The following is an interview with Matt Dunford regarding the upcoming California-based comic book convention, San Diego Comic Fest 2022. In this interview, Fanbase Press President Bryant Dillon chats with Dunford about what makes San Diego Comic Fest unique, what attendees can look forward to this year, and how he became Chairman of the event.
Bryant Dillon, Fanbase Press President: For those who are unfamiliar with the event, how would you describe San Diego Comic Fest, and where does it take place?
Matt Dunford: I would describe San Diego Comic Fest as a friendly, intimate comic convention experience. SD Comic Fest was started by the very same people who founded San Diego Comic-Con. Back in the 1970s, you had a great intimate atmosphere with so many legendary comic creators all hanging out in one place. As the years went on, Comic-Con continued to grow, but it lost the element of intimacy that it once had. San Diego Comic Fest recaptures that intimacy and places a focal point on comics, science fiction and film.
BD: What’s you background with regard to the comics industry, and how did that lead to your position at San Diego Comic Fest?
MD: I’ve always liked comics, but I had never considered a career path in them. My involvement in the comics industry goes back to around 2009. I had just wrapped up playing in a Pokemon Trading Card Game Tournament in Los Angeles when I heard about an event going on over at Meltdown Comics. The Watchmen film was about to debut, so they had Len Wein as a guest speaker talking about his involvement as the editor. I thought it would make a nice way to wrap the evening, but it ended up being this really life-changing talk. I had always thought of editors as glorified spellcheckers but had never considered what they actually contribute. It sounded like the coolest job in the world, giving input to help make stories and art better. So, Len Wein gave me some advice and I started pushing ahead.
As I was wrapping up college at UC Santa Barbara, I befriended a professor named Roger Freedman who was a founder of San Diego Comic-Con. I learned from his stories as a founder and he always made the time with me to tell its history. He invited me to be on a dissertation committee for student graduation with a Ph.D. in Superherology. My time there had me branded as the world’s youngest comic book historian. After college, I moved back to San Diego and found a small press publisher called Semantink Publishing and asked if I could become an editor. I worked my way up to not the only Editor but Senior Editor over the entire lineup of titles and rode that wave until the publisher had to close. After that, I worked a day job as a chauffeur, but found a new comic education studio called Little Fish Comic Book Studio and jumped in where I could to teach students the fundamentals of making comics. It wasn’t too long until Little Fish Comic Book Studio became a full-fledged non-profit, and they appointed me to the position of Board President, which I served for six years.
In 2012 a new convention popped up called San Diego Comic Fest and I joined as an attendee. The show was starting off at crawl during the first couple of years and I was asked to join as a volunteer. I would help out at meetings, show them how they could make things more appealing to all levels of fandom, and bring out the best in comic book history. In early 2017 after a few years of helping out at San Diego Comic Fest, founder Mike Towry asked if I would like to serve as the Chairman of the event. I was floored by this decision and didn’t really know what it entailed, but it allowed me to be involved with all facets of the convention and bring out the best in the show. I have served in the role of Chairman for five years now. And for the past year, I have been working a cool day job at Upper Deck Entertainment as the Talent Relations Coordinator, where I help to oversee the Marvel Comics trading card line. So, you might say I have a bit of involvement in the San Diego comic book scene.
BD: Who are some of this year’s special guests that you’re most excited about?
MD: It is so exciting to put together fresh guest lists for a show each year and I never get tired of it. I have to say I am most excited for our Guest of Honor, Peter David. I grew up with so many of his stories like X-Factor, Spider-Man 2099, Incredible Hulk Future Imperfect, and Spider-Man: Death of Jean DeWolff. I personally consider Peter David to be the most solid writer working in comics, because he has kept such a strong track record over the past 35 years.
I am ecstatic to see Ben Templesmith; I have been such a huge fan of his books like Fell, 10 Grand, Wormwood, Gentleman Corpse, and 30 Days of Night. He’s also a very sharp dresser. And I am thrilled to finally get Dustin Nguyen around at San Diego Comic Fest. I think that everyone will enjoy hanging out with him, hearing his stories, and being in awe of his beautiful watercolor art.
BD: What kind of comic fan will have a great time at San Diego Comic Fest? Is it also a place for kids and families?
MD: All kinds of comic fans can have a great time at San Diego Comic Fest. I like to bring in special guests who have been around the block for a while. So, long-time fans have familiarity with this work, but they are still actively creating so newer fans will know what they are doing. And we have a family-friendly environment, with kids under age 12 free to attend.
BD: What kind of exhibitor floor and programming can one expect at this year’s San Diego Comic Fest?
MD: San Diego Comic Fest will once again be held at the Four Points Sheraton Aero Drive Resort. This facility allows us to have an extensive dealer hall for comics, collectibles, and table space for our special guests. We also have entire hotel atriums reserved for an Artist Alley, a Space Press hall for writers, and an open area for gaming.
San Diego Comic Fest also has over 100 programs going on throughout the 4-day event. We have program rooms and offer six programs going on per hour. We also have workshop spaces for creators with a workshop area from Little Fish Comic Book studio and digital arts workshops going all weekend long. Some of the programs I am looking forward to the most include 30 Years of WildStorm Studios, 25 Years of the Science Fiction Films of 1997, 30 Years of Image Comics, Spotlight on Guest of Honor Peter David, and 60 Years of Hulk, Thor, and Spider-Man. So, San Diego Comic Fest has become an inclusive ecosystem that gives you something to enjoy at any time of day.
BD: Is cosplay encouraged at San Diego Comic Fest?
MD: Yes, cosplay is absolutely encouraged and welcome at San Diego Comic Fest. This year we will celebrate the centennial of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, so feel free to put on that Starfleet uniform, but just be careful if you’re wearing red. Our special guests always love it when you dress up as characters they created; you might even find me in cosplay during the event.
BD: If they were actually part of our reality, what superheroes and/or comic book characters do you think one would find at San Diego Comic Fest?
MD: I would think that you would see Peter Parker around the show; he always struck me as a Roddenberry fan. Hellboy seems like the kind of guy who would pop in for rare trinkets at the dealer hall and then grab a drink at the hotel bar. And Conan the Barbarian would be the fan who sits in on every panel offered at San Diego Comic Fest except for “40 Years of Conan the Barbarian with Paul Sammon and William Stout.” He doesn’t need to hear it; he’s lived it.
BD: Is there anything we haven’t touched on that you’d like to highlight about San Diego Comic Fest?
MD: The thing I want to highlight most is the experience you will have at San Diego Comic Fest that sets it apart from other shows. People go into the event on day one saying that they just had the best day of their lives because they just got to hang out with so many great creators. I tell them, “Trust me; it will get even better.” By the last day, attendees have had so much fun that they just don’t want to leave.
You start off at the beginning of San Diego Comic Fest looking up to these legendary creators as heroes. But by the end of it, you are calling them a friend. I think that is something we all get to enjoy.
BD: Where can those interested in the event purchase tickets and find out more info online?
MD: For more information about San Diego Comic Fest, including our list of Special Guests, programs, tickets and hotel information, you can check out our website – www.sdcomicfest.org.
You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and our TikTok, where I drop fun facts every day until we’re bigger than Comic-Con.