Every year, thousands of comics fans gather in San Diego to celebrate the sub-culture (turned pop-culture) of comics.
And I’m using “comics” in the American, graphic novel sense of the word, not the more childish comic strip way that’s used in Britain by The Beano.
People fly from all around the world to attend the con, and it’s not just to get a first glimpse at a new superhero film (though that’s cool) or an exclusive toy (also cool).
It’s to celebrate being with one’s own people. People who get you.
The con is a celebration of geekiness. It’s a welcoming place for geeks, nerds, and outcasts. You don’t see a lot of former high school football stars at the con. My rule of thumb is that if you peeked early, you’re not here. SDCC is a welcoming place for anyone, but particularly anyone who built relationships through a shared love of visual literature and not based on how popular they were.
I first attended as a panelist, in 2006, promoting the release of the Choose Your Own Adventure interactive movie I’d produced. I was struck by how many people in the audience had a similar, life-changing experience with the CYOA books. They were there because the material, the literature touched their lives in some way. The same was true for the Marvel fans, the DC fans, the indie comic fans. They’d also had their adolescence shaped in some way by the medium.
Events like Comic Con matter because they bring together people with similar experiences, yet normally live geographically apart. It lets them know they’re not alone. And standing on the escalators of the San Diego Convention Center as a stream of cos-players descend beside you…you cannot feel alone!
I also think that graphic novels, especially the super hero variety, offer a guide to shaping your moral compass. Like the Greek myths, they offer examples of god-like extremes, creatures with unnatural power wrestling with their own moral limitations. At this extreme end of the spectrum, readers can examine their own morality through the fun house mirror of comics. It’s the same experience with traditional books, but within a hybrid media.
It’s one of the reasons I made my character Adam Meltzer, in the Memoirs of a Neurotic Zombie books, a big comic book fan. Alongside reading To Kill A Mockingbird, he reads the fictional Ninja-Man comics every Wednesday. Both types of book offer him a guiding light on what it means to be human. I’d argue you can learn just as much about humanity and morality from The Watchmen as from Go Set A Watchman.
And we need that now, more than ever. Thankfully, comics are going through a golden era. I’m particularly impressed with the indies right now, especially London based Titan Comics’ new titles.
Big themes, bold questions, and compelling characters.
These days, comic books have gone mainstream, and it’s easy to complain that super heroes are dominating the cinema, but let’s not forget that for a long time, comics were the sole purview of those three people huddling in the corner in your high school cafeteria, pouring over colourful pages and dreaming about being heroes.