Through those images and a raft of posters, flyers, badges, and shots of beautifully shonky, DIY costumes throughout the years, we get a glimpse inside not just a niche community, but an entire movement in the US, in which the cult became mainstream, and the geeks really did inherit the earth — or at least, a very devoted slice of the people that live on it.
For the most part, the book takes the form of a rambling but charming chat between the key players throughout Comic-Con’s history. There’s a palpable sense of community and camaraderie here: while there’s certainly a bit of harking back to ‘the good old days’, there’s a warmth that makes it all feel very intimate — like us readers are part of the gang, too, even if we’ve never been anywhere near San Diego.
There’s nearly 50 contributors in all, ranging from big-name comics artists to the likes of infamous Troma legend Lloyd Kaufman; mumblecore maverick Kevin Smith; fantasy nut Neil Gaiman, author of The Sandman and Coraline; and a raft of other “integral members of the Comic-Con and fandom scene”, as Fantagraphics puts it.
“Fandom is a tribe of people,” says pop culture historian Mathew Klickstein. “Geeks, nerds, fanboys/fangirls, misfits, outsiders, weirdos — all bonding over pop culture nostalgia. People who speak a shorthand based on the singular universe built around certain niche passions. It’s more than a subculture, but rather an entire network of interconnected and often overlapping nodes of fandom.”
Through this sprawling and strange cast of characters we hear funny stories, nostalgic stories, and heartbreaking stories; but ultimately, these tales weave together the narrative of the “transformation of mainstream American pop culture into comic book culture over the past century”.
See You At San Diego: An Oral History of Comic-Con, Fandom, and the Triumph of Geek Culture is published by Fantagraphics; fantagraphics.com
There’s even some women in there too, despite this being a historically rather male-dominated area: contributions come from, among others, actor and writer Felicia Day of web series The Guild, a show loosely based on her life as a gamer; and seminal octogenarian American comics artist, Trina Robbins.
Klickstein is one of the authors behind a fascinating new book from Seattle-based comics publisher Fantagraphics, titled See You At San Diego: An Oral History of Comic-Con, Fandom, and the Triumph of Geek Culture. The book uses the history of Comic-Con from the 1970s to the present day as a lens through which to explore the rise and rise of ‘geek culture’; and the ever-shifting ways in which ‘fandom’ has transformed pop culture today.
There’s a wealth of gorgeous photography showing the world’s biggest pop culture gathering (as certified by Guinness World Records) through the ages; and as you might expect, it’s a surreal ride. There’s a baby precariously balancing, asleep, on the shelves of a comic book store; Lee Marrs, one of the first female underground comix creators, resplendent in some very 1970s specs and necklaces at the 1973 Berkeley conference; shots of the early conferences’ ‘dealer rooms’, stacked from floor to ceiling with neatly labelled comics; Trina Robbins drawing at an easel at an early 1980s conference, wearing a swimming costume, naturally.