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Comic-Con 50: Longtime Attendees Explain Why It’s So Special

Jackie Estrada (center) with Sergio Aragones (left) from the 1989 Comic-Con I...

Credit: Jackie Estrada

Above: Jackie Estrada (center) with Sergio Aragones (left) from the 1989 Comic-Con International show.

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Comic-Con celebrates its 50th show this week and has evolved into an event that sprawls out from the convention center and attracts upwards of 130,000 attendees. But it wasn't always that big. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando speaks with some longtime attendees, including a pair who have been to every single show, on why the pop-culture extravaganza is so special to them.

Aired: July 18, 2019 | Transcript

Comic-Con celebrates its 50th show this week and has evolved into an event that sprawls out from the convention center and attracts upwards of 130,000 attendees. But it wasn't always that big.

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando speaks with some longtime attendees, including a pair who have been to every single show.

Q: What was your favorite thing about Comic-Con?

Jackie Estrada: I am one of the few people who have attended every convention and since I've been to all of them it's hard to pick. But in 1977, we had the creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. We had the co-creator of Batman, Bob Kane. We had Robert Heinlein who we had the first blood drive for at Comic-Con. It was Robert Heinlein Memorial blood drive and he came specifically to San Diego just for that. And then we had really interesting cartoonists like B. Kaliban, known for his cat cartoons, which was a big craze fad at that time. The cross-section of people who were at the show and the underground cartoonist from San Francisco also came down. The interactions between everybody when the show was small enough that you had these blending of people hanging out that you never assumed would ever happen. I went to see a showing of a Ozamu Tezuka animated film called Phoenix 2772 with B. Kaliban and Victor Moscoso, who's one of the Zap underground artists that start in and around comics and we watch the movie twice because we liked it so much.

Mark Evanier: I'm a comic book writer and editor. I run a lot of panels here at Comic-Con. This is my 50th Comic-Con San Diego. I've been to all of them. I can't figure out why. Maybe it's all the fun people. Maybe it's all the exciting stuff around here. I went to the first one in the 1970s. We were in the basement of the U.S. Grand Hotel, which was undergoing construction. So everybody is walking on painters papers and there's plywood walls to navigate and we had 300 people there. We thought that was astounding. Now there's 300 people ahead of you in line for the men's room. And what is fascinating about this thing to me is every place you look, someone has made something. Someone has published a book. Someone has done a drawing, some has written something. Someone's made a costume. Someone has sculpted a famous president out of Lego blocks — whatever it is. And it's just amazing to be around all this creativity. And that's the way it was the very first one. And that's the way it still is.

Joshua Gilliland: One of the founders of the Legal Geeks blog and podcast and this is our fifth Comic-Con, our first one was 2015. We've been able to talk about Star Wars and the law, Star Trek and the law, Marvel movies and the law. One of the most memorable experiences was that our first one where we had to win law talking about Star Wars law and we had a federal judge with us and there was a youth in the audience who probably was 7 and he asked a complex question on whether droid manufacturers could have the same level of liability as a gun manufacturer or a tobacco company. It was profound to hear a 7-year-old articulate something that legally complicated and the federal judge answered the question but it was just wicked cool to see how people care so much about the law. So I love being here. It's like the nerd Super Bowl and it's I'm glad this is our fifth year.

Eric Nakamura: This is my 26th year here. My first year was in 1993 and I remember someone brought me here and I remember I only had two hours of time that was it. I came inside ran around and was amazed at everything. Mind-blown and I was just like suffering because it was only two hours of time and I had to leave because I was here down here for a job but I didn't know anything about Comic-Con. After that, I decided I can't miss another one and I haven't. And here I am today still running a booth. And you know like it's one of those great things that you look forward to every year. But at the same time, it's like you know it feels like the world revolves around it for one week. And that's kind of amazing, right? How do you do something where the world kind of pays attention to everything you do for one week. You know that doesn't happen too often but from inside it's different than being outside of the booth. That's one thing that I understand is when you're in a booth, you're protected outside, you're completely like ... I would say you're sort of stuck in this giant-like horde. You know it's like a zombie horde or something and inside I'm kind of like I'm shielded. So it's nice ... It's a wonderful craziness.

Rebbecca Hicks: I am Rebecca Hicks the creator of "The Little Vampires" webcomic and a writer and illustrator and this is, my goodness, my 26 total San Diego Comic-Con. But my very first Comic-Con was in 1994 and I remember walking up to the door and buying a one-day pass and then just over the years it was like, "Oh, now we can buy our pass for next year at this year's show" and then, "Oh no, we got even bigger still and now you got to buy them online only." Watching it go from "It was a big show" the first year we attended and then to watch it grow has been amazing. But 13 years ago we were like, "Oh my gosh, we need someplace to be able to sit and eat lunch." The show floor is so crowded so I wrote a book and got a small press table and I have now been an independent writer and illustrator for 13 years because I just wanted a spot to be able to eat lunch in San Diego Comic-Con. One thing that hasn't changed is just the level of joy and excitement. That has not changed. But I'm just seeing a lot of people who may not have ever read a comic book before come to this show but then they discover new comics they discover independent comics or comics that are like, "Oh I saw that movie but I can pick up the [comic]. Oh wow, I never knew there Captain America that I can read as a comic book." So I've seen a lot more people who did not realize how broad this world that we live in was and then they come to Comic-Con and they discover well the history of these characters that they love on the screen. So I've noticed a lot more people that are discovering the awesomeness that it's like. I will be a little bit of a hipster geek right now was stuff that we knew before it was cool.

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