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‘Comic-Con Begins’ Looks To Origin Story Of Pop Culture Convention

 June 28, 2021 at 10:00 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Matthew Klickstein and Christopher Tyler are self-described geeks who have loved Comicon from afar. Glickstein attended one Comicon with a documentary crew 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, KPBS arts reporter, Beth Armando speaks with creator and writer Klickstein and writer and producer Tyler about their six part Comicon begins podcast. Speaker 2: 00:34 Comic-Con begins just debuted, and this is a new podcast. But before we talk about the podcast, I am just curious how each of you first got introduced to con so Matthew, why don't you start I'm Speaker 3: 00:44 From Southern California originally? So Comicon was always in the air when I was growing up. I grew up in the late eighties, early nineties down there. So I was always very well aware of what it was even before it became the massive monumental cultural institution. It became about 10 years later, of course, in the late nineties and early two thousands. I actually am a bit of a cheater. Uh, I've never been to San Diego Comic-Con except once it was, it was very difficult to go if you are a norm, you know, so to seek. So I didn't get to go, uh, in my formative years, but I did when I did go, it counted because I was working on a documentary about TVs, Mark Summers from unwrapped and double dare. I'd been working with him for a few years on various projects. I did a book about Nickelodeon. Speaker 3: 01:33 He was very involved in, and I actually got to go with him in a small group that I brought, and we were filming kind of the behind the scenes of mark being there as part of Nickelodeon's 30th anniversary of double dare. So although it was the one time I ever went to Comicon, I had full access badges. I was there with a celebrity. So although it was my one-time at comic con, it was a, I certainly saw a lot and did probably everything you could do at a Comicon. Uh, and that, that was, uh, very, uh, regulatory and eyeopening for me, especially as someone who had written a lot about it and the culture that was there. So it was a really good kind of in the field exploration. So the one time I went, but I think it counts and Christopher, so while Matt grew up very close to the San Diego Comic-Con I grew up quite far away. Speaker 3: 02:19 I grew up in Australia, so I didn't have the opportunity to go to go to a San Diego Comic-Con I grew up just watching a bunch of movies, wanted to be a filmmaker, all that sort of stuff as most movie fans do. And so when I moved over here, it's a lot of that was because of my, my love of, of movies and love of fandom. And that's kind of what we get into a lot in this documentary and also admit that I've actually never been to San Diego. ComicCon I've actually only been to San Diego once. Speaker 2: 02:46 What led you to create this podcast? And what was it that made you decide that this was the time to kind of delve into con and its origins? Speaker 3: 02:57 Um, I had been trying to write book about nerd and geek culture, uh, such as it is for a few years actually, and ended up putting together a project that went into many different directions. Ultimately came out as a book in China a few years ago, um, and was really just sitting on a lot of this material, a lot of this research and a lot of this passion to help tell the story of the modern nerd, the modern geek, what it means, how it intersects with social issues, how it intersects with global issues, how it intersects with economic issues, corporations, technology, and so forth. Um, and through that process though, I'd become very good friends. As I often do with an interviewee for that project, Wendy all, who was one of the original committee members. So to speak of Comicon was very involved in the early days. Speaker 3: 03:44 And about almost two years ago, now 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 be the oral history of comic con and through a lengthy process of about six months, we kind of talked about what it could be. She wanted to make sure she could trust me with this story. There's a good reason that something like this hasn't really been done before is because a lot of them are very private people. This is their legacy. We knew we wanted to focus on the personalities behind the common economies were longtime friends of Wendy's and she didn't want to get in trouble for doing it wrong. I didn't want to get in trouble for doing it wrong. So I was doing all of this research. We trying to do it as a book. Didn't really work out as a book because boom, boom, boom. All of a sudden COVID is starting to happen. And around the same time I was talking with an old friend of mine, Rob Schulty who had re rose risen up in the ranks in the audio world to becoming a producer at Sirius XM. And he said, you know, we're looking to do some original content over here. What would you think about maybe doing something with your Comicon project with us? Wendy was fine with it. The rest went from there. Speaker 2: 04:51 Christopher, what was it like compiling all these interviews and kind of waiting through all this information and research? Speaker 3: 04:58 Well, Matt did a good job of, of kind of giving us what he wanted from these interviews. So we said to him, cause we, I think we ended up doing what meant 40, 50, 60 interviews, something like that. And a lot of them were an hour plus. So there was a lot of content there. And then it was up to Robin we'd kind of split each episode. I took, you know, episode two, four and six, it took one, three and five. And then we kind of just went through and paid everything down to a manageable size. So it was just a whole lot of back and forth between me and Rob and Matt and trying to figure everything out. But eventually we got there and we're pretty happy with how it's sounding and we're happy with the length and all that sort of stuff. So all this hard work that we've put into whatever the last year of finding the right clips is, is worked out well. Speaker 3: 05:40 Yeah, Beth, I have to say that we wanted this to be the ultimate deep dive into the history, not only of Comic-Con, but of fandom and so-called geek culture and really pop culture itself. So we knew we were going to have to talk to 50 or 60 people. We pulled all this archival stuff from files. We were given a lot of things from San Diego state university and people like Mike Towery and Alan light. So really the hardest thing was, as Chris just said, going through and, you know, I had originally put together a document that was, I think, four or 500 pages, uh, for Chris and Rob to go through. And they were really tasked with going through it. And as he said, paring it down. Cause otherwise that first cut would have been something like 50 hours. Uh, so it was a real group effort and uh, we're very, very proud of everything that came together. Speaker 3: 06:28 It would not have happened without this team. Uh, and I'm so very, very proud of everybody for the work that they did. And just following on from what Matt was saying about all these different interviewees, I think it's really important because we want it 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 Comicon. And so we wanted to make sure, you know, if, 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 said 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 one in the, be certain interview ways. It only got a couple of lines here and there in the, in the documentary, but as long as we can have the mean there and, and recognize their contribution to come up. And I think that was really important. Speaker 2: 07:31 And Matt, I wanted to ask you about the structure of the podcast. I appreciate how many people you interviewed. And I found their stories about the origins of Comicon really engrossing, but most of the time the speakers are not identified. And I found that to be problematic. I know that in a podcast you can't do lower thirds. So how did you decide on the structure and creating this montage of voices? Speaker 3: 07:53 We wanted to keep it very engrossing and almost kind of immersive. So though overall, there's an arc that is beginning, middle and end. We start, you know, with the prehistory of the Khan and end up with, you know, today we do bounce around a little bit in the middle because we wanted to kind of delve into different themes and concepts. So the second episode, for example, although it's more or less chronologically in order, it really focuses more on the characters, the people that we talked to as well as how they were impacted by being teenagers in the sixties and seventies, before we move on to the next episode. And of course the fourth episode is all about founder, Shel, Dorf, which I'm sure we'll talk about a little bit later, but that too is something that maybe could have been done a little earlier, but we wanted to keep it dynamic and keep it moving a little bit more unpredictable. Speaker 3: 08:40 So that was very important for us. But I do think that goes to what you just said with your second comment and trust me, obviously, that, that kind of thing has come up before we really talked about how are we going to deal with that? We actually had every single person say their name kind of roll in, in Comicon. 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, especially one of the things I was really appreciative that Chris and Rob did in particular was they did such a great job of sometimes two or three people would be telling the same story and they would really be cutting back and forth. Speaker 3: 09:28 And if we kept stopping that with who's talking, it would've really interrupted that flow. So all I can say is some people are okay with that kind of thing. Some aren't we do say who every single person is at the end of every episode, we do have transcripts with, I personally went through just finished two days ago, even after launch, making sure all the names are spelled right and everything. Cause I knew people would be meticulous about it. So if people want that extra resources there, but the last thing I'll say is, um, you know, they're all different kinds of oral histories. And I think some of the best ones, the punk oral history, please kill me by legs McNeil or some of the really early ones, even about ed Sedgwick. For example, they too don't say who every single person is. They have a glossary in the back and I think for the same reason. Speaker 3: 10:11 And so I was really looking at traditional and kind of gold standard oral histories and saying, yeah, some people might not know who so-and-so is or who so-and-so is, but a, it would break up the flow otherwise. And be, that's not really the point here. The point here is this is the story of these people, of this community, of this hub. And everyone's kind of speaking for everyone else. And there really is a Rosh Amman effect here. And if someone hears something goes, I don't know if that's necessarily true or not. You know, they can look it up or look into it more, hopefully the listen to the show a few different times. So we really want to have that kind of interactivity with the audience. And you know, some people might have a problem with it. We understand that, but hopefully people will get why we did that and that we wanted the flow to be organic. Speaker 3: 10:55 Yeah. We wanted the story to be the important element rather than who was telling the story. Even though we do want to celebrate everyone who was a part of the documentary and who was, who had this involvement in Comicon in the early days, we want to be able to tell a story. We want to be able to, you know, that's, that's the focus of, of this documentary rather than just who's talking. And sometimes you can, you can tell certain voices here and there who's talking, but for the most part, it is hard to tell, but we're hoping that that doesn't matter because the story that we're telling is, is compelling enough. Hopefully that's the, that's the goal. If I may, Beth, to just to just to interject something that actually one of our main featured interviewees, Scott Shaw said, who I know Beth, that you know, and probably a lot of people in the San Diego community know and people listening to this in fandom at all know, Scott was one of the big names that we were so excited to have involved in this. Speaker 3: 11:43 And he's been extremely supportive, but he said something, when that came up with a friend of his, he said, look, when you're walking around the floor at Comic-Con, you don't know who everyone is, you, you can't tell what every single person is that they're doing. I mean, it's a crowd, it's a bit of a explosion in grand central station, if you will. And we really wanted to have that feeling of, you know, there's so much going on and you're kind of looking at everything and experiencing everything and there's archival stuff and there's different people talking. So on one level that's that I think is true and the other is, might seem a little lofty, but really this is a lot of where our heart was at. We wanted this to be when you're in fandom, when you're at comic con, for the most part, obviously there's some delineations, but for the most part, when you're in fan and when you're at Comic-Con, when you're in geek culture, everyone is the same. Speaker 3: 12:28 Everyone is a fan. We even have stories of famous people having to wait in line for eight hours. I mean, you know, some of them are allowed to go on the back, but not everybody. Um, so we really wanted there to be a sense of whether you're hearing Bob or rent talking, or you're hearing Neil Gaiman talking, they're, they're kind of coming from the same place they are fans. And it doesn't matter if you know who Bob rent is, or even if you know who Neil Gaiman is because they're both telling stories about not only the con, but their connection to fandom. And we really wanted to kind of have this almost kind of flattening effect of it almost doesn't it really doesn't matter. Who's taught because they're just, as Chris said so eloquently, they're telling me stories. Now I do want to say for anyone listening to this right now, when there are a few moments where it was kind of important for someone to identify themselves or be identified because we're talking about specific person, we did work very hard with our narrator, bring Stevens who comes in every now and then for a little bit of extra contextual stuff to say, she'll, she might talk about somebody and then say, here is that person. Speaker 3: 13:28 So we, we were aware of every now and then we needed to identify someone for the story to continue organically. And in those cases, we would either have brink say their name or other, other people would be talking about that person. And then you would hear them talk. And it was clear that was the person they were talking about. So we did kind of have some clever little moments like that as well. It wasn't totally a free for all. Speaker 2: 13:49 You do have an upcoming episode focused strictly on Shel Dorf. Who's one of the founders and it is described as kind of this rash Simone kind of storytelling. Talk a little bit about that particular episode and kind of the challenges of putting that together. Speaker 3: 14:05 This is one of the, uh, this is one of the episodes that rubs started off with. So Matt kind of went through, found all the good stuff that he wanted to kind of reference in regards to show Dolph. And obviously half the people that we interviewed seem to really like him, half the tables seemed to not like him at all. And that's the name of it is shell dolphin. That's why it was so important for us to sort of have an entire episode focused on him and who he was and all of his antics. So that sort of stuff, but it was really interesting and unique episode because we would, there was sort of no, no arc, right? A lot of the other episodes you're telling a story you're telling, um, you know, you've got a beginning, middle and end all that sort of stuff for episode four, which is the episode focusing on show doff. Speaker 3: 14:47 There isn't really any of that. It's just stories about show memories of who he was, all that sort of stuff. And it was really, it was a really moving episode. I, uh, I think Matt did a great job of not only finding the clips for us, but also, you know, asking the right questions to these people as well. That's, that's one of the most important things. If you want to get good answers to, to, uh, to all these questions, you have to ask the right question and that's what Matt was able to do. So when he came to us with all of these clips, it was, it was pretty easy for us to go through and, and find the right ones that hit the right tone and all that sort of stuff throughout it. So from our point of view, it was pretty easy, but Matt kind of did the grunt of the work, um, in, in getting us the right clips. Speaker 3: 15:29 It was Beth, absolutely the episode we were most nervous about. There's no question that and anyone who hears it and we know some of the interviewees who've already listened to it and gave us some great responses to it. Everyone seems to really enjoy it. But, um, you know, we know that there's some harsh statements said in, in that episode. And also I think there'll be some people who will be surprised who's team shell, and who's not team shell. We knew this was a bit of a bugaboo for a lot of the people we talk to. There's a lot of protection around shell. Uh, it was, it was a topic we wanted to make sure we handled correctly. We did not want it to be a, Hey geography. Shell had a lot of problems. Shell did a lot of things he should not have done. And shell had, you know, some issues obviously, but we also didn't want it to be as accused. Speaker 3: 16:21 We didn't want to attack. And we really wanted to allow people to just tell their stories. And some of them are pretty harsh and difficult, but there's also a lot of people talking about why they felt bad for shell and everyone across the board agrees. Even the biggest shell haters that without shell door there would not have been a Comic-Con. And he did create Comicon for the most part and, you know, but did have to step away at a point. And, um, we don't want to give too much away. Uh, but you know, his story is an intriguing one and we wanted to make sure by the way that we were running it throughout the entire series, that was something we talked about since day one, we actually talked a lot, right? When we started developing this tiger king had happened as a phenomenon. And we all talked a lot about the format and structure of tiger king. Speaker 3: 17:07 And we really liked that you watch three episodes of tiger king and you're all into it and envelop in it before someone says, oh, by the way, did we mention Carol Baskin? Might've killed her husband. You know, we'll talk about that next episode. So we want to have little things like that, of what if we kind of tease or hint that there's some tension with shell throughout the first three episodes. So that by the time we get to four, we have someone actually say, so are we even talking about shell now? And then it's like, okay, let's do it. You know, it's coming. So we want to kind of build that tension so that by the time we got there, it would be this kind of fascinating citizen came kind of analysis of the good, the bad and the ugly of Sheldon. And it was also really important to us that we didn't come to a conclusion about whether shell was a good guy, a bad guy. We wanted the people who you, him to tell the stories and to let us know what they thought of him. We didn't want to come down in one way or the other. And that was really important from day one. And I think we did a pretty good job of making sure that we weren't editorializing. We weren't saying well in the end show was so-and-so nah, this is, this is a story told from the interviewees completely. Speaker 2: 18:11 Why do you feel it's important to kind of look back at this and look back at the origin of comic con what's important for people to remember about kind of this moment in time Speaker 3: 18:24 As the kind of, I said earlier, I have been very interested in nerd and geek culture, such that, is it such that it is or so to speak? And I know even some people in our series like mark Avenir, don't even really like that term necessarily. Um, whereas others, you know, are proud to call themselves that, and that was something also we wanted to kind of deal with, but I've been very fascinated by this for years. And in fact, in a lot of ways, I like to think of this project as almost the culmination of a lot of the books I've written. A lot of the documentaries I've worked on are made. I've always tried to kind of get at how and why we as a society, we as the human race, whether we're in, you know, America or Japan or India or Antarctica or wherever we might be are connecting with this media. Speaker 3: 19:13 But I think one of the reasons why Chris and I connected with these people and this community, the way that we did, because obviously comics are a big part of it. And learning about learning more about your Jack Kirby's and your Neal Adams and people along those lines is that it is community. And it is this group of misfits. I mean, I've said this before, but we almost wanted to call the series first geeks or something like that, because we really wanted to keep the focus on the people on the community that they created. And in a lot of ways, Comicon itself was almost this afterthought. It was almost this, this side project that came out of all of these different groups of people from around the San Diego, then around the state and around the country, around the world, coming together to celebrate not only the movies and books and video games and whatnot that they were celebrating, but the people behind them and also the connection that they had to that, uh, you know, I, I love to quote that great scene in high fidelity when John Hughes X character actually says, you know, music, movies, TV shows, these things are important because they connect you to the people that you're going to be connected to. Speaker 3: 20:23 You know, this might not happen as much now that everyone's streaming everything, but I remember the day still you'd go to someone's house. And one of the first things you would do is go to their library and see what books they have or see what DVDs they had or see what CDs they have. And they would kind of let you go and look, you know, and they would do it at your house cause you're sort of sussing each other out, especially if you're dating somebody maybe for the first time, or you're looking at posters on their wall, oh, you're into that band too. And I didn't think else was into that. And you're connecting with these people that, well, you are creating community and that's what these people did. And a, we were so fascinated by that is almost kind of, you know, uh, humanist observers. Speaker 3: 21:01 It was almost like really doing sort of an anthropological study on this subculture of people who have actually now become the culture. And that's a lot of what the story is about. It is the culture. Now, this subculture that existed in the sixties and seventies, uh, but also, uh, you know, just how we connect to it as well. And although we don't ever talk about ourselves in this, you don't even hear any of us in it or anything like that. We didn't want to put ourselves into this in any way, as would have been an easy thing to do. You can still have a sense of the people who made this really care about it and really wanted to investigate it in a way of a cultural study. And that's why I think it was very important, especially since a lot of this had not been talked about before at this depth people know about Woodstock. Speaker 3: 21:44 People know about grateful dead people know about the moon landing, but they might not necessarily know what else was going on in the sixties and seventies with not only Comic-Con, but this group of people all over the country, doing all this stuff with star Trek and doing all this stuff that certain movies and TV shows and building a lot of this that was going on while everything else, Vietnam and Woodstock and Nixon, everything was happening too. So we wanted to kind of fill in that gap and that's a lot of what we were trying to do with this and why we're so interested in it. Why did we feel this was a good story to tell, because it's our history, it's our collective history and it's our personal history. And we look at these people as forebears of who we have become Chris and I and Rob, and some of the other people who worked on this were pop culture, historians. Speaker 3: 22:29 We are people who like to write about and talk about and discuss movies and TV shows and books and things. And these people that we interviewed, they were in many regards, some of the first people to ever do it on a professional level to ever do it on a national or an international level. And we want them to catch them in their stories, studs, Terkel style, Alan Lomax style, field recording style, to have them explain what was going on and the air they were breathing and what was happening when they were in their teams coming together to say, you know what, there's something really important about Ray Bradbury and we need to talk about it and we need to connect and make sure that Ray Bradbury can come and talk to us about this. So that's where it's all coming from. Again, I know pretty lofty, but Speaker 2: 23:11 Thank you both very much for talking about your new podcast. Thanks Speaker 3: 23:14 For having us Beth. Appreciate it. Thanks Beth. We really appreciate it. Yeah. Thank you so much. Speaker 1: 23:20 That was Beth Armando speaking with Matthew Klickstein and Christopher Tyler there. Our new podcast Comecon begins launched last week with episode two debuting tomorrow.

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Mathew Klickstein and Christopher Tyler are self-described geeks who have loved Comic-Con from afar. Klickstein attended one Comic-Con with a documentary crew 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
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