I was somewhere around Mountain View on the edge of Google when the idiots began to take hold. I remember thinking something like “I feel a bit unsure about all this; maybe I should turn back” And suddenly there was an army of reflective vest-toting volunteers waving my beat up 1989 Toyota pickup through a series of invisible turns in a parking lot of grit and dust. Like the warning beacons of Gondor, their vests dotted the landscape towards the unknown, though I was pretty sure it would at least include a parking space. Once out of the car, I moved like the lemming I am behind a parade of other early arrivals, hefting my backpack filled with sparkling water (I’ll get back to that) and comic book sundries. “My god”, I said, “I bought the ticket, time to take the ride.” I hadn’t bought the ticket, mind you, but the point stands. No sympathy for the idiot, it’s their time to shine.
While waiting in line to enter the Shoreline Amphitheater, a reassuring bark echoed over the nerdy masses, “If you’re planning on drinking alcohol, we will check IDs now and issue wristbands.” “Good” I thought. “Beer. That will keep me sharp.”
When the iron bars did eventually splay open and the security wands had hovered over all my regions to the satisfaction of security, I was immediately greeted by what was unmistakably a bar. Upon spotting the $11 price tag for a Bud Light, I picked myself back up off the floor and lurched onwards. Holy hell, I had never been to this venue and, despite my neon map, quickly realized I didn’t understand the layout at all. Reaching a dead-end, all I had seen at that point were a handful of scattered booths hawking t-shirts and overpriced booze; American capitalism. “I’ve been bamboozled”, I feared. Loathe as I was to press on, my press pass whispered a level of obligation. The only entrance to anything beyond this yellow brick road of bathrooms and booths (not as ugly as it sounds) was to the amphitheater itself. But I had no time for music and it had no time for me; comics were on the line.
So, I backtracked towards the front gates and discovered that what I thought was the entrance’s exit was instead another entrance altogether. The mind plays tricks on you in the Silicon Valley. Just to the right of where I entered was a small, previously unseen opening that led to tents splayed across fairgrounds like Medieval battle encampment. And food trucks. “Now we’re in the thick of it.”
What followed was a day at a con, undoubtedly. Save for the refreshing reminder from the glinting sun that we were outdoors, giving the glorious excuse to rock sunglasses all day like some sort of Hollywood weirdos, it felt very much like a comic convention. The rest of the tents were a sea of exhibitors awash in VR helmets, ridable dinosaurs, steampunk haberdashery, and more. But enough about that, Mansfield, the people want comics. Keep an eye on that dinosaur, though; it looks fanatical.
Egads, man. Artist’s Alley itself was well positioned within feet of a taco truck, thank whatever gods you believe in. “No time for this. My boy needs hydration”, I reminded myself. Having procured the imported sparkling water per our pre-con Twitter exchange, I made my way to Villalobos’ table and provided him with his life juice. In turn, I was treated to a mythic tale of a Mexican robot that burns down churches. A fair exchange from a wise wolf. “Remember,” he said, “the Burnham is trash.”
Becky Cloonan had declared the entire thing BirthdayCon. I forgot to check with the organizers about the legitimacy of the change, but I suspected she was right. JK Woodward had the big pages out and there were all manners of twisted sleeveless Picards and Worfs running amok. Matt Wilson was drenched in colors, a chromatic acid trip something fierce, but he was making those sales. We talked about dogs for a bit.
Donny Cates and Garry Brown had Babyteeth strewn all about. My god, gentlemen, there are children about. Remender held court near the front and he was seated next to the original Red Dragon, Matteo Scalera. What a world. Robert Wilson IV was that gem of an artist that kept giving, though he was farther out to sea than the others floating on a raft of holofoil. Smart thinking, he must have planned ahead.
Laser tag? I had stumbled out of one roost, past the booth of demons or “oni” as they’re sometimes called, and into another. Power Rangers they were called. The line to worship at their alter was staggering. There was no time for that, besides, I hadn’t brought my helmet. In the meantime, I’d be the most conspicuous thing on this goddamn beautiful ground – the only Mac N’ Cheese t-shirted fool between Palo Alto and Oakland.
Almost five hours later, the beer must have started to level off and the dehydration began to sink in despite the dozens of water stations strewn about because the main tent transformed into a rave. “Strange, “ I thought. It was still too early to act normal, so I hunkered down behind the Snickers tent. But that’s when it hit me. The music, the comics, even the voices turned to people on the main stage. Hardwick, you maniac. There was madness in any direction, an overlapping of interests and pop culture. You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing out there at the Amphitheatre was right. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a nerdy and beautiful wave…