There was no such thing as videogames at Comic-Con back then. Well, you might see the rare Mario cosplayer or dig up some Pac-Man sheets from a vendor, but in the late ‘90s games hadn’t muscled their way into San Diego yet. In fact Hollywood was only just starting a takeover that would transform the already mammoth comic book convention into a blockbuster clusterfuck. Eventually the guys from Mega 64 and Behemoth with their game Alien Hominid and the Penny Arcade chaps would plant flags at the convention and fight right in.
Back then I was about comics. By a weird stroke of luck I befriended a contributor to the Comics Journal and managed to get a story or two placed in the magazine. The night we met Cappadonna (or was it RZA) was coming down to KSCR, USC’s college radio station. A bunch of us were loitering outside hoping to catch the show live. Jordan, a skinny Torontonian, recognized the knife-welding frog character on my t-shirt as the handiwork of Jim Woodring and that was it. We’ve been good friends ever since.
[pullquote]The proprietor was kind enough to show us a chicken with two assholes – the crown jewel of his freak show menagerie.[/pullquote]
It was by this connection that I found myself at my first San Diego Comic-Con. Jordan and I shared a room with Comics Journal editor Tom Spurgeon – the two had worked together at Fantagraphics in Seattle. It was through these two that I was introduced to Fantagraphics founders Gary Groth and Kim Thompson and countless cartoonists and writers. Tom and Jordan were working, but I was pretty much tagging along – soaking it all in. The most astounding part of the show, for me, getting to meet and talk to artist I had long admired. Love and Rockets cartoonist Jaime Hernandez was friendly and chatty. Last Gasp publisher Ron Turner was down to just wander around San Diego. I was happy just to soak up some of the underground old-timer’s vibe so I payed a visit to the Museum of Death with him, where the proprietor was kind enough to show us a chicken with two assholes – the crown jewel of his freak show menagerie.
There was a Fantagraphics party after hours. The party (celebrating something to do with Joe Coleman, I think?) felt like my first adult party because there were people in their thirties there. Other than the cocktail party (and subsequent hotel-room get-togethers) after the Eisners there was also a weird little beach party that went down somewhere around Ocean Beach. Many young, upcoming cartoonists would huddle around a campfire and drink themselves dork sloppy. I didn’t know many of them, so I was kind of uncomfortable at these things – like an interloper eavesdropping on the people who made some of my favorite comics. The closest I got to really hanging out with anybody was when we gave cartoonist Ivan Brunetti a lift to one of the beach parties. Ivan kept cracking mean jokes, apologizing because the joke was too mean, sulking for a second, then cracking another, much worse joke.
Now that Hollywood has taken over and ever evening is crammed full of professionally-thrown bashes I don’t imagine there’s as many opportunities at Comic-Con to rub elbows with people you admire. Though if I’ve learned anything over the years is that the more obscure the art the art you follow, the better chance you’ll have at a human interaction with the person who made it. Artist’s Alley ahoy.
Pretension +1 is a weekly column about the intersections of life, culture and videogames. Follow Gus Mastrapa on Twitter @Triphibian.