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)

As regards 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.

Rozanski Family

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 28 photos 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.

HotWheels booth

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 Medicare. 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

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