San Diego Comic Fest’s Matt Dunford on the Convention, Jack Kirby’s 100th Birthday, and of course Comics.

San Diego Comic Fest’s Matt Dunford on the Convention, Jack Kirby’s 100th Birthday, and of course Comics.
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Matt Dunford, newly appointed chairman of San Diego Comic Fest

2017 will bring us yet another new year of comic conventions. When one thinks of San Diego and comics, it’s not difficult to summon images of San Diego Comic-Con, one of the largest celebrations of comics and popular media in the entire world. But there’s more to San Diego than just Comic-Con.

This year signifies the fifth year of San Diego Comic Fest. Just what is Comic Fest? As their website states, Comic Fest is:

…the friendly comic convention with a casual atmosphere and an intimate scale that allows fans to mingle directly with professionals and exhibitors. It’s the place where you can indulge your love of comics, science fiction, and films, and meet an outstanding array of professional creators without high-priced tickets, crowding, or long lines.

Not only is this “casual, comic-convention” celebrating its fifth year, but also the appointing of their new chairman, Matt Dunford. I had a chance to sit down with the Comic Fest chairman in San Diego’s Lestat’s Café on University avenue, which I might add is appropriately decorated with posters depicting iconic superhero franchises if they were played by legendary Hollywood stars and starlets. We spoke of himself, sharing his background in comics which legitimizes his appointment of chairman, and as well as Comic-Fest itself.

How long would you say you’ve had comics in your life?

I would say all my life. My recollections are that I started off with picture books; mainly the likes of Doctor Seuss type stuff, Little Critter, and a lot of Disney picture books, even before I could read. I remember I was always into the visual aspect of comics. There was this drive in me saying, “I need to see what they are saying… I need to be able to do this on my own… I don’t want my parents to keep reading this for me.”

The thing that really motivated me to read was back when I was about four or five years-old, I was a hardcore “Lego-pirate” fan. There was this comic book that came with a Lego set, called “Captain Redbeard and the Lost Golden Coin.” It was a Lego-pirate story adapted in comic form. I was so excited for it that I literally learned to read just so I could read this comic. Sometime after that, I was in Toys-R-Us with my dad. I think it was 1992. He wanted to find something for my “newly acquired reading abilities.” Then I saw it; This beautiful, shiny-holographic image of “Spider-Man” on this comic set. It was thirty comics that you could buy because it was the thirtieth-anniversary of Spider-Man. I just fell in love with it. It was my first time reading Spider-Man. I just read those issues until they were practically shredded. That’s when you could really say that my true comic book fandom started. All because of Spider-Man.

Over the years, how many comics would you say you’ve acquired?

At my peak, I would say maybe between fifteen and twenty-thousand issues that I’ve had over the years from just buying and buying; From garage sales, to comic stores, just buying on a weekly basis. Though I don’t really have that many in my collection anymore. I’m in the process of donating a lot of them to public facilities like Little Fish Comic Studios and of course to the pop-culture library at “San Diego State University” which is curated by Pamela Jackson. I’ve realized that they’re not doing me much good in storage. I’ve had my fun with them, so I rather that someone else can have their fun with them now.

But I understand your omnibus and absolute collection is still one to be rivaled.

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Matt Dunford next to “Marilyn Monroe is Power Girl,” by Joe Philips

Oh yeah. I’ve been told that I have one of the most impressive hardcover, graphic novel collections out there. The single-issue stuff I just read casually, but I just like the convenience of being able to pull a book off of the shelf and showing it off. I collect all the big-hardcover ones, the hundred-dollar ones, the absolute editions from DC Comics, the omnibuses from Marvel, and all the Dark Horse library editions. For me, those are the books that I want to line my walls. I would say that there’s between seven-hundred and eight-hundred giant, oversized-hardcovers that fill my room and my apartment. They just flood the place. I just can’t tear myself away from these stories.

You spoke earlier of Little Fish Comics. You’re very active with not only them, but you were also involved very much with Club Cosplay, and now of course Comic-Fest. What has motivated you to get so involved?

Little Fish is definitely one of the biggest moments that I had in terms of breakthroughs. It’s really where my activism in comics started. But it really began earlier. It was when I was at UC Santa Barbara and finishing up my degree when I decided to swing down to Meltdown Comics for the day for a talk that they were doing when the “Watchmen” movie was coming out. They had notable writer Len Wein, co-creator of “Wolverine” and “Swamp Thing,” and editor of Watchmen [comic]. He was talking about the editing of Watchmen as a process, and it was the first time I remember hearing what an editor does. I thought, “This is awesome. This is so cool. An editor just has to be a ‘know-it-all’ about comics and just sits there telling the writers and artists how to improve the story?’ It really fascinated me. So I just kind of made that my goal of fixation.

As I researched more about editors, I discovered the career of “comic book historian.” Again, I was like, “Wow. This is really good, too.” This then sparked my interest in comic history; Not just the stories themselves, but what goes into the stories, the people behind them. This was around 2009. At that year’s [San Diego] Comic-Con, at the Jack Kirby tribute panel, there was a professor there named Roger Freedman who was a professor of physics at, oddly enough, UC Santa Barbara. He was talking about how he was one of the founding-fathers of Comic-Con back in 69’ and he spoke of this great history.

After that, I would go up to his office during office hours at UCSB and just talk his head off all day. He would tell me these great stories from the sixties and the Comic-Cons of the seventies and about hanging out with these great icons and gods of the comic book industry. Eventually when it was my finals week, as I’m scrambling to get all my projects done he emails me and CC’s comic-historian Mark Evanier and cartoonist Scott Shaw, two of these gigantic figures in the realm of comic books. He was asking if we could come up with questions for a student at UC Santa Barbara who was actually getting his PHD in “Superhero-ology.” This thing was unheard of to me. So I took time off of my schedule to come up with some questions. When I sent my questions out in the email correspondence, Mark says, “These are actually spot on. I really wouldn’t change too much about it.” And Mr. Shaw said, “Who the hell is this Matt Dunford guy and why have I never heard of him?” And that’s when Roger first gave me my title of “Matt Dunford: The World’s Youngest, Comic Book Historian.”

comicfest-2017-comiccon-posters-18x24-1Steering towards the topic of Comic-Fest which of you are now the chairman, this is its fifth year, correct?

Yes, this is the fifth year for San Diego Comic-Fest.

How long have you been involved with Comic-Fest?

When they first made the announcement of it five-years ago, it was put together by Mike Towry and Richard Alf, who were in essence the founding-fathers of the San Diego Comic-Con. They wanted to bring a feel of the original Comic-Con way-back from the 1970’s when it was small and intimate. They tell a story often about when they invited Jack Kirby as their first guest of honor back in 1969. The first Comic-Con had about two-hundred and fifty attendees back when it was “San Diego’s Golden-State Comic Convention.” The second year, it attracted about five-hundred people. Jack being “the Da-Vinci” of the comic world said, “Look at how big it got! Look at this, it’s huge now. Soon it will be the place where Hollywood comes to show off the movies that they made last year and find the films that they’re going to make next year.” Everyone just laughed at Jack, saying that it would never get that big.

So, the mission of San Diego Comic-Fest was to bring the small environment of comics and comic-fandom into a place where you could interact with its creators and where it’s just not the hustle and bustle of two-hundred thousand people at a convention, but that small-intimate setting where you can meet the people and interact with them; Just hang out with them. It provides a different dynamic. Of course I do love San Diego Comic-Con in all its huge-glory, but I also think it’s a good change of pace. Where we can have this one-on-one with these creators.

What should we expect for this year’s Comic-Fest?comicfest-2017-comiccon-posters-18x24-2

Oddly enough I’m already planning for the 2018 show. I like to think big. I like to bring in guests that have an established past in the history of comics, but are still working on new contemporary projects, so we may have something for the older-crowds who may not be reading contemporary comics, but can still embrace the old stuff.

What we are going to be mainly doing this year, since 2017 is the centennial birthday of Jack Kirby if he were still alive, is a strong focus with a lot of programming towards him, the “King of Comics.” If you don’t know him, he is the co-creator of “Captain America, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four,” basically the majority of silver-age Marvel; We will be celebrating his history. There are certain other figures in the comic realm who get a little more credit for creating these characters, and I think we should be embracing Jack’s side of it, because he is a real unsung hero.

We also have a lot of other special guests. Since we are not just so focused on comics in general, we also have a science-fiction room. We will be bringing in science-fiction special guest of honor David Brin, who has won Hugo and Nebula awards. We will also be bringing in special guest authors Greg Bear and Gregory Benford.

On the comic side of things, we have Vivek Tiwary, author of the graphic novel “The Fifth Beatle,” which tells about the life of Brian Epstein, the Beatles then manager. Epstein took them from an underground band to the biggest pop-culture sensation on Earth. It’s his tragic story of being a gay, Jewish man in the 1960’s and his struggles with drug addiction and trying to stay in the closet. On the animation spectrum, we will be bringing in John Semper, JR., who is of course the writer of my all-time favorite cartoon, the 1990’s “Spider-Man: The Animated Series,” which pretty much skyrocketed my Spider-Man fandom to levels unknown. We also will have Liam Sharp, a UK comics creator, currently the highlighted artist on the widely-acclaimed “Wonder Woman.” He’s just been doing the best work of his career right now with that comic. With every issue, my jaw basically drops. There will also be Mike Royer, Jack Kirby’s inker for most of his artwork throughout the 1970’s. He’ll talk about those years and then his years as an animator with Disney on the “Winnie the Pooh” cartoon.

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the “X-Men” cartoon, we will have some of show’s creators, including Eric and Julia Lewald and Larry Houston. An finally to top things off, we will be celebrating our guest of honor Jim Valentino of Image Comics, highlighting Image’s 25th year anniversary.

Thank you, Comic Fest’s chairman Matt Dunford, in taking the time away from your busy comic-laden schedule. San Diego Comic Fest will be next month, February 17th to the 20th. Everyone interested in attending, check out their website: www.sdcomicfest.org

#sdcc SDCC’16: Tips From a Local – “Where to Go to Decompress”

#sdcc SDCC’16: Tips From a Local – “Where to Go to Decompress”

By: Nicholas Eskey

Much of San Diego Comic-Con will be a tiring blur once you reach Sunday. Technically the last day of the convention, many of people are already tired of the crowds, greasy foods, and all the running between sales booths and panels. It’s for this reason that Sunday is deemed family day, as the typical 4 day con-goers are feeling too lack lustered to put in the complete fervency that they did over the three previous days.

If you find yourself in this same situation, this local has some suggestions on where you can go to decompress, or at least escape and take a break from the convention, if only for a little while over the 4 days.

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Pond and Bridge in Seaport Village

Seaport Village: This 14 acre waterfront complex is a recreation of a harbor side setting in times gone by. All within walking distance of the Convention Center, Seaport Village has a great array of shopping, dining, and entertainment. All of this is completed with the view of the bay with all the fantastic boats harbored there. Seaport Village even features a refurbished Merry-Go-Round that is still in operation to this day.

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Botanical Garden at Balboa Park

 

Balboa Park: If you want to get further away from downtown, Balboa Park is a beautiful option. As early as 1868, this park has been a fond favorite for locals and travelers alike. With its early Spanish inspired architecture, this park is home to the San Diego Zoo, 15 major museums, a large arts village, upscale dining, the Japanese Friendship Garden, The Old Globe theater, The Botanical Garden, and more. Don’t miss the bell tower that plays a different melody every hour.

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Sign in Hillcrest

Hillcrest: Going even further away from downtown, Hillcrest is situated uphill along University Avenue. The LGBT friendly area is home to all walks of restaurant styles, as well as bars that range from the very casual to the somewhat dressy. If you feel like hitting up the clubs, there will be a great many Comic-Con themed parties held during convention time.

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Pacific Beach and Crystal Pier

Pacific Beach: Home to a wide spreading beach and a pier that has guest cottages as well as its daily share of fishermen, Pacific Beach is a very happening area with its own collection of bars and restaurants. The beachy area is also a favorite spot for surfers, college kids, and sunset enthusiasts. If you’re thinking about visiting in the morning, you might as well hit up the local favorite Kono’s Café for breakfast, though make sure to bring cash as they still don’t accept cards. With their popularity, this doesn’t hamper them in the least.

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Sunset at Black’s Beach

Black’s Beach: Black’s is a unique beach. Unique meaning it has a clothing optional rule. Frequented by beach walkers, surfers, and nudists, this beach is situated next to UCSD College in La Jolla. Be careful when you try to make the trip down to the beach however, as the most used way of access is a slippery staircase that descends from the cliff that overlooks the Black’s. If you rather not risk it, there’s the Torrey Pine’s Gliderport at the top, where you can grab a quick bite or take up a little paragliding.

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Lighthouse at Cabrillo National Monument

Point Loma: A great degree of San Diego’s military history is situated in this area, from the old Naval Base, to the Naval housing. Check out Liberty Station, which was once the area for the old Naval Barracks. The preserved buildings now house restaurants like Slater’s 50/50, The Corvette Diner, and Soda and Swine. There’s also a plethora of shopping choices, dance studios, and the recently relocated IDW’s San Diego Comic Art Gallery. If you want some more history, head down to Cabrillo National Monument park, where you can see one of the few remaining lighthouses in the united states.

I might add that all these areas have a great deal of Pokestops if you’re going to be playing Pokemon Go, all except Black’s Beach at least. If you think about it, it’s really for the best. I’m sure the locals won’t appreciate seeing a cellphone pointed at them, nor believe you if you said you spotted a Krabby.

#sdcc SDCC’16: Tips From a Local – “Avoiding the Con Cruds”

#sdcc SDCC’16: Tips From a Local – “Avoiding the Con Cruds”

By: Nicholas Eskey

One of the hardships that comes with travel is catching an illness. It happens. New surroundings, a climate unlike that of your home town, different air quality, and even stress of travel that might affect your health. If you take into account the tight quarters that a popular convention entails, mixed with the inconsiderate sick people that still attend and hack their germs into the open air, sounds charming doesn’t it? Sharing is caring after all.

In any event, with a week left before Comic-Con you should take certain precautions when getting ready. Listen to some advice from a veteran con-goer, who also has had to deal with traveling, interviewing, and battling with deadlines, all the while still trying to nerd out to my favorite fandoms.

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The evil nacho monster may say he loves you, but once he gets inside, he’ll destroy you from within.

  1. Rest. It’s the biggest advice I can give. With so much going on at Comic-Con, you’ll be very enticed to stay up late, and wake up early. But doing this for 4 days straight is havoc on the body.
  2. The Right Foods. The often greasy food available on the premises won’t do you much good either. Unless you packed some healthy snacks, venture out further downtown to find something healthy to eat.
  3. Drink Water. I know, what about the caffeinated sugary drinks to keep me away? Caffeine is great, but that sugar will just make you crash all the harder later in the day. Bring some water with you or find the drinking fountains to stay hydrated.
  4. Hand Sanitizer. This stuff is more precious that gold when it comes to Comic-Con. Let that little mom voice in your head sound out: “You don’t know where that’s been!” With so many people at the convention, I would guess a thousand plus hands can touch just one door handle. Handle to hand, and then hand to face will mean giving yourself the eventual cruds.
  5. Vitamins. Again, since you’ll be co-mingling with thousands of other people in a tight space, you’ll be exchanging germs with them. It wouldn’t hurt to give your immune system a boost with something like Airborne or One-A-Day Vitacraves.
  6. Relax. This is not the same as resting or just idly standing in a Hall H line. The stresses of the convention can take a toll on your immune system, making your more susceptible to those airborne germs. Take a moment to find a (somewhat) quiet corner, sit down, and take some deep calming breaths.
  7. Don’t Overindulge. One or two drinks is fine and dandy, but more than that and you’ll be sorry the next day. Do this for a few days straight, you’ll be hurting and irritable during the convention. Have fun, but not to the extent that it will ruin your convention time.
  8. Avoid Stress All Together. I’m really emphasizing this because though the convention is an all-around good time, very many people are quite easily led astray to the dark side and let every little thing stress them. If you can let go of the fact that you lost the lottery for a collector’s item, if you can forgive the person that almost ran you over, if you can just make peace with that you’re not getting into Hall H, you’ll be better for it.
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The salad is your friend. Believe in the salad.

Some of these points may be a matter of common sense, but when you’re distracted by the lures of San Diego Comic-Con, it’s really easy to forget everything else. Though you may not see everything you want, these tips will ensure you’ll have a more enjoyable experience.

#sdcc Downtown San Diego: Is it ready for Comic-Con 2016?

#sdcc Downtown San Diego: Is it ready for Comic-Con 2016?

By: Nicholas Eskey

Typically, around this time each year downtown San Diego is well underway in a temporary face lift for our very own Comic-Con International. As one of the largest comic and popular media conventions in the world, Comic-Con International has long outgrown the confines of the Downtown Convention Center and has been steadily extending its reach like the tentacles of Hydra (Hail Hydra!). True, most of the parties and events have no affiliation with CCI, but that hasn’t stopped the many vendors who want to participate in the festivities from finding a way to capitalize.

This last Saturday I decided to venture out and see all the early changes for myself. I was quite surprised with what I found.

Though the convention is less than two weeks out, a number of large displays are normally already installed or nearly completed. This year I could hardly find anything in reference to CCI.

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Advertisement for the All Star Game

There’s actually a lot of other events happening in San Diego this month. Tuesday was the Baseball All Star Game, held at Petco Park, and two days before that was the All Color 5K Run being held for the baseball game. San Diego, aside from being a military town, is also a sporty town. We love our Padres, our Chargers, and even Gulls hockey team. The area around Petco Park in downtown had many signs and advertisements for the All Star Game. You can bet most of the bars also had something in the way of an All Star tie in.

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The Hyatt decked out for the All Star Game

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Not only that, but at the end of the week will be San Diego Pride. Though the parade and festival will be centered in the Hillcrest and Balboa Park areas, there will be a lot of focus placed on it. Also, hotels and bars will also see an impact throughout this weekend as Pride parties abound. It’s no wonder why I couldn’t find much in the way of Comic-Con International displays, since the city doesn’t want to take the focus away from this other money making events.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t any changes to downtown in regards to the convention. The MTS trolley system is in full Comic-Con mode with much of their train cars wrapped up in Conan O’Brien advertising (since he’ll be live at the Comic-Con again) and a few odd ones featuring shows like as “Son of Zorn.” Reason for this though is that the skin covers for those trains take a long time to put adhere, so we locals have seen them already for the better part of a month (and most likely will for another month after CCI). On my travels through the city, I even came across a building adorned with the “Funko” name on its exterior. Looking through the windows of the historic “Cracker Factory Building,” I saw human sized Captain America vinyls and a sign toting the 75th anniversary of the hero.

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“Funko” featured on the Olde Cracker Factory building

There is most likely more installations like this throughout downtown; exhibits that need more than a week to be put together, and so are completed early. I hear that the San Diego Airport just placed mannequins throughout its terminals that feature all styles of Steampunk Cosplay.

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Once the last of our other events are out of way, I don’t doubt there will be PR teams and companies frantically putting together their themed displays. I’ll revisit downtown in a few days and see how the changes have progressed.

#sdcc SDCC’16: Tips from a Local – Getting Gear Ready for the Convention

#sdcc SDCC’16: Tips from a Local – Getting Gear Ready for the Convention

By: Nicholas Eskey

Attending conventions can be the highlight of anyone’s year. They allow fans to share their fandom with other likeminded individuals, purchase rare and exotic collectibles, explore new destinations, get the latest news from industry people, meet their favorite actors or artists, and maybe show off their elaborate cosplay creations.

However, attending conventions come with their own amounts of headaches. A counterpart to all the good times. There’s one that stems all the way from the start: Packing. “What do I bring? What will I need? How the heck am I going to tote all of this around?”

The idea alone is very daunting, the execution is laborious, and the carrying around can be tiring. I’ve experienced my share of conventions, both local and out of town. All the experience has helped me to streamline my convention pack to tailor my own needs. Mind you, my pack might not completely be suited for what you may need, but I want to share it with you so you can get ideas for your own.

Gear 2.0

When I travel, I like to be ready for many different eventualities. First thing is to start with a large enough pack that will be able to hold all of my necessities and gear. I chose a REI brand backpack. It’s meant for backpacking, so it comes equipped with many pockets, as well as a zipper that can expand the pack. Best thing, it falls within the airline’s carry on size regulations. You’ll just have to make sure it’s below the weight limitations. Often there are papers I need to bring, so I can’t forget those. I use a Nikon D300 SLR digital camera for all the photos I’ll be taking, and because changing lenses isn’t really a feasible option I use an 18 to 200 telephoto lens, which is great for travel and many other situations. A flash can also come in handy in low light situations or to counteract harsh light, so I use a Nikon SB-800 speed flash. Special batteries are required so the recharge is quick. I go for Energizer Ultimate Lithium.

A computer is very important for writing my articles. I use a Microsoft Surface tablet, first generation. It’s compact, can take a USB flash drive, and has touch screen capabilities. It’s also used to take notes during panels and for interviews. The detachable keyboard is an expanded battery for the tablet, and the leather case is to keep them both safe. As a precaution, I have a Moleskin notebook as a backup for taking notes. The printer is more of a luxury choice of mine. True, a number of hotels have business centers that are available for use. But I find that some of them are only available for rewards members or for an extra cost. I choose to bring a small foldable HP printer in case I need to print, and yes that happens.

After these, and of course clothes (which I always choose to measure out only enough for the days I’m attending) there are loose things like a pill box for medication, USB hub, tablet charger, extra battery pack for my cellphone (since the convention plugs might fry one’s cell), screen cleaner, business cards, wireless mouse, earbuds, cellphone cord, USB memory card reader, camera memory cards, camera batteries, a box with various toiletries, and a small should bag for carrying around the convention. I used to have a portable wifi hub, but found myself rarely using it due to complementary hotel wifi.