Arts & Culture News

Why Comic-Con Is Really About Community

Liz Ohanesian
When religious protesters showed up at Comic-Con, attendees responded with absurd signs.
In Southern California, you can be certain that the bigger the event, the more religious protesters you'll see across the street. Oftentimes, convention-goers will counter the protesters with signs bearing absurd slogans. That was the case in San Diego this year, when attendees dropped as many nerdy references as they could squeeze onto a piece of cardboard.

Usually I try to ignore the people with the fire-and-brimstone signs. If world history has taught us anything, it's that religious arguments don't end with a cordial handshake. On Sunday, though, I was stuck on a corner across from the San Diego Convention Center just a few feet away from a guy with a megaphone. He was going on about "darkness," which I humbly submit isn't a bad thing, but we can talk about that later. I started grumbling to myself. Some others in the crowd challenged him loudly. The guy with the megaphone turned to one and lashed out with some insults.

Then, in the back of this tightly packed crowd, a man started singing "Joy to the World," the Three Dog Night song that begins with "Jeremiah was a bullfrog." By the time he reached the chorus, the bulk of the convention-goers had joined him in song.

The incident struck a chord with me. In the protesters you have a few scattered folks who, for whatever reason, feel the need to try to shame people who have traveled to San Diego to embrace what they love.

I'm one of the latter. Even though I'm at San Diego Comic-Con as a reporter and spend the bulk of my time there working, it's work I love amongst people whom I admire and respect.

This year marked my fifth trip to Comic-Con and the fifth time I've covered the convention for L.A. Weekly. Over the years, I've come to think of some of the people I've encountered at Comic-Con as friends. There are the fellow fans of The Venture Bros., a contingent that seems to grow larger every year. There are indie comic writers and artists in the Small Press section of the exhibit hall, whose booths I try to always visit. There are cosplayers and steampunks, some of whom I've met at other conventions, but we always manage to find each other here. We may have started out talking about a TV show or a movie or a comic book, but by the end of the weekend we're conversing like real friends.

If you're following Comic-Con from afar, you may know more about the big release announcements and celebrity sightings than we do. When we're at Comic-Con, we live inside a strange bubble. It's big and there's a lot going on there. Plus, Internet access inside the convention hall can be spotty. If something big happens -- like Tom Hiddleston turns up on stage dressed as Loki -- we will likely hear about it later, once our phones start loading YouTube videos again.

But what the Comic-Con coverage never truly captures is the interaction among those of us who are there. There are thousands of stories that may go untold. We make friends while standing line. We spend long nights hanging out with pals that we only get to see at Comic-Con. We bond with the cluster of roommates we managed to pile inside a hotel room. We go on rants about whatnot while sitting on the back steps of the convention center.

You've probably heard plenty of people moan that San Diego Comic-Con isn't about comic books. That's true, but it's not about big movies and TV shows either. It's about a community that exists for five days every July. We are thousands of people from disparate backgrounds. We travel from across the country, across the globe, actually, to be here. We are of different ethnicities. Our religious and political views vary. We are straight and gay, young and old, male and female. Some of us are Marvel fans. Some of us prefer DC. We can't agree on which Doctor reigns supreme. We might not even concur on those Star Wars prequels.

Still, we're a community. Geeks, nerds or whatever you want to calls us, we're pop culture junkies with a high tolerance for lines. When we meet in real life at Comic-Con, we stick together. As the group of people on the street corner started singing an old Three Dog Night song, my cheesy, overly sentimental heart swelled with happiness. The guy with the megaphone was rendered mute -- not that he really mattered in the first place. What did matter was that this group of people -- and it was a large group -- had come together in a peculiar way. They knew why they were here. They knew what kind of joy this place brings so many people and no one was going to tell them that it was wrong.

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Liz Ohanesian
Contact: Liz Ohanesian