Imagine if the San Diego Comic-Con International was not founded as late as 1970 (then named the Golden State Comic-Con) but instead way back in 1910. We’d be celebrating a centennial of American geekdom right now. Of course, the attendees probably wouldn’t have been called geeks then, as much as it could have been appropriate given that one of the known historical uses of the word is from a 1908 strip of the comic “A. Mutt” (which would later become “Mutt & Jeff”), according to Wordorigins.org. It is fitting that the original location for SDCC in 1970, the U.S. Grant Hotel, was built in 1910. It didn’t open until October, but as long as we’re totally dreaming here let’s just pretend that they’d allowed a few hundred comic strip fans to hole up inside the basement months before the construction was finished.
What might have been announced, unveiled and previewed, what might we have seen and gotten sneak peeks of had the SDCC existed 100 years ago? I’ve come up with a few ideas, which I’ve listed after the jump. And if you’re thinking this is a silly idea, well let me just remind you that it’s typical with comic book characters to be given new origins, so why not comic book conventions? I’m going to be doing a few more of these fictional histories over the course of the next few days, so feel free to suggest some other years to wonder about.
Here are ten things that are said to have happened and/or were buzzed about during the 1910 San Diego Comic-Con International, held July 22-24:
1. George Herriman made an appearance for a panel and presentation on his new family strip “The Dingbat Family,” which had begun its run in Hearst papers a month earlier. He also gave a sneak peek at two new characters, a cat and a mouse, who were to soon start showing up in their own stories alongside those of the Dingbats in “basement strips.” Three years later, of course, these characters would e known as Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse and star in their own independent spin-off comic strip.
2. The Hearst Corporation had its own separate showcase with which to promote “Dingbat” and its other syndicated strips, including “The Katzenjammer Kids.” One attendee claims to have heard talk of boss William Randolph Hearst’s interest in adapting his company’s comic strips into animated films. But if so it would remain a rumor for five years until International Film Service was founded in 1915 with the debut cartoon series “Phables,” directed by Gregory La Cava and animated by Raoul Barre.
3. The claim made above might have been confused by the actual announcement from cartoonist Winsor McCay, who revealed to a few fans of his strip “Little Nemo in Slumberland” that he and J. Stuart Blackton have plans to adapt the comic into a film that would feature both live-action and animation. Though “Nemo” wasn’t a Hearst strip at this time, it would be within the year. McCay had previously worked with filmmaker Edwin Porter on a film version of the comic strip “Dream of the Rarebit Fiend.”
4. Joseph Pulitzer also had a presentation planned and sent representatives to San Diego to highlight the latest strips being printed in the New York World. But the World presentation never happened because all of those reps were lured over to The Hearst Corporation within hours of the SDCC’s start.
5. Selig Polyscope Company filled one room to capacity for a celebration of its popular “Wonderful Wizard of Oz” franchise, which included the recent sequels “Dorothy and the Scarecrow in Oz” and “The Land of Oz.” Fans were dressed as their favorite characters, some of which were only known to readers of the original L. Frank Baum novels and others that were more faithful to W.W. Denslow’s illustrations. Some costumed loyalists skipped the panel, however, boycotting it in support of the sidelined Baum as well as the earlier multi-media adaptation, “The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays,” which Selig had produced in 1908 with close involvement of the author. As a special treat for the non-protesters, producer William Selig and director Otis Turner showed a few frames of footage from the upcoming adaptation of “John Slough and the Cherub,” which was being sold as another installment of the “Oz” series.
6. Comic devotees were heard confessing to immediate fears that one day the movies would take over Comic-Con, especially now that Selig (see #2) was well established in the Los Angeles area, only about 125 miles north in the suburb of Edendale, and widely promoting the benefits of filming in Southern California. Though they weren’t represented this year, the New York Motion Picture Co.’s new Bison Pictures had already followed Selig into Edendale, and Biograph’s rising filmmaker D.W. Griffith had recently shot “In Old California” and other shorts in a nearby place called Hollywood. And then, of course, there was the razzle dazzle of the following:
7. Edison Studios arrived with a huge, splashy panel hosted by Thomas Edison himself and including an impressive light show. Some of the works he promoted and screened were Edwin Porter‘s version of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and the first ever film adaptation of “Frankenstein.” There was also a sneak peek at the upcoming movie of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
8. Meanwhile, Porter, who’d left Edison a year before, attended in order to promote his own production company, Rex, and also hype up the idea of 3D movies, which had not yet caught on but which he claimed would one day be the future of cinema. It would take him five more years, however, to demonstrate his take on the format and another century for the film industry to wholly get behind agreeing with the claim.
9. More reason to foresee the film industry’s seizure of Comic-Con: Continuing her publicity tour, partly to prove to fans that she hadn’t been killed by a streetcar as rumored and partly to further develop the actress as a marquee name, Florence Lawrence sat at an Independent Moving Pictures-sponsored table and signed autographs. Some attendees were disappointed, though, that she wrote her actual name rather than signing photographs, “The Biograph Girl.”
10. A small group of fantasy fans did gather in approval of the potential for SDCC to be in part a celebration of cinema, especially due to the buzz that fantasy films are dead. Among the topics discussed was the career of Georges Melies, for whom they proposed hosting the following year for a retrospective and support system for the French filmmaker’s desired production of “The Hallucinations of Baron Munchausen,” which is expected to start filming soon if he can find an interested producer. Otherwise he’s said to have returned to the stage and will just resume his career as a magician if his films are no longer lucrative.
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