Word spreads like wildfire on the breeze, across Twitter, Facebook, Text Message, and harried phone calls; Comic-Con tickets are available! If you don’t join the queue RIGHT NOW you’ll be paying two, three, four times as much for your tickets through Craigslist, Facebook, or worst of all, street hawkers.
It’s amazing how far we’ve come in the last 50 years. From humble beginnings with 100 Comic book enthusiasts gathering in a conference room in a hotel, to millions flocking to hundreds of comic conventions around the world. How did we get here? Good Question.
The Way Way Back
“In 1964, about a hundred people found themselves in a New York City union meeting hall, a large open room with wooden folding chairs, looking around at each other oddly, surprised, not really knowing what they were there for, a bit sheepish, waiting for whatever was going to take place to begin. … It was the first comics convention ever [and t]hat one-day assembly … grew step by step into an annual tradition in New York and then elsewhere.” Phil Seuling (Found of the New York Comic Art Convention) ~ found in the 1977 Comic Art Convention program book.
The first official comic convention took place in 1964 in New York City, Comicon 64 (which became The Comic Art Convention) took place on July 27th and hosted roughly 100 comic book fans in a meeting hall on 14th and Broadway. It was started by four very young men; Bernie Bubnis, Ron Fradkin, Art Tripp, and Ethan Roberts who shared a love of comic books and a desire to share them. It’s said that George R. R. Martin was the first purchaser of a ticket to the first ever comics convention. Last year the absolute ultimate guide of the original comics convention was released. It’s a great resource.
Early Comics Conventions gave fans a platform to talk about their shared interest. Early cons were abuzz with debates about cover art, story arcs, and characters. Comics old and new were carefully scoured and traded. It can get a little lost in the midst of massive merch booths, buzzing artist stations, and board game corners, but you can still see shadows of these former scenes. Groups of young men huddle over cardboard boxes of new and antique comic books, flipping through hundreds of pages, looking for unicorns.
Throughout the 60s reoccurring local comicons popped up in New York, Dallas, Houston, St. Louis, and Birmingham England. Those early cons also introduced the idea of creating a platform where comic book fans could chat with comic book creators. They were a forum for ideas and concepts and a meeting place for like-minds.
The Way Back
IMAGE CREDIT: FLICKR USER PACSWORLD
The 1970s led the way for explosive growth in Comicons. Cons were popping up in many major cities in the United States and around the world.
And then 1970 saw the emergence of San Diego Comic-Con. The first incarnation was named the Golden Gate Comic-Con and was held over thee days. It attracted 300 attendees. Guests included Forrest J. Ackerman, Ray Bradbury, Jack Kirby, Bob Stevens, and A. E. van Vogt.
By 1976 there were 20 official comicons spread across the country. Many of them were already pulling in thousands of attendees. Comic book conventions were officially big business. While many of the early conventions were started by independent comic book fans, comic-cons, as we know them today, are typically run by corporations.
Comic-Con International: San Diego
Image Credit: Comic-Con.org
When mentioning Comicons, San Diego is definitely the epicenter of the phenomenon. From the start, the intent of SDCC’s founders was to include many different aspects of pop culture such as film and science fiction/fantasy literature. This openness to media is likely why it was able to enter the mainstream with such abandon. In 2015 over 170,000 people attended the con. Even with this many tickets available, it’s still a struggle to get your hands on your very own golden ticket(s).
The first “Masquerade Ball” took place in 1974. Brinke Stevens won first place with a Vampirella costume. Oddly Forrest J Ackerman, the creator of Vampirella, was in attendance. The two posed for photos together and became great friends.
In 1995 the iconic eye logo was created by Richard Bruning and the name was changed to Comic-Con International: San Diego. The con as we know it had taken its place on the world stage. It has remained much the same (other than growing exponentially every year) from an image perspective for the last twenty years.
Comic Book Conventions Now
There are now comic conventions in nearly every city in the United States and across the world. Celebrity guests, actors, writers, artists, directors from every type of media make appearances. Trailers and films premiere at major conventions. Con exclusive merch become high ticket items on sale sites across the internet. New tech is announced on con stages across the world. In just fifty years Comic-Cons have expanded from meeting rooms filled with a couple comic book fans to where they are now: an epicenter of entertainment media.
What have your Comic Book Convention experiences been like? When did you first attend? Would you go in the future? Let us know in the comments!