Geek

See You at San Diego Tells How the Geeks Inherited the Earth

Fantagraphics
The title of Mathew Klickstein’s new Comic-Con book, See You at San Diego, makes it clear that in the context of nerd-dom, the California town isn’t just a place — it’s an event.

The San Diego Comic-Con has proven itself time and again as the biggest event of its kind. It won the right to exclusively use the name “Comic-Con” in U.S. Courts (which is why Denver’s own Comic-Con can’t call itself that anymore). The crowds every year are so huge that they take over the Gaslamp Quarter for a weekend every summer. And Guinness World Records has recognized it as the reigning and undisputed champ in terms of attendance — twice.

Klickstein will present two programs on See You at San Diego this week: at the Littleton Tattered Cover on Tuesday, September 20, and at Mile High Comics on Wednesday, September 21. Mile High Comics isn’t just a local legend — it’s also part of Comic-Con's history.
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Fantagraphics
Klickstein knows his way around the nerd world, having written books on Nickelodeon and The Simpsons, and has worked as a journalist, a filmmaker, a novelist and a podcaster, most recently for the popular documentary series Comic-Con Begins.

“I’d been in touch with a woman named Wendy All,” Klickstein recalls, “who was an early Comic-Con committee member.” All and Klickstein had worked together on a project back in 2014, so when he came up with the idea to do something on Comic-Con in marking its fiftieth anniversary, she began putting him in touch with all the convention veterans she knew.

“She vouched for me with some people who are notoriously private people," he says. "The real story has been mangled and misinterpreted a lot over the years, so they were a little protective...but [All] helped me get in the door.”

Klickstein says the pandemic had changed his approach to the book. “I was running interviews, doing research, discussing what the book might look like…and then March 2020 happened. At that point, it became impossible to reach almost anyone in publishing for a while," he recalls. "I’d already done all this work, and I didn’t want to see it go to waste, and I knew we were on a timetable. It was COVID, and a lot of these people I was planning to interview were older. I really wanted to get them on record, include them in whatever the book was going to turn out to be.”

So the book began as a podcast. “It was a way to keep it going,” Klickstein explains. “It was something we could put together, get these voices recorded. That’s what we ended up doing.” The podcast was a success when it came out in 2021, and some of the participants — including Stan Sakai (Usagi Yojimbo) — put Klickstein in touch with publisher Fantagraphics, which offered to release the book.

See You at San Diego is a nearly 500-page oral history of the rise of geek culture as shown through the development of Comic-Con, which was started in 1970 (it was then known as the Golden State Comic Book Convention) by a bunch of fan clubs from San Diego high schools and local shops.

But for all its convention history, See You at San Diego isn’t as much about Comic-Con as it is about the rise of pop culture as the dominant medium of our modern era. “It’s really a nostalgia tour of the last century,” Klickstein says. “I use Comic-Con because it is and always has been a place devoted to all of us. It’s total intersectional fandom, and has been from the beginning. It was never just about comics.”

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Klickstein, signing an earlier book.
Mathew Klickstein
Period photographs illustrate the oral history from Con pioneers, legendary creators and the celebrities, artists, writers and fans who have experienced it through the years. “I wanted them to tell their own stories, and they ended up wanting to tell them, too. They didn’t do it for me. They didn’t know me. They really wanted this project to happen, and it’s a testament to the importance of the Con in their lives that they stuck with me all the way through, from the early conception to the podcast to the oral history book," Klickstein says.

The philosophy of See You at San Diego is exemplified by the final epigraph that Klickstein employs from the movie Birdman: “A thing is a thing, not what is said about that thing.”

“I wanted to tease the idea of authenticity,” Klickstein explains. “What’s real, what’s not, what’s exaggeration. I wanted to give readers more of an emotional impression of everything that happened. There are certainly facts and figures, and everyone who’s talking in the book knows what they’re talking about. But you get these perspectives; some things aren’t remembered the same way. That quote allows for that play, allows readers to choose their own adventure a little bit. It’s a mishmash. It’s a treasure hunt.”

In that sense, See You at San Diego is a joyful representation of Comic-Con.

“It’s this Cuisinart of everything we all love," Klickstein concludes. "That’s the fun of it. You don’t know what’s waiting for you down the next aisle.”

Mathew Klickstein will discuss See You at San Diego at 6 p.m. Tuesday, September 20, at Tattered Cover Aspen Grove, and 2 p.m. Wednesday, September 21, at Mile High Comics. Admission is free.
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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen