he and his mother came yesterday on preview night, he wore his Batman onesie and this is something I cannot wait to bring him up in. Nerd culture, geek culture is one of acceptance and one of support and this is an environment I want him to grow up in, in a world that's at time pretty harsh, the idea of bringing your kid up in an environment where oh you like that? Oh I like that too, let's go be friends, is awesome."

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