San Diego has always been a hotbed in the world of comic books.
San Diego’s Gaslamp District has been home to Comic Con International San Diego for the last 50 years.
Homage Comics and Wildtsorm Studios, helmed by Image Comics founder Jim Lee, were based out of La Jolla, producing some of the biggest names in the industry today: J. Scott Campbell, Ryan Benjamin, Marc Silvestri, Whilce Portacio and Brett Booth.
IDW Publishing, known for publishing modern day “G.I. Joe” and “Transformers” stories is nestled into San Diego’s Liberty Station bay front.
Comic Con International is slated to open the Comic Con Museum in Balboa Park, which will celebrate the history of comic books with a collection of exhibits reaching all the way back into the Golden Age of comic book history.
That being said, Convention.Life is always happy to see new things in the world of comic books sprouting out of San Diego.
The weekend of March 9, 2019 was jam packed full of comic book goodness, with the seventh-annual San Diego Comic Fest being held at The Four Points by Sheraton in Kearny Mesa, and the second-annual San Diego Rocket Con being held at The Scottish Rite Center in Mission Valley!
San Diego Comic Fest was started in 2012, as a counter point to the grandeur and sometimes overwhelming size of San Diego Comic Con. A group of comic book fans and veterans decided that they needed to start a convention reminiscent of the earlier, smaller versions of Comic Con. In its seventh year, the idea is holding strong.
As I walked in to the lobby of the Four Points by Sheraton, I was immediately greeted by a large-scale reproduction of an iconic image from the 1902 film “Le Voyage Dans La Lun (A Trip to the Moon)”, by Georges Meilies. They would be screening the film that weekend. With most conventions screening anime all hours of the day and into the late night, it’s refreshing to see something unique like this.
Entering the exhibit hall, it felt like time stopped at the start of the Modern Age of comic books, and I had been transported back a few decades before variant-lenticular-chrome-sketch covers were ever invented.
Racks of comic books blocked the windows, filled with images by Jack “The King” Kirby, John Romita Sr., Neal Adams and Steve Ditko, among other legends.
Toys, that were originally meant to be played with, and have now become collectibles, were stacked on tables and shelves, calling out to my youth.
Original artwork could be found on every table in the exhibit hall. Original pages published by DC Comics, Marvel Comics and Disney. One of the greatest things I have ever had the pleasure of seeing at a convention, I found at San Diego Comic Fest this year: an original commissioned sketch of Captain America by Jack “The King” Kirby. Signed and confirmed authentic. In color, no less. This was a museum piece if I ever saw one. Mind blown.
I was able to speak with legendary artist Sergio Aragones, creator of “Groo the Wanderer”, while he put me to work, helping him organize his table filled with books. The man has the best moustache in the business, and probably the quickest wit, to boot.
I spoke to Stan Sakai, creator of the great samurai rabbit “Usagi Yojimbo”. We discussed the evolution of his artwork and style from his first drawing of Usagi to his most recent. Such a great talent and giant in the world of comic books.
Outside of the exhibit hall, I was treated to part of one of the most in-depth series of lectures I have ever experienced, moderated by comic book historian Arlen Schumer. In the panel, he chronicled the rise of comic book artist and visionary Jim Steranko, from his early work in “Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos” into “Captain America” and “Doctor Strange”. Schumer followed the artist’s career from under the wing and shadow of Jack Kirby, into the psychedelic imagery and art of the mid -70's. Such an impassioned performance, filled with unique insight.
Suffice it to say, San Diego Comic Fest was great experience. Going into its seventh year with such success and content, it’s easy to imagine that they will be around for much, much longer, and continue to grow exponentially.
Down the road, at the Scottish Rite Center in the heart of Mission Valley, the second annual San Diego Rocket Con was on full tilt, complete with a replica Delorean from “Back to the Future” and a Doc Brown cosplayer meeting us as we entered the front door.
San Diego Rocket Con is the brainchild of the owners of San Diego comic and hobby shop “TC’s Rockets” located at 5155 Waring Road, San Diego, CA 92120. It was created in hopes of “revitalizing the quality of collectors shows” and promoting “the congregation of fellow geeky trades such as trading cards statues, comics, games, cosplay and so much more.” It’s a promise that they deliver in spades.
Rows and rows lined the main exhibit hall of the convention, packed full of deals:
Toys from the 1960’s and 1970’s. Toys from Japan. Custom and boutique toys. Toys for today’s collectors. Toys strictly for playing. Toys that should’ve never been made. Toys they didn’t make enough of.
Comic books reaching back into the Golden Age. Comic books released the week before the convention. Trade collections and art books.
Playing cards. Trading cards. Sports cards. Statues and action figures. Vinyl and diecast.
And as I slowly meandered through the aisles of vendors, I ended up at the end of the room, which put me face-to-face with Flash Gordon, himself. Special guest to the convention, actor and cult hero, Sam Jones! He was holding court to an audience of captivated fans, sharing stories and speaking genuinely to each and every person who took a second to say hello. People say that you shouldn’t meet your heroes, out of fear that they won’t meet up with your expectations, but Sam Jones accessible, funny, intelligent and outspoken. I was able to speak to him for a few minutes, on a number of topics ranging from what we’re both collecting to why we both love attending conventions. Special guest, indeed.
The second hall held even more vendors, with the room’s centerpiece being a Nintendo “Super Smash Brothers” tournament held on the raised stage. The tournament consisted of about 75 gamers, sorted into brackets, competing for prizes and (to some of them, more importantly) bragging rights. I made my rounds through the competitors, and asked them each if they thought they had a shot at winning the tournament. There was no shortage of confidence in any of them. With controllers in hand and headphones strapped to their heads, they dove into the tournament and prepared for button-mashing battle.
The convention ended with a car full of things I probably didn’t need, but really, really wanted. I had a meaningful conversation with Flash Gordon. I took photos with professional cosplayers, and I watched a bunch of gamers pushing their skills on a 64-bit battlefield.
In its second year, San Diego Rocket Con made good on their efforts by putting on a high quality collectible show. They’ve put themselves on the right track, and I look forward to attending their 2020 convention.
A fun-filled weekend of comic book everything at San Diego Comic Fest and San Diego Rocket Con.