San Diego To Die For: A (Late-ish) Comic-Con 2014 Diary
By Abdulkareem Baba Aminu
As a lifelong reader, collector of comic books (and BleedingCooler), a trip to San Diego for the annual gathering called Comic-Con was bound to be embarked upon at some point. So, when the stars aligned, so to speak, I was on my way. Disembarking from the plane, I was greeted by the splendidly warm weather of San Diego, California, which is quite similar to the type I'm used to in now-faraway Abuja. One breezy hotel check-in and pizza lunch later, I unleashed myself upon the Gaslamp District, which hosts the four-day extravaganza called Comic-Con.
In the Beginning
Being Wednesday (as well as 'Preview Night') and with the convention yet to be officially open to the public, I had a bevy of things I could choose to do. Special screenings of new TV shows? Hollywood parties? Long luxurious walks wandering the delightfully crowded Gaslamp District? I could do any of those but in the end I decided on the halls of the convention centre.
Artists and Gentlemen
Within one of the main halls, publishers, artists, writers, retailers and Hollywood types were busy setting up stands, tables and all kinds of spectacular displays. And that became a problem: As a first-time Comic-Con visitor, nothing prepared me for meeting, one after another, famous comic-book creators whose work I've revered since childhood. Jim Steranko, who never takes photos with fans, agreed to several snaps when he heard I came all the way from Nigeria. He also regaled me with the story of the time he punched Bob Kane (co-creator of Batman) in the face, "for being an arrogant egomaniac."
The excitement of my Steranko encounter was yet to wear off when I literally bumped into José Ladrönn, one of my favourite artists and probably the nicest guy in the comic book industry. My enthusiasm for his work must have showed, because he ended up signing a copy of The Final Incal for me, as well as making a detailed sketch of me as a Metabaron inside. His lovely wife let it slip that he enjoyed drawing me so much that he's considering drawing me into his work in the future. (Geekgasm!)
I could go on and on, as I bumped into, greeted and even high-fived hero after hero of mine. And Comic-Con hadn't even officially begun!
Over the next four days, I had amassed talk time (and dozens of selfies) with Hollywood people including Kiefer Sutherland (24), Manu Bennett (Spartacus and Arrow), Kelly Hu (X-Men 2), Clark Gregg (along with the entire main cast of TV's popular Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D) as well as Melissa Suzanne McBride, Steven Yeun and Danai Gurira (Carol, Glen and Michonne in The Walking Dead) and many, many more.
There also were special screenings (some in the famous and equally infamous 'Hall H') of much-anticipated new TV series like Constantine, Flash and others. The excitement around Comic-Con is palpable, almost rock-solid as fans and professionals mingled in shared enthusiasm.
Comic Book Looks
Comic book publishers Marvel had a fortress of a booth, with really cool signing areas where the entire cast of the Avengers 2 movie chatted with fans, snapped selfies and signed autographs cheerfully. DC Comics, too, boasted of a breezy, well-designed booth and professionals and guests were actually quite accessible there. Dark Horse had probably the most easily accessible one, and the publisher's media guy Aub Driver worked tirelessly to please everyone and I like to think he succeeded. However, my favourite booth has got to be IDW's, where creators signed and sketched away for fans in an extremely friendly atmosphere.
I roamed around the patch of goodness called Artists Alley and realised how friendly comic book illustrators are. Jim Cheung, Arthur Adams, Jae Lee, my friend Keron Grant and countless others generously shared their work with fans and engaged them in conversation, too. I also got to pore over the original art of one of my favourite Marvel series of all time, Avengers: The Children's Crusade even if I couldn't afford a single page (Next time, Jim, next time!)
Because It's Cosplay
No decent comic convention is without cosplayers, who dress up in beautiful, bizarre, splendid, crazy and even out-of-this-world costumes based on their favourite character of fiction. There was everything at Comic-Con! Swamp Thing, Superman, Iron Man, Batman, Spider-Man and so many more I can't mention. The costume-wearers are extremely friendly and always cheerfully pose for anyone asking (nicely) to photograph them or take a picture with them.
Robert Kirkman's insanely popular comic book The Walking Dead is also an insanely popular TV show and I'm an ardent follower of both. Chronicling the lives of survivors of a zombie apocalypse, it was sheer genius that the property was developed into The Walking Dead Escape, an event during which a good chunk of Petco Park (San Diego's mega-stadium) isn turned into a 'course' where participants or 'survivors' try to get to safe haven while battling zombies and infection. While a ton of fun, it's not for the faint-hearted. I know: I 'survived' it.
I've seen many a swag pic online after conventions, but when I set up my stuff on my hotel bed as is the custom, I realized I had an epic stash in my hands. Signed (and sketched) copy of Watchmen Artist's Edition, signed and sketched Walt Simonson's Thor Artist's Edition, several back issues including a copy of Ragnarok signed by Simonson, a Game of Thrones T-shirt and another with Rocket Raccoon on it. I also snagged the aforementioned Final Incal, wherein Ladrönn sketched me in as a Metabaron. Classic Uncanny X-Men back issues from what may be Mile High Comics' last outing at Comic-Con, Elephantmen signed by Starkings and gifted to me (what a nice guy!) and tons more. Oh, I so paid for excess luggage at the airport, but it was worth every cent.
Well over 100,000 people attended Comic-Con 2014. Not too shabby for a gathering that debuted in 1970 when a group of about 300 comics, movie, and science fiction fans came together to put on the first comic book convention in southern California. Beginning as a one-day affair called San Diego's Golden State Comic-Minicon, it has grown to become the focal point for the world of comic conventions and has evolved into the definitive popular culture event in the world.
It Was Bleedin' Cool, Too
Part of the unforgettable-ness of Comic-Con is my meeting with my fellow Bleeding Coolers. From Hannah Means-Shannon, Rich Johnston, David Dissanayake, Nikolai Fomich, Aaron Hale, Joshua Stone, Joe Glass, Joe Kyle Schmidt, and many other of my brothers-and-sisters-in-coolness. Our dinners, party-going and pair-ups were super-cool!
San Diego To-Die-For
Between the fans, the professionals, the cosplay, the tons of free stuff, the merchandise on sale and the host Gaslamp District itself, Comic-Con is certainly an incredible experience. Comic book readers, aspiring writers and artists, Hollywood TV and movie stars, journalists and more are guaranteed a great time in this, the biggest gathering of geeks in the world. My first slice of Comic-Con (and San Diego in general) is one I'll never forget and will always hope to replicate in the future. Next year, to be precise.
Abdulkareem Baba Aminu is a Bleeding Cool contributor, newspaper editor, award-winning journalist, cartoonist, comic book creator and painter. The Nigeria-based writer has reviewed comics, novels, movies and music for a variety of platforms. He is currently the Editor of the Weekly Trust, which is the Saturday edition of the Daily Trust and one of the most influential newspapers in his country. You can follow him on Twitter @KareemReal
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