'Comic-Con Begins' Looks To Origin Story Of Pop Culture Convention
Six-part podcast releases second episode on Tuesday
Comic-Con had humble origins in the basement of the U.S. Grant Hotel as the San Diego's Golden State Comic-Con, which attracted just a few hundred people.
The new podcast "Comic-Con Begins" looks to the people whose passionate fandom laid the groundwork for what Comic-Con is today.
Comic-Con now attracts upward of 135,000 attendees and takes over downtown San Diego for four days of pop culture celebration. The convention had its last in person event in July 2019, which also happened to be the anniversary of its 50th show.
Comic-Con embraces so many aspects of pop culture that it is something different for each person who attends. You can find Golden Age comics as well as Korean manhwa; franchise Hollywood movies as well as Troma Entertainment; and panels on everything from how to build your own R2D2 to meet ups about ball-jointed dolls.
From its earliest days it was about building a community of people who bridged their incredible diversity through a shared passion for all things pop culture. And that sense of diversity was celebrated in panels highlighting Blacks, LGBTQ, women, Asians and Latinos as well as a broad spectrum of genres and media platforms.
But many people may not be all that familiar with how Comic-Con started and likely even less familiar with the names of those people who turned their pop culture obsessions into a show that fans from around the world can now enjoy.
Origins of a podcast
Mathew Klickstein and Christopher Tyler are self-described geeks who have loved Comic-Con from afar for decades. Klickstein grew up in Southern California fully aware of the convention but only attended one Comic-Con with a documentary crew from Nickelodeon. And Tyler, who hails from Australia, was never able to go. But their passion for geek culture led them to create a new podcast taking a deep dive into the origin story of the massive pop culture convention.
Klickstein, who is the creator, writer and producer of the podcast, had been trying to write a book on nerd and geek culture when he meet Wendy All who had been involved with Comic-Con early on.
"We were talking about working on a project together and suddenly I said, 'what am I doing talking with you about all these other things? We should obviously do the oral history of Comic-Con,'" Klickstein recalled.
Klickstein said many of the early Comic-Con organizers were private people and he had to win their trust before getting the podcast off and running with Sirius XM. He then conducted upward of 50 — sometimes hours long — interviews with everyone he could find connected with the birth of Comic-Con and its early years. And then he wanted to put it into a bigger context.
The podcast is impressive in terms of how many people it gathers together and how much research was done. I have been attending Comic-Con for more than four decades now but I did not know a lot about the folks who founded the convention because there really is not that much information out there and few interviews exist from those who have passed away such as Shel Dorf, Richard Alf, and Ken Krueger. So kudos to Klickstein for gathering the oral histories of those who are still alive and kicking like Scott Shaw!, Mike Towry, Jackie Estrada, Barry Alfonso and Mark Evanier.
But my one big complaint about the podcast is that people are rarely identified when they are speaking and since these people have already lived pretty much out of the spotlight, it's a shame that we don't always know who is recounting the history of Comic-Con. As someone who edits podcasts, I know this is particularly challenging because with audio only you cannot unobtrusively just add an I.D. tag to show who is speaking.
Klickstein explained his approach: "We wanted to keep it very engrossing and almost kind of immersive. But we wanted to keep it dynamic and keep it moving a little bit more unpredictable. So that was very important for us. We really talked about how are we going to deal with that? We actually had every single person say their name and kind of role in in Comic-Con. If every single person said what their role is, they would have been talking for 10 minutes. So that was a little difficult. And also we wanted it to flow. We really wanted there to be a narrative flow, but we wanted to keep it entertaining and accessible at the same time. And it would have really broken up that flow if we kept saying over and over and over again who everyone is."
To address this, Klickstein said that there are transcripts online where each speaker is identified so I suggest maybe reading along as you listen so you can identify everyone.
Christopher Tyler, who served as writer and producer, said, "We wanted to celebrate everyone who was involved with Comic-Con in the early days. We didn't want to just talk about Comic-Con as a whole and how it became what it became. We wanted to celebrate the people behind Comic-Con. And so we wanted to make sure if someone had a role in those early days, we wanted to bring them on. We wanted to hear this story. We want to get them involved in this project, because in the end, Matt set it perfectly to me like a couple of months ago, he said he wants this project to be for the people who were in this documentary just as much as for everyone else. He wants this to be something that they can listen to and look back fondly to what they created. And I think that's kind of what we've managed to do. There might only be the only be certain interviewees that only got a couple of lines here and there in the documentary. But as long as we can have them in there and and recognize the contribution to Comic-Con, I think that was really important."
The podcast sometimes gets sidetracked by amusing anecdotes, many about drug use, celebrity encounters and crazy shenanigans, which are all hugely entertaining but sometimes that means there's less time to explore the convention itself and a broader ranger of the experiences people had.
The podcast is great in helping people understand more about the origins of Comic-Con and in trying to shine a light on many people whose names are likely unfamiliar to those attending the convention today. I hope that perhaps some of the additional hours of interview tape might make its way to people's ears so we can enjoy in depth some of these people on an individual level as opposed to being one voice in a boisterous crowd.
Comic-Con will once again be virtual this July and this podcast is a good way to get in the mood to celebrate pop culture.