Sunday, February 20, 2022

I finally went to the Comic-Con Museum

For the last 15 years, Comic-Con has grown from the pinnacle of pop culture conventions into something larger - a sprawling juggernaut that has become a celebration synonymous with comic books and pop culture in general. The folks at Comic-Con International, looking to expand the event's influence with a permanent, year-round location, announced the creation of the Comic-Con Museum a few years ago. I became a member in 2018, and in 2019, the newly repurposed building in Balboa Park opened for a preview of sorts during the '19 convention, ahead of its grand opening a year later.

The grand opening, of course, did not happen as planned, and it's fair to wonder, after two years of not having a regular convention and all of the revenue that streams from that, what the resulting limbo has done to both budgets and plans. In a lot of ways, it seemed that 2020 was going to be the pinnacle of Comic-Con, where it would really flex its muscles and become something more than a week-long experience and start having even more of an influence on San Diego with its permanent residence. Now, who knows? I'll be interested to see how the 2022 show handles what would otherwise be 150,000 people in close quarters with one another.

I didn't make it to the 2019 museum offsite, which featured a lot of Batman memorabilia, while it was open. I never made the time to break away from the convention center to travel the 15-or-so miles to Balboa Park, where the Comic-Con museum sits among other sites of interest. It's never easy to get to offsite events during the show, and the idea of taking an hour away from the convention just for traveling was too much for me at the time. Hindsight being what it is, I wish that I had started or finished a day at the museum back then.

2021 was different, though. After the Special Edition show ended on Sunday, I knew what I'd be doing at 10:00 on Monday, and I traveled to the museum to finally check it out. I arrived about 15 minutes after the museum opened, and I was one of the only visitors for much of my time there. It was a little weird to get the museum almost all to myself, but I was able to talk with some of the staff as I wandered the three floors, which certainly added to the experience.

One of the first things I saw upon entering was the cardboard sculpture display, which showed off these amazing creations, mostly built by children, using cardboard boxes.

Most of the sculptures were labeled with the names and ages of the creators. It was really something to see a beautifully designed, life size figure that ended up being made by a 10 or 11-year-old kid. It was all really impressive!

This Hulkbuster Iron Man was the biggest sculpture on display.

Just check out Black Manta's weapon. Sheesh!

At the very end of the display was this Comic-Con Museum logo. There was a lot of stuff that I loved seeing here, but the cardboard display was probably what impressed me most.

Also in a prominent location were these, and other costumes, which I soon learned were from the Comic-Con Masquerade events from years past. This means that these costumes were also fan-made, and given to the museum to display.

At least thematically, I think this worked really well. Rather than just being a museum for pop culture stuff, they're obviously trying to make it something that feels like Comic-Con and includes some of the best parts of the convention.

Years ago, when Comic-Con had a gallery at the San Diego Public Library (which was pretty clearly a lead up to the museum and its permanent display place), I remember seeing a display of Comic-Con program cover art. I wish that that display had a permanent place here at the museum. I'm sure they've got it around somewhere, and I know that there's never enough space for everything, but having a permanent display of Comic-Con history is something I think they should have.

After seeing the costumes, I checked out the Archie Comics display. Beyond just artwork and collectibles, this wing had a 1950s Archie motif to it.

This display felt a little more random to me than some of the others, without a clear purpose, but there were still a lot of great pieces or art to see.

There was also a small section dedicated to the real-life Archies musical group.

The Gene Roddenberry exhibit was what I was most excited to see, and it inhabited the most prominent location on the museum floor. The display was created so it looks like you're entering the ship through a corridor. On the floor you'll see multicolored lined. Each of these lines included events from Roddenberry's life on them, and you could follow them throughout the exhibit.

I don't know if these costume props are the originals (there was nothing indicating that they were), but they were still great to see.

The Gorn! 

The uniforms, though, were labeled as originals from the various shows. Here we have a Next Generation uniform with Discovery uniforms on the bookends.

Why was this chair roped off? Why wouldn't they let me sit in it? Outrageous!

I believe the Talosian in the middle is from an episode of Discovery, not the pilot episode "The Cage" from the '60s.

After making my way through all of the Star Trek items, I walked upstairs to the Creator's Lab that doubles as a classroom space. I'm sure that those at the museum are itching to use this space more fully, and hopefully they'll get a chance soon. 

The space held costuming materials as well as these models - I don't know who will be able to use this space when it's more widely open, but what I did see was very impressive!

On the drawing board, figuratively and literally, is Captain Carter, Marvel's new What If...? character.

Around the walkway along the third floor, I saw a number of original drawings from Addams Family creator Charles Addams. 

Most of the art dealt with subjects other than the Addams Family. This was my favorite of the dozens of framed pieces on display.

But there was, of course, plenty of Addams Family artwork, too.

I saved the Pac Man exhibit for last. This display felt secreted away in its own cubbyhole, the all-black background from ceiling to floor making it seem apart from everything else. It kind of looks like an arcade from the outside.

There was a lot of memorabilia to see. I think these items were under glass to keep onlookers from getting Pac Man Fever.

The exhibit itself felt a little bit light on content, but these design documents looked pretty cool.

Tucked away in one corner was this really awesome Pac Man pinball machine! I had never played this game before and spent a few minutes with it. The machine was set to free play, and since I was the only one there, I might have played more than my share. It was a lot of fun.

I absolutely loved getting to finally see this museum. There's a lot of potential for exhibits, programming and other types of outreach at this place. It feels like a grab bag of Comic-Con which is exactly what I was looking for, even after leaving the truncated convention just a day earlier. I would love to make it back here the next time I'm in town.

This trip to San Diego allowed me to see a number of things that I normally wouldn't be able to, and I'm really happy to have not only had the chance to get back to this town, but to also explore some things a little more. Before I left, I made one last stop - to the Cat Café in downtown. The cats had moved across the street since the last time I was there.

But they still had cats. I think this guy got adopted just a couple days after I was there.

As I was leaving my parking space, I saw the Peacemaker banner coming down from the outside of the hotel. It's a Comic-Con tradition! I don't know what 2022 will bring for Comic-Con. I know that the organizers are planning on having a show in July. No matter what happens, I was really glad to be able to see the city, the convention, and some of the surrounding area again for the first time in what felt like a very long time. Here's hoping for better days ahead.

1 comment:

Larry Franks said...

The fact that they have cosplay costumes on display is really cool. But how do they get them? Do they buy them, are they on loan? I wonder if in the future creators will make them with the intention of having them on display at the museum.