The following is an interview with author and pop culture historian Mathew Klickstein regarding the upcoming release of his new book, See You at San Diego: An Oral History of Comic-Con, Fandom, and the Triumph of Geek Culture, through Fantagraphics. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Klickstein about the comprehensive chronicle of the rise of fandom and pop culture nostalgia throughout the past century, why Fantagraphics makes the perfect home for the book, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming launch of See You at San Dieg! What inspired you to tackle this ambitious project and to culminate its focus on the trajectory of Comic-Con?
Mathew Klickstein: I’ve been a fan of and creator of pop culture histories for so long now, I thought it might be worth attempting the culmination of pop culture nostalgia/fandom itself. The best way to do this seemed to be to track the last century of said modern fandom through the largest pop culture gathering worldwide, and that’s Comic-Con.
I got in touch with some of the most integral members of the convention and fandom scenes — along with some special guests like Kevin Smith, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Stan Sakai, the Russo Bros., and Felicia Day — and put together what I hope readers will agree is the ultimate encyclopedic chronicle of how geek culture became pop culture over the past few decades. And an album full of pictures and art (most of which no one’s seen before) to boot!
BD: As a pop culture historian, how would you describe your creative process in approaching the research aspects of such a large-scale topic such as comic conventions, geek culture, and fandom?
MK: Each project is a little different, of course.
But, generally, I seek out as much information as I can about the subject at hand before reaching out to as many as possible of the principal “characters” involved in the true story I’m about to help tell. I conduct my interviews, which are then transcribed, and along with the rest of my research and continued education as well as keeping in touch with as many of my interviewees/sources that I can for fact-checking along the way, I typically end up with something that seems to work.
Personal passion for the subject is a big help: in the case of Comic-Con and geek culture, those are my people, my tribe; and so it’s not hard to stay dedicated and intensely focused on getting the project done in a well-crafted, meticulous way.
BD: In bringing together so many talented creators to share their experiences and observations for the project, did you find there to be a commonality shared by many of their voices, either about their overall experiences in geek culture or their relationship to it?
MK: Everyone I spoke to is for the most part some kind of uber-geek fan and some kind of creator or intellectual. So, they were all coming from a very similar place as far as how they connect with their individual fan fiefdoms and pop culture passions. But we also collected such an eclectic group of people from so many different backgrounds, generations, creative/academic fields, and more that the book showcases a wide swath of perspectives.
Contemporary podcast pioneer and comedian Scott Aukerman, for example, has a lot to say that fundamentally aligns with a lot of what someone like early SDCC co-originator and cartoonist Scott Shaw! has to say about their nostalgic pop culture interests. But they also have very different experiences and very different perspectives on their interactions with their audiences or gatherings at events like Comic-Con.
That’s a major part of why I enjoy putting together an oral history as opposed to a more traditional historical work; this way, we can present an arena for so many different memories, opinions, and perspectives throughout.
BD: In looking back at this incredibly comprehensive chronicle of pop culture nostalgia that you have built, were there any takeaways that surprised you the most?
MK: The most valuable lesson was understanding that Comic-Con was never just “about comics.” There are those folks today who complain that Comic-Con has “changed so much” over the years and that it’s “no longer about comics.” Though the first part is, of course, true – it’s grown from 100 attendees to 150,000 attendees, for starters – it really was never about comics exclusively. It was always also about movies, animation, comic strips, magic, martial arts, fantasy stories, science fiction, and nostalgic mementos like toys and such.
And that was really important with how we put the book together, making sure that our stories would encompass as many fandom fiefdoms as possible – from Twilight Zone to Twilight, from War of the Worlds and Lost in Space to Star Trek and Star Wars, King Kong, Flash Gordon, the Universal monster movies, manga, video games, Dungeons & Dragons, Lord of the Rings, Troma, and on and on …
BD: What makes Fantagraphics the perfect home for this book?
MK: Fantagraphics is first of all a part of the story of the pop culture nostalgia and fandom scene that helped support and was supported by Comic-Con since the 1970s. We even have a few vintage pictures of publisher Gary Groth in the book, often with some pretty cool folks like Jules Feiffer.
Fantagraphics was also essential in helping to lay the groundwork for the Eisners – the Oscars of the comics world – and still have quite a cachet in the fan community. They put out some of my favorite series over the years, and I really enjoyed their own oral history, We Told You So, which I read cover-to-cover. It was after that that I decided whomever could put something like it would be ideal for my project.
Longtime Fantagraphics cartoonists Stan Sakai and Ho Che Anderson had been a part of my initial audio doc series for SiriusXM/Stitcher, Comic-Con Begins, of which See You at San Diego is something of a much-expanded adaptation, and they liked what I had done so much that they nudged Gary to work with us on the book. And a year later, here we are!
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that See You at San Diego will connect with and impact readers?
MK: I would hope it opens up previously locked doors to their understanding of how and why pop culture nostalgia/fandom has become what it is today. That it fills in some of the gaps that have long existed regarding those early years of fandom in particular, to clear up some misnomers about the “way things worked” back then in the convention scene and in fandom overall.
In a time when so much of history is being rapidly rewritten, erased, or ignored outright, I felt a real sense of duty to my readers but also to the folks in the book to get as much of the raw, first-person recollections of what really happened and how out there to as big of an audience as possible.
I believe the book is something very entertaining and amusing, but hopefully it’s equally eye-opening about the history of why we geek out so hard the way we have over the past few years – from the mouths and minds of the actual people who actually made it happen! Fake geek news be damned!
BD: Are there any other upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
MK: In addition to the audiobook version of See You At San Diego coming out the same day as the book, and the national/Canadian tour we have starting up September 8 in Los Angeles, I also have The Little Encyclopedia of Jewish Culture coming out at the end of November. It’s a lighthearted, concise, and illustrated exploration of Jewish food, locales, celebrities, books, music, and more.
For Fantagraphics, I am working on an adaptation of my 2009 novella, Daisy Goes to the Moon, with graphic novelist Rick Geary – who is also one of the interviewees in See You at San Diego and among many other things designed the early “toucan” logo for Comic-Con back in the day. And I have a few other goodies cooking up, and hopefully will be able to reveal more of that very soon …
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about See You at San Diego and your other work?
MK: People can go to my regularly updated website (www.MathewKlickstein.com) and ask about See You at San Diego at their local comic book shop, general bookshop, or look online via bookseller sites and of course Fantagraphics’ own website, as well. Enjoy!