San Diego Comic-Con
By Minister Faust
So I’m looking up at a kot-tam full-sized X-Wing fighter. I mean, like, it’s right there in front of me, and I’m not wading even hip-deep in a toiletty swamp next to a tiny, shriveled green creep berating me for trying and not doing. Instead I’m standing inside the San Diego Convention Center and trying to stop hyperventilating. Trying and not doing. Be cool, whisper-echoes my super-ego Ben Kenobi/Isaac Hayes. Don’t let all these 100,000 people see you trippin’. And use the Force, fool.
It’s July 22 and I’m at the San Diego Comic-Con, the biggest freaking SF/fantasy/comix/video games/movies/TV event in the known universe, sent there by my publisher Del Rey to show off my beautiful newborn, The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad, my SF novel set in 1995 E-Town. When Del Rey first told me they were sending me, I asked long-time pal and local cartoonist celebrity Stephen J. Notley what the hell Comic-Con was. Imagine the Shaw Conference Centre, he said, stacked, packed and latched with literally hundreds of booths bursting with the biggest assortment of fanboyish delights assemblable. The Mecca of manga, the Gethsemene of Geekitude.
So I’m walk in and I can’t breathe, because I am abso-manic-lutely knocked out of my soles when I’m hardly ten steps inside this place. It’s virtually a city unto itself, and in a not-so-past life I would’ve applied for permanent residency here. Everywhere I look, ceiling-scraping displays for DC Comics, Marvel Comics, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars… including the full-sized X-Wing fighter and the two Republican Jedi guarding it. Ten minutes after I take a crowbar to my lobotomy-style smile in hopes my face won’t crack in two, and I’m already exhausted by the place. I’m scheduled for four days of “conning,” including appearances on two panels, two book signing sessions and some Del Rey “booth time.” But will I ever be able to absorb even a fraction of what’s here?
And will I want to? Full disclosure: my novel The Coyote Kings is a celebration of many things, not the least of which is unadulterated, untreatable, terminal fanboyism (i.e., it’s autobiographical). So I should be totally in my element. But one thing that’s kryptoniting my Con is the Siren-array of women working here as flesh billboards. It’s disturbing. Steve Notley, who’s got a booth at the Con for the fifth year running to promote his Bob the Angry Flower anthologies (and who’s wearing a flower-mask while doing), reminds me I’m in the plastic-surgery capitol of the planet. This aint a political event–this is all about the sales. And that means California melons on display everywhere to sell junk. One booth for Species III or whatever features a woman reclining in a giant fish tank at eye-level idly flipping her reptilian “tail” as Freudianly as possible. A fellow fanboy remarks indignantly, “I’m not gonna stand there and like, gawk at her.” For me, the display is a car accident. You can’t help but not not look, and then feel guilty anyway.
Rampant commercial sexism aside, the Con stuns. More than 100,000 people come here for a Wednesday to Sunday marathon of panels featuring everyone from comicbook legends Will Eisner, Stan Lee and Neal Adams to the cast and creators of Farscape and the new Battlestar Galactica. And everybody is nice. You’d think that with this amount of expense, travel and expectation, the event’d be marred by complaining, shoving and yelling. Not so. And for all you Rick Mercerised Yankee-bashers out there, check it: the Con is nothing but polite, gentle folks, and from my minimal forays into San Diego’s downtown, that’s all I find anywhere. Families, teens, seniors, kids–and yes, fangirls, too–relaxed, laughing, and clicking pics of the best costumes I’ve ever seen. I’m sitting at the Del Rey both when Brotherman walks by wearing the baddest Green Lantern outfit I can imagine. And unlike the guys who have molded foam padding for muscles, Bruh is buffed. It’s him and the costume and that’s it. I’m digi-snapping a Xena so convincing that one man asks me, “Is that really her?” And Superman, a Sith apprentice, several Trinitys… and me, dressed only as my secret identity.
Speaking of which, my panels. I knew I’d be “competing” with authors who have ten or more novels on their resumes for fan attention. I meet label-mates China Miéville (Perdido Street Station), Alex Irvine (One King, One Soldier), and Terry Brooks (The Sword of Shannara among his nineteen bestsellers). Not one of them looks down his nose at, patronises or alpha-dogs me, the zeta-pup in the pound. They just welcome me in, the newest kid in the clubhouse. Over a Del Rey dinner in which we authors (“we authors”–I still get a rush saying that) are dining with bookstore buyers from link to chain, I’m anxious that I won’t be able to schmooze with these major-leaguers. Instead, the buyer for Barnes and Noble eyeballs me and says, “What did you think of Spiderman 2?” I tell him I think it’s damn near perfect. He laughs and says “You can stay.” Thank baby Kal-El, my book sells out at the Con, and I get to autograph like I’m one of the pros. (And great Hera, I am.)
San Diego is juiced for this event. Not only the two six storey tall, inflatable robots outside the convention center, but the lamp-post banners celebrating Comicon. Other than a single drive-by-shouting (“You’re all nerds!” yells the automobiling loser–he must have a rich life), the city loves us. From what I can see, this is a beautiful town: the central corridor is ribboned by an elegant surface-level LRT; the streetscape is almost a futuristic vision in steel and glass of tubular towers and pyramidal capstones. Beyond, in the touristy interiors, there’s no litter, no graffiti, no blight–only blocks and blocks of restaurants which price-range from economy to Emir.
The most poignant moment comes after dinner on the final night. I’ve been dining in a Brazilian joint that serves meat on a sword (you have to be there), and as I’m walking back to the hotel with author Alex Irvine and Del Rey editor Chris Schluep, we’re talking about Ronald Reagan being in town. No, not the dead warmongering megadeficit-budgeter, but the USS Ronald Reagan, the newest American aircraft carrier. “Peace through Strength,” rail the posters announcing its slouching forth. Each night it sets off fireworks, which in the fog/smog-choked skies seem more like bomb-blasts than anything. Chris tells us about visiting his wife’s native Vietnam, seeing the limited resources there, how that witnessing made him much more conscious about our grotesque over-consumption over here. None of us invokes the name of Comic-Con. Chris tell us that from his home in Brooklyn, he could see the Twin Towers exhale unto eternity. He says that 9/11 taught Americans–or at least New Yorkers–the meaning of the fear that his own government has inflicted on country after country around the planet. He muses hauntedly, asking What must it be, while explosions echo in the darkness above us, to be living in Iraq right now, hearing a whistling fall, and then simply knowing nothing ever again?
We’re only blocks from the convention centre, but we might as well be on the other side of the planet. For all the childhood glee packed inside it, this single remark girds my soul. I’d felt guilty being at Comic-Con–having just gone through scores of debates and discussions in a political campaign for the fate of my country, and now here I was at Comic-Con sitting on a panel actually arguing about whether SF got the critical respect it is due. I’d felt trivial, foolish. But Chris synthesised my worlds together right there. We need our realm of dreams, our Avalon, for the healing energies necessary so we can return to the world of tears. To face it. To remake it.
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