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The San Diego Comic-Con Oral History Panel That Won't Be

Scott Shaw is one of the original founders of San Diego Comic-Con. A couple of weeks ago, he posted regarding Mathew Klickstein's book.

Scott Shaw is a comic book artist best known for his work on The Flintstones, Captain Carrot, Simpsons and Sonic. He won the San Diego Comic-Con Inkpot Award in 1980, and multiple Emmys for his animation work. And he was one of the original founders of Comic-Con International San Diego in 1970 alongside Shel Dorf, Richard Alf, Ken Krueger, Mike Towry, Barry Alfonso, Bob Sourk and Greg Bear. I last saw him at the Founders Panel at the San Diego Comic-Con Special Edition of 2021.

A couple of weeks ago, he posted to Facebook regarding the book See You At San Diego: An Oral History Of Comic-Con, Fandom And The Triumph Of Geek Culture by Mathew Kickstein published last year, but not getting an Eisner nomination this year and having a panel with its publisher Fantagraphics Books rejected. Scott Shaw writes "Well, this is disappointing. SEE YOU AT SAN DIEGO: AN ORAL HISTORY OF COMIC-CON, FANDOM AND THE TRIUMPH OF GEEK CULTURE did not receive a nomination for the Eisner Award. And THEN… Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth and I both submitted a panel pitch about the book, titled HOW COMIC-CON CONQUERED THE PLANET, featuring Maggie Thompson, San Diego Comic-Con Chairman and co-founder Mike Towry, San Diego Comic-Con early committee member Wendy All, scholar/author Dr. Erin (ONLY AT COMIC-CON) Hanna, San Diego Comic-Con co-founder David Clark, San Diego Comic-Con early art contributor Jim Cornelius, Gary Groth, Yours Truly and the man behind this popular book, Mathew Klickstein. Our pitch was rejected. I want an explanation. Everyone loves a mystery, but this one makes me feel queasy."

Now, of course, San Diego Comic-Con is inundated with panel requests, far more than they could ever approve, and there may be competitive panels to this one. But the panel guest list seemed pretty stellar. It has been intimated that there may be politics involved with the rejection. Howard Chaykin replied, "This sort of nonsense is in line with my own decision to skip the show forever." And Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth posted "Oh, c'mon, everyone, this makes perfect sense. I mean, why would Comic-Con want to host a panel celebrating and exploring its own history based on a book that honors that history and that includes panelists who were there at the beginning and without whom there wouldn't be a Comic-Con and who may never have a chance to discuss it and reminisce publicly together? I don't see any problem here. And who would want to hear about how Comic-Con came to be among those who are actually at Comic-Con. It's not like there's any evidence that the potential audience for this panel who just happen to be attending Comic-Con would be interested in the history of Comic-Con. Nothing to see here, folks."

Comic-Con between the panels

I talked to Mathew Klickstein at length about the issues being expressed here. And it seemed that I had basically walked into a conversation that had been going on for a long time. Last year he also put a panel together, submitted by the book's publisher Fantagraphics ahead of publication last autumn –  and it was the only panel submitted by Fantagraphics that was rejected by the show. Abd the only Scott Shaw panel that was rejected.

Klickstein sees the rejection of his panel (both times) as the confirmation of a microcosm of larger issues in the San Diego Comic-Con community. Firstly, that it needs to be more transparent and have more accountability over how the committee run the show, and there is a disparity between the image of the show and what others have experienced regarding everything from Artists Alley to convention programming to the Eisner Swards themselves. And he sees a concerted effort from the Comic-Con administration to ignore or wipe out the history and legacy of those who created the scene in the first place. And that this is especially timely as we are starting to lose the people who were there at the beginning.

The book spun out of the podcast he ran on Sirius X, Comic-Con Begins, looking at Comic-Con and the origins of the culture, and how it grew over the decades and he interviewed many who were there. The podcast can still be listened to and includes the likes of Kevin Smith, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Felicia Day, Bruce Campbell, The Russo Bros., Scott Aukerman, Trina Robbins, Stan Sakai, Tim Seeley, Maggie Thompson, Sergio Aragonés, Kevin Eastman, Ho Che Anderson and Jackie Estrada.

Klicksteien tells me has seen other panels hosted elsewhere about the early history of Comic-Con, he noted they seemed filled with people who weren't in the room where it happens, scholars and bloggers like himself, or those more loosely associated with the show. That there was also an absence of the history of Comic-Con at the place one would think it had a greater chance of being mounted, the San Diego Comic-Con Museum. And no, they don't stock his book in the gift shop.

I asked Klickstein what he thought the real issue where was. And he confesses that "some Comic-Con people felt the podcast was too sensationalist, all the counter culture, drugs, sex, rock and roll. I mean at the show there were people swimming naked in the pool, people taking drugs in the hall, all the underage drinking, But that's part of the story, and it's all been dismissed." Klickstein tells me he is upset that objectors have focused on that small but necessary aspect of the podcast and the book, which covers so much more. He believes that people at Comic-Con have even badmouthing the book and the podcast as a result.

What San Diego Comic-Con has to say

I talked to representatives of San Diego Comic-Con who gave me the Occam's Razor answer that I expected, if there are ten thousand panel applications and five hundred slots, some won't make the cut for those reasons alone. And some pointed out that, Fantagraphics and Scott Shaw, a regular annual official guest at the show, did have other panels and programming approved such as his Oddball Comics slide show and the Quick Draw! programme.

But I couldn't help feel that, from all the above, there is a good chance that this panel could have been an hour-long whinge about San Diego Comic-Con, how it's not as good as it used to be, now that they've let all these film, games, TV and cosplayers in, especially with a firebrand complainer like Gary Groth. And maybe in the show's position, I wouldn't be that inclined to approve such a panel either.  And I know that Fantagraphics has had a fractious Comic-Con history in the past. I was the beneficiary of one year when they boycotted the Eisners despite paying for a table. I found the empty table and sat on it, later to be joined by Will Eisner. We talked about the work of Chris Ware. [Update: In the comments, Gary Groth disputes this ever happened]. However, I was assured from San Diego Comic-Con representatives that my feelings did not match reality. It was just an issue of space, time, and other competing panels covering similar topics.

Nevertheless, I had put my suspicions to Klickstein, and he told me that he worked hard to make the podcast nuanced and balanced, and not a bitchfest. That he had had an hour-long conversation with San Diego Comic-Con Chief Communications & Strategy Officer David Glanzer, who was reportedly complimentary of the podcast, but clear they were also not comfortable that it was out there without any control from them.

And yes, in the podcast, especially the last episode, Klickstein let people sound out.  There were complaints and critiques from Neil Gaiman, the Russo Brothers, Scott Aukerman and more about how the show had gotten too big, but also others celebrating what it is now, talking about Fae Desmond, Jon Rogers, Shel Dorf and celebrating their lives and work.

Mathew Klicksten says he is not making money on the podcast or of the book, and is thousands down on his credit card he won't pay off for years as a result of them both. he tells me he just wants the story to be told, the voices of those who won't be around much longer to be heard, especially at San Diego Comic-Con where it all went down fifty-plus years ago. And he is quite happy to make whatever assurances the show asks for him. If they were to ask anything.

Klickstein sees this all as part of a wider trend, however. He bemoaned the fate of other such attempted, the documentaries on Dave Stevens and Spain Rodriguez that got buried, and the non-existent ones on Wendy Pini or Trina Robbins. Or Scott Smith, an important part of the Comic-Con story, who was dealing with health issues during podcast and book but could have been in the panel, the man who got audio and visual presentation and technology going at the show in the seventies, and who has never been recognised, not even an Inkpot, for what became a very important and influential role.

San Diego Comic-Con Museum and the Breakfast Club

I asked Klickstein what he actually wanted, was it recognition for his role? To be part of the story of Comic-Con himself? He said that he just wanted people's voices to be heard while they still could. That he wants the show to do a better job of representing its past, all of it, and all voices, even if some of them are a little inconvenient. Well, it certainly seems like his voice is becoming one of those.

I do however understand that his concerns about the Comic-Con Museum are shared, that when it originally planned it was to have had a different name, but since the current name was chosen, the disconnect about not having much about the show itself in the museum is a notable absence. I am reminded of the London restaurant chain names after the movie The Breakfast Club which, for two years, didn't serve breakfast, at any time of the day. They do now.

And as of February this year, a new exhibit Cover Story: Five Decades of Comic-Con went and several past cover artists were invited to the Museum for a panel discussion and signing. In March to May, an exhibit devoted to Rick Geary and the Comic-Con Toucan brought Gearyin from New Mexico for an interview panel and signing.

Despite all his issues, Mathew Klickstein will be at the show later this month, all things willing, signing at the Fantagraphics booth with as many of the Comic-Con founders as he can bring with him – including Scott Shaw. Because I am naturally Slytherin, I asked Klickstein if he had any plans to subvert any other panels, maybe to see one of Fantagraphics or Scott Shaw approved panels suddenly switched to be one about the book or podcast, by subterfuge. But no, Mathew tells me that's not his style. I have to confess, it would be mine.

Scott Shaw

The podcast can be listened to here, and details of the book are below. Which has had good reviews from all – aside from Fantagraphics' own Comics Journal. Just in case anyone ever thought they were biases regarding their own publishers.

As for the lack of Eisner nomination initially mentioned by Scott Shaw? It may be worth noting that also eligible for the same categories, but also lacking in nomination, were AKIRA Art of Wall, American TV Comic Books (1940s-1980s), by Peter Bosch, Anatomy of Comics: Famous Originals of Narrative Art, by Damien MacDonald, The Art of Carlos Ezquerra, By Your Side: The First 100 Years of Yuri Anime and Manga, by Eric Friedman, A Concise Dictionary of Comics, by Nancy Pedri, David Anthony Craft, Mad Genius Comics Journalist, by Alex Grand and N. Scott Robinson, Dirty Pictures: How an Underground Network of Nerds, Feminists, Misfits, Geniuses, Bikers, Potheads, Printers, Intellectuals, and Art School Rebels Revolutionized Art and Invented Comix, by Brian Doherty, Filth & Grammar: The Comic Book Editor's (Secret) Handbook, by Shelly Bond, 45 Years of 2000 AD Anniversary Art Book, Hot & Messy: The Art of Amanda Conner, The Life and Art of Dave Cockrum, by Glen Cadigan, Maverix & Lunatix: The Icons of Underground Comics by Drew Friedman, Sanjulian: Master of Fantasy, Stan Lee: A Life, by Bob Batchelor, Terry and the Pirates vol. 13: Odyssey on the China Sea by Bruce Canwell and Dean Mullaney, Tripwire 30 and the 2000 AD Encyclopedia by Scott Montgomery. Just worth seeing a bigger picture sometimes.

San Diego Comic-Con runs from the 19th of July to the 23rd. See You At San Diego: An Oral History of Comic-Con, Fandom, and the Triumph of Geek Culture can be found right here.

SEE YOU AT SAN DIEGO: AN ORAL HISTORY OF COMIC-CON, FANDOM, AND THE TRIUMPH OF GEEK CULTURE is the full story of pop culture nostalgia and modern fandom through the lens of the prehistory, history, and expansion of the largest pop culture gathering worldwide: Comic-Con. As told through countless intimate, hilarious, at times heartbreaking and often thought-provoking stories by nearly fifty of today's most integral members of the pop culture community. 

"An essential and defining resource of the forces that have transformed popular culture over the course of the past century." — Fangoria 

Why did Neil Gaiman need a horde of armed ("Well, not exactly armed," he assiduously corrects) Klingons to help him through a particularly aggressive crowd of fans at Comic-Con one year? What was it like for the Russo Bros to first greet the overwhelmingly massive audience in Hall H and announce their debut Marvel film? Why are edible costumes no longer allowed at conventions of any kind? And what does all of this have to do with Dr. Timothy Leary, Leonardo DiCaprio, Hunter S. Thompson, David Bowie, and Frank Capra?

No roads needed on this fantastic voyage where you'll boldly go into the heart of fandom as we know it and love it today, courtesy countless intimate, hilarious, at times heartbreaking and even occasionally thought-provoking stories told by nearly fifty of the most integral members of today's modern scene along with super-special celebrity guests who together make it clear how and why the geeks have at long last inherited the Earth.

Bursting with reflections, observations, and plenty of raw hot takes on everything from Ray Bradbury to Stan Lee, from The Twilight Zone to Twilight, from Star Trek to Star Wars, and MAD Magazine to Watchmen, SEE YOU AT SAN DIEGO's special guests include: Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Kevin Smith, Bruce Campbell, Felicia Day, Scott Aukerman, Stan Sakai, Sergio Aragonés, Trina Robbins, The Russo Bros., Lloyd Kaufman, Tim Seeley, Kevin Eastman, Maggie Thompson, and many others, along with 400+ pics and art, plus an afterword by Wu-Tang Clan's own uber-nerd mastermind RZA.

Learn how, in this historical and sociological tour de force, the geek at last inherited the earth … with a little help from a half-century of the planet's largest pop culture gathering (clocked twice by Guinness!): the San Diego Comic-Con.

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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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