Way Out West Down South

22 07 2010

One of my favorite films is Laurel and Hardy’s Way Out West. When they rescue the girl Mary Roberts (Rosina Lawrence), Ollie pronounces it “May-ree” they learn that she is from the South, as is Oliver Hardy who is Georgia-born and Georgia-bred. “You’re from the South? Well shut my mouth,” says Ollie. Even Stanley declares his southern origins, “The south of London…” So here I am winging my way  down the coast from Seattle as straight as a crow could fly, and perhaps even straighter. I am bound for San Diego and Comic Con.

In the mid-1970’s I lived in Long Beach, California. It was a time of idylls in the Land of the Lotus Eaters. The economy was good and living was easy. I enjoyed living in my brother’s house with my niece, and later my nephew, and my mother. My brother was a fine host. It was one of the few times when our family dwelt in close proximity of one another. And there was Autumn the dog and Lillian the housekeeper. Idyllic indeed in the land of eternal spring.

And we were near San Diego, just up the freeway. When friends came to visit, mostly from Texas, we always planned one day for driving down to San Diego and visiting the zoo. The San Diego Zoo was one of the true marvels of the world in the 1970’s. The animals were housed in an approximation of their natural habitat instead of cold steel cages.

My favorite memory was visiting the zoo with my friends and roommates from  college days. Just inside the entrance, in a rounded clear enclosure, were several Komodo Dragons. Oh those dire beasts from the tropics, dread lizards with poisonous and infectious fangs. They were fearsomely magnificent.

As my chums and I entered the zoo, a stream of small children, grade school children from a nearby bus, flowed around us running and chattering as children do. And those dragons were enthralled. Here was food just the right size, and so much of it. They crouched and crept around the inner circle of their enclosure, eyes never leaving the wee ones. But, that was all they could do and the spigot was closed. The flow of children ceased, and the dragons drowsed.

On that same trip, returning to Long  Beach, there was a search for illegal aliens and traffic on the freeway was stopped. One of our group, Nick the Chicken who, was blessed or cursed with a Mediterranean complexion despite his English surname, was closely inspected by the border guards. Nick spoke with a definite Texas accent, and they let us go.

In later years a major magazine distributor was based in San Diego and I made periodic trips down to see them, and the subscription fulfillment house used by Wizards of the Coast and then Paizo was also in San Diego and I have spent many a day completely lost even though I was within feet, sometimes, of my destination. But this was before cellular telephones and GPS. For some reason Jimmy Durante Boulevard springs to mind.

This is my first Comic Con in about ten years and I have been told that things have drastically changed. I remember my last convention, I helped work the Wizards of the Coast Booth. We were right next to Del Rey, and I met editor Steve Saffel for the first time.

In the past I had been a sales rep for Ballantine and Del Rey and had enjoyed dancing and also sipping fine single malt scotch with two other Del Rey editors, Shelly and Veronica, that being at an upscale resort in Laguna Nigel at a sales conference. So I was happily reunited with those two. And I met the Del Rey Publisher, Tim Kochuba. Some time later, Tim visited Seattle and Wizards of the Coast and we had dinner. But I most remember sitting in the dark in the WotC parking lot in Tim’s rental car and listening to him talk about his beloved dogs. Tim had come to Del Rey from House of Collectibles and he was part of the lineage.

Over the years I have had the privilege of knowing Ian and Betty Ballantine, Judy-Lynn and Lester Del Rey, Owen Locke, Tim Kochuba, Kuo-Yu Liang, and Betsy Mitchell, every person who was responsible for the fine line of science fiction and fantasy from Ballantine Books. What a pleasure and an honor.

But that Comic Con where I met Tim was quiet, sedate, calm. Now, or so I have been led to believe, San Diego Comic Con has become four days of media madness. The focus has shifted away from comics to movies and TV and games and it is for certain the house is full. The place sells out months before the event. There is nary a table to be had nor a walk-in ticket.

As I write this I worry about making my first appointment on time today. Facebookers yesterday were lamenting the long lines to get badges. But, this is beyond my control. How many attendees are there? I have heard up to 140,000. I suspect that is high. But I have read online that estimates of the money it brings to San Diego run from $40 million dollars all the way up to $160 million.

And there are rumors that it will move. The Los Angeles Convention Center is vying for the business. I attended a BEA there several years ago and the venue was nice enough and downtown Los Angeles was enjoyable, even if it was not New York City. But the other possibility is the Anaheim Convention Center. I attended an ALA there and I do not want to go back. It is within a stone’s throw of Disneyland and I quickly had my fill of mouse ears and little girls with princess hats, tiaras? The only good thing about that venue was the onsite vending of Hurst Ranch grass fed beef hamburgers. That was very nice and a pleasant change from the Jacob Javitz Center six dollar hot dogs at BEA in New York.

I am an hour away from a different city by the bay and this has much potential. The buyers from most of the major chains are here and it affords me the opportunity of meeting with many buyers on one trip. And the Saturday attendees are our kind of people. Gamers, comic fans, film buffs, these are the folks who play roleplaying games and who read science fiction and fantasy.

I expect costumes galore and noise. With games and films and TV and one hundred gazillion people, there will be noise. Oh, and hype, and pretension, and money squandered. One company of whom I had not heard until they approached me at BEA, has rented a yacht and anchored it in the harbor just outside the convention center. Conspicuous consumption and display and arrogance and hubris will all be there.

But also awe and joy and memories for young folks. And Green Lantern, I bet Green Lantern will be there, and Thor, what about Thor?

So, Comic Con here I come, are you ready for me?

Next, in the belly of the beast.

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One response

23 07 2010
mordicai

I haven’t been to Comic Con out there; that said, there is such a huge gulf between trade & fan conventions, these days. It didn’t used to be that way (correct grammar, believe it or not!), but here we are. As the properties of SF & comic books started being valuable, they also started being commercialized. A sad story, but like anything there are pockets of calm, of belonging, of fraternity (& sorority or …demority? What is a federation of all genders? There is not Latin term for sibling! I don’t think).

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