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I just returned to Auburn from the 50th annual San Diego Comic-Con. The real name of the event is San Diego Comic-Con International, but nobody calls it that. You’ll most often hear it referred to as San Diego Comic-Con, SDCC or just Comic-Con. Of course, it’s not the only comic convention. It seems like every weekend there are several comic conventions in large and small towns across the country. Although many might say comics have their origins as a uniquely American art form, there is also a plethora of conventions held in other countries.

But San Diego is the longest continually held comic convention. And that makes it the granddaddy of comic-cons. It’s not technically the largest, as the actual convention center has reached full capacity, but a myriad of local events around the town of San Diego (at the library, Balboa Park and nearby hotels, as well as pop-ups in the downtown Gaslamp Quarter) have turned it into a sprawling, overflowing celebration for the official badge-holders and the many, many nonofficial participants alike.

(Interestingly, the nation’s second-longest running comic-con is Ithacon, now held at nearby Ithaca College, but we’ll get into that later.)

Oh, and just to clear up one misconception: Comic-cons aren’t all about people dressing up as their favorite fictional characters. The early comic conventions, and their predecessors, the science fiction conventions, would hold masquerade contests to award prizes to the fans who chose to create their own costumes. Soon, these fans decided that they had put so much work into these costumes, why not wear them all day? Cosplay, co-opting a Japanese phrase that roughly translates as “costume play,” has now become a staple for large and small conventions alike. The media loves to focus on these cosplayers, as they are great visuals. But, to be fair, less than 10% of convention-goers actually cosplay. That being said, I’m including cosplay photos from SDCC’s 50th anniversary for you to enjoy.

It’s all well and good that San Diego has this official spot in pop culture. But as a true blue (true Maroon?) Auburn native, I am always astonished at the many ways that this town finds a place in pop culture.

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I was struck by the way that Auburn had a presence at SDCC. For example, a local boy made good, Mike Fantasia, was on a panel at the show all about scouting for movie locations. Auburn native Elissa Rozanski was attending for her third time, and had a lovely conversation with him. And her daughter, Krista Rozanski, an expert librarian, was a panelist exploring the roles of pirates in literature versus their actual historical adventures. I was involved as an industry expert, participating in panels on public relations, licensing, and for my entrepreneurial endeavor.

There’s such a rich history of pop culture here. Auburn was home to one of the nation’s very first specialty comic shops. Several entrepreneurial dealers in Auburn have sold collectible comics out of their residences to fans for years, starting in the late '70s. Hidden away here in Auburn, one retired fireman has an incredible library of comic strip history, including an amazing collection of original art.

There’s also a dark piece of history from the '50s, as one misguided school principal organized a bonfire for a comic book burning. Fearing that comic books led to juvenile delinquency, the principal encouraged young students to bring their comics to the school grounds to be burned, evoking both Bradbury’s fictional "Fahrenheit 451" and real-life oppressive regimes. Thankfully, this has given way to a much more progressive attitude. For example, at Auburn’s Seymour Library, Lisa Carr and her library staff have assembled an astoundingly impressive graphic novel section. For readers and observers of pop culture, it’s one of the true treasures of the Finger Lakes.

It’s not all in the past, either. The Schweinfurth Art Center embraces the fabric arts and celebrates it with the “Cosplay Invades Auburn!” event each year. The key writer of Marvel’s Black Panther comic adventures, the legendary Don McGregor, recently enjoyed his trip to a comic-con here in the Auburn area, and had fun visiting local establishments like Underground Bottle Shop for a tasting and New Hope Mills for a pancake breakfast. One local artist traces his roots back to RAW and the underground comix movement.

From the secrets on Frazee Street to Pauline’s Newsstand to Maxwell’s Food store, this column will explore and celebrate the many different fandoms of Auburn and the local area. There’s a lot of ground to cover, so get ready!

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Ed Catto, of Auburn, is an artist, an entrepreneur who helps start-ups and mid-size companies develop revenue and growth strategies, and an educator at Ithaca College’s School of Business.

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