If there is one cultural event in no danger of being underreported, it’s the San Diego Comic Book Convention. I’m shocked the internet was able to handle its regular duties (porn, stock info, amateur porn), with all the bandwidth being devoted to frantic photos of Hugh Jackman, the Owlship and Lego Indiana Jones standing next to a guy dressed as some kind of Arctic version of Boba Fett. (Note to self: sell movie about Arctic version of Boba Fett.)
It’s hard to find a fresh angle on this sprawling pop culture Mardi Gras. The obvious and still-abundant media take on Comic-Con, for about five years running, has been “Revenge of the Nerds.” I.E., the stuff that you were an outcast for liking in high school is now mainstream culture. Well, maybe, but when I was sixteen, my dream revenge wasn’t that someday an Iron Man movie would make $200 million dollars. “Take that high school jerks! The Dark Knight just broke ten major box office records — now are you sorry you squirted mayonnaise all over my favorite sweatshirt!”
Other easy angles include: 1) Comic-Con has sold out — it’s all really about now is corporations pandering to a lucrative demographic. THIS IS TRUE. 2) Where’s the comic books? All I see is movies and toys and video games and card games and creepy replica sword stores. ALSO TRUE. 3) 125,000 people! It’s unbearably crowded. UNBEARABLY TRUE — I was trapped for hours between the irresistible force of “crowd headed for the Lost panel” and the immovable object of “idiots taking photos of the cast of The Sarah Connor Chronicles.” (It would be sad to die like that, crushed between the fans of two show I’ve never seen. If possible, I would prefer to die crushed between the fans of South Park and Extras: Season 2.)
My visit to San Diego, or as it is commonly known, “The City by the Zoo,” was so brief, how could I have time to find a new take on the Con? I pulled the old 24-hour ride the train down Friday night party with Sarah Silverman and Stan Lee wake up sprint through the show floor Simpsons panel in front of 2000 fans smackdown chat with The Office writers and back on the train to LA before my wife even noticed I was gone.
(The Simpsons panel highlights: I tried to explain to the fans, “Imagine this: the way you feel about me, I feel about Alan Moore.” Judging by their reaction to that bon mot, they think Alan Moore is an egomaniacal jackass. But I won them back with such zingers as, “While the Simpsons Movie was a labor of love, it was also a labor of work” and “A lot of our personal experiences make it onto the show. When I was a kid, the government put a giant dome over my town.”)
I was still feeling bad for not having an original take on Comic-Con, until I ran into Time super-writer Joel Stein. Joel will have a smart take, I thought. Whatever he says, I’ll just go with that. I interrupted Joel while he was interviewing people, then shabbily accused him of making fun of the attendees, of taking easy shots at their “nerdiness.” This was a low blow. Sorry Joel. (In my defense, I was unnerved by a recent hug from the nudest Aeon Flux I have ever seen. And having been to eleven Comic-Cons, I’ve seen a lot very nude Aeon Fluxes.)
But, as I was running back against the tide of fans to return to L.A., it suddenly hit me. There is one super-powerful thing going on at Comic-Con, and it’s not being written about by The New York Times or /Film. That vibe is LOVE. Sure, these people dig this event. And, sure, they’re way into vampires or whatever. But these people LOVE EACH OTHER. Deep down, vampires or Star Wars or Japanese girls in sailor suits — all these compelling imaginary worlds — are just a conduit to forge human contact. People just want to connect to other people. And at Comic-Con, this desire for connection has never been more joyful or fearless. It’s a beautiful thing. All this science fiction fantasy goo just makes people so freakin’ happy. These mythologies create friends and lovers and God-knows-what-else — connections that never would have been born if not for the Con. So call me a sap, but when I see 300-pound The Riddler holding hands and cuddling with a black Borg Queen, I just want to cry.