Mrs Rusty and I have been lucky enough to attend the famous San Diego Comic Con on three separate occasions — in 2008, 2011 and 2014 — and it’s always been a great holiday, but mostly that’s because one of my oldest friends lives just outside San Diego and getting to catch up with himself and his awesome wife is always a blast.
The convention itself? It’s good fun, but it’s just far too big: no matter what you get to do or see, you can’t shake the feeling that you’re missing out on something else, because you are. A personal example: at the 2011 con I got to do a signing — which is one of those things that momentarily make you feel like you’re a little bit important — and when my session was over, my wife wandered back to the booth and announced, “I just met Stan Lee!”
Anyway… one thing the really big cons are good for is free stuff: sometimes you get comics or books, but most of it is just going to be promotional material. You’ll come away with a ton of flyers and enough promo junk to fill a waste-paper basket. Sunglasses, wristbands, caps, keyrings, lanyards, ball-point pens, money-clips, badges, ribbons, stickers, and so on.
At the 2011 con we were given these Captain America: The First Avenger “circle on a stick” things…
They’re fans, you see, with which one can cool oneself when trapped under the hot southern California sun. And they’re actually very efficient, too. I don’t know that they’d register on the Beaufort scale, but they do a good job of pushing air around. The shield is about 20.5 cm in diameter (for those who still can’t get to grips with centimetres, that equates to about 205 millimetres).
Now, you might be a tad confused as to the purpose of these things. I don’t mean the use to which they’re put, which is mostly their aforementioned ability to make air move, I mean the purpose of creating them. It’s to promote the movie, obviously, but let’s face it: this was a comic-book movie being pushed at San Diego Comic Con in the same week that movie was being released… every single person attending the convention was going to go see that movie.
But beyond needlessly promoting the movie — preaching to the converted, in other words — these Captain America cardboard lollipops had a second purpose: yes, you guessed it, they were promoting Norton internet security software. The back of the paddle contains an ad for the Norton & Captain America truck.
Even disregarding the unlikely pairing of a WWII super-soldier and a twenty-first century software company, we didn’t bother going to visit the truck. Partly because it was all the way over in Petco Park — which would have meant crossing the road from the convention centre — but also because, well, the Norton company and I have history… It might not seem like such a big deal these days, but the very first piece of spam e-mail I ever received was from Norton… an offer to watch some NBA game live over the internet. It had nothing to do with their software: they were promoting it on behalf of another company. So, yeah, I used to be a huge fan of Norton’s software but that killed it for me.
That said, I’m still a fan of The Peter Norton Programmer’s Guide to the IBM PC, an excellent resource that was absolutely indispensable for a PC programmer back in the 1980s. The first thing I ever used it for was to tackle an issue with my then-current PC: it always booted up with Num Lock switched on, and I didn’t want that, so I wrote a tiny assembly-language program that ran at start-up and turned the Num Lock back off. (My current PC, which I’ve had for five years, doesn’t have a Num Lock facility: that bank of keys on the right can only be used as a numeric keypad. Grr.)
But I digress. Leonia and I went to see Captain America: The First Avenger the following week in Manhattan: you know that bit at the end of the movie where Steve wakes up in a strange place and then escapes to find himself in Times Square? Well, after the movie ended we left the cinema and minutes later we found ourselves in the exact same spot, which was an exciting yet somewhat unnerving experience.
At the same convention, when she met Stan, Leonia was given a genuine Cartoon Stan Lee on a Stick…
It’s roughly the same size as the Captain America / Norton fans, but less useful because it consist of only one piece of card glued to the stick (it’s blank on the other side) and is thus less rigid and less effective at fanning oneself should one feel a tad faint when one finds oneself in the presence of a massively influential comic-book creator like, say, Stan “The Fan” Lee.
(Incidentally: the movie being promoted seems to be the 2010-released documentary With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story — but it’s hard to be sure because the website is no longer there.)