—— The Comic-Con has been a fixture in San Diego for as long as I can remember, when did it get started?
It's interesting that you ask because the show's been around for 34 years, it was started in 1970, but this July 22-25 will actually be our 35th Comic-Con International the reason being that we actually had two shows in one year. How we managed to do that I don't know! Thirty- four years ago when we started in the basement of the U.S. Grant Hotel, our very first event was attended by only around 300 hundred people. It was originally a gathering of like-minded individuals, people who enjoyed comic books, comic art, and comic writing, which they felt, and rightly so, was a very, very overlooked medium.
Comic art was viewed as nothing more than a read and throwaway type of thing, as are magazines and other things of that nature. So the idea was timely. I can't tell you the oodles of stories I've heard of priceless comic book collections being thrown away while someone was cleaning out their attic without any understanding at all of what they were actually getting rid of!
—— Can you tell us how this "gathering of friends" has grown into the Comic-Con we know today?
As the convention has continued to grow in size it has grown in popularity as well. We moved from the US Grant to the El Cortez and were there for many years, and those days hold fond memories for many of our long-time fans. We even held it on the campus of UCSD one summer. Later we moved to the Convention and Performing Arts Center (CPAC), which is where the Pacific Theater is now, before finally maxxing out our space there and finally moving to the new Convention Center when it opened. At the time we only took up one or two halls and I don't think any of us realistically ever thought that we would ever take more. We thought that maybe in time we would grow in small little increments, but we started growing pretty fast especially in the last four years. Normally attendance grows by about 2,000 people per year, but over the last several we've grown by leaps and bounds! From 53,000 in 2001 to 63,000 and then last year we topped 75,000. We've offered people a venue where they can come and share their life's interest with other people and we've come to find, along with the rest of the world, that there are a lot more people who were interested in this medium than anybody ever thought. Fans didn't used to get much attention and comics in general have had to endure numerous misconceptions and stigmas, but as we've grown so has our legitimacy. There was even a period of time in the 50s when comics were considered subversive and were being blacklisted.
Apparently, some people felt they didn't hold and support the best of ideals. Looking back now on that line of thinking those notions become almost silly, but people did really question the morality of comics and their characters.
—— What can people expect when they attend a Comic-Con?
In addition to what you see on the exhibit floor there are actually two floors of meeting space and those can hold anything from drawing classes to how to write for comics or film we host panels, workshops and discussions on a wide variety of popular arts. This year we have a whole filmmakers track and Comic-Con also features its own Independent Film Festival. So we're teaching people how they can actually participate in this medium. Over the years we've hosted some 10-12,000 industry professionals...they could be artists and writers, filmmakers or producers, costume designers, from any of a myriad of professionsﾑand all that's included in your price of admission. A lot of times people just see the exhibit hall, with its 450,000 square feet and 900 exhibitors, which is so exciting, but there is so much more that goes on we even host a Masquerade! Also, as always, artists or creators that want to come to the show get in for free and as a result San Diego has become this meeting place for all of this creative talent.
—— I’ve never seen a more dedicated group of fans than at a Comic-Con. Who are these people that come out every year?
Well, from our surveys we know that for the most part our show attracts people who like to be on the cutting edge of what's new. We get surfers or skate punks and we get businessmen, doctors and lawyers. We reach a vast demographic that cuts across many borders and the one thing they have in common is that they enjoy things that are artistic, things that are cool and innovative things that challenge the mind. On the whole, they're more likely to go to a movie on the opening weekend, they're more likely to be on the internet or to have the latest computer and they are very aware of video games and pop culture items. They're not only out in front when it comes to comics and movies, but in most every area of pop culture. It's funny but for many years these people have been marginalized and underestimated much the same way as comics had been marginalized. They were just considered fans of comics and that's all, their whole thing was just comics, but marketing people have discovered that's not true and have begun to realize that this is a very powerful market. Our fans know what they like and they talk with their checkbooks coming to places like Comic-Con and through all the products that they buy!
A few years back we got a letter and inside was a check for $25. Typically when people send us money it comes attached with an application or form,but this one came with a letter. A gentleman who had been visiting SD during the Comic-Con was walking by the Convention Center, saw all the activity, and curiously asked someone coming out, "What's going on in there?" So after he explains that it's the Comic-Con etc. he says he's done for the day and hands the guy his entry badge. It turns out the man goes in and has so much fun that he sent us a check to cover his admission! It's hard to imagine anyone doing that, but people really love it and those are the kind of fans we have!
—— As you’ve grown has your focus shifted much over the years?
Interestingly it really hasn't! Comic-Con International has a mission statement and that mission is to introduce popular arts to the general public primarily through comics. Our heart has always been in comics and printed matter, but often times the characters transcend that. As the show's grown in popularity, so has the guest list of people who've come through the door. For example, last year we had Halle Berry, director Quentin Tarantino promoting "Kill Bill" and Angelina Jolie for "Tomb Raider", but we've always had close ties with Hollywood.
—— On the heels of so many successful comic-based films such as "Spiderman" have your "Hollywood" connections been strengthened?
As of late, we have been getting much more attention from Hollywood studios, but that's really nothing too new because as early as 1973, we had Frank Capra, the Academy Award winning film director, as one of our guests. So there has always been this overlapping interest in film, comics and comic art. We've had a long history of highlighting motion pictures also and yes the writers, directors and people of that nature. More and more movie studios, and development executives are coming down from Los Angeles looking for propertiesﾑlooking for the next great movie idea. One of the greatest aspects of comic art is that you already have stories and images, so studios can come down to the Comic-Con, go to a table, pick up a comic and see the images just like they were looking at a storyboard.
It's interesting that many people described Star Wars as be being very comic-like, and Lucas Films was one of the first studios that attended our show in an exhibitor capacity. They knew and understood even then. In 1976 they came to San Diego, had a place on the floor, and handed out promotional posters and literature on this new movie that was coming out Star Wars! They showed some clips and things a full year before it was ever released and weﾕve had a great relationship with them ever since. As a matter of fact, when Star Wars celebrated it's 25th anniversary Lucas Films remembered us and came down and shared some very interesting things from their archives including the screen-tests for actors Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, along with a number of scenes that had been left on the editing room. It was fascinating, especially being that I'm a big fan of Star Wars.
—— How did you come to get involved with Comic-Con International?
I've been Director of Marketing and Public relations since 1994, but I started here as a volunteer around 1984. I was working on a political campaign and a friend of mine, who was on the committee, asked if I could give them a hand writing some press releases. I did and each year I continued to help out and as we grew it got to a point where there was so much to do and it was taking so much time they had to decide whether to hire a public relations firm or bring me aboard on a more permanent basis and I've been here ever since. I have to tell you, I love what I'm doing even though believe it or not at this time of the year it can get stressful. How can you not be happy when you're doing something like this?
Last year over 75,000 enthusiastic fans took Comic-Con to a higher level.
—— Are you much of a fan or collector?
I have always been a big movie fan, in fact my background is based in film, so it's fantastic being here where I still have the opportunity to work in film occasionally. I used to collect Stars Wars one-sheets, but just recently I don't really think I'm collecting much well, okay I have been picking up a few action figures here and there from some of the movies and comics,as well as sports like hockey I'm a big Chris Chelios fan. It's funny because when I first started working here even though I didn't necessarily read comics I was still very much aware of them. Of course by being here, I started learning more about the various genres and started finding things I really enjoyed. Since we support all of the publishers, big and small, I won't get into what I personally read, but I will say I have always enjoyed war stories and war comics maybe because I grew up playing army or spent time on military bases like Sasebo as a child. Maybe because I spent some time in Japan, one of the characters I absolutely love is Ultraman. And that's the point, whatever you like there are truly so many different kinds of comics that you're bound to find something that speaks to you.
—— Are comics viewed differently here than in some other countries?
Absolutely! Comics for the most part are considered an American art form and have been accepted here, but it's amazing how much more places like Japan and the rest of the world embrace them. In any number of countries you can be on a train and see adults reading "manga" or the "novellas" They are basically stories with pictures and words. It's interesting to me that in some countries like Japan and throughout Asia, Europe and South America you can have comics or animation marketed to the mainstream-and it is accepted there. Animated films released at the theaters do very, very well, while to some extent in the U.S. they are still viewed by many as being just a children's medium. In Japan, it is not unusual to go to a movie theater and see a Japanese blockbuster that happens to be animated. I think to a certain degree were bridging the gap, but it would be great to see something like "My Neighbor Totoro" here because there are so many layers to it. We see some of this interest reflected in our attendance here too since quite a number of people come all the way from Europe and Japan both to exhibit and to partake in the show, because they don't have anything like Comic-Con over there. Governments abroad are also very aware of this medium. I was invited a couple of years ago to go to the 5th Asian Manga Summit and it was the most amazing thing. You had Japan, Taiwan, Mainland China and a lot of other Pacific Rim countries all discussing this industry all very aware of the influence this medium has. It's a wonderful validation of what we do.
—— What’s going to be this year’s "big event"?
Sarah Michelle Geller (aka Buffy the Vampire Slayer) will make her first-ever appearance at this years Comic-Con to discuss her upcoming movie "The Grudge" © VRAK.TV
It's really hard to say. While we certainly plan some things I think the show tends to evolve more on its own. Many people ask what do you think the attendance will be or what's the big thing. We never really know it could be Pokemon or anime or stars from an upcoming blockbuster movie like Spiderman or the new Batman or Star Wars episodes we just donﾕt know completely until the show. The show is very fluid, very dynamic and very much a live. People don't realize that even though we always have some big celebrities scheduled to be here like "Buffy" (Sarah Michelle Geller) I have no doubt that there will be other stars who will show up unannounced. Last year it was Halle Barry and Angelina Jolie who came at the last instant, before that it was Arnold Schwarzenegger who came out of the blue, and Ben Affleck promoting Daredevil. So there is always so much more than what we officially announce. it's part of the intrigue. I don't know what it is yet, but I'm sure there it will be something great again this year.
(07-16-2004 issue, Interviewed by Terry Nicholas)