…Which is to say the validity of its reputation for strange nerd attendees completely lacking in social fundamentals is open to interpretation.
The “Con” just isn’t what it was forty years ago. (This past weekend marked its over-the-hillness at 41.) It started in a dank basement and probably warranted the Jeff Albertson/Comic Book Guy stereotype popularized by The Simpsons. Now, though, Comic-Con International: San Diego’s shift toward Hollywood’s hype machine is more apparent than ever. Banners from the Comic-Con events have sported the phrase “Celebrating the Popular Arts” for years, but the meaning of “popular” has probably changed from Comic-Con 1 to Comic-Con 41. (And not in the favor of traditional comics.)
Of course, in media portrayals and anecdotes stemming from the weekend, you’ll still see super elaborate costumes, one too many FREE HUGS signs, one-liners overheard in the halls summarizing one-upmanship on obscure topics, and generally anything pointing to “Comic-Con draws a band of antisocial creatures.” There are plenty examples from the three conventions I’ve been to that add to those records, but you’ve also got to realize that those records are the most interesting. Not every attendee has an opinion on Twilight or Firefly, nor does everyone idolize Kevin Smith or Stan Lee. Good culture commentators cover the best of what an experience has to offer, and so they cover the crazies:
If you were a journalist covering a comic book convention and you had the choice between talking to someone dressed like you do for a 9-to-5 job and someone dressed like Batman, you would probably want to interview Batman.
That is not the type of decision you deserve to be paid to make. I can tell you from experience that covering Comic-Con and writing about all the normal people who go to Comic-Con is a complete waste of time and, on the whole, unappealing. The Normals are everywhere. So much so that the first time I went to Comic-Con, I was really disappointed by the number of costumes. There weren’t that many. This could largely be due to the fact that there’s barely any room to turn a corner at Comic-Con without running into three other Normals, let alone turn a corner without whipping someone in the face with your predator dreadlocks.
I spent the weekend trying to figure out why the thought of people getting costumed up to walk around is so disapproved of by the general public. The more I think about it, the more I don’t get it. People are encouraged to dress up on Halloween. “But Mayka, Halloween is a holiday.” Okay, fair enough. Then explain all the ideas for themed parties and non-holiday masquerades, and why they’re so much more acceptable than Comic-Con. A co-ed is labeled a slut if she’s dressed up too skankily for Halloween, but it’s more or less written off as something women just do. A female fan might dress as her favorite Sailor Moon character for Comic-Con, but for some reason she’s labeled as weird and painted as undesirable. Inconsistent much?
Now, that all said, this isn’t a piece in defense of nerds. Because I am a nerd and I don’t think we have anything to defend. I’m just calling it like my overthinking mind sees it, and I’m disappointed and frustrated when I try to explain to a Normal how much inspiration and sensory overload takes place at “comic” conventions. They usually have a hard time being convinced that the traveling comic book stands are pretty much shoved out and out, relegated to lining the perimeter of the massive convention center that depends so heavily on its yearly intrusion. Comic-Con subsists upon and continues to make way for the Salts, the Glees (Keep in mind I’m a wavering Gleek.), the comics-turned-films with actors and actresses who never read the books when they were younger. Showtime basically bought up every bus in San Diego to let you know it’s got Jackie, Dexter, Hank, and Nancy to keep it afloat. Cartoon Network takes over that pizza place every year. And little does the normal world realize, big budget productions run their first test audience sessions at this annual NerdFest.
This year, I was done with Comic-Con in about ten minutes. In being Bill’s +1 to so many of these events, I see a lot of the same thing. Constantly swimming upstream against throngs and throngs of people does not make the experience any more tolerable, either. I’ve never been particularly interested in Ryan Reynolds, but now I know I have it in for him and his Green Lantern signing totally obstructing my already labored walk from Small Press to the vinyl toys section.
I’ve barely had a day to decompress from the Con, and I still feel overwhelmed. There was a time when I enjoyed big, unmanageable groups of people, but that was back in high school. I’m still awed by the creativity in my two favorite sections of Comic-Con (Small Press and the more vinyl-leaning section of merch), but the event is just too much. I have some great stories to share, including two classically awkward nerd pick-up attempts that really just need to be written down. And I definitely took pictures of people in their awesome costumes. And I still guffaw that someone got “stabbed” in the eye at one of the panels. (When I heard about it, i thought “WTF is this, Metropolis*?”)
Despite feeling like I desperately need a spa day after less than two days at the San Diego Convention Center, I’m still harangued by what the “general public’s” immediate dejection of Comic-Con means. They all go to see movies, too, why can’t they see the fun in swiping schwag at an annual event? Guess it’s best if we just leave the possibility of being overwhelmed only to the open-minded.
* Metropolis was a massive rave notorious for stabbings and whatever else people do when they’re under the influence of E and mob mentalities. I went once. And then I basically got my ass whooped by my mother, and then she tried to tear me apart from my first love. (The one who said “conversate.”) Maybe they still run it. Hopefully, they don’t.