The San Diego Comic-Con is many things to many people. For the business community, it’s an incredible commerce success story. For fans and collectors, it’s both a celebration and a validation. For entrepreneurs, it can be an enjoyable way to drive revenue quickly. For the entertainment community, it’s a fantastic marketing venue. For the entertainment community in Los Angeles and Hollywood, it’s also a great excuse to get outta town.
And for so many folks, professionals and fans alike, it’s an opportunity to spend time with 200,000+ of your closest friends. It’s an annual journey to a real-life Disney World, mixed with a hefty dose of your best days on a college campus and the most incredible state fair ever, where the main dish on the menu is “all the stuff you love.”
This year, as the nation and the world struggles with Covid-19, the folks behind the convention shifted gears quickly to morph the show into a virtual convention. We’ll all be analyzing that for a while, but one refrain I heard time and time again was not so much how folks missed the big events, but how they missed the little things.
I reached out to a group of fascinating folks and asked them to share some of their more personal stories and traditions from their annual pilgrimage to San Diego Comic-Con and the little things they miss this year.
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Rob Salkowitz is the author of Comic-Con and the Business of Geek Culture (I use this as a textbook for one of my college classes) a consultant and a sayer of things. He wistfully remembers one tradition he and his wife Eunice especially hold dear:
Our oldest and longest running SDCC tradition is the Tuesday night dinner we instituted with Batton Lash and Jackie Estrada back in 2000, maybe earlier. We were fans with no industry connections whatsoever. They befriended us, introduced us to pros, made us formally part of the Eisner Award staff and brought us into the circle of Comic-Con. After we lost Batton a couple of years ago we continued with Jackie. We really miss seeing her in person this year.
Like so many folks, I start my day with morning coffee and Heidi MacDonald’s The Beat. (In fact, she just celebrated 15 years of The Beat at last year’s SDCC in grand style.)
There are so many traditions for San Diego Comic-Con, that the longer people go, the more they get to the point where sometimes entire days are spoken for in advance! My favorite is my Sunday “Dead Dog” Dinner. For about 20 years we had tapas at Cafe Seville in the Gaslamp but it was remodeled and got a little too loud. We then moved to an Italian place way in the East Gaslamp that was amazing…but it closed. We now have a new place that is nearly as good. The cast of characters changes a little, but about six of us have been going for 20+ years and 2020 is the first year I missed it. It’s a magical, quiet time to sit with good friends and share what has just happened. Time really does stand still at Comic-Con.
After a long day of walking and a lot of standing while waiting in lines, we would head up to the main street to relax and eat dinner. An outside table, not too close or too far from the convention center, was the goal so we could continue to watch all the amazing Cosplayers pass by and compare our day’s adventures. I am really missing being surrounded by all the joy and positive energy of SDCC. I miss the universal acceptance of individual expression.
Michael Polis, television and movie producer, head of Atomic Toybox and one of my partners in Captain Action Enterprises had this to share:
One of the things I missed most this year were my annual get togethers with people I don’t get to see every day, like my breakfast with Nick Landau at Titan, lunch with Richard Taylor at Weta Workshop, or drinks with Denis Kitchen to name a few. I miss them all and hope for a safe resumption of normal activities in 2021.
I’ve had quite a few adventures with these next three guys over the years, and they always have something interesting to say.
Kris Longo, CSO of Heavy Metal and President of Geek Riot Media.
In thinking about what I’ll miss the most, I remember what I will miss the least. Trying to find a suitable place at the Marriott to have meetings, and hoping to get an indoor bar table before everyone else does!
Ivan Cohen, Comics writer and former DC Comics Editor misses:
Trying to navigate the Hyatt lobby bar to see people you like and avoid the ones you can’t stand.
Oh, and the MAD Magazine panel. The only panel that I’d ever make an effort not to miss. Rendered moot by the pandemic (both DC Comics and COVID-19).
Mark Wheatley is an incredible artist and writer who has also been a long time exhibitor at San Diego Comic-Con. He was originally invited to be a guest of honor for this year’s convention. This column wasn’t meant to be “about me”, but he does have fun story to tell:
Hands-down without a doubt connecting with old friends at the convention is the very best. And probably one of the best stories is one I shared with you! Connecting on our unexpected extra day in San Diego and having that great Italian dinner together with guys, and then always having a sketch with you. That’s fun.
The San Diego Comic-Con experience is very different for fans and pros. I didn’t get many opportunities to attend conventions until I was a working professional. So my understanding of the fannish charms of con-going is limited.
But I suspect fans and pros alike will usually default to the same top listed pleasure for cons – reconnecting with friends! I do most of my work for publishing and television, and both industries are scattered around the world. SDCC is the one chance in the year to see so many of these people that I know far better from the phone, email, texts and Zoom meetings. Over the years there have been some great long-running dinner nights and party meet-ups. And I have been introduced to a lot of major stars of comics, TV, film, stage and the music industry. A few of these people have become good friends, but most of the time I’m thrilled to be able to spend an evening catching up with my average-job friends.
One not-so-wonderful tradition of the con in the last few years has been the Monday-after shock of finding my flight home has been cancelled. In 2018, my friend Rich Henn texted me at 5:30am to alert me that our flight back to Baltimore had vanished from the schedule. This resulted in me making a mad dash to the airport (hauling my booth, art portfolios, remaining books and luggage) where I hooked up with Rich. After several hours, we managed to game the system and got new flights out for TUESDAY. Trust me, a 36 hour delay in departure made us the envy of our many peers who were also scrambling to find a way home. Many of these people didn’t get out of San Diego for most of the week. I was also fortunate to get a new hotel for the night. It helps when you are trying to check in before 9am. The new room had a great view and I posted a video about it to my Facebook page. And in a few minutes, I got a text from Ed Catto wanting to connect, since he was also stuck in town for the day. My roommates from the old hotel had a late flight out. So we planned a dinner meet-up. The four of us connected at a great Old-Town San Diego Italian restaurant and spent hours eating, drinking, and telling stories! In fact, Ed and I had our chance to do our annual sketch-off. The entire evening was a real bonus and my favorite time of the entire convention. If Southwest had covered the cost of the extra hotel room night, it would have been perfect. But I guess that was just too much to expect.
Andrew Sumner is ball of energy, and usually he’s just a blur behind the Titan booth at SDCC. He had a lot to say about his “secret traditions”, all in his typically creative and hilarious manner:
When Big Ed Catto rings the Sumnerphone, asking whether I have any Comic-Con traditions, there’s only one course of action: flip back the head of my William Shakespeare bust, race to the Sumnerpoles and start typing this response into the Sumnercomputer:
In the eighteen years that I’ve been flying over from West London’s Sumnercave and attending SDCC, I have indeed developed a range of tried-and-tested, never-missed traditions for myself and my awesome/supernaturally hard-working Titan Entertainment team – on the basis that merciless twenty-hour days (and a workload that rivals Buster Crabbe slaving away in Sky City’s Atom Furnace) qualify our merry band for some life-affirming So Cal treats. So here they are:
Head straight to the Top of the Hyatt and drink many cocktails, beers & bottles of Chardonnay while admiring the view and watching the sun go down.
Sunset dinner at Peohe’s on Coronado Island, overlooking the bay & the glorious SD skyline, while Hannah gets to eat her bodyweight in lobster and we all get to drink very heavily
Early breakfast pre-show at Buster’s in Seaport Village, on the outdoor veranda overlooking the Marriott Marina’s multi-million dollar yachts, The highlight is always a) Saturday breakfast with Catto and b) chatting with head waitress Corina.
Dinner with one of my respected business colleagues (usually Viacom’s Veronica Hart) at Bertrand at Mr A’s. The food and drinks are impeccable, for sure, but the view is to die for: you’re dining on a penthouse on a hilltop looking down toward the SD harbour in the distance, with remarkably-close inbound jets on their landing approach regularly flying thru your field of vision (think The Bride’s plane landing in Tokyo in Kill Bill and you’re there).
Hugglemania: the vast, everyone-is-invited Hot Topic/Titan drinks extravaganza that takes over the Hyatt Lobby Bar, founded by Hot Topic legend Metal Joe Enriquez (and yours truly) back in 2012. Drinks are pounded, tears are shed, hugs are doled out and sleep is eliminated.
Post-booth-breakdown Brazilian steak dinner & rock piano with my awesome (and-now-insanely-tired) team at Rei Do Gado on Fourth Ave.
Three hours of full-throttle powerboating & navy-baiting on San Diego Bay to blow away the pre-return-flight cobwebs. If you’ve been to San Diego more than once and haven’t done this – why not? It’s the most fun you can have in a whale’s vagina (well, unless you’re Hannah – she joined us once and then refused to ever set foot in a powerboat again).
Let’s give the last word to industry legend, Bill Schanes. He’s accomplished so very much as a retailer, a publisher and at Diamond as a visionary distributor. Word on the street is he has some new big plans to hatch very soon, but that’s a whole ‘nother column. In the meantime, here’s a classic story from a San Diego Comic-Con from years ago.
When Pacific Comics was an ongoing business, we had four different divisions. Pacific Comics: Retail Stores, Pacific Comics: Mail Order, Pacific Comics: Distributor, and our publishing arms: Blue Dolphin Enterprises, Pacific Comics (PC Comics), and Schanes & Schanes. Pacific Comics, the distributor was buying directly from both DC Comics and Marvel Comics, plus other publishers. I had never met any of the Marvel senior business people, so Ed Shukin, VP of Circulation at Marvel, and I agreed to meet during one of the earlier San Diego Comic Conventions, and I chose to meet Ed at the fountain in front of the old downtown San Diego convention center, and then we’d go to lunch afterwards.
I was a little early and Ed (Shukin) walked up and introduced himself to me. Ed was clearly much older than I was, and he was dressed in a leisure suit, while I was much more casual, a pull over polo shirt, jeans, and flip flops. We chatted for a few minutes, and Ed asked if I could wait, as he was looking at a beautiful young woman not far away, and he told me he wanted to go over to introduce himself to her. I had originally misheard him, as I hadn’t seen the young woman he was referring to, and I thought I heard that he wanted to say “hi” to someone he already knew.
I said fine, turned to see the young woman, and said go ahead. Ed walked over, and it was obvious that he didn’t know her, but pulled a key out of his pocket (I’m assuming to invite her up to his hotel room after our business lunch).
Here’s the rub, the young woman was my girlfriend and future wife. She clearly said no, and when Ed came back to say he was ready to go to lunch to discuss how we could do more business together, I walked over to the young woman and told Ed I had originally invited my girlfriend to join us, but now I felt it was best if we concluded our short meeting, and there was nothing to discuss at that time. Ed said he was sorry, and reach his hand out, which I didn’t respond, and we just walked away. I thought he was an absolute ass, as I couldn’t believe any executive would do this, especially in front of a key account on a first face to face meeting.
How can you say “foot in mouth – awkward”!
Is it any surprise that all these folks who love an industry based on stories enjoy sharing stories of their own? I’m not sure if I miss the bigness of San Diego Comic-Con, but I certainly really miss the many small interactions as a fascinating and always-interesting industry gathers to celebrate annual traditions.
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One last tradition: I always read the SDCC Souvenir Book on the plane ride home. Who gets on planes anymore? But you can still enjoy the 2020 Souvenir book. Download your copy here!