A girl at the 1978 comic-con
Though comic fandom's often held to be an unwelcoming place for girls, one correspondent remembers fondly her trip to the 1978 San Diego Comic-Con, when she was only 8 years old. Other females were few and far between—but one of them was Wendy Pini, who embodied the classic fantasy persona of Red Sonja—and who had a story of her own to tell.
BB: How did you find yourself, as a little kid, at the El Cortez Hotel in '78?
CANDACE: When I was 8, my father took me to my first Comic-Con. I believe it was still called San Diego's West Coast Comic-Con at that time. He was not an overt comic junkie although he liked SciFi well enough, but I was, having been captivated by the Pini's ElfQuest comics, introduced to me by a boy, of course. Wendy Pini was there. I still have my original Warp Graphics versions, plus two or more of each of the graphic novels, that I now share with my 5 year old.
BB: Any other well-known comic writers and artists that you recall?
CANDACE: There were others there that are now part of the iconic comic lexicon (say that five times fast) - Matt Groening and Boris Vallejo come to mind. Later, I remember Ray Bradbury and Douglas Adams - I think in the downtown San Diego convention center. Maybe 1983 or so.
BB: It must have been overwhelming!
CANDACE: Seeing as how I was only eight I was not old enough to really appreciate what it all really meant.
BB: How many other girls were there?
CANDACE: My impressions are of being one of the few girls there either my age or even into the teens. This persisted for the next 8-9 years. There were no scantily clad "models" marketing their wares or even promoting films. That started much later. I am certain that I was missing out on a lot of the after hours screening events, knowing from later experiences that the films tended toward less mainstream and more risqué fare.
BB: You mention how the event's changed, how bit it's become. The whole vibe of the show must have been completely different in those days.
CANDACE: I remember lots of booths with just a couple of guys and their boxes of comic books. Golden and Silver Age comics were star attractions. There were lots of early Star Trek and Superman fans and even some early costume wearers. Some of the big comic retailers that have continued to stick it out over the years were there even then, Mile High and others.
BB: What was the atmosphere like? Was it easy to just hang out?
CANDACE: One thing I loved was that many artists would do custom work at the convention. You could see the work in process. It would then be donated to the convention and auctioned off. Though that tradition still continues to some degree, you had a much greater chance of seeing the work in progress and eventually even winning it at auction than you do today.
I loved the flashing gorgeous neon signs of that old hotel and it's Sky Room restaurant. Being able to be see and talk to my heroes, awestruck and tongue-tied, without standing in huge lines - just feeling like part of the gang. I miss it.
BB: When was the last time you went along?
CANDACE: I am still a regular "con" attendee, lucky enough to obtain a free professional pass as my husband is an award-winning Pixar animator. I am responsible for introducing him to the Comic-Con as well in 1993. He used to push me to the front of the crowd to get freebies as women were still a minority at the show. Our then regular attendance started him on a path of taking a fine arts education and turning it into a more lucrative career of video games (Journeyman Project - I even got to voice a space station computer) and included the creation of a true 1998/1999 internet viral video, Alien Song - seen here: http://www.navone.org/HTML/AlienSongDownload.htm. When founder of Pixar, Ed Catmull saw it, he hired Victor. So in some ways, Comic-Con has shaped my life for more than 30 years.
Now we go and battle our way through the crowds, hunting down our favorite artists and items. We cannot stand more than a day of the chaos. It is information overload at it's finest. But I'll always love it!
BONUS: Lost footage of Wendy Pini as Red Sonja at the '78 Comic Con
In the seventies, Red Sonja writer Frank Thorne and Wendy Pini used to perform a show, "Red Sonja and the Wizard," at comic conferences. No record of these legendary shows were thought to have survived, however—until this film, shot by an audience member at 1978's San Diego Comic Con, surfaced on YouTube.
"Recovering this is, for us, the equivalent to Robert Ballard's locating the Titanic," says Pini. "The quality is, alas, 1978-era Super-8 film taken under difficult conditions - but it EXISTS!"
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