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Mathew Klickstein chronicles San Diego Comic-Con in new book

Comic Books

Mathew Klickstein chronicles San Diego Comic-Con in new book

‘See You At San Diego: An Oral History of Comic-Con, Fandom, and the Triumph of Geek Culture’ is on shelves today.

Since its inception in 1970, San Diego Comic-Con has been the premier gathering for pop culture. What started as place for niche comics creators and fans to assemble has become a blockbuster of all things nerdery. History has literally been made in those conventions hall, and now you can read all about

Written by Mathew Klickstein, See You At San Diego: An Oral History of Comic-Con, Fandom, and the Triumph of Geek Culture tracks the con’s 50-plus-year history. Across interviews and stories with “nearly 50 of the most integral members of the Comic-Con and fandom scene,” the book chronicles the “transformation of mainstream American pop culture into comic book culture over the past century.” Part history, part celebration, it’s a true must-read for fans of the community behind modern comics and pop culture.

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With the book out today (via Fantagraphics), we caught up with Klickstein (who has written similar books about Nickelodeon and The Simpsons) via email. There, we talked about the importance of San Diego Comic-Con, his process for writing the book, some beloved contributors, and much, much more.

San Diego

Courtesy of Fantagraphics.

AIPT: What was the genesis for putting this project together in the first place?

Mathew Klickstein: I’ve been a longtime creator of pop culture histories, and it seemed to be time to delve deep into the culmination, the intersection of all pop culture nostalgia and as we know it today in our modern times. So, the best way to do that was via the prehistory, history, and global domination of the largest pop culture gathering worldwide, which according to the Guinness Book of World Records is San Diego Comic-Con.

AIPT: What is it about SDCC that makes it so profoundly important to the culture of comics and fandom in general?

MK: SDCC is where all forms of fandom fiefdoms meet every year to share and learn and evolve via the collected understanding of How Things Work from one another. It is the nexus point, the Mos Eisley Cantina, the tavern in Treasure Island, the waystation where everyone and anything that passes through the hallowed gates of geekdom/fandom often melds with one another, exiting changed and adapted to whatever it is that will come next for culture as we know it. This may sound lofty or histrionic, but read the book: It’s pretty much de riguer according to our greatest geekdom heroes. If they say it’s true, by gum, it must be true.

San Diego

Courtesy of Fantagraphics.

AIPT: Do you have some favorite moments in the book that maybe speak to the large story of the con?

MK: I really love the story of Bjo Trimble and the way that she almost single-handedly made Star Trek fandom happen. Without Bjo Trimble, there would be no Star Trek fandom and like no Star Trek to speak of, at al. Bjo (Bee-joh) worked with her husband John and some friends back in the day to ensure that after Star Trek was canceled in its second season that it would come triumphantly back for a third season.

Bjo valiantly communicated with and organized 25,000 Star Trek fans (back in the day when “no one” knew what the hell this weird little science fiction nerd show was to begin with) to write in their dismay that the show was being cancelled.

Mathew Klickstein chronicles San Diego Comic-Con in new book

Courtesy of Fantagraphics.

This was before social media. This was before the Internet. This was before personal computers. Bjo and John had to fundraise for the postage stamps to make this happen! And you know what? They did it. They got 25,000 fans of Star Trek to write in and say they wanted the show back on the air.

And the network brought it back solely because of this. It was likely the first time geeks organized to bring back a show they loved. Beyond that, because Star Trek came back for a third season, it could be syndicated (aka put into reruns), and thanks to that … we are talking about it over sixty years later.

Thank you, Bjo. You are a true fan goddess and you are just one of many people and stories in our oral history of modern fandom today.

Mathew Klickstein chronicles San Diego Comic-Con in new book

Courtesy of Fantagraphics.

AIPT: Is there anything that surprised you or taught you something new/unexpected about the con or maybe comics in general?

MK: I was surprised to learn that San Diego Comic-Con was never just about comics. It was always about everything that has to do with pop culture fandom – movies, animation, science fiction/fantasy, yo-yo’s, magic, martial arts, toys, hard science, everything, everything, everything. It was always from the very beginning a pop culture convention. A convention for all things fandom. If you love(d) it, it was there for you.

AIPT: Why do you think a book like this matters now, especially in a “post-COVID” world where we’re still reacclimating to cons and the like?

We’re living in a time when so many people are made to be scared of and angry at each other. When we’re all being divided by forces that are far beyond our control and control what we buy, what we see, what we read, what we eat, what we see, where we live … Comic-Con and the fandom community does what it can implicitly and explicitly to fight this, to fight the System. It is all about not only counterculture (from which Comic-Con was originally born – be it the San Francisco underground comix pioneers or the Berkley Free Speech Movement Folks and the Fugs and the Beats and, later, punks and the like) but also an entire alternative way of being, an entire way of thinking and interacting with each other that is our very own.

Mathew Klickstein chronicles San Diego Comic-Con in new book

Courtesy of Fantagraphics.

The kids (literal kids: co-founder Barry Alfonson was 12) back in the late 60s and 70s were showing how a very different way of being and interfacing with one another and even commerce could be possible. And, well … it worked. It went from 100 attendees to 150,000 attendees today. Clearly, they were right. Clearly, another way was/is possible. And that way is through fandom. The proved it.

The geeks won. We took over the world. It only took about a generation and a half to happen; not long in reference to the history of humanity and the planet. That’s how right they/we were.

AIPT: How do you think SDCC impacted or influenced the pop culture landscape in general (perhaps beyond comics)?

MK: It became the ultimate bastion, the “mecca” as so many of our interviewees like the Russo Bros. and Kevin Eastman referred to it as, when it comes to what it means to be a geek, a weirdo, a misfit, an out and proud nerdy fan. They made being different and strange not only “okay” but a power. A super-power. There’s a good reason that all great superhero stories from Superman to X-Men to Deadpool and Kick-Ass and Star Wars is all about people just like you and me who turn what it is that makes them weird into what it is that makes them uber-powerful. It’s all there in Pixar’s The Incredibles and throughout books like X-Men and Spider-Man.

Mathew Klickstein chronicles San Diego Comic-Con in new book

Courtesy of Fantagraphics.

AIPT: Is there a hope that maybe this could hook other fans into comics, or does this feel solely like a celebration for “true” nerds?

MK: I’m not sure about comics solely, but I do hope that flipping through the pages of our book, people will want to read a lot more not only of said book but of all things. Chronicles of Narnia and HG Wells and Ray Bradbury and Philip K. Dick and Stephen King and Michael Crichton and George Orwell and Aldous Huxley … all the great geek heroes of literature in particular. Watch more The Twilight Zone (the original). It’s all there. All the answers to every single question of our society today. You read Fahrenheit-451 (not just “for school”), and your eyes will open. Period.

AIPT: There’s some great forewords and other accompanying essay materials included. What do those add to the larger experience that is this book?

MK: Stan Sakai is indisputably the Nicest Guy in Comics. Full stop. He’s extremely talented and extremely hard-working and extremely beloved. He’s been chronicling the same damn character – Usagi Yojimbo – since before many of us have been alive (not me, but close!). He’s been a major fixture of Comic-Con and the fandom community since before it started. I had an interview yesterday where the writer was mesmerized by the opening picture of Stan with Sergio Aragonés (another master signifier whom we should all be praying at the feet of and whom everyone absolutely adores) namely because Stan looks like he’s about twelve years old (it’s true, he does!). Stan’s indistinguishable from Comic-Con and fandom. He goes beyond being a creator. He’s an ultimate fan too. He’s one of the people who unquestionably built all this. So, of course we had to get him in for a foreword. The man’s won ten Eisners. Hurry up and run this before he wins more!

Mathew Klickstein chronicles San Diego Comic-Con in new book

Courtesy of Fantagraphics.

And Jeff Smith? Same. He almost single-handedly invented self-published comics. He proved it’s possible. He proved you could do it himself. He runs his own convention and festival. And it’s citywide! CXC (Cartoon Crossroads Columbus) . He’s one of the kings. Look at the picture of him in his foreword. That self-satisfied smirk and askance tropical hat. Man, that guy is a king of the scene. Of course we want to know what he has to say about all of this. He’s the dude. And the dude abides.

And RZA from Wu-Tang for the afterword? Let me say it again for those in the cheap seats: RZA from Wu-Tang. I need not say more there.

AIPT: Why should anyone pick this up?

MK: Honestly? I think they may have trouble picking it up. It’s huge. It will crush most people. Beware. Be careful. You can’t chronicle the entire history of pop culture history of fandom and not get hurt. Serious: I want everyone to be very, very careful when they buy this book. It’s dangerous.

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