comic speech bubbles

The Comic-Con Connection

The university’s link to the city’s famed annual convention goes way back.

By Jeff Ristine

July 21, 2021

They’re both bookish people, so let’s look at Greg Bear and Pamela Jackson as SDSU bookends for San Diego Comic-Con International.

Greg Bear (’73), a Nebula Award-winning science-fiction writer, was there for the very first con in 1970 as a member of its original founding committee.

Jackson, popular culture librarian at the SDSU Library and curator of its comic arts collection, served on the judging panel for this year’s Eisner Awards. They’re the Oscars of the field and one of the most anticipated traditions of the con, even when forced to go virtual for a second straight summer due to continuing restrictions on in-person gatherings.

Bear was working on his English major at San Diego State College when he met up with a small group led by comics enthusiast Shel Dorf that became founders of the event, a three-day affair at Downtown San Diego’s U.S. Grant Hotel. “We wanted to have a convention that celebrated all the things we loved,” he says. “A lot of us love science fiction, a lot of us love comic books, a lot of us love movies, and we tried to get all of those things in the mix and to this day that’s what Comic-Con is.”

Over the years Hollywood came to grab more and more of the Comic-Con buzz. Jackson’s role as an Eisner judge, however, shows how true the event remains to its four-color origins.

“I’m really excited and looking forward to making our choices,” Jackson said while the panel’s work was getting underway. It’s no simple task. The panel reviews entries in around 32 award categories and thousands of titles are submitted every year.

Bear maintained his connection with Comic-Con after that first year, still remembered for drawing such high-profile guests as writer Ray Bradbury and Marvel artist Jack “King” Kirby. He was part of an effort to find a new venue for Comic-Con after a one-time move to the University of California San Diego campus, and says SDSU was brought up as a possible option. The College Area didn’t have the kind of hotels needed and the event returned downtown to the El Cortez Hotel, where Bear snagged a sketch from Warner Bros. animator Chuck Jones of Wile E. Coyote reading an Acme catalog. 

Bear contributed more than 40 minutes of Comic-Con memories to “The Comic-Con Kids,” a set of oral histories by the con founders and early attendees, recorded by the SDSU Library through a grant from the California Council for the Humanities. Jackson headed up the project, which began in 2011.

It was about then the library also acquired a sizable collection of comic books turned down by another Cal State university, and the archives of a Comic-Con founder, Richard Alf. Memorabilia from that first con includes an admission ticket, and no badge or microchip to be seen. “It’s just this little piece of paper,” Jackson says, “run off on a photocopy machine.”

Destin Cretton

Director Destin Daniel Cretton (’11) announced his forthcoming Marvel Studios film “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” at San Diego Comic-Con International in 2019. Photo by Chris Pizzello (Invision/AP).