News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

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Comic Fest goes back to basics

It’s been dubbed “Comic-Con unplugged.”

A smaller, more intimate convention where attendees and professionals can mingle, swap stories and share the same patio table for a bite without Bruiser the bodyguard cracking his knuckles and staring down fans to stay in line.

Likened to watching a Neil Young concert, “You can see him one night at a sold-out stadium and the next night see him in a much more intimate venue,” said Mark Stadler, program coordinator for San Diego Comic Fest. “He’s still the same musician. It’s still the same great music. It’s just unplugged.”

Organizers have timed the event to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the first popular arts convention in San Diego held at the El Cortez in 1972. Back then, attendance peeked at about 1,000 ticket holders. A far cry from today’s numbers. Tickets for this past year’s Comic-Con sold out in about an hour.

With its smaller venue, the cost of parking at $4, and staffing comprised entirely of volunteers, Comic Fest’s budget is designed to support a lower-cost con, “at which we consciously try to foster the spirit … of those early fan gatherings,” according to the Comic Fest website.

Organizers anticipate about the same number of attendees as that first convention at the El Cortez, but if enough interest is there, “we can add more tickets for next year,” said Stadler, who served on the Comic-Con committee from 1979 to 1994.

Comic Fest volunteers manning a donated booth at Comic-Con reported positive reviews for the upcoming old-school con.

“The reaction we got was just amazing,” Stadler said.

The three-day roster includes a spotlight on surrealist Burt Shonberg and panel discussions with Jim Valentino of Image Comics, Scott Shaw, Tom Luth and Paul Sammon, author of “Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner,” as well Star Trek historian John Putman, associate professor of history at San Diego State University, who teaches a history course that uses Star Trek as a vehicle to explore American society.

“(Gene) Roddenberry would never have been allowed to have a black captain back then. Through Janeway we can trace feminism. The show uses metaphors and allegories to address the larger message,” Putman said.

Comic Fest organizers plan to release a video, but anticipate fans uploading video to YouTube to give other fans a chance to be part of the collective experience.

Special guests include Encinitas artist Mary Fleener, Stan Sakai, Michael C. Gross, Mike Miller and Erik Bear.

Comic Fest will be held Oct. 19-21 at the Town & Country Resort and Convention Center, 500 Hotel Circle North in Mission Valley. To reserve a room for Comic Fest at the Town & Country Resort, call (619) 291-7131. The Comic Fest website features a secure link to make room reservations with a special con rate.

“I think the time is right for a con like this,” Stadler said. “If your impression of cons is Comic-Con for the past 10 years,” what are fans going to think about a con without a Hollywood sign?

For more information about Comic Fest, visit Check back regularly for panel and special guest updates.

Ken Pagano is a San Diego freelance writer


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Comic Fest goes back to basics