Spandex Not Required
To the socially well adjusted, the San Diego Comic-Con International is almost certainly an excruciating hell. But to those willing to embrace life's most isolating pleasures, it's a comprehensive and vindicating panorama of dweeb entertainment. Thirty-nine years ago, the gathering brought 300 locals to a small hotel; now the earth-shattering event draws upward of 150,000 to the massive San Diego Convention Center, creating an unignorable global "buzz" while jamming up the city's hotels and public transport like nobody's business. The scope has reached so far beyond comics that a focus on sequential art sometimes feels obligatory, chugging dutifully along in the shadow of Hollywood blockbuster panels and gargantuan architectural displays erected to debut video games and action-figure designs. Celebrity guests from Elvira to the Rock shake hands and kiss babies. Large-scale corporate players this year included Fox Entertainment, Warner Bros., and Mattel, the latter presenting a 30-foot-tall re-creation of Castle Greyskull from Masters of the Universe, guarded by a real-life version of the nefarious Evil-Lyn.
Skeletor's right-hand woman is impressively accurate in her appearance but also indicative of Comic-Con's rampant transformations. Several of the companies and dealers now employ ... ugh ... "booth babes," aka California blondes paid $40 an hour to don crime-fighting spandex and wiggle in an effort to entice the virginal hordes. However, these seducers of the aged-but-still-innocent make up only a small percentage of the costumed Con-goers. Thousands of attendees spend the entire five days of the convention roaming the aisles in their fantasy finery, exhibiting equal parts ambition and obsession in aping beloved fictional icons, from Wolverine (I counted four) to the Baroness of G.I. Joe fame (two) to Heath Ledger's Joker (countless), often showcasing some unfortunate biology in the process. Less eyeball-punishing personal favorites included a mustached doughnut and five teenagers dressed as the geometric shapes in a game of Tetris.
The majority of badge-holders seem inexplicably content to wait hours in a network TV swag line for a poster tube filled with glossy bullshit, which leaves the remaining geek herd the chance to focus unimpeded on the convention's actual core: comics. Strangely enough, it may currently be Comic-Con's greatest secret that it's still an incredible place to meet classic creators, to find back issues of every conceivable title, and generally to be exposed to the very best (and worst) in the medium. Though playground bullies Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse clearly take up the lion's share of the building's comic-designated floor space, there's an inspiring number of self-publishers and long-running independent heroes like Fantagraphics and Last Gasp, who continually show up each year to carry the banner of creative drive and financial risk. While cavernous ballrooms fill with zitty youths hungry for Watchmen gossip, smaller sections are home to panels celebrating low-art pioneers like Jack "King" Kirby and Forrest "Famous Monsters" Ackerman.
So yes, in the recent superheroization of the silver screen, the San Diego Comic-Con has inevitably gorged itself on media attention and Hollywood glamour. But beneath its bloated skin beats the enduring, humble heart of a genuine comic-book nerd, destined to outlast all the bright lights and dark tans thrown in its path.