The Long Con: The Evolution of San Diego Comic-Con and Nerd Culture

By: Cody Seymour

 

With the madness of the 2014 Comic-Con coming to an end, I thought it appropriate to spend a little time reflecting on the Comic-Con and pop culture as it stands today. As a lot of you probably already know, San Diego Comic-Con is no joke. Even if you have never been, never plan on going and will likely never go, the odds are you have at least heard of Comic-Con. It’s that big of a deal. Why is that? Well, that’s a story over forty years in the making.

The Comic-Con Logo, designed in 1995 by Richard Bruning and Josh Beatman

Let’s go back to San Diego, California in 1970. Shel Dorf, a die-hard comics fan born and raised Detroit, had just moved to the area. Now Dorf was no stranger to comic conventions, having created the Detroit Triple Fan Fairs back in his hometown. San Diego, it seemed, was sorely lacking in good conventions for die hard nerds and geeks. So of course, doing what any good nerd would do, Dorf decided to establish a new convention right in the heart of San Diego. Of course, he had help from fellow comics, sci-fi and fantasy enthusiasts  Richard Alf, Ken Krueger, Mike Towry, and Greg Bear. The quintet decided to first test the waters and gauge interest in a convention. This first, smaller convention was hosted at The U.S. Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego. This “Golden State Comic-Minicon was a one day event and a grand total of 145 people showed up. That may not sound like a huge crowd, but it was certainly encouraging enough for the group to move forward in setting up the real deal: a full three day Comic-Con. 

A photo from the Golden State Comic Con

A photo from the Golden State Comic Con

Only five months after the trial run Minicon, the first ever San Diego Comic-Con (it was still called the Golden State Comic Con at the time) began on August 1, 1970. Special guests such as Jack Kirby and Ray Bradbury were in attendance. Over the three days, there were roughly 300 attendees. Great success? Well, let’s fast forward about… Hmm… I don’t know. Forty years.

130,000. That’s a big number. It just so happens to be a rough estimate of how many men, women, children and androgynous cosplayers showed up to the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con. So in forty years time, the attendance of Comic-Con increased 400-fold. The estimates are even higher for this year’s Con. How exactly does that happen? Well, I suppose it helps that Marvel Studios brings out tons of new footage, superstar actors and awesome teases every year, but I like to think it lies beyond that. The answer is nestled deep down in the depths of pop culture.

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So. Many. People.

 

Just think about this for a second: over the last ten years, what area of pop culture has become more accessible, more accepted and more awesome than nerd culture? Comics aren’t just for the pimple-faced, four-eyed freaks anymore. In fact, if you have never read a comic book, you might just be a hindrance to all of your friends who will no doubt have to explain all of the best parts of all of the best superhero movies. And who hasn’t seen The Avengers? Better yet, who have you ever spoken to who can honestly say that they have never enjoyed a single superhero, sci-fi or fantasy story? We live in a world where a show like Game of Thrones is one of the most popular shows in the world… And it’s on premium cable! Forty years ago, when The Golden State Comic Con first opened its doors, all of these things were just pipe dreams for many of the 300 who attended and the five who ran the convention. This quote from Adam Scott on Parks and Recreation perfectly encapsulates what I’m trying to say: “Nerd culture is mainstream now. So when you use the word ‘nerd’ derogatorily, that means you’re the one that’s out of the Zeitgeist.”

So is nerd culture really even a thing anymore? Well… yes, because there will always be just one more level of nerd that is not quite what you would call popular. But there is certainly a place for nerdiness in the world now. You really don’t have to hide it, I promise! I wouldn’t have made this site if I didn’t think I could have stuff on here for everybody. So let’s just take a moment to thank the men who helped meld nerd culture into just… Culture. It’s all a part of the social fabric now. We are free to love what we love and not fear what others will say. You could have been living that way before, but you know, it’s easier now.

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Specifically, there is less of this. It’s still there, but it’s not cool to pick on the kid who is really good at drawing Spider-Man

 

Is Comic-Con the one to thank for all of this? No, of course not. There are men and women who have spent decades trying to bring their awesome work from the fringe to the spotlight. It’s because of them that a crazy little movie like Guardians of the Galaxy is insanely anticipated by everybody I know, or that the term “Red Wedding” still makes my friends cringe. But you know what, it’s the idea of Comic-Con that has really brought us into this Golden Age of sci-fi, fantasy, and comics. That idea that a bunch of people who like the same things can all get together and it’s just cool and fun. Not nerdy, geeky, dorky or loser-ish. Nope, it’s just cool. You read it here first: nerd is cool.

 

Cody Seymour

Creator of NerdSpeak. Writer, filmmaker, nerd and lover of good food.

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