I’ve been to San Diego Comic-Con a few times and always found it a legitimately terrifying experience. Not because I think the people there are all freaks (though I’m sure there are some) but because it’s so overwhelming. At best I’d call myself comic book curious. It seems like an interesting world, but I look at comic books a little like Mad Men – I know it’s probably great, but I haven’t watched since season one and now I’m so far behind that catching up seems like work. And if ever there was an intimidating place to try to learn about something, it’s in a room full of tens of thousands of die-hard fanatics. If comic fandom is an insular world, it’s probably because it’s so hard to be a dilettante. Pretending to like beer and sports is easy, pretending to be into comic books seems like it’d take years of study I’d still get yelled at.
In the past, I covered Comic-Con basically to see if there was movie news and see what all the fuss was about. But the movie stuff they do at the Cons, sitting in a hangar-sized auditorium to watch a 10-minute trailer… nah. The one memorably redeeming experience I had was when, in the midst of walking around feeling confused and alienated and wondering what I was doing there, I sheepishly asked a group of cosplayers if I could take a picture of their costumes. They dropped everything and gathered for a group pose it looked like they’d practiced, and all just because some random dude wanted a cell phone picture. Watching shy, introverted people suddenly transform into pro wrestling-level hams just because someone asked them about their favorite thing… well, it made quite an impression.
I’d say their enthusiasm was contagious, but the problem remained: where to begin? So when Uproxx sent me down to WonderCon in Anaheim, an event about half the size of San Diego Comic-Con, to see a preview of a few booths before the official show began, it was like having the training wheels I always needed. A tiny tasting course that seemed to say “Don’t be scared, homie.”
DISCLAIMER: These are all thoughts and initial impressions of a guy who admittedly knows dick about comics. I realize that to comic readers, this will probably be the equivalent of a Buzzfeed video about a 30-year-old man trying Coca Cola for the first time. Please don’t yell at me.
The first thing that caught my eye was God Is Disappointed In You, at the IDW booth. It probably figures that the first thing I’d be interested in wouldn’t be a traditional comic, but I’m not ashamed for thinking this was cool. It’s a thorough retelling of the Bible, written in contemporary vernacular with cartoon illustrations. The presentation, complete with built-in cloth bookmark and silver-leaf coating on the edge of the pages, was as cool as anything else.
The same booth also had graphic retellings of Civil Rights stories. Seemed like a gateway title for someone who might be put off by dragons, magic, superheroes, anime chicks, etc. I.e., someone like me.
Next up in “Things That Have Probably Existed For Years But Were New To Me,” artist’s editions. These were manhole cover-sized books apparently printed at the size they were originally drawn.
Looking at the artist editions, and the packaging on God Is Disappointed In You, and at the majority of the other offerings, it struck me that whereas physical record collecting has all but disappeared (especially in terms of contemporary titles) and books are rapidly going digital (I’m one of the last few holdouts without an e-reader and even I listen to half my books on Audible), the comic book and graphic novel world is one of the last few places where people still put care into the physical media and its presentation. In terms of that thrill of the tangible artifact, it’s one of the last frontiers. It reminded me of unwrapping a new CD when I was 13, but better, because the books come in so many more shapes and styles and sizes.
We moved on to the Boom Studios booth, and I asked Boom spokesman Mel Caylo (those are his hands holding a Boom title below) about releasing graphic titles digitally, which seems like it would present its own challenges.
That’s when I learned about yet another thing comic book people have probably known about for years, ComiXology, an Amazon-owned platform that allows users to read graphic titles on e-readers and tablets. The ability to zoom and read frame-by-frame seems like it gives the digital format some added value, whereas digital versions of non-graphic titles are solely about convenience and saving space. (Incidentally, Caylo also mentioned a few Boom titles making Dan Seitz’ list of 2014’s 15 best comics).
Obviously, there was much more. Much, much, much, much more, to the point that it’s intimidating and overwhelming and it’s tempting to just lay in bed watching Netflix instead. But I learned that if you start small (really, really, really small), finding cool stuff doesn’t take too long. And after that you can still watch Netflix.