Comic-Con Turns 40

Comic-Con, held in San Diego each summer, has grown from a small band of comic book collectors and sci-fi fans into one of the nation's largest pop culture conventions. Somewhere amid the marketing and fanfare, lies the real Comic-Con — the one that celebrated its 40th anniversary over the weekend.

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Comic-Con has grown from a small band of comic book collectors and sci-fi fans into the nation's largest pop culture convention. Movie studios now attend the San Diego event, offering fans an early look at films like "Avatar" from director James Cameron.

But somewhere amidst of the marketing and fanfare is the heart of Comic-Con, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this past weekend. NPR's Nina Gregory went in search of it.

NINA GREGORY: My search started a few days before the convention at the Los Angeles home of a man who has been to every single Comic-Con: writer Ray Bradbury. His love for comics dates back to his own childhood.

Mr. RAY BRADBURY (Author): Buck Rogers was the first big influence of science fiction on my life. His cartoon began to appear in October of 1929, when I was 9 years old. It changed my life, because it took me into the future. I never came back.

GREGORY: For the author of "The Martian Chronicles," the convention also allows him to share his work and meet his fans. At Comic-Con, sci-fi enthusiasts can talk shop without, well, fear of judgment. It's not odd to see a grown man dressed as a Klingon, speaking in Klingon there. It's this sincere enthusiasm that excites Ray Bradbury.

Mr. BRADBURY: When you gather together 100,000 people who are in love, that's pretty good, isn't it? So many lovers in one place. They all love the same thing, and you can feel the ambience of their love.

GREGORY: It's not just fan devotion that drives this convention. The artists, writers and directors have to be present and engaged, too. Scott Shaw helped create this convention, and has attended every day of every one since.

Today, he's a cartoonist. I found him at Comic-Con sitting in Artist's Alley, an area with rows of folding tables manned with cartoonists ready to greet their fans. He had a pile of black Sharpies on the table in front of him and used one to sketch a wacky rabbit at the request of a child.

Mr. SCOTT SHAW (Cartoonist): Okay. This one's for you. What was your name? What's your name?

WESLEY: Wesley.

Mr. SHAW: And here you are, Wesley.

WESLEY: That's cool. Cool.

Mr. SHAW: Kids get frustrated at these conventions seeing everything is so expensive and such a collector's item. So I do free drawings for the kids, and that way they can go away and say they met a cartoonist. And maybe if they're interested in cartooning, they'll take it up themselves.

GREGORY: And they do. People return year after year to visit Scott Shaw. He's seen some of them grow up and work for companies like Pixar.

But with all the people and all the merchandise, it can be daunting to find the Scott Shaw's in the crowd. So to help me find the real Comic-Con, I enlisted the help of a guide: Joe Ferrara. He owns Atlantis Fantasyworld, a comics and toy store in Santa Cruz, California. He knows everyone at Comic-Con.

Mr. JOE FERRARA (Owner, Atlantis Fantasyworld): The main reason why people come here is to interact with each other. You can't meet your heroes online. You can buy a book cheap online, but you can't meet the man who created that book. You can't meet the person who wrote that TV show or who was the voice for that cartoon character when you were a kid. That interaction does not happen unless you're here.

GREGORY: Back in Artist's Alley, fans clamor to meet Sergio Aragones. His drawings for Mad Magazine have established him as one of the greatest cartoonists in the world.

Mr. SERGIO ARAGONES (Cartoonist): If you like cars you go to a car show. Well, imagine being able to meet the manufacturers, the guy who did the tires and the guy who designed that Chevrolet 20 years ago. You're meeting the maker of the things. That's what Comic-Con is.

GREGORY: As this Comic-Con came to a close, these diehard fans and creators were already looking ahead to next summer.

Nina Gregory, NPR News.

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