Maggie Thompson’s Comic-Con 2013 Diary, Day One!

HD Toucan reading a comic

Here’s the thing: My usual Toucan blog consists of what I hope is thoughtful (or—what the heck—flippant) commentary on a theme. A diary (or, at least, my diary) is different. I may have thoughts, but I haven’t analyzed those thoughts, run them through at least a couple of drafts, or had someone else proofread them. Even if I begin the day by taking copious notes, I end the day in something of a dither. So stream of consciousness it may be, and many things occurred that won’t find a home in this specific report.

That said …

The night before Comic-Con’s Preview Night was a relaxing one, the world filled primarily with non-comics folks. Some I met expressed themselves excited and surprised that the event they’d heard so much about was about to begin where they were vacationing. And Preview Night morning saw hotel staff sporting comics-associated apparel, kicking off the feeling that a gigantic party was about to begin. (Anyone traveling to or from the San Diego Convention Center passes by street decorations and hotels alike decked out with comics-associated “apparel,” come to think of it. It’s comics time, no doubt about it.)

Note to self: I was decidedly right to begin the day with a huge breakfast. It ended up being my only meal of the day, as I suspected it might be. I don’t know about other folks, but Comic-Con hits me with an adrenaline rush that robs me of my appetite: something of a drug-free amphetamine. (OK, maybe that isn’t something to advertise as another benefit of Comic-Con. But I tend to lose weight here, even while my bags fill with heavy comics.)

The start of the day Wednesday signaled clearly, “Comic-Con has begun.” I took my own advice (never get room service, if you can go to a public area to eat at Comic-Con, because you never know whom you might meet out there) and encountered long-time buddy (there must be a term for people I’ve known for years but have only met at comic-cons) John Koukoutsakis. We talked—as seems inevitable when two long-time Comic-Con attendees meet—about the changes that years have brought to what had been a tiny show and is now an international event. (Tip: If you want to set yourself up for an hour of reminiscence at Comic-Con, just say, “El Cortez Hotel,” and stand back.)

When writer/artist/publisher/agent/etc. Denis Kitchen approached John and me, he began by saying, “Here are three of the oldest people in comics.” And the nostalgia took over again. We spoke of Zip-A-Tone and Wite-Out, and Denis talked about a future in which people collect “digital antiques.” The impromptu pre-breakfast meeting included discussions of What Used To Be, whether long-timers occasionally give in to “get off my lawn” syndrome, the aging process, and how to deal with collections stored in boxes. And Denis showed us his self-image art: “Denis wears many hats.” (As in writer, artist, publisher, etc., as outlined above.)

It’s always a treat to meet new folks at Comic-Con, and a major new buddy this year is Karen Green, whose career at Columbia University has gone from being its medieval and religious librarian to becoming its graphic-novel specialist. This summer, she’s teaching a comics course there (Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics being a basic text), and we eventually had to part ways, because she had to go to her hotel room to grade papers. Prior to that, though, it was non-stop anecdotage (did I mention that I’m clearly in my anecdotage?) and grew even more intense when we were joined by The Beat’s Heidi MacDonald. Topics included hoarding, development of a university comics collection, the quantity of original art stored in some estates, the capturing of information from primary sources … and Comic-Con.

Heidi’s joining us was typical of the event: I tend to stake out a spot in a high-traffic site near the convention center, and folks I know pass by—and some stop to chat. I caught a glimpse of Peter and Kathleen David, as they headed for the elevator after checking in—and was relieved to see them as active as any others in the crowds. Obviously, I hope to talk later with them (don’t get in the way of people checking in), but it was a matter of elation that he looked to be in good shape, after almost total incapacitation from a stroke just a few short months ago. Others who stopped by my table (near the top of the escalator at the Marriott) included Scott Kurtz of PVP and Jerry Ordway (who said that things have changed a bit since he was last here—in 1996; go figure).

On the other hand, you’ll miss the action if you just lurk at a table somewhere. The mobs that have begun to fill hotels and the convention center contain fans and pros alike. Walking by the line of pros waiting to register, Star Wars comics writer and novelist (and comics statistician and historian) John Jackson Miller (whom I seldom see from month to month, though we live in the same county) and I came across Patrick Rothfuss. We almost never see that fantasist (best known for his The Kingkiller Chronicle, but he has also written “The Princess and Mr. Whiffle” tales, illustrated by Nate Taylor), though he lives less than 50 miles away from us. Yet here we were, hanging out for a brief conversation, as the pro line galloped forward. I must remember to continue to keep my peripheral vision active.

I love introducing new attendees to the wonders of the con. This year, I had a chance to take the comics expert from National Public Radio’s “Pop Culture Happy Hour” podcast, Glen Weldon, through the beginning steps of that introduction. We entered the hall in the midst of the comics dealers’ booths, and I showed him the number and variety of what’s available, pointing out some long-timers he’ll want to come back to, as he explores the morphing of our field. I introduced him to Jackie Estrada, since she’s clearly a leading observer of how our nerdly world has become mainstream. And much of our hall tour was done at a rapid pace, since we didn’t want to interfere with the commerce. Indeed, as people entered the hall and crowds grew more—well, crowdy—we eventually went our separate ways: he to explore further, me to wait in line to buy a con exclusive for my son. (Greater love hath no mother, yadda, yadda.)

And now, I’m getting ready for the first full day of the show. I’m trying to decide whether to start with the dealers or the publishers. Whichever it turns out to be, I know my bags are going to begin to fill with treats to be savored later. Yum!

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