By Brent E. Beltrán
It all started with Star Wars in 1977. My tia Maggie and her husband took me the year it came out. I was 7 years old at the time. Saw it at the Mission Valley Theater. That was followed of course by Empire and Jedi. I was hooked. Still am.
The Christmas it came out my parents bought me all kinds of Star Wars toys including a Landspeeder, an X-wing and the most badass toy one could hope for at the time, the Death Star. They also got me a bunch of action figures including Luke, Leia, Han, Chewy, Obi-Wan, Darth Vader, R2-D2, C-3PO, a Jawa, a Tusken Raider, Hammerhead, Walrus Man, Greedo, and a Stormtrooper.
When the sequels came out my mom bought me other Star Wars toys as well. She even ordered me the Yoda action figure that you could only get via mail order. I had quite the collection. Though I no longer have those particular pieces I do have about a dozen or more newer ones battling it out on my bookshelf.
Star Wars was not the only geeky stuff I was into. In the beginning of the 1980’s the neighborhood paperboy, Andy Circo, gave my friend Héctor and I a couple hundred comic books. There were Marvel and DC. Batman, Superman, Green Arrow/Green Lantern, Spider-Man, Defenders, Avengers, Micronauts, Fantastic Four and more.
Once again I was hooked. I devoured those comics and started buying my own with whatever money I could get. Morena Blvd Market was a block away from my home and they got new comics in every week. There was also a U-Totem (later Circle K) about seven blocks or so down Morena Blvd. that also sold comics.
In 1982 my mom gave me a ride to The Comic Gallery on Cass St. in Pacific Beach. This was the first time I had ever been inside a store just for comic books. It was a mess and it was awesome! I bought the Wolverine mini-series written by Chris Claremont that was penciled by soon-to-be comic legend Frank Miller. I was in mutant bad boy heaven.
The 1980’s was a great decade for comic book fans. So many good titles were around or came out during that time. Frank Miller’s Daredevil, Claremont/John Byrne’s X-Men, Alan Moore’s revamped Swamp Thing and The Watchmen, Miller’s The Dark Night Returns, Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg!, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman among many others. The artwork of BillSienkiewicz, Arthur Adams, Dave McKeown, Jim Lee and Todd McFarlane simply amazed me.
I was a voracious reader. I read every comic I owned. I also read all the books by Stephen King and Clive Barker during those years. Every single one that came out during that time. My mom was a King fan and I picked up Firestarter one day and was hooked.
It was also during this time that I started working under the table at Kobey’s Swap Meet. I’d help some seller’s set up and break down their booths and during the day I’d sell music with one of the vendors. This gave me the funds to feed my nerd habit and helped fuel my soul by providing me with lots of good music.
The summer of 1985 was a big year for me. It was the first time I had the opportunity to attend Comic-Con and I was super stoked! My buddy Tri Huynh and I planned to attend. I was in summer school at Clairemont High between my 9th and 10th grades. I was taking an extra class, Geometry, to get ahead. I took the city bus to school and that day I carried a small duffle bag filled with comics to get signed by my favorite writers/artists.
Back then the Con was held at the San Diego Community Concourse near City Hall. It was a much smaller event than today’s corporatized, Hollywierd monster. It was mostly comic book centered.
Going to school at Clairemont High was great from a nerd perspective. Comic Gallery had moved their store to a mini-mall at Clairemont Dr. and Balboa Ave. A block away from my high school! Since the school had an open campus for lunch I would go there every Friday to check out what new comics came in.
In 1985 the G.I. Joe cartoon was broadcast. I got hooked on that as well. I bought numerous action figures and played with them throughout my high school years building dirt battlegrounds in my back yard. I loved playing with action figures and still love going to Target or Toys R Us and checking out the new figures. Occasionally buying something that speaks to my inner nerd.
In addition to Star Wars, comic books and G.I. Joe I enjoyed (still do) watching sci-fi, fantasy and superhero movies and television shows and cartoons. Whatever was available to me during the 80’s (and even today) I watched. Be it Battlestar Galactica, Battle of the Planets, The Dark Crystal, Christopher Reeve as Superman (even George Reeves!), Adam West’s Batman or Michael Keaton, Robotech, RoboCop, The Last Star Fighter, Enemy Mine, Queen soundtracked Flash Gordon, Gil Gerard’s Buck Rogers, Heavy Metal, Blade Runner, The Terminator, Dune, Starman, Starship Troopers, V, Voyagers, Alien Nation, Highlander and whatever else I could see at the theaters, on VHS or on cable TV.
Today I continue where I left off by watching any and all super hero movies and lots of sci-fi. With a two year old I don’t get to the theater very often so I usually have to settle for when the movies come out on Netflix.
I no longer buy comic books though I’ll pick up the occasional graphic novel here or there. Nor do I buy Stephen King books either. I still buy the occasional action figure though. And with a two year old I get to buy him all the superhero toys I can’t justify buying for myself.
Though my nerdom has toned down somewhat as I age I’m still a geek at heart. Occasionally I get together with my nerdy friends and play Magic the Gathering over a few beers. I used to love playing chess as a child but casting spells in a game of Magic has eclipsed that love. If I ever had the funds and the skills to compete at the professional level I’d jump at the chance. Yes. There is a professional Magic league with tournaments all over the world.
So, there is a reason for my nerdfessions. I’m basically laying out my nerd creds for all to see because for the first time since that first Comic-Con in 1985 I will be going there not solely for purposes of self amusement (though I’m sure I’ll be plenty amused). I’m going to cover the Con for San Diego Free Press via social media. I’ve been to at least a dozen Comic-Cons since ’85. I volunteered at many in the early years. Even helping Tri run midnight films in exchange for a free hotel room at The Holiday Inn near the Embarcadero.
Throughout the entire convention I will be sending live tweets and Instagram photos and videos of whatever I find amusing. From people in costume to panel presentations to various events like the Zombiewalk and anything else I might find of interest. I’m basically hijacking the San Diego Free Press’ social media accounts to bring you a nerds-eye view of the world’s most awesome sci-fi/fantasy/comic book nerdfest. And I’m so looking forward to doing it!
You can follow my Comic-Con Twitterings at @sdfreepressorg and my Instagrammy’s at sdfreepress. I hope you enjoy my coverage. Depending on my exhaustion level I’ll probably be writing nightly wrap-ups of each day’s events so check out the site daily for all your Comic-Con fun.
Comic-Con International is sold out and takes place Wednesday, July 17 through Sunday July 21 at the San Diego Convention Center, Hilton San Diego Bayfront and the Marriott Marquis and Marina. Various Comic-Con related events will take place throughout the Gaslamp including a Petco Interactive Zone in the parking lot of Petco Park and lots of other fun stuff you don’t need a badge for. If you’d like to attend take public transportation. Traffic will be frightening.
victor ochoa says
pues como chicanocon… from da borderzone… i loved los mexican komikz…also.
borolas, chanok, even memin pinguin, ha ha…el charrito de oro, yes i was influence by the gava toons, mi family went to the opening of disneyland in 1955, and i saw the first tv supperman series with steve reeves, i learned how to draw cartoons from a correspondance course on the back of a comic…
at the centro, we had alfred quiroz … a humor type chicano painter from tucson, on the panel at comicon along with the author of silver surfer and other old school artists.
i went to a mexico city exhibit of comics in the history of mexico… and it was a blowminder…and very complete, including fotonovelas. i still do toons… the border bingo/loteria fronteriza is a example.
Brent Beltran says
¡Orale! Chicanos/Mexicanos have a long history of appreciation for comics and cartoons. Many of ComicCon’s attendees are Latinos.
Fun to see the parallels here. I was born in San Diego and was also 7 when Star Wars came out though honestly don’t recall where I saw it first. I know I saw the re-release (1980? ’81?) at the Mission Valley theater. My dad let us ditch school the day Empire came out and we stood in line all day. Being the pre-megaplex days I believe we saw it at a domed theater on University Ave around 54th. Used to be a large bowling alley in the same mall IIRC. I got on camera when one of the local news stations filmed the crowd and interviewed some people. Anyway, the theater of course is long gone, as is the bowling alley.
Of course I worshiped “Star Wars” and had the X-Wing and all the early Kenner action figures. I got enough proof-of-purchases to get the stand to hold the entire set of the first action figures. Oh brother if I still had all that stuff.
Sadly we moved away from San Diego when I was 13. I was just getting into comics before I left – I bought a large bunch of X-Men at a comic shop on University that was closer to the College Area – we lived off Montezuma before my dad moved up to Oregon, but didn’t really pick up the habit again until my early 20s when a good friend of mine worked at a comic store in Sacramento and I had a subscription to a bunch of titles he recommended. I acquired a few hundred titles back then, most of which I kept until recently. I read everything, too. Man there are a ton of truly great stories in comics so many people just don’t know about.
Though I’d love to throttle George Lucas today he helped define my childhood pretty much and my nerdy ways. Years back my wife and I went to the first midnight showing of Episode III (the best of the worst?) and it felt a lot like coming home. The nerd meter was pegged hard that night. Even if the movie was awful, it was fun to be in my element. With a wife and three kids and a regular job for almost 20 years – though I usually work with similar uber-geeks such as myself – it is easy to forget the pure joy of just letting yourself be yourself and where and how it all started.
Brent Beltran says
I think that theater on University was the Cinerama. That’s where I saw Empire. And if I’m not mistaken that comic store was Comic Kingdom.
Anna Daniels says
We watched “El contraataque del imperio” in Tijuana!
Brent Beltran says
The Empire Strikes Back!
Theater was indeed Cinerama – I remember being there with my family when it first opened. Loved that spectacular “seagulls” hanging sculpture outside!