Today is the day that I realized that I may finally be getting to old for
Don't get me wrong, I still love a great deal about this show. It is a wonderful event that brings together the fans of a huge number of genres under a single roof. As a result, the synergistic energy that flows here is both very infectious, and also quite exhilarating. But only to a point. After a certain number of days of continuous overstimulation, you begin to feel more than a bit of overload. That has hit me especially hard today, as I stressed myself significantly this morning. It began when I missed being one of the lucky attendees who get to park in the new parking lot adjacent to the convention center.
By the time I arrived at the show at 10:20 AM with the additional change we needed for our cash registers, all the nearby parking was gone. As a result, I had to park nearly a mile away from the convention center.
Now, walking a mile is normally no big deal for me, as I walk over a mile each morning on my farm just making sure that my irrigation water is flowing properly. Sometimes it is even quite warm when I do so. But this oppressive heat and humidity that is currently suffocating everyone in San Diego is rather quite unusual.
Walking a mile in this bunch of patooie really drains you. Especially when you are trying to wend your way on the sidewalks through huge throngs of equally hot, and irritable, fans. Even the police who were directing traffic were a bit cranky today, as they suffered in the hot sun while trying to keep astoundingly huge numbers of cars and pedestrians outside the convention center from colliding.
I suppose that if I were a bit smarter that I would have quit this morning while I was was ahead. I made it into the building feeling very hot and tired, but otherwise fine. Then I recieved a call offering me a collection of 3,500 Silver Age comics. The only hitch was that they were in the Hyatt hotel, about a quarter of a mile down the way from the convention center.
It was a deal too good to pass up, so after we closed the deal, I trudged the long way back out to my van, and then drove back to the hotel to load up the 15 cases of books. Then I had to circle through the labyrinth of one-way streets that exist in downtown San Diego, until I found another yet parking space (this time even further away...), and then slowly returned to the convention center. Suffice it to say, that last walk really took all of my remaining energy away.
Now, all of this may sound more than a little like I'm whining, but I'm actually trying to make a point. While I was hoofing it around in the heat and humidity, there were well over 10,000 fans standing in line to get into the center. Not being a member of the convention staff, I don't have a clear understanding of how the logistics were functioning today, but I can assure you that there was more than a little misery for those trying to get into the show without advance badges. If you were to ever try to attend this show, please make darn sure to purchase a four day pass (actually a five day with the Preview Night) well in advance. You can order one from the
year round. If you're coming in from out of town, you also need to make darn sure that you have a hotel room lined up by no later than the end of March. This show has become far too large to not plan your visit carefully. Otherwise you can end up standing in the sun in a ridiculously long line, sweating as to whether or not you will actually even be able to get into the show.
One rumor that we heard about an hour ago was that they had stopped selling tickets for a while. I'm not sure if that was as a result of crowding concerns, or whether they just ran out of badges. But whatever the case, you don't want to be locked outside of the building in the hot sun while everyone else is having a great time.
Speaking of having a great time, I took my annual walk around the dealer's room today. In case you haven't read my reports from San Diego before, that 2 PM stroll that I take each year on Saturday is when I try and gauge the current state of not only the convention, but also the comics industry as a whole. I'm (sort of...) happy to report that this year's walk left me more than a little nauseous.
I'll grant you that I was already feeling pretty poorly from my adventures in the heat outside of the building, but trying to carefully navigate my way through the huge crowds on the south end of the building (which houses most of the movie, TV, and Video Game companies) left me feeling as though I had the flu. Even as I'm typing this column, the letters on the keyboard are swirling before my eyes. But that's much better than I felt during my walk, when I actually felt that I might pass out at any minute.
The explaination for why I feel happy about feeling so bad is a bit complicated. To begin, you have to bear in mind that I have been exhibiting at this show every single year since 1973. I've watched it evolve from a tiny event in a hotel ballroom on Harbor Island, into the single premiere event in the entire world of popular culture.
During those 34 intervening years I put a lot of personal energy into promoting the show, running free plugs for the convention in my ads in Marvel comics, and writing endlessly about the show in my newsletters. As a result, I feel more than a little pride in knowing that I've made a small contribution toward creating this wonderful event.
All of the above having been said, I still have some strong reservations about the way that things have evolved. I feel a bit like someone who has put on a party for a group of friends, only to have the entire event co-opted by a bunch of rich kids from down the road. Walking around the dealer's room makes it clearly evident that the real power in the room is now on the south end.
All of the comics dealers in the world combined together still do not have the resources of a Hasbro, or a LucasFilms, or a Nintendo. By a rough count, the south end of the building contains at least 20 companies who's individual annual sales exceed those of all the new comics publishers, combined. What an irony to have become beggers in our own house...
The preimminence of the huge International media companies becomes even more clearly evident when you check out the density of the crowding in the aisles. The south end is totally packed, while the north end containing the comics booths is far less dense. I couldn't help but notice it was also one heck of a lot quieter.
The media companies are very used to drawing attention to themselves at huge public events, so they have the tricks for drawing people into their booths down pat. Putting them all togther in continuous aisles, however, leads to an endless cacophany of strident barkering (which is actually a violation of convention rules) by scantily clad girls in fantasy costumes. Sex sells, especially when you yell about it loudly enough. In many regards, however, I felt like I was running an exceptionally unpleasant guantlet of noise and flashing lights. Imagine a county fair on Tatooine with really, really aggressive aliens as barkers. Then add the stress of wading through a sea of irritable humanity, and I think that it becomes pretty easy to understand how my initial physical unease evolved into genuine nausea.
In case you're wondering, the irritablity factor resulted mostly from the near failure of the air conditioning system in the building. I don't mean to imply that it isn't far cooler in the building than outside, but it most certainly isn't anywhere near normal levels of comfort.
Having an immense number of people crowd into a finite space on one of the hottest days of the year puts enormous strains on even the best cooling system. Ironically, during the past couple of days I've heard several complaints about the dealer's room being too cold, but that certainly wasn't a problem today.
Returning to my initial proclamation that I might be getting too old for this show, I had an interesting discussion with writer Harlan Ellison a couple of weeks ago. Harlan is a huge comics fan and collector, and used to come to our in San Diego booth every year. During our talk, however, he revealed that San Diego had just become uncomfortable for him. Too big, too noisy, and far too impersonal. After my walk around today, I think I much better understand Harlan's current antipathy toward this show. It was driven home to me when I stopped at a stunningly beautiful booth featuring fine art.
This booth was on the border between the south end media insanity and the comics publishers. By my current way of viewing the world (could it be an elderly perspective?), it provided an island of class within a sea of total crassness. It was also a refuge of quiet and reflection. All it took was 5 minutes of rest in that relaxing atmosphere, and I felt well enough to continue my journey around the room. But not before I purchased the new hardback collection of Gail Potocki's paintings. Very cool art!
So where this all leaves me is seriously questioning if I am the right person any more to be promoting this show. I most certainly still love the atmosphere surrounding the entire comics aspects of the show, and I understand the rationalizations for why a stand-alone comics show could never cost justify the expense of this convention center.
I also understand that the media end of the show is temendously popular, especially among the tens of thousands of young people who are attending the show. But if the massive bombardment of sight and sound is enough to make me feel physically ill. Maybe, just maybe, I've outlived my ability to handle this show.
I'll stop today on that note. In tomorrow's closing report I'll try to give you a broad overview of the current state of the comics world. In the meantime, please do enjoy the photos of costumes that Pam took this afternoon. Do bear in mind, however, that she was only able to provide you with pictures of a very small percentage of the thousands of costumes in the room.
President - Mile High Comics, Inc.
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