Comic Book Yeti contributor Cody sat down with Mathew Klickstein to chat about See You at San Diego: An Oral History of Comic-Con, Fandom and the Triumph of Geek Culture. Mathew has written such a deep exploration of Comic-Con filled with stories and photographs. You are not going to want to miss it. Come read what Mathew had to say about this amazing project.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Thank you for swinging by the Yeti Cave to chat with us today, Mathew! This is for a segment called Cryptid-Bits in which we ask you questions about See You at San Diego: An Oral History of Comic-Con, Fandom and the Triumph of Geek Culture (on sale Sept 6, 2022) and your experiences creating it!! How are you doing today?
MATHEW KLICKSTEIN: Tired! Very, very tired! CBY: It’s almost like this interview was meant to happen, See You At San Diego focuses on not only the history of Comic-Con but also Jack “King” Kirby who would have turned 105 on 8/28. I would have never guessed I shared a birthday with him! What inspired you to chronicle these events into a 482-page oral history?
MK: I’m a pop culture historian, and after years of work focusing on all sorts of pop culture history topics like Nickelodeon and The Simpsons, it seemed time to take a quantum leap forward to chronicle the entirety of pop culture history/fandom itself over the past century. The best way to do that without devolving into the state of abject madness that overtook Philip K. Dick during his Exegesis, Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, or August Strindberg’s Occult Diary was to whittle it all down to the prehistory, history, and expansion of the largest pop culture gathering worldwide: Comic-Con. CBY: I had the chance to read See You at San Diego and WOW, this was such an immersive read. Thank you so much for the opportunity to experience this. With over 400 photographs and stories told by nearly 50 of the foundational members of the Comic-Con and Fandom scene, what was the process like creating this? On the outside, it seems like such a daunting task.
MK: It was extremely daunting but extremely rewarding. I learned so much and became very close with so many involved, which is a major part of what made it all so rewarding and kept me going even during times when it did seem I was approaching Exegesis time! CBY: This essentially serves as a history book and, as far as I know, the only one of its kind. But I am sure there were some trials and tribulations having to go back as far as the early '70s & '80s to properly tell this story. What were some of the hardest partsof creating this?
MK: Yes, I was and continue to be shocked that, being the largest pop culture gathering worldwide, there’s never really been such a project as this made before. But, then again, I’m quite adept at finding projects that are unique but necessary in this regard. My Simpsons book with lifetime series writer Mike Reiss (Springfield Confidential) is also the only real “insider” book of its kind (aside from mentions of the series in the autobiographies of some of the voice actors). I suppose, as with the Simpsons book and other projects like it I’ve produced throughout various media and platforms over the years, the hardest part was finding and getting all the key players on board. I think that’s a major reason why it can often be rare to see projects like this out there, actually. It’s so much easier and less time-consuming to write an article or book or even make a documentary that focuses on only a few key folks involved in the subject matter or, as is so often the case these days, focuses on the writer/filmmaker’s personal experience and/or analysis of the subject matter. Those projects have their place too (sometimes), but we really need to make sure we’re continuing as a society to produce and support true-blue oral history projects like this, a la the works of pioneers like Studs Terkel and Alan Lomax who really went out there and found and recorded the people/communities they wanted to chronicle.
CBY: It’s remarkable how long San Diego has been around for. Not only that, but also holding the title for being one of the largest comic conventions in the United States. In your opinion, what do you think are the leading factors in their continued growth after all these years?
MK: San Diego as a city was certainly a major draw, particularly back in the day when it was a kind of reprieve for creators coming from places like NYC and LA. It was almost like a “work vacation” for them. Plus, they could bring their kids along and be considered heroes by the fam. Once a lot of those major creators came out – Jack Kirby and his ilk – everyone else followed suit, and – boom – you had what would become the biggest con out there. CBY: You also worked with SiriusXM/Sticher to create a six-part audio documentary series for Comic-Con Begins: Origin Stories of the San Diego Comic-Con and the Rise of Modern Fandom. What were some of the differences in creating an audio documentary compared to a book?
MK: The two major differences were the length (the audio doc series is about seven hours long and the 500-page book incorporates more than 70 hours of my interviews) and, of course, the 400+ photos/art we gathered and curated for the book as well. I also had some fantastic help with the audio doc series through my producers and editors at SiriusXM/Stitcher, but the book was mainly myself supported by the many contributors granting me material, Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth as supervising editor, and of course, our genius designer Jonathan Barli who was a kind of “director of photography/camera operator” to my “writer-director.” Overall, though, it was a much more solitary experience. Which had its advantages and disadvantages but made for its own singular adventure along the way. CBY: So what’s next for you? This isn’t your first time creating an extensive oral history, let alone writing (author, co-author and a ghost author) of almost 20 books. Can you give us any hints on what the future may hold for you?
MK: There’s an audiobook version of the book coming out the same day as the print book. I also have a book called The Little Encyclopedia of Jewish Culture coming out in late November. And I’m in the process of working with early SDCC contributor and graphic novelist Rick Geary (who is also an interviewee in See You at San Diego, which is how I met him) on his graphic novel adaptation of an old novella of mine called Daisy Goes to the Moon that Fantagraphics will be putting out some time in the near future, as well. CBY: Outside of the Toon Talk Trina Robbins and yourself are hosting at the Cartoon Art Museum on 9/10, where else can CBY readers find you? MK: Tour dates/locations for my national (and Toronto!) tour going from Sept 8 throughout November are available on my website: www.MathewKlickstein.com
CBY: Are there any social media platforms you would like to shoutout? Where can we find you at online?
MK: My website is where folks can find out all they want about me, my past projects, and future projects as well as contact info. Come on over! CBY: Once again, thank you so much for dropping by and breaking down everything with us today! I can’t wait to see what comes next from you, Mathew!
MK: Thanks! Now I finally get to go to bed…after an episode or two of The Monkees to soothe my soul after a very long day! PS: Have you ever noticed the flagrant “fake news” injected into the theme song lyrics? No one has ever said that the Monkees monkey around. That’s just plain silly.