During the weekend of April 20-22nd, the sixth annual San Diego Comic Fest will be taking place at the Town and Country Resort and Convention Center. This year they’ll be celebrating Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
As a frequent convention attendee, I appreciate the varied experience of the many cons I attend. The ones I go to close to home are smaller, more intimate, and more laid back. But when I go to San Diego I go to to ‘Big One.’ You know the one. The world famous San Diego Comic-Con. When I heard that San Diego was also home to San Diego Comic Fest, it sounded exactly like the type of hometown con I attend back here at home. The more I talked Matt Dunford, the Chairman of San Diego Comic Fest, the more I realized that’s exactly their intent. While San Diego is home to a con that attracts over 130,000 people from around the world, the locals deserve their own hometown con as well.
One of the highlights San Diego Comic Fest is the more intimate atmosphere of the con, as opposed to its much larger summer time neighbor – San Diego Comic-Con. How has the convention grown over the past six years? Do you see it outgrowing the intimate atmosphere that you are aiming for?
I love San Diego Comic-Con, it is my favorite week of the year and I have been attending the show since 1994. I have nothing but love for SDCC, but I often hear people saying that they get overwhelmed by the experience when they attend. The more intimate environment we provide allows guests to relax and interact with comic creators, writers and legends of animation. This is much easier than going to a bigger panel and going up to a microphone in front of a writer and nervously asking a question, trust me I’ve been that guy.
It is hard to believe that we are already in our sixth year of the convention and it has been a great experience. I attended the first two years of San Diego Comic Fest as an attendee, but truth be told there wasn’t a whole lot going on. The idea of the convention was brilliant, but the execution was not and needed more.
I joined the volunteer’s group during the third year, bringing new ideas to the table and the convention improved that year. However, but the 4th year San Diego Comic Fest finally became the convention it needed to be. It was small and intimate but it never slowed down and always provided something to do and great programming. We have kept the trend going and continue to improve upon it each year. The convention is growing but I plan to keep the convention intimate, so I take the efforts not to grow too fast.
This year’s theme is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. What inspired that choice? What were past themes of the convention?
What inspired the choice is that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is celebrating its 200th anniversary. I often hear “But Frankenstein isn’t comics.” I disagree because Frankenstein covers just about every area of pop culture from film, horror, comics, animation, breakfast cereals and practically invented the genre of science fiction. These are all of the things we celebrate at San Diego Comic Fest. So we went all out this year Frankenstein by bringing in several guests who have backgrounds with Frankenstein. Among these guests are Sara Karloff, daughter of Boris Karloff who will speak about her father’s career as Frankenstein and his career in non-Frankenstein roles. Also, Leslie Klinger, who released The New Annotated Frankenstein last year, and horror writer Steven Niles, who wrote the comic Frankenstein: Alive, Alive! with the late great Bernie Wrightson. We are even going to have a Frankenstein-themed cafe with an actress dressing as Mary Shelley for a really cool experience.
Last year celebrated the centennial of Jack Kirby, and it was a huge hit among the attendees. Jack Kirby played such a pivotal role in comics, in the formative years of the original San Diego Comic-Con. Several guests who had the honor of working with Jack came out to celebrate his career including Mark Evanier, Steve Sherman, Mike Royer. We set up the cafe area to be completely decked out in posters showcasing generations of Kirby covers. Even I was impressed because there was stuff I had never seen before from Kirby’s career.
Besides the focus on Mary Shelley, I’ve noticed you have a strong line up of amazing women in the comic and genre media industry. You also highlight a lot of talent from Mexico with your programming. How important is it to your convention to showcase diversity in the industry with your programming and guests?
We are all about diversity because we want to celebrate all areas of the creative arts. Our Guest of Honor is Karen Berger, who spent much of her career as the Executive Editor of Vertigo cultivating some of the biggest names in comics and before starting Berger Books at Dark Horse Comics. We want to show that editors in comics play an important role in making everything work out. We also have Nancy Kress as our Science Fiction Guest of Honor, and her amazing career has led her to win just about every award under the sun.
For us, diversity is important because it allows us to celebrate different areas, cultures and creators. It shakes things up, so we can focus on new things because I don’t want to have a convention that does the same thing over and over. The guests from Mexico should be honored for the great work they do and I think our attendees will benefit from getting a look at their careers and cultures.
You have a large presence of science focused guests. I’ve seen science focused panels at cons before, but not quite such a large presence. How did the idea to integrate real scientists into your line up for guests come about?
Along with comics we also focus on science fiction. But we want to have a deeper look at the science behind that fiction. Personally, I am really looking forward to seeing a person with a Ph.D. in regenerative medicine talking about the finer details behind creating an actual Frankenstein monster. We were able to reach out to some of these great science-based guests through some of the board members San Diego Comic Fest. One of which is a Professor of Physics at UC Santa Barbara and other is a librarian of pop culture at SDSU. They run into some really interesting people in their line of work, and they also love talking about the science of geeky stuff.
For you personally, as a fan as well as an organizer, what are you looking forward to most at this year’s convention?
I’m a fan first and an organizer second. I wouldn’t be in this role if I wasn’t excited about the stuff. But there are some programs that I am really looking forward to seeing.
First off, the Legal Geeks, actually lawyers who put on mock trials every year. This time around they are doing to focus on Frankenstein’s monster killing the little girl. Should the monster be tried as a child and should Victor Frankenstein be held liable for the actions of his creation?
The 9-year-old in me is really looking forward to X-Men: The Animated series panel. And I am honored to be the moderator for the Spotlight on John Semper Panel because he has had such an amazing career as a writer and created the Spider-Man animated series which still ranks as my favorite cartoon. Though I am bummed because I am hosting that panel the same time as Leslie Klinger’s Annotated Frankenstein panel.
But in the end there so much amazing programming that I am excited about all of it. And I hope that you will join in on the fun.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. She identifies as queer.
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