By Mike Towry
Next year (2012) will see the 40th anniversary of the first El Cortez Comic-Con, which was held August 18-21, 1972. I was Chairman of the con that year, at the ripe old age of seventeen, and it’s always held a special place in my heart. I’m not alone, however, in looking back fondly on that con and the many others that took place at that historic venue. For many longtime attendees, the cons held at San Diego’s El Cortez Hotel in the seventies along with the final one at that site in 1981 constitute a sort of golden age in early Comic-Con history.
Some of those attendees, when asked to write about their favorite Comic-Cons of yore for the 2009 Comic-Con souvenir book, reminisced fondly about the El Cortez years. For instance, Greg Bear wrote, “The El Cortez conventions were among the most fun, the friendliest, and most manageable.” Dave Clark wrote, “I have a special fondness for all of the early El Cortez Hotel conventions. The close-knit feeling of those smaller events is hard to even imagine today. In the evening after the main events were all shut down, a group of guests and hardcore fans would gather by the poolside for drinks, stories, songs and high-spirited fun going on into the wee hours.” And Jim Valentino wrote, “I’d have to say that my favorite era was at the El Cortez. The Con was so much more intimate; there was a real sense of community and camaraderie. It was the party con in those days and everyone had a great time.”
I’ve been thinking for some time that it would be cool to have a new “old school” comic convention in San Diego and with the El Cortez anniversary coming up next year, 2012 seems a good time to put one on. To that end, I’ve been having discussions with early Comic-Con committee members Richard Alf, Barry Alfonso, and Bob Sourk, as well as with other longtime fans about this. Having received a thoroughly positive response, I’m currently finalizing the details for such an old-school con— provisionally named the San Diego Comic Fest—to be held during the fall of 2012. We think it could be a lot of fun to have a relatively-smallish con at which we consciously try to foster the spirit, or “vibe” as we used to say, of those early fan gatherings.
The 1972 Comic-Con had between 900 and 1,000 attendees, which is around the number we’re looking at for next year’s event. Richard, Barry, and Bob are all three onboard as advisors. I’m also happy to announce that we already have our first confirmed Guest of Honor: Comic-Con’s Jackie Estrada. (Jackie was invited in recognition of her accomplishments in shepherding the Eisner Awards, genre editing—such as the Dark Horse Comics: Between the Panels book—creating and running Exhibit A Press, and generally being an important contributor to Comic-Con International’s success for longer than just about anybody else.)
Speaking of awards, every good con needs an awards program, right? I’ve been thinking for some time that there should be a Ken Krueger Award. Ken certainly deserves an award in his name, but what would it be for? Well, Ken was always proud of fans who succeeded in becoming professionals, and that seems like a perfect achievement to recognize with an award in his name.
Ken, in fact, had made that transition himself. Ken had started out as a teenage science-fiction fan attending the first Worldcon in 1939. By 1946 he had managed to become a professional science-fiction publisher, and in the subsequent decades continued to be active as a publisher and retailer of both science fiction and comics.
We can find one expression of Ken’s feelings on the subject of fans becoming professionals in his introduction for Ray Bradbury at the first multi-day San Diego Comic-Con (August 1-3, 1970). Ken proudly informed the audience assembled to hear Ray speak that “the field of science fiction and science-fiction fandom as a percentage has produced more professionals than any other group in the history of the world. We have produced many editors, many authors, many fine artists.” To hear the actual audio recording of Ken’s words at that time, just click on the player button below to have a listen. (If you’re reading this via news reader or email, you may have to visit the web site to play the clip.)
In his tribute to Ken that appears on the KenKruegerTribute.com site, Greg Bear wrote of Ken, “He simply enjoyed herding a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears kids into doing what he knew they were capable of doing. And that led to a ring of professional careers, to Comic-Con International, and to some of the yet-to-be-recognized glory days of Southern California culture.” It was evident during Ken’s last visit to Comic-Con in 2009 that he was more than proud of the professional success achieved by those “kids” in comics and science fiction (and in science itself for that matter).
I hope you’ll agree that a Ken Krueger Award to recognize fans who have succeeded as professionals would be a good thing and that it would be fun to have an old-school San Diego comic con at which to present the awards. Please let me know if you agree.