Hitting the convention floor

Tickets for San Diego Comic-Con International went on sale this morning and, as blogger supreme Mark Evanier tells us, were mostly gone within 90 minutes. When you consider that upwards of 120,000 people attend Comic-Con — which has become a geek mecca as well as the symbol of Hollywood’s newfound interest in geek culture — the pace of ticket sales is pretty remarkable.

I’ve never been to Comic-Con, which is held in San Diego, and I’m not sure that I ever will. As much as experiencing the unimaginable appeals to me, I’m not sure I’m up for that particular experience anymore.

The photo above is of (left to right) my friend Andy, Chewbacca and me and was taken in the spring of 1999 at the first Star Wars Celebration, held in Denver. Andy was a Denver resident then and invited me out to experience the convention, which was in later years staged closer to home (for me) in Indianapolis.

Star Wars Celebration — particularly the later versions, held in the mammoth Indiana Convention Center — is as close as I’ve ever come to attending something of the size of Comic-Con.

If you’ve never attended a convention and you’re even a casual fan of science fiction books and movies, comic books and the like, you should try one, even if only for a day.

During my most active period of fandom, the late 1970s and the 1980s, my friends and I attended conventions all over the Midwest. Chicago, Indy, Cleveland, Columbus … we spent a lot of time on convention floors.

Much of that time included visits to the dealers room, where we bought movie posters, lobby cards, books, magazines, comic books and original art. As our bags got heavier, our wallets got lighter. But we didn’t mind.

Conventions can be overwhelming experiences — the growth of Comic-Con has prompted complaints in recent years — but they’re also fun and self-affirming. If you’ve ever thought you were the only person who truly appreciated “Doctor Who,” “Star Trek” or something much more obscure, conventions will open your eyes. Right in front of you, all around you, you’ll find thousands — sometimes tens of thousands — of other people who share your interest.

Sure, most of them will be standing in the autograph line in front of you, but hey, that’s just demonstrating shared interests, right?

After a decade of con attendance, I grew a little weary of the experience. There’s only so many times I’m willing to go elbow-to-elbow with some unwashed geek in a too-small T-shirt for the chance to get an autograph from Kenny Baker (R2D2 of “Star Wars,” of course).

But conventions remain the source of some of my favorite fandom memories.

I’ll never forget standing in line with Andy at the first Star Wars Celebration, which was held outdoors on a former military base. That spring, Denver was seeing some uncharacteristically nasty weather. It was raining and sleeting and, much to our surprise, Anthony Daniels (C3PO of “Star Wars”), a guest at the convention, walked up and down the line, making chit-chat with soggy fans.

Only at a convention.


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