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Comic-Con 50th Memories: Jackie Estrada

Author and photographer has been to all 50 shows

Photo credit: Jackie Estrada

Jackie Estrada at the 1994 Comic-Con with writer Neil Gaiman and cartoonist/writer Will Eisner.

Comic-Con has grown from 300 people in the basement of the U.S. Grant Hotel to an event that sprawls across downtown San Diego drawing upwards of 130,000 attendees. Jackie Estrada talked about her favorite memories of attending all 50 conventions.

In March 1970, a group of comic book, movie and sci-fi fans got together for a one-day event called San Diego’s Golden State Comic-Minicon. The minicon was successful enough to fund a three-day event in August 1970 called San Diego’s Golden State Comic-Con. Held in the basement of the U.S. Grant Hotel, it featured a dealers' room, film screenings, panels and guests Ray Bradbury, Jack Kirby and A.E. van Vogt. That event attracted more than 300 attendees.

The convention went through a few more name changes before settling on Comic-Con International: San Diego in 1995. This year marks the 50th show and Estrada is one of the rare people who can boost having attended them all. She attended first as a fan and then volunteered and eventually got roped into doing public relations, the souvenir programs, events guide and since 1990 she has been the administrator of the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, known as the Oscars of the comics industry. (You can listen to my NPR story on the passionate judging for the awards.)

In about 1978, Estrada also started taking photos at the conventions and trying to document all the key people who have come from Golden and Silver Age comic creators like Jerry Siegel, Joe Schuster and Bob Kane to MAD Magazine's Sergio Aragones and the reclusive "Watchman" writer Alan Moore. She also got photos of Mark Hamill sneaking down to see his buddies and fellow actors Miguel Ferrer and Bill Mumy perform with their band Seduction of the Innocent.

Estrada has collected a portion of her thousands of photos in a pair of books, "Comic Book People: Photographs from the 1970s and 1980s" and "Comic Book People: Photographs from the 1990s."

Look through Estrada's photos with her in this video.

Estrada reflected back on how the convention has evolved:

Comic-Con has definitely reflected the changes in the comics industry over the years. Certainly, back when I started, the main method of communication to fans was through fanzines and everything went through the mail. There was no Internet, there was no social media, there were professional magazines that you could subscribe to that might cover some of the topics you were interested in but one of the reasons Comic-Con started was that a guy named Shel Dorff moved to San Diego and there were ads and comics from a guy selling comics and he lived in San Diego. So, those two met up with each other and another fan group of guys who were all at the same high school and they all said, 'Well, how can we make this something where we can involve more people?,' And Shel said, 'Well, I was involved in putting on a comic convention in Detroit. Why don't we do that?' And so at that time that was what fandom and comics were like. There had been other conventions in New York and other places but the model was the science fiction conventions, which went back to 1939. So the same types of things that would happen at science fiction conventions would happen at comic conventions where you'd have a masquerade contest and a dealer's room and show movies and and that sort of thing. But then when you got in to the 1980s and you had comic book stores. Then you had the direct market for comics and that affected the kinds of dealers and and things that came and the appealing thing about San Diego was that once the cartoonists and writers and artists from the East Coast came to San Diego in the summer they said, 'Oh, I got to go back and tell my friends because they're gonna want to be here away from the heat and humidity everywhere and hang out with each other around a pool at the El Cortez Hotel in downtown San Diego.'

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