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San Diego Comic Fest

One of Mary Fleener's political cartoons for The Coast News.
Mary Fleener
One of Mary Fleener's political cartoons for The Coast News.

An Old School Comic-Con

San Diego Comic Fest
Mike Towry, San Diego Comic Fest Organizer Mary Fleener, Artist

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: San Diego Comic Con has grown so big that it is bursting at the seams of San Diego's convention center. It's also going to be far more than a convention about comics. But now there is a convention that harkens back to, concerts. The first annual San Diego comic fest is being held later this month at the Town & Country convention center and its focus is on comics and the people who create them. I'd like to welcome my guests Mike Towry is with the San Diego comic fest. He is the organizer of that event and Mike, welcome to the show MIKE TOWRY: Thanks, glad to be here. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Mary Fleener is a comic artist. Mary, welcome. MARY FLEENER: Thank you. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Mike you are involved in fact we talked about it on the show we were involved with, con in the early years what inspired you to create comic fest? MIKE TOWRY: I think it is going back to when we have the 40th anniversary of comic con back in 2009 and just talking to a lot of people who were there at the very beginning and everybody had these really vivid fond memories of the conventions we had back at the EL Cortez Hotel in the 70s and they were smaller scale events and you had more intimate contact with the artists and writers and the movie people, and it was an experience that no one seem to have forgotten and really seemed to be missing. And I thought, well it seems like it would be a good time to have an event like that again and satisfy that you know, need that people seem to feel. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right on the one hand it is wonderful that, con has become a phenomenon that it is on the other hand you must have been hearing that people have sort of missed that one-on-one contact they had with the artists and the smaller sized event, is that right? MIKE TOWRY: Yeah people sort of miss the comradrie and the intimate warmth of good feelings, just being able to hang out with Jack Kirby or Ray Bradbury or you go out and George Quinn Johnson or some other author screenwriter would be hanging out by the political Cortez and you could just sit down and talk to them and chat away. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And you can't do that anymore. MIKE TOWRY: It's just not practical you have 140,000 people there and these Hollywood celebrities and they can go and mingle like these two. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What kind of atmosphere you trying to create with the comic fest? MIKE TOWRY: Smaller scale, warm intimate I guess you could call it democratic thing where the fans can meet and mingle with the writers and artists and talk to them on a personal basis and maybe go up and ask about you know, how do I get into doing what you do or the sorts of things. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now Mary Fleener, you are a comic artist as I said Andy, con veteran. What's it been like in recent years to try to find a spotlight it, con as it's grown into this international phenomenon? MARY FLEENER: Well, like you said you can't get 140,000 people in a room and things don't run very smoothly. It's not a walk in the park. It's really hard to find people. It's hard, when you get there by Saturday. It's a five day event when you include preview night and by Saturday people haven't been sleeping or eating well and they are going to panels and running all over the place. At the old convention center where it was a little smaller, there were places to meet and it was just easier to find people. Now you have to have a cell phone wherever you go. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Just to find out where they are MARY FLEENER: Just to find out where they are because the comic on it center itself is half a mile long and going to panels people have to wait in line, and it's fun, you know it is chaotic, it's exciting, there's a lot of people. People are in costumes. I love all that but trying to walk through the crowds is very difficult. It's very hard. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Back in the day Mary even in the early years when the focus was more on comics what you sort of an outsider at comic con? MARY FLEENER: Well a little bit because the comics I do which are alternative underground we were .0% of the market may be .001% of the market, so maybe we had at the old place there were two publishers that did are kind of comics, so there was a little island where we all could meet, and I still feel like we are a little bit outside the superhero, Mona, Hollywood round. But, it never was a deterrent and it's pretty inclusive you know we were always welcome to it's not like they didn't read our comics and nobody liked us but we were definitely in the minority. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now Mike is that what you're attempting to do with the comic fest is bring in a whole wide swath of comic artists? MIKE TOWRY: When we first visited Jack Kirby was known as the King of comics and cocreator of Capt. America and all these other iconic characters we actually asked him what she we do should we just do comics or should we wipe out and he said well, boys, I think you should do comics but also all the things that comic fans like science fiction movies, you will have a better more inclusive event and everybody will have a better time so that's what we did so we always from the beginning had read Bradbury was one of our first guests. We had a film guess we could get them Frank Capra came and that sort of thing, so we have that again this year, we have a lot of science fiction authors as well as the comics. We have some film people, Phil Tippett who is a former San Diego Omic artist science fiction films, con was always he's coming down and he's going to be talking actually what's really cool is sees going to talk about a personal project that he funded to kickstart are called Matt God which is to emotion and some old-school kind of visual effects that he's putting together just something that he's doing because he loves it himself. He is still a fan himself, so this is a great opportunity for us to meet him and hear about the things that he is personally interested in as opposed to just the big flashy Hollywood stuff. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Sure. When you are inviting people to the brand-new comic Fest do you have to say to them know this is not, con I know it's in San Diego and I know it's about comics but it is not comic con. MIKE TOWRY: Yeah, I mean we've been clear about that, that we are not affiliated all along with, comic con, but we never have anything we don't try to present ourselves as being anti-comic con or anything because we love people that do it do a wonderful job and it's a big huge mega event and we are really happy that it's there so this is just an alternative for some people that would like sort of the old, the smaller scale event that we used to have. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tell us about Café Frankenstein at comic fest. MIKE TOWRY: Back in 1958 when George Clay Johnson who is a screenwriter and brother he would a number of the twilight zone episodes like kick the can and some of the other episodes he wrote the first Star Trek us episode oceans 11 the story that became the movie back in 1958 he and a large and Los Angeles surrealist artist name Sean Bird and if a musician named Doug Myers decided they wanted to have a coffeehouse for their sort of cultural outsiders like themselves so they went down to Laguna Beach indicate opened this place called Café Frankenstein and Bert painted his kind of take on the Frankenstein monster and they had a stained-glass window and they had some problems with the locals who are convinced that there had to be like seditious things going on inside at night and whatnot, but they had a lot of fun and they had music entertainment and so I said well you know it close, they got out of it in 1960 and I said they really ought to fund it if we could have all gone something like that so when I had the idea to do comic Fest I called George Abbott said he George what would you think if we re-created Café Frankenstein as a coffeehouse inside of the convention he said that's a wonderful idea I'm all for it, I'm calling so he's actually going to be storyteller in revenue in residence at the café and Doug Myers over and ears on it will be coming out and Bert Schonberg passed away but we will be screening a documentary about his art and some of his friends will be coming down and we've been able to get photographs of various pieces of his art that different Hollywood collectors have Sally Kellerman has one and drink recipe collector of his art and stuff like that so we are really looking forward to having that at the comic fest. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That sounds like a really good attraction. I wanted to ask you a lot of people still think that comics in a sort of dismissively. They think of them for kids, they think of them just for young teenagers, young male teenagers what are the demographics now? Are there more women both as fans and artists? MARY FLEENER: I think though perception of comics changed a great deal when Art Spiegelman won the Pulitzer Prize for Maus. That was a big deal. And the Japanese comics like Sailor Moon attracted more women into the comic world and more women creators there was a book called Twisted Sister's that Diane Newman edited that I was in and it was autobiographical stories dealing with social issues from a woman's point of view and it was very successful. And that was 20 years ago and more and more people are reading comics. There, the genre has expanded from superheroes and horror. And fantasy. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It is now a viable option to tell any kind of story. MARY FLEENER: Absolutely, a lot of creators now are doing autobiographical stories even other lives are not that interesting but it's a good place to start to learn to do a story that has a beginning middle and an end. So a lot of people are doing that as a start instead of just doing fiction for example and then there's a guy named Tom Poplin that does books, it's called graphics classics, where he does common comic glasses like I did Gunga Din, a five-page treatment of Gunga Din. Louisa May Alcott there's a whole issue of her stories with Little Women and I did a short story she did called Buzz about a woman that falls in love with a fly. And it's becoming very creative. It's a new golden age I think. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Mike, you want this comic fest to be as you said to be smaller, more intimate but you are limiting attendance to 1000 do you think perhaps considering how many people are drawn to comic con that is a little low? MIKE TOWRY: Well we will see how it is. We just want to avoid crowding. It is a little hard to know in advance what is the exact right number and we will teach it when we are down there. It's possible we could go over 1000 if it doesn't seem too crowded we could go over that and we will have some tickets at the door and one-day tickets and that sort of thing so we will gauge it. We are not trying to exclude anyone we just want to make sure it's not overcrowded and everybody has a good experience. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What are your hopes and expectations for the launch of comic fest? MIKE TOWRY: That it will continue for a long time and stay true to this course. I hope everyone has a really memorable time. One thing that struck me talking to people about the old conventions we had in the 70s a deal Cortez is that everybody just has the most vivid fond memories of that as if it was some kind of Golden age of conventions and I'd really like to see that for the fest. That people will look back and say that was like the most amazing time I've ever had had in anything that had to do with comics or science fiction or phantom, the things we like. That is what we are really looking for. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So you want it to be successful but you don't want it to grow like topsy. MIKE TOWRY: There's already comic on they do a great job for that kind of show. We are not looking for that I was explaining it to someone and they say I get that. Comic con is like the big stadium show with pyrotechnics and tens of thousands of people and the comic fest is like the club show weird is on an intimate scale and you get to hang out with the band backstage and they are both totally valid types of events and some people might prefer one to the other and a lot of people like both. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want everyone to know the San Diego comic fest runs October 19 through the 21st at the San Diego town and country convention center. Can people still purchase passes? MIKE TOWRY: They can get it online or at the website SDcomicfest.org we will also have memberships available at the door. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with Mike Towry, organizer of the SD Comic Fest and Artist Mary Fleener. Thank you both for being here. MIKE TOWRY: Thank you. MARY FLEENER: Thank you.

Some people complain that San Diego Comic Con has grown too big and no longer has comics as its main focus. To address those complaints, San Diego Comic Fest is a newly created convention geared to be small and focused on comic books.

San Diego Comic Fest wants to create a convention that harkens back to Comic Con's earlier roots. Some of those involved in the early years of Comic-Con are behind the launch of this new convention that runs October 19-21 at the San Diego Town and Country Convention Center.

According to the SDCF website: "This year will see the 40th anniversary of the first San Diego Comic-Con to be hosted at the legendary El Cortez Hotel. That con, which was held August 18-21, 1972, set the pattern for a string of memorable Comic-Cons throughout the rest of the ’70s, all of which, with one exception, were at the El Cortez. For many longtime attendees, the El Cortez cons are a fondly-remembered golden age of Comic-Con... To coincide with this year’s El Cortez Comic-Con anniversary, some early Comic-Con co-founders and committee members agreed it would be a fine idea to have a new 'old-school' San Diego comic convention and thus was born the San Diego Comic Fest. We think it will be a lot of fun to have a relatively-smallish con at which we consciously try to foster the spirit, or 'vibe' as we used to say, of those early fan gatherings. The 1972 Comic-Con had between 900 and 1,000 attendees, which is around the number we’re looking at for at this year’s event. The Fest intends to bring creators and fans closer together, to create an environment of creative exchange in a fun, inclusive environment, much as the El Cortez-era Comic-Cons did."

Among the guests will be Comic-Con's Jackie Estrada, DC Silver Age comic artist Murphy Anderson, author Mark Evanier, and special effects wiz Phil Tippett.

Mary Fleener is a comics artist who now does political cartoons for The Coast News. She attended Comic-Con in the early years as a fan and then in more recent years as an artist with a booth. But even in the early days she felt a bit of an outsider as one of the few women comics artists and as an indie comics artists who didn't create superheroes.

One of the attractions at SDCF is a re-creation of Café Frankenstein, a Beatnik-era "European Coffee House" co-owned in the late '50s by author/screenwriter George Clayton Johnson, who will be the Storyteller in Residence at the inaugural SDCF.

Please note that SDCF is not in any way connected to San Diego Comic-Con International.