2019 San Diego Comic-Con Report #5 - Life, Death, and the Comic-Con
It is 4:30 in the morning here in San Diego, and I am sitting on the bathroom floor
of my hotel with uncontrollable tears in my eyes because I finally understand the
seminal point of my own frustration and rage at what has happened to my beloved
San Diego Comic-Con.
Moments ago, I awoke from a dream in which my own subconscious (which is incapable of
enlightening me to anything but the harshest of truths...) spoke to me about death.
Not only of a beautiful world of comics in which I finally rediscovered a degree of
comfort and kindness equal to that which had been brutally taken from me when I was
a terrified 5 year-old boarding a plane Frankfurt, Germany in 1960, but also of my
own adult life.
The thread of consciousness that led to my epiphany began with a realization that I
am about to cross the rubicon into the realm of the elderly, completely and totally
alone. Eleven years ago, I awoke on the steel table of an operating room with the
stinging bite of smelling salts lifting the temporary veil of quiet darkness into
which I slipped moments before, just as the emergency room doctor slid a huge needle
into my spine. I had been suffering from an untreated bout of encephalitis of the
hypothalamus for 43 days before my beloved wife, Nanette, finally convinced my doctors
that I was truly ill when she brought into the emergency room with failing eyesight,
almost no hearing, and an inability to stand on my own.
While I seemingly awoke unscathed from that quiet darkness, I now have come to grips
with the fact that part of me actually died that day, and that a new me was born. The
damage that occurred in my brain during those 43 days of uncontrolled swelling somehow
triggered a latent femininity into full bloom, converting a highly competitive and
aggressive alpha male into someone entirely different. Someone who no longer fits into
any rational or easily definable gender, or expression of sexuality. I am totally
grateful that I survived that first death, but the price that I paid was in becoming
the "other," someone so different and unacceptable to anyone in the mainstream that
many now view me as a freak of nature, and only tolerate my gender idiosyncrasies out
of kindness and sympathy. Never, ever, have I felt so alone.
Chuck in 1974 at San Diego Comic-Con (photo taken by Jackie Estrada)
San Diego Comic-Con,
for most of the decades of my adult life it was my replacement for my beloved village
in Bavaria, the paradise of love and comfort that was taken from me as an innocent. Our
annual 1,000-mile journey as a family across the blazing hot desert in our old Chevy
van was always rewarded with indescribable joy when we returned to the halls filled
with legions of dear friends. Being able to once again be able to see wonderful people
like Jack and Roz Kirby, Julie Schwartz, Bud Plant, Ron Turner, Ken Krueger,
Will Eisner, and so many more was to be back in our tribe. These are the people who
helped us to raise our four babies into the beautiful and confident young women that
they are today. It was my paradise.
Fast forward to yesterday, when I provided a photo essay in which I tried to illustrate
just how much corporate America has subsumed my paradise. The
that I took were
designed to illustrate that nearly every major media/pop culture merchandise corporation
now has grabbed and monetized a slice of our fan heaven, aided and abetted by a convention
staff perhaps a bit too eager to sell their souls to the devils. A criticism that I received
about that essay is that it downplayed the truth that comics are still quite a significant
element of this immense event. Of course they are. But the harsh reality in this day of
declining interest in printed comics is that we are now the bastard stepchildren allowed
to sleep in the cinders, and exist on scraps from the corporate pop culture table, in the
beautiful home that we originally built for ourselves. That is an unavoidable truth.
That bitter observation aside, my rage at the actions and decisions of the convention
leadership is truly misguided. They have done their best to adapt to a changing world in
which there have been innumerable moments when this beautiful and important entity could
have failed entirely. Through good fortune and the grace of Providence these skilled and
dedicated people have managed to find a path of survival and growth that has transformed
a sleepy (but also incredibly comforting) regional comic book convention into a pop culture
Mecca recognized throughout the world as the absolute pinnacle of our entertainment world.
I salute them, and sincerely thank them for finding the courage and vision to ignore the
vitriolic naysayers (myself included), and to continue to lead us into the future. What
they have built is far different from what existed in my youth, but it is also truly beautiful.
Returning to the dream vision that awoke me an hour ago, the reality of my inner rage is
that a goodly portion of my railing against the changes at
San Diego Comic-Con
is based upon my own unwillingness to accede to my own mortality. In just eight weeks, I
will be required to apply for
In seven months, I undeniably will cross over
into the world of the elderly, as I reach my 65th birthday. February 6th of next year will
mark my 50th anniversary of the day when I left my junior high school and ventured into
downtown Colorado Springs in order to set up a booth at an antiques show, intending for
the first time ever to sell comic books to total strangers. It has been an amazing journey,
with many of my dearest memories having been created at San Diego Comic-Con. Is it any wonder
that my pain at the passing my own life, and the passing of our incredible comic book convention,
is so profound? Clearly, in my own mind they were always inextricably linked.
Speaking of journeys, I am now on an entirely different path than I ever expected. Coming to
grips with gender fluidity in my dotage is not easy, and definitely a mental challenge. As
I wandered the massive halls of comic-con yesterday, I wondered what my dear friends and
companions of old would have thought of me walking about the show in a ball gown and high heels.
Sadly, in those far more repressive days I would probably have been labeled as a freak of nature,
and would have suffered severe social ostracism. That's just the way that it was in those days.
Being Transgender, non-binary, and/or gender fluid is still a tough path, but nothing like the
living hell that our elders in the LGBTQ Community oftentimes experienced. It is only my
knowledge of that bitter history that keeps me from descending into despair when I myself
experience the profound loneliness and alienation that is so common among my newfound brothers
and sisters. Each person's journey is unique, but believe me, they are all hard.
Crowd at San Diego Comic Con
As our new dawn finally lightens the sky on the last day of the
2019 San Diego Comic-Con,
I want to mention in closing that I honored my longstanding tradition yesterday of standing
in the absolute middle of the convention hall yesterday at 1 PM, just to derive some sort of
intuitive sense of what has transpired to the convention during my three-year absence. What
came to me in that moment were the voices of my long lost friends, many of whom are now but
ghosts in my rapidly fading memories. They told me to open my eyes to all the joy and happiness
around me, and to open my heart to the uniqueness that is San Diego Comic-Con today. They gently
reminded me that life is about adaptation and change, and for many of the 135,000 people who
attended this year's show, the joyful memories are just beginning. Truth be told, it is long
past time for Chuck to let go of his misguided bitterness, and for Bettie to walk into a
beautiful new dawn.
Out in Comics Panel
Love is love.
Chuck Rozanski/Bettie Pages,
President - Mile High Comics, Inc.
July 21, 2019