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.   

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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.  

1978comiccon.jpg

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!"

ElfQuest at Boing Boing

Friendly Darkness
In Wendy and Richard Pini's saga are the haunted echoes of utopian fantasy, removed from the epic to the intimate.

The secret history
The creation myths that bind all of us are at their most powerful when they're part of the plot, writes Maja D'Aoust.

Trajectory
Fables are portals to other worlds, writes Heather Johannsen—and to new places in this one.

A Girl at the 1978 Comic-Con
A snapshot of comics culture in the year that ElfQuest made its mark

Part 1 of the Final Quest Prologue
An all-new tale, published first here at Boing Boing

Read all 6500 pages of ElfQuest online
Fans acquire ElfQuest film rights
Columbia University acquires ElfQuest comic archives

Published 7:30 am Fri, Nov 27, 2009

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35 Responses to “A girl at the 1978 comic-con”

  1. thejynxed says:

    Personally, I’ve gotten along with Harlan just fine. He’s even given me written permission more than once to create excerpts and diagrams of a few of his novels and short stories so my wife could use them to teach writing styles, etc in her classroom.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I do enjoy these type of comics.merci beaucou

  3. aprilstarchild says:

    Another vote for YAY ELFQUEST.

    I got into it when I was about nineteen due to a boyfriend. I’m thirty now, and my youngest brother (in his early twenties) just got into them. They’re classic!

  4. dhalgren says:

    @Devophill Haha what’s funny is after I wrote that I realized I should have added the disclaimer “And no it wasn’t Harlan Ellison!”

    A friend of mine who has met Harlan Ellison – who is one of my favorite writers – said that Ellison was cordial and a pleasure to talk to. I’ve never had the chance to meet him.

    As for who it was he shall remain nameless because really he still is one of my favorite writers. It truly was a great conversation. He was telling about his new series and no one else was around. I was living the dream. Once a crowd started to show up a question my best friend and I had been discussing popped into my head about one of his novels so I decided to ask that question before I headed off…

    Big mistake!

  5. Baron Karza says:

    Wow, the threads one discovers on BoingBoing. The Journeyman Project was my first CD computer game, back when I got my first Mac. I can hear the computer’s voice in my head even now.
    Wendy and Richard Pini: I always loved Elfquest since the Marvel/Epic reprint series. Imagine my surprise while reading some old Ghost Rider comics to see Wendy and Richard featured as supporting characters in the story, identified by name in several issues. About 1975 or so? I got the GR collection on DVD, scanned pdfs of all the comics, it’s awesome. And surprising to see how few of his adventures took place in the nighttime!

  6. Chris Tucker says:

    3) Sometimes when you meet your favorite science fiction author, they can turn out to be a complete asshole.

    Ellison?

    His loathing for fandom is well documented in his own words.

  7. jjasper says:

    The poster graphic is a great example of how women are so frequently portrayed in fantasy art. I do wonder if Rob caught the irony in putting it up. Rob, you can be subtle sometimes…

    WRT dhalgren’s “favorite author”, c’mon folks, the username might be a hint. If it’s the author in question, he can be brusque sometimes when confronted with fannishness, but I’m fond of him. I’m hoping he’ll make it back to Readercon next year.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      The poster graphic is a great example of how women are so frequently portrayed in fantasy art.

      To be fair, if there were a man in the poster, he’d be wearing a loincloth and have an impossibly muscular physique and tiny head.

      • Robert says:

        Man or woman, but always a reptile. I wonder what *that* says.

      • Anonymous says:

        Thanks, Antinous. That is indeed fair.

        Dhalgren & Anon, I went to a high school friend’s house for dinner, and Isaac Asimov was there. Just sort of, you know, dropped by – my favoritist author in the whole world at the time, and he happened to be an old friend of my buddy’s mom and dad which they’d somehow never mentioned to anyone until he just showed up one day.

        He was kind of a disappointment. So was Harlan Ellison, actually, when I met him at the last Star Trek convention at the old Commodore. But I still like their books despite their building-sized egos and lack of self-restraint.

  8. efergus3 says:

    I only met Harlan once – and he threatened to beat the crap out of me. Great author, piss poor person. I think almost all the nice folk are gone. Isaac, Kelly and Polly, Bob and Ginny. Some of the nicest people I ever knew, gone. I haven’t bothered to go to a con for years. Even the DSC has gotten too large. That, and most of the fans I knew are gone. *SIGH*

    • Anonymous says:

      Having met quite a number of authors, directors and producers, I long ago reached the view that they should be issued by their publisher/network/production company with someone to whisper in their ear (“Remember, you are only human”) any time they are in public. When you do a job that sees you locked up alone or with the same small group of people for months on end and then you are suddenly faced with thousands of fans hanging on you every word as if you were a god, or literally calling you ‘God’, is it any wonder you’d develop an ego?

      I’m not saying that the ‘talent’ are blameless here, they *are* only human,just that the adoring fans are a big part of the problem.

      Stephen

  9. Anonymous says:

    I’ve always had luck at the smaller cons. Baltimore is tiny compared to the now-huge NYComicon and wizard world east in philly. But everyone is so cool and relaxed. John Cassaday not only continued signing after the event was over in the lobby, he drew sketches for everyone that asked. Palmiotti is incredibly down to earth, not just polite but genuinely interested in what you have to say. The best, though, was in NY. I brought a 5th of Laphroig because I wanted to have a drink with my favorite writer and Grant Morrison was incredibly cool, although his accent is pretty damn thick.

    Also, Elfquest! totally the reason I’m still into comics today. possibly also why I prefer petite women.

  10. Halloween Jack says:

    Having done my share of slagging Ellison online (mostly for things he’s written; I’ve never met him in person, and wouldn’t particularly care to, even though I remain a big fan of his fiction), I should note out of fairness that every author has their vocal detractors and equally vocal supporters, often based on a single encounter; people put a lot of weight on that one personal meeting, and sometimes the worst reports can come from people who used to be their biggest fans. (Isaac Asimov, to name another example, is sometimes noted as someone who was a little too free with his hands, although I’ve yet to read a first-person report from someone who was groped by him.) Also, of course, writers are people, and have their good days and bad ones.

    WRT the original subject of the post, it’s a little weird to read “There were no scantily clad ‘models’ marketing their wares or even promoting films”, when the program cover shows some buxom fairy with anatomically-correct pasties. I would imagine that Candace would have had a much different experience if she’d gone when she was sixteen and unaccompanied by a parent; if she has, I’d be interested to hear that report. I don’t think that I saw an unaccompanied woman in a comics shop until well into the nineties.

  11. Bimmi says:

    I chatted up Ellison at a couple of cons and he was never anything less than civil and charming to me. I am an at utter loss to explain this.

  12. Vanwall says:

    I started going in ’80, and it’s been a regular thing since then. I don’t have a lot of dough to spend, so I choose carefully, but you could spend some obscene amounts of money nowadays, or even back then. I’ve met some wonderful artists and writers over the years, Dave Stevens and Will Eisner being special faves, who were a joy to talk to. I think everyone should go at least once, just to experience it.

  13. Anonymous says:

    It’s a funny fluke that photo is just the 1978 cover, the year in which most of the article occurs. I just sent it with my responses. I’m having fun reading all the comments. My take is that personality is not always congruous with fame or what makes you famous.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I met Wendy and Richard Pini in Everett, WA at a con in 1987. There was an Elfquest marker comp up for auction at that time, too, although I arrived too late to see it created. The highlight of the con was attending Terry Brooks’ lecture on world building and being able to discuss with him what his work meant to me. I read the Sword of Shannara in 1980 as a fifth grader and created a role playing game after finishing it. This was before I had even heard of Dungeons and Dragons and it led me to a long association with Steve Jackson and GDW.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Added to my post on Terry Brooks. After reading the other posts, I feel compelled to share this story. I met Harlan Ellison when I was 15, at a private residence in Brentwood, CA. The homeowner shall remain nameless, although I will say that he was an integral part of Apple Computer. I was with the parents of my friend whom I was staying the summer with in LA, having been abandoned by him for a teeny-bopper wine party. They felt sorry for me and took me along to see the short films of an associate of theirs. We arrived first, and I was perusing the homeowner’s vast library when I asked him why he had Harlan Ellison’s work shelved in his science fiction section. I commented that I doubt Harlan would like that very much. A voice behind me said “And I don’t, but what can a guy do?” I turned around and my jaw hit the floor. I was able to spend quality time with the best speculative fiction author of our age and found him to be very civil and encouraging on all levels. I was even served my fill of wine, and just had to laugh at being abandoned by my friend so he could drink wine with his other friends.

  16. danmishkin says:

    For those who want to experience a girl-and-boy-friendly comic book convention with the kind of “we’re all part of the comics community” spirit this interview talks about, check out the Detroit area’s Kids Read Comics Convention at http://www.kidsreadcomics.org. We have lots of great guests who are excited about bringing comics to kids and teens.

  17. Tavie says:

    Yay Elfquest!

  18. Morrigan says:

    Ah memories. I can remember being the only girl at a few gaming conventions. Not only that, but I actually DMed.

  19. LeSinge says:

    I was just thinking about Journeyman Project the other day. I loved that game!

  20. ndollak says:

    Girls (of all species) have ALWAYS been more than welcome. C’mon, ladies! Mingle!

  21. Lilybot says:

    My Dad took me in the 70s. He was friends with some of the organizers. My sister and I were also enamored of Elfquest. Seems to have been a gateway comic for girls back then. I remember watching Wendy Pini drawing on the spot color portraits of her characters for 20 bucks. She was sweet…and looking at pics of her from the 40th anniversary con book…also a smokin’ babe! Anyone know what the heck happened to the decades-in-development Elfquest film?

  22. nategri says:

    Man I LOOVE the art on this poster! Does anyone know where to find a higher resolution of it, or a cache of other old Comic-Con posters on the web?

    Some quick googling has been less than productive. All I get is movie posters.

    • Permanganate says:

      At last year’s Con they gave out a pretty nice 40th Anniversary “Souvenir Guide” that had this and many other posters, plus a summary of each of the previous 39 conventions, along with write-ups by folks who attended. Not exactly high-res posters, but a good read.

  23. Rob Beschizza says:

    …..

  24. dhalgren says:

    First San Diego Comic Con I went to was ’94. My comic book store had a booth. What was fun though was the first three days of that week was for retailers only. Boat cruises, huge dinners, parties, etc. The weekend blew my mind though. There were plenty of girls, seemed half and half to me. And I’m not including the porn stars and their booths.

    A couple things I learned that weekend:

    1) David Hasselhoff is REALLY tall.
    2) Rob Zombie really needed to take a shower, badly.
    3) Sometimes when you meet your favorite science fiction author, they can turn out to be a complete asshole.
    4) Glenn Danzig is one of the coolest dudes you’ll ever meet (even though he is REALLY short)

  25. Anonymous says:

    I was fortunate enough to attend the Con from ’74 to ’80, working as a gofer in order to be able to stay in the gofer room(‘cept for the ’80 Con, which was held at the old SDC&PAC instead of the El Cortez – RT and I had to ride the bus from Spring Valley to downtown every day). I remember very, very few women at those Cons – Vicky Kelso, Jackie Estrada, Greg Pharis’ wife (whose name I sadly cannot recall), Virginia French, Wendy All, and of course Wendy Pini walking around dressed as Red Sonja (my god she was incredible – I have a great pic of me with her – I was 14 at the time – which I still treasure). In 1978 I remember there was a very attractive woman walking around in a bikini her grandmother made, having her body autographed. Jaded as I am now, that still makes me shake my head in wonder.

  26. Anonymous says:

    My first San Diego Con was in 1977. I belly danced for Robert Heinlein’s Blood Drive. He started the blood drives at the Comic Con because he had been saved by a blood transfusion. In 1977 he was about 70 years old. In the evening he threw a little party in his hotel room. As I saw leaving and saying good bye he took my hand and said: “You mean you are not going to bed with me?” I said “nooo,” I knew he was joking because his wife Virginia was right there. Then he said: “Why I haven’t been turned down since 1913!”

  27. jfrancis says:

    I remember dragging my mother to things like that in NY. The guys there would strike up conversations with her, and she had no idea she was talking to Fritz Leiber or Gahan Wilson (who dashed off a quick cartoon for her).

    Here’s a dim memory of the time I nagged her into taking me to a 1977 Berni Wrightson show.

    http://www.digitalartform.com/archives/2009/04/bernie_berni_wr.html

  28. mamarox says:

    I am geekgirl, hear me roar!

    I’ve been attending and/or working cons since 1975. Took a break when my kids were younger, but have started back since my daughter showed interest a couple of years ago.

    I’ve found that SDCC has turned into more of a movie/tv industry showcase than a COMIC-con (OK … I appreciate a slice of talent from SF/F live action media, but SDCC is a bit much).

    I do, however, love the smaller cons: Phoenix ComicCon comes to mind. Smaller, but with big names across media … excellent artists, almost all doing on the spot demos which are either given as gifts to fans, or entered into auction (a lower priced silent auction, and a full-on bidding war, gets crazy auction in the evening).

    Guests include A list SF/F writers, actors, artists; and they seem to be much more accessible at the smaller cons.

    I can’t wait ’til May and PCC … hoping to work on the cosplay staff. Trying to decide who *I’m* gonna cosplay … leaning towards Lady Ada or Briar Wilkes(Blue) from Cherie Priest’s outstanding “Boneshaker.”

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