We Can Be Heroes
Comic book convention draws hundreds
 

The Mascone Center is flooded with people coming from all directions, outfitted in all different colors and with all shapes of shoulder pads, trying to get in as soon as they can to avoid the harsh weather. Rain jackets and umbrellas cover their faces and hide their identities, but after one man gives his umbrella to his partner and takes off his poncho, he reveals a red “S” on his chest.

Outside in the heavy rain, Link from The Legend of Zelda is trying to dry off his ironed green shirt and clean up his bow and arrow that repeatedly fall from the sling on his back. In the lobby area, a storm trooper has put down his blaster rifle and helmet and is chomping down on some lasagna with garlic bread. Fortunately for him, the bloodstain on his helmet is nothing more than tomato sauce. Superman is using the men’s bathroom, not to fight a robber but to fix his gelled hair. By the front doors, Wonder Woman is reapplying makeup while reassuring her son that they will get lunch after she’s done shopping. And on the main floor, a plainclothes old man is stockpiling on cheap comic books from the Golden Age.

Today, both regular citizens and the grandest of superheroes are meeting in one arena and mingling with each other for one purpose—they aren’t meeting to get tips on how to become a superhero, and they aren’t holding a Q&A session; they are all coming together for their love of comic books.

Here at WonderCon 2008, one of the biggest comic book conventions of the year, fans can get their hands on the latest and oldest comic books, films, action figures, collector cards, and, yes, dress like their favorite superhero.

The mainstream success of newspaper comic strips spawned what is now generally known as the comic book, which in its early stages consisted of spot color, hardcover binding, and longer, more developed stories. The history of comic books in the United States is divided into several “historical” eras: the Platinum, Golden, Silver, Bronze and Modern Ages. Each era presented fans with different characters as well as different styles in writing.

“I became a Superman fan at a very young age and then started reading the comic books that featured him,” says Pat McKay, a pharmaceutical worker who moonlights as a chemistry professor at Skyline College. “It was a natural progression from watching the old Superman TV series. Most of my peers think I'm too old for such a hobby. They probably don't realize that comic books have changed a lot since we were kids, and that the books tend to be written towards an older audience. My wife understands my enjoyment of them, as we are both very much into science fiction and fantasy genre for our leisure reading.”

Comic book collectors are often stereotyped as nerdy introverts with few outside relationships, but those who enjoy the hobby don’t want their critics to forget that it’s just another after-work or after-school pastime.

“Just the vibe and aura of [comic books] is awesome,” says Dexter Kwon, a kinesiology major at City College of San Francisco. “I like everything about them. I like its format, the glossy, artistic cover, the storylines, and the characters. One of the biggest aspects that I like about comic books [is] the super heroes… The premise is kind of childish, but the notion of having superpowers and having all eyes on you is definitely worthwhile reading.”

Kwon, who reads roughly twenty to thirty titles in a month, also takes extra special care of his comic books. Like McKay, he frequents his local comic shop to purchase numerous plastic sleeves and cardboard backings to keep the comics in a pristine condition as possible. Kwon has a room in his house—the size of a closet—that is completely dedicated to his passion and houses the roughly four hundred comics he’s collected since elementary school, arranged by alphabetical order and from most recent to the more vintage titles. Kwon has decorated the walls with posters and shelves of action figures of his favorite villains and heroes, representing the pride he takes in his collection.

At WonderCon, the halls are cramped to capacity. People knock books and action figures off tables with their backpacks, toes are stepped on because the aisles are too small, and everyone seems to be taking photos with visitors dressed up as characters as if they are celebrities. But it begs the question: Why comic books?

Doctor Travis Langley, a psychology professor at Henderson State University in Arkansas, says that people enjoy comics mainly for the escapist storylines and the opportunity for exposure to new characters and adventures. The more access people have to comics, in terms of how many comic book stores are in their residential or working community or how many comics are sold in their local grocery store, will determine how much a person will involve themselves in the hobby.

“A lot of people, especially younger people, when they watch these cartoons and movies, they start to see traits in these characters that they like, that they want in themselves that they really don’t have,” says Thomas Seepe, one of Langley’s students who is also helping him with the study. “Like superpowers, for example. You’ll start to see when people work towards an obsession. They want to become these characters. They love these characters. They take that character on as another persona. Why do we go to watch movies? We go to watch to act like we’re there, like we’re Indiana Jones.”

Although he’s had a passion for comic books since the early ‘90s, comic books are usually put on the back burner for Gibson Yim, an illustration major at Academy of Art University in San Francisco and employee at Cards and Comics Central. The same applies to Derek Lui, an advertising major at the Academy of Art who usually spends only ten to twenty dollars a month on comics. They both say their families don’t pay much attention to their affection for comic books, because it doesn’t take over their lives. As long as they stay on track with classes and work, and as long as they don’t waste energy on any of their hobbies, they aren’t ridiculed. It’s a sentiment echoed by Kwon.

“My parents don’t really care too much about my hobby,” said Kwon. “So long as I’m doing well in school, that’s all that matters to them. As for my friends, they think that my hobby is childish and that I waste too much money on it. I spend somewhere near one hundred dollars on comics every month, which may be a lot to many people, but collecting comics is no different from collecting stamps or taking pictures.”

It’s now dusk at the comic convention, and although the rain hasn’t let up, many of these comic book fans and groupies have to head home and return to their friends and families. They understand that much like a superhero, being a parent or a student is a full time job.

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PHOTO
Todd Campbell | staff photographer
Gordon Yim, an illustartion major at Academy of Art Unversity, works at Cards and Comics Central and has been collecting comics since the early 90's.

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