Stories of Comic-Con's Humble Beginnings to be Preserved Through Oral Histories at SDSU Library
by Roberta Niederjohn
Before the movie studios promoting their latest blockbusters, before the TV series panels, the gamers, the colorful cosplayers, and the news coverage from around the world, Comic-Con International was a group of teen-agers and an aspiring graphic artist who enjoyed trading comic books and talking shop in the dingy ballroom of a San Diego hotel that had seen better days. Sheldon Dorf, 35 at the time, had some experience producing comic book shows in Michigan. Richard Alf, age 17, had a little cash and an old car. And Richard’s high school friends had the youthful enthusiasm necessary to pull off the impossible.
Flyer promoting the original one-day, trial run Minicon in March 1970 at San Diego's U.S. Grant Hotel.
The San Diego State University Library has unique and growing comic book, graphic novel, science fiction, and zine collections in its Special Collections Department, as well as a Web page hosting oral histories. The library also has the desire and now the means to preserve the stories of the remaining Comic-Con founders through an oral history project funded by a $10,000 grant from the California Council for the Humanities.
“The Comic-Con Kids: Finding and Defining Fandom” will explore the emergence of comics, science fiction, and fantasy in the youth counterculture movements of the 1970s, with a primary focus on Comic-Con. In 1970, five young San Diegans—ranging in age from 12 to 17—were central to bringing together participants for the first conventions. The story of the Comic-Con Kids is significant for the central role that young people played in the creation of this now major event.
“We plan to video the oral histories of the surviving co-founders and other early leaders of this event. With this and existing materials from the SDSU Library, an online experience will be created for students, scholars, and the general public,” said Lynn Hawkes, special projects and external affairs coordinator. “The Website will contain photographs, video/oral history interviews, original documents, and film excerpts. There will also be an interactive component where people can leave comments and share their own stories about Comic-Con.”
STARTED BY STUDENTS
Original organizers of the March, 1970 Comic-Minicon at San Diego's U.S. Grant Hotel include (l-r) Ken Krueger, David Clark, Greg Bear and an unknown participant. Photo by Sheldon Dorf
Two of those early organizers—Mike Towry and Jackie Estrada—were the first to be interviewed when recording began on June 29, 2012. Award-winning science fiction author and SDSU alumnus Greg Bear and Barry Alfonso—both teen-agers when they joined the inaugural Comic-Con crew—are also slated for interviews. Jonathan Valdez, a graduate student in SDSU’s liberal arts and sciences program, will conduct the oral history interviews, which also will be video recorded by SDSU students. Michael Lapins, the library’s Media Center supervisor, is coordinating the video production.
“Comic-Con was started by students, so it’s understandable that they would be interested in having students involved in the project,” Hawkes said.
Oral history recordings will continue during Towry’s newest comic venture, the San Diego Comic Fest, which will be held October 19-21, 2012, at the Town and Country Resort and Convention Center. The library will have a meeting room to conduct interviews and scan photographs and documents attendees bring with them so that this history can be preserved. The oral histories and other materials will be uploaded to Special Collections’ Web page after they are edited and completed, with the first couple appearing around the end of summer 2012. The Comic-Con Kids oral histories will be available at http://library.sdsu.edu/scua/online-materials.
Comic-Con 1972 committee at San Diego's El Cortez Hotel includes (l-r) John Pound, Roger Freedman, Scott Shaw (front), Mike Towry (back), William Caron and Richard Alf. Photo by Mark Evanier
The oral histories of Comic-Con’s founders and early leaders fit naturally with Special Collections’ alternative media collections, which emphasize drawn books and independent, small press and mini-comics. The collections also contain materials that document the history of comic book culture and the creative process behind comic book production.
“While it’s an alternative rather than mainstream comics collection, it shares what many comics are about and what excites so many Comic-Con attendees – creative ideas, inspiration, fantastical dreams, and wild imaginings – in short, mythology, but a mythology for moderns. Ironically, the edgy, underground content in our collection which used to be marginalized is now not that uncommon, and what had been seen as ‘low-brow’ literature is now considered by many ‘high-brow’,” said Robert Ray, head of Special Collections and University Archives.
Do you have memories of the early days of Comic-Con? Share your story now with the SDSU Library!
For more information about Special Collections, please contact Robert Ray
, head of Special Collections and University Archives, at (619) 594-4303; If you have a story to share about the early days of Comic-Con for additional information about the Comic-Con Kids oral history project, contact Lynn Hawkes
, special projects and external affairs coordinator, at (619) 594-2447 or Michael Lapins
, Media Center supervisor, at (619) 594-8241. Email Mark Stadler
for more information about San Diego Comic Fest or Mike Towry