First annual Silicon Valley Comic Con celebrates fandom

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Willow Yang/Staff

“I’m starting to sweat in here,” a tall tattooed con-goer in a black dress shirt said.  

“Yeah, it’s starting to get pretty yeasty,” his friend replied, as they pushed through fellow nerds who were exploring the exhibit hall full of posters and goodies from every fandom imaginable.

By the end of three days of wild geek ecstasy, the inaugural Silicon Valley Comic Con, conceived by Berkeley alum and Apple co-founder Steve “Woz” Wozniak, had opened its doors to nearly 60,000 attendees. And with that many people, things were bound to get yeasty.

Open March 18 to 20, the Silicon Valley Comic Con was, in essence, a professionally organized Woodstock for geeks. Unaffiliated with the infamous San Diego Comic-Con International, SVCC is the first multi-genre popular culture conference in the Bay Area following the discontinuation of WonderCon in 2011.

On the first day, ambling crowds already formed in the San Jose Convention Center’s colossal space. Walking around the jam-packed exhibit hall, you could see a stormtrooper cosplayer, piles of Pop! figurines and musty white cardboard boxes overloaded with thin superhero comic books every few steps or so.

Other nearby con features included an entire lane devoted to photo-ops and autographs with cult classic celebrities such as Nathan Fillion and Michael J. Fox, an artist’s alley, a Stan Lee museum and an exhibition of superhero artwork from San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum.

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And, of course, no fan convention is complete without the cosplayers. Left and right, people donned both store-bought and stylish DIY costumes, walking dressed as Princess Leia, furries, Deadpool, Harley Quinn, Attack on Titan scouts and every iteration of the Doctor imaginable.

“You’re nice! I’m not, but we can still get along,” a towering Darth Vader told a fourth Doctor (originally portrayed by Tom Baker) as they took a picture together.

Wozniak joined the festive con-goers, entering the second day opening ceremony clad in a brown Jedi robe over a T-shirt and jeans with an army of stormtroopers trailing behind him.

“This event is based on visual imagery, superheroes, unbelievable powers, things that don’t exist for humans,” Woz explained.

“What was important to Steve (Wozniak) was not the business aspect,”  remarked Wozniak’s business partner Rick White. “It was about making sure everyone had fun.”

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A representative from wax figure manufacturer Madame Tussauds then unveiled a custom-made wax figurine of Wozniak during the ceremony. The figurine was placed next to the real Apple co-founder, until the real Woz finally wiggled. Wax Woz then joined other cultural icons such as Captain America and Mark Zuckerberg in the exhibit hall later that day, with people clustering around the pop-up display to take selfies.

Wozniak was not the only speaker who was drawing crowds at the convention. Artists, actors, writers, techies and field experts all gave their two cents on topics ranging from surviving in the entertainment industry to the portrayal of female strength in popular culture.

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One high-profile panelist was Adam Savage from “Mythbusters,” who was as good-humored  as he was eloquent. Discussing everything from cosplay to the recent FBI versus Apple case, one of the many nuggets of wisdom that he had was to be yourself.

“To be yourself is to know yourself and to know equally how full of crap and lazy we all really are,” Savage noted to a room of fans, who ranged from seasoned science teachers to young children. “And when you’re honest about it, something powerful happens.”

The inclusion of several panels about issues affecting women, LGBT persons and people of color reflected the current climate of the con community as well as that of society In a panel titled “The Nerds Of Color Presents: Fandom Diversified: Changing Dynamics of Geek/Nerd Journalism,” Salim French, one of the hosts on the podcast “Blacker than Black Times Infinity,” offered his thoughts on the increase of diversity in fandom culture.

“I think people of color in geekdom have always been there,” French said. “I really think so. I think the fans have always been diverse.”

French was onto something. The panel room — albeit one of the smaller ones at the con — was packed with people from a range of different backgrounds who all came to immerse themselves in geek culture.

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Fans struggled to partake in all the panels that the convention had to offer, and before they realized it, their time was almost up. But one panel was an absolute necessity: the Sunday panel showcasing the Marvel godfather Stan Lee. Ninety-three years old and adorably brassy, Lee answered questions about everything from his favorite Marvel movie cameo — the one in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” where he drinks what Thor is drinking and ends up being carried out of the scene — to what inspired him to make comics … “greed.” At one point in the panel, someone asked Lee why he went to conventions.

“Why do I come?” Lee joked. “Now that you mention it, why am I here?”

The crowd roared in laughter. After some more jokeful bantering, Stan Lee offered a heartfelt answer.

“I love conventions!” Lee said. “Because I love the fans. I love to see your enthusiasm. I love the fact that every year, there are more and more. And the ones who used to be young fans are now older fans, but you’re still fans.”

Despite murmurs of yeastiness, the debut conference was professionally organized and constantly breathtaking. During the final hours, fans scurried to take selfies with cosplayers and clusters of friends and families slumped against the convention walls as they recuperated from nerd adventures of panel-watching and selfie-taking. And so, a legacy is born and nerds around the Bay Area are more than excited to see what the second Silicon Valley Comic Con will have in store.  

Contact Stacey Nguyen at [email protected].

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