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Devourer of Words 029: Comic-Con Memories

Marc Bernardin

My first Comic-Con was a blur. It was 2003 and I was working for Entertainment Weekly as an editor. I was trying to convince the Powers That Be that we should start a regular comics reviews section. My big ammunition was the $400 million that the first Spider-Man movie grossed in the U.S.: clearly, there were people who loved superheroes, it might be worth devoting a few pages a month to exposing our readers to where those superheroes came from.

The convincing worked. “What’s the first step?” the managing editor asked me. “I need to go to the Comic-Con in San Diego.”

Because this was publishing in the early 2000s, when people were actually making money, they said yes. So I went.

There were only around 70,000 CCI attendees in 2003—almost half the 2014 number. And, as you can imagine, half the people made it twice as easy to navigate. Let me put it in a way that will annoy the heck out of anyone who’s only ever been to the modern incarnation of Comic-Con: In 2003, you could go from a panel on the far side of the Convention Center at 11:45 AM, walk over to Ballroom 20, and grab a seat for the 12:00 PM panel without breaking a sweat. There were no lines. No camping. No midnight pizzas from filmmakers looking to curry favor. With just a little bit of planning, you could do everything you wanted to do.

Aside from some old coworkers from Starlog magazine who were editors at DC, I didn’t know anyone in comics. Luckily, one of those editors—the great and wise Maureen McTigue—took me by the hand and introduced me to everyone she knew. And she knew everyone: publishers, publicists, writers, artists, editors, colorists, letterers. Aisle after aisle, I met the people who made comics, who read comics, who loved comics more than anyone I’d ever met. She told me about the ceremonial after-party at the Hyatt, where everyone from interns to Image founders went to let off steam and, for the price of a shot and a beer, they’d let slip the kind of secrets that would curl your toes.

I’d read comics since I was 10 and I thought I loved them. But until I met the people who made them, I didn’t really know comics. When I think back on my relationship with comics—from reader to journalist to creator—my 2003 Comic-Con was the quantum leap.

Everything sprung from that trip. It changed my life. For the better, I’d like to think—though my wife has never been thrilled by the sheer number of comics I drag around with me wherever I go.

Comics has been a distraction when I wanted one, an outlet when I needed one, and a life preserver when I least expected it to be. And every Comic-Con—no matter how crowded, no matter how exhausting—I always find something that reminds me why I keep comics in my life.

Because, well, comics. Duh.

Marc Bernardin’s Devourer of Words will return on the third Tuesday of August here on Toucan!