My kids watched an excellent documentary named Batman & Bill recently, and they came away amazed at the film-maker’s tenacity and attention to detail. In the film, there was mention of the first-ever comic book convention (“comic-con,” for short) and the horrible conditions in which it was held. It was in a dilapidated hotel in New York City, one complete with roaches, filthy walls, drunken individuals roaming about, and dangerously unlit spaces. My kids looked at me, astounded, for the description of the comic-con given in the documentary and that which I earlier gave them matched perfectly, leading my kids to fire many questions my way.
Dad was there. All those years ago, he was there and he still remembers! What did he see? Who did he see? Was Jack Kirby there? What about Stan Lee?
Yes, I was there. I didn’t stay around for any panel discussions and I wasn’t interested in getting the autographs of comic-book writers and artists. To this day, I don’t know which luminaries of the comic-book industry were in attendance, though I now kick myself for not getting the signatures of those creators who were there. Oh, what they would be worth today! But no, I was a pre-teen then, one without any concern about finances or the future. I was at the comic-con in the single-minded pursuit of low-priced comics, as many of them that I could get my kid-sized hands on.
I told my children about a later comic-con that was held in what I believe to be the old Manhattan Hotel before it was renovated and became the Milford Plaza, among other names. It was held at a time when disco was failing and its successor, modern “dance music,” had yet to be born. The comic-con within the aging hotel was held on the same floor as a recently abandoned disco, which event-goers discovered accidentally when a door to the old dance space pretty much gave way when someone tripped and pressed against it just a bit too hard in regaining their balance. Emboldened by youthful curiosity, I entered the darkened space with several other impromptu urban explorers, our path lit only by the lights from the comic-con and a few cigarette lighters held aloft.
To this day, I recall the mirror-like disco ball that hung above the main dance area, the gaudy mixture of incongruent hues, and the piss-yellow DJ booth that was positioned against a wall opposite the entrance, all of which were seen in shadow. As we moved about, we saw there were no records, cassettes, or 8-track cartridges around, which silently attested to the fact the club was definitely as dead as the disco music that once blared from its speakers. We agreed that the booth and the dance space were both smaller than many of us thought they should be, and as we explored the dim and unexpectedly cramped space we found the Holy Grail of interior exploration: the control panel for the lights.
In retrospect, given the deplorable condition of the building, we were probably risking death by an electrical fire due to the actions we took next. Foolishly tempting fate with every switch we touched, we turned on strobe lights, spotlights, floor lights, wall lights, and ceiling lights that bounced off the disco ball. You name the light, we turned it on. For the first time in years, the old disco was filled by a kaleidoscope of fast-moving colors and the clicks and whirs of the motors that positioned the lights. Although our exploration of the venue began through an act of sheer clumsiness, We successfully turned the old, unused dance space into the gaudiest and most unexpected of comic-book discussion rooms, and in doing so, the attendees of that past comic-con and I performed the staple of comic books that is raising something from the dead.
There was no John Travolta pointing upwards within the revived disco, no Donna Pescow being spun about, no Denny Terrio introducing dancers, and no Donna Summer blasting from the speakers. The nearly silent room was both novel and nostalgic, and many therein spoke of their bygone days as disco patrons. However, with the initial exploration done and the disco reactivated, there really wasn’t much for anyone to do except stand and marvel at the lights and the god-awful 1970s color scheme while holding bags of comics.
One-by-one, my fellow stars of “Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Dead Disco” left the shimmering venue and returned to the comic-con. As we did, other curious attendees took our places, and that pattern of people going in-and-out of the relit space went on for quite some time until hotel staff arrived to literally turn off the lights and close the door to the 1970s. A shame, since I just know that someone years past their prime would’ve eventually flailed about in an attempted disco move, only to hear the loud r-i-i-i-p of their pants and the laughter of those nearby. As for me, I bought many comics and I was beyond happy. The next comic-con couldn’t come fast enough.
All the best,