The religious protesters outside of San Diego Comic-Con have been a constant fixture for the last few years. They stand between the Gaslamp area where all the restaurants and offsite locations are and the train tracks you have to cross to enter the con. They are supposedly there to shame the evil doers for “worshipping false idols” like Superman and Spider-Man and… I don’t know… Rainbow Dash I suppose. The reality of their motivations and those that organize their protests is far more sinister, but I won’t go into all of that now. They are just another annoyance in a sea of card flappers, promo sign holders, scantily clad ladies trying to divert your attention to their bar, their party or their event. They are barely a distraction to a focussed fan whose agenda likely includes waiting in a long line for a panel to catch a glimpse of next year’s summer blockbusters, chatting up and supporting a few of their favorite artists and picking up some exclusive SDCC merchandise that will either find its way to a place of distinction on their shelves or to eBay.
It’s easy enough to write the protesters off as silly purveyors of nonsense, but after reading a post by my friend Wil, I remembered something I witnessed this year and San Diego Comic-Con that just destroyed any and all cynicism I had been feeling about the show, and got me REALLY upset about the message of the protesters outside.
I had taken a brief break from my booth to stretch my legs and use the restroom. As I was washing my hands, I heard a man’s voice saying, “Dry ‘em real good. Use the towels.” His voice sounded stern. I looked over and saw that his son, a boy maybe in his mid to late teens, had a peculiar grimace on his face, like maybe he had been crying. The man kept giving his son clear, but authoritative instructions, more than a boy his age should need. I quickly realized my mistake, that the boy seemed to have Down’s Syndrome or some other mental challenge. The dad was just making sure he remembered all the steps he needed to go through in order to complete this task. They moved to exit the restroom with me right behind them, then the dad said, “I’ve already got it worked out. It’s taken care of. We’re going to be at Comic-Con all 5 days next year.”
"All five days?!" replied the son, the peculiar look on his face replaced with a smile so wide, my heart could hardly stand it.
"Yep. Just like the old days," the father reassured his son, his voice slightly cracking.
The son pounded his fist in the air and did a triumphant little jump. They walked side by side a few steps further when the son, much shorter than his father, thrust both of his arms around the man’s body and buried his face into his father’s chest. He hugged him so hard he nearly knocked him over. The dad put his arms around the young man and they kept on walking, holding each other like that until they were out of my sight.
I wiped a few tears onto the sleeve of my Superman hoodie and made my way back to my booth. My heart was completely broken, not because I was hurt, rather because it could not contain the love I had just witnessed between this father and son. The phrase, “just like the old days,” is what destroyed me. This was their tradition. This was their special time to share the things they loved with each other and with 100,000 other people who felt the same way. This was their homecoming and I’ll be damned if I stand by while anyone tries to convince the world it’s wrong, evil, false or anything but genuine and pure and wonderful.
Earlier in the week, I had been thinking of funny ways to lash out at or humiliate the religious protesters. “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if we…” scenarios raced through my brain ever time I walked passed their dead-eyed faces reciting scripture in droll, lifeless monotone. But, as Wil mentioned, they were mostly kids. Someone influential introduced them to hatred and fire and brimstone and righteous judgement instead of introducing them to comic books and cartoons and costumes and fun. These kids are the only victims in this situation. Rather than shame them, I wish I could invite them in. I wish I could sit them down front row center for the Marvel panel, or take them on a tour of artist alley. I wish they could dig through longboxes with me until we found all 4 variant covers of X-Men #1 (the book that got me hooked when I was 10 years old, and changed my life forever). I wish I could show them how different the expressions on our faces looked from theirs, and welcome them into a world without fear, without damnation and without shame. I wish they could have seen that young man’s face and the way he hugged his father, and I hope someone, someday loves them that much.
Life is so fantastically short. The time you spend making yourself and others unhappy is wholly wasted, and you can never have it back. Put down the megaphone, drop the sign and come inside. We’re having so much fun, and everyone is invited.
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