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Posted at 8:05 AM ET, 07/22/2009

San Diego Comic-Con: 5 Star Cartoonists Do the Time Warp Again

By The Reliable Source

Greetings from San Diego: The Land of 'Con...

As San Diego Comic-Con: International hits 40 years old this week, Comic Riffs asked five veterans in advance of the 'Con to recall their first impressions of the once-toddlin' event, which over the decades has grown into Ground Zero for Pop-Culture Geekdom. (The event's preview night is tonight, and the official kickoff is tomorrow.)

The artists here range from MAD magazine cartoonist Sergio Aragones, who says he's attended nearly every of the 40 Comic-Cons, to "Pearls Before Swine" creator Stephan Pastis, who attended his first 'Con about five years ago.

Here are their responses, accompanied by the humble caricatures of yours truly. And as Comic-Con unfolds, you can follow the action here and at, as well as the coverage by my colleague Jen Chaney of "Celebritology" fame and "Lost" expertise.

(Note: Stan Lee, Neil Gaiman, Sergio Aragones and Stephan Pastis will all be onstage for sessions at this year's Comic-Con.)

SERGIO ARAGONES: Artwork by Michael Cavna Enlarge Image

SERGIO ARAGONES, MAD magazine legend:
My first Comic-Con was at the San Diego Hotel in the early '70s -- I've been to almost all of them. My first impression: Suddenly you're there and you're surrounded by people who know your work. ... Hundreds of them -- you get such adulation. Your head gets a little like: "This is fantastic!" ... The first impression is that adoration you get from your fans and meeting other cartoonists. ... That was the realization: that people love your work.

NEIL GAIMAN: Artwork by Michael Cavna Enlarge Image

NEIL GAIMAN, rock-star novelist/graphic novelist ("Coraline," "The Graveyard Book," "Sandman" series):

When I first went, it was 1989, there were 11,000 people and I thought it was Too Big. I met everyone I wanted to meet and was delighted by the friendliness and accessibility of people. Now it's 150,000-plus people. You could fit the first San Diego Comic-Con I went to into the smallest hall of the current one -- and still have room to land a small spaceship.

LYNN JOHNSTON: Artwork by Michael Cavna Enlarge Image

LYNN JOHNSTON, creator of "For Better of For Worse":
What I remember of the event [about a decade ago] is the great variety of comic art styles and areas of interest: Everything from "Cop Slut" to "Tweety Bird"! I remember the hotel staff being perplexed by the costumed and "into the spirit" people who carried swords, crystals, folios, autograph books -- which were more important to the event than their luggage. I remember being on a panel speaking about comics with family values. It was moderated by a leather-clad biker who did graphic novels about a gay couple raising their son (fine work, by the way). There was a connection and camaraderie everywhere. ... We were all unapologetically immersed in what we love to do and it was all good. It was crazy, but good!

STAN LEE: Artwork by Michael Cavna Enlarge Image

STAN LEE, former Marvel Comics honcho and co-creator of such superheroes as "Spider-Man" and "Iron Man":
I remember the first time I attended the San Diego Comic-Con [in the '80s]. There were dozens, perhaps hundreds of young, enthusiastic fans milling all over the place, some actually wearing home-made costumes representing their favorite superheroes -- and villiains. Today, there's a world of difference at the Con. Instead of a few hundred young fans, there are more than a hundred thousand!

STEPHAN PASTIS: Artwork by Michael Cavna Enlarge Image

STEPHAN PASTIS, creator of "Pearls Before Swine":
My first memory of Comic-Con is from about five years ago. It was the first time I'd ever seen Darth Vader watching a porn-star-version of Snow White flirt with Captain America.

By The Reliable Source  | July 22, 2009; 8:05 AM ET
Categories:  San Diego Comic-Con, The Sketchbook  
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Next: Comic-Con: No One Knows What to Call This Thing


Michael - I just wanted to say that the cartoon of Neil Gaimen is very good. I've seen Neil in person and you not only captured his looks but something of his character as well with that half wistful smile of his. Excellent!

Posted by: dre7861 | July 22, 2009 12:34 PM | Report abuse

>> dre7861:

Thanks, I appreciate that -- and you're absolutely right: that wistful smile was half the challenge; the other, at least for me, was that approachable yet mischievous glint in his eye.

(And for anyone who cares a whit about process: I stared at his Google images and YouTube interviews for longer than a non-stalker cares to admit, tried to get a full sense of character -- then drew this as rapidly as I could -- 35 minutes? -- while that sense of personality and muscle movement were still fresh.)


Posted by: cavnam | July 22, 2009 1:21 PM | Report abuse

By coincidence I just ran across a superb picture of Sergio Aragon├ęs (with Harvey Kurtman and Clay Geerdes of Comix World) on page 92 of "The best of Pogo" (Fireside, 1982). The caption says that it was snapped at a "west coast comicon". Sergio's moustache makes it look like his smile goes from ear to ear.

Posted by: kilby | July 23, 2009 4:09 AM | Report abuse

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