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Comic Con founders circa 1970. Comic Con founders circa 1970.

Making Comic Con History

SDSU invites Comic-Con founders to add to the library's Special Collections.
By Roberta Neiderjohn

The shelves of the San Diego State University Library’s Special Collections contain a cadre of colorful characters: Stinz the centaur; Batman’s foe Anarky; Bob the Angry Flower; and Atomics team members It Girl, Mr. Gum, The Slug, and Black Crystal, to name only a few.

These characters — and a host of others in the library’s comics, zine, graphic novel and science fiction collections — inhabit 400 linear feet of shelf space in Special Collections, creating an impressive assemblage of alternative media and science fiction.

Soon the comic super heroes will be joined by the real-life heroes whose hard work, enthusiasm, and often their bank accounts created an annual comics gathering that grew into the mega-event now known worldwide as Comic-Con International.

These people won’t be sitting on a shelf next to Superman. Thanks to a $10,000 grant from the California Council for the Humanities, their digitally recorded oral histories will live in cyberspace as a permanent, interactive online resource located on Special Collections’ Web page.

“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.

“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.”

Comic Con innovators

Two of those early organizers — Mike Towry and Jackie Estrada — were interviewed first 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 interviews will continue during 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. Learn more about the Comic Con Kids oral histories

Comic Con oral histories

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.  With the influence these real-life heroes generated in these subjects, the addition of their histories to the collection will be highly valued.