“Lou Ferrigno is a fucking asshole, that’s what I’m taking home with me from the 2007 Comic-Con, a fucking asshole!”
The speaker was a 40-something-year-old man, freckled, strawberry-blond hair, bald and sweating bullets, his pale skin appearing fair enough to sunburn at the pop of a flashbulb. He threw down his plastic bag of comic books and collapsed into his cafeteria chair. “The fucking opposite of Jonathan Harris [Dr. Smith from Lost in Space], I swear to fucking Christ! The opposite!” His 300-pound friend absorbed the fury of the rant with a shrug and sat down and cracked open a Diet Coke. He drank it through the pink slit in his beard.
“Lou Ferrigno?” I said, sitting opposite them at one of the communal lunch tables set up just beyond the snack bar in the main exhibition hall at the San Diego Convention Center, home, for almost 40 years, of the Comic-Con International. A dainty pair of Asian women sat quietly next to me, making origami swans out of junk fliers.
“Yeah,” said the guy. “He’s charging 20 fucking dollars for a Polaroid! He’s an asshole.”
“He’s here?” I asked.
“Yeah, [the] motherfucker.”
“You should’ve told him that you’d give him 40 dollars if he could say Egg McMuffin legibly.”
“Right,” said the Hulk hater, laughing suddenly and mopping his head with his naked palm, “or 60 dollars if he could turn back into what’s-his-fucking-name, Bill Bixby —”
“And talk about My FavoriteMartian,” said his friend.
“Or The Courtship of Eddie’s fucking Father.”
I’d gotten to the Convention Center two hours earlier, having walked in behind a rotund Captain America whose costume was a one-piece that tied in the back like a hospital gown, and was offered a free Smallville tote bag that was truly immense — large enough, I imagined, to smuggle the carrier’s inner child into the great hall, where it could be released amid the many booths bursting with toys, anime, collectibles, books, comix, video games, figurines, movie tchotchkes, TV memorabilia and 20-dollar Polaroids, its eyes like pinwheels, its appetite for bright plastic and flashing lights and deaf C-list celebrities manic and grotesque and insatiable. I declined the tote bag. My costume? Somebody way too cool to give a Sith, of course.
Inside the crush of people, which the Comic-Con officials would put at 125,000 by the end of the weekend, a new record, I’d overhead a middle-aged man, dressed as some sort of space lizard in a blue Speedo and green leotard, say enthusiastically to another middle-aged man, who was dressed in a silver body stocking, boots and a star-spangled cape, “My wife thinks I’m nuts, but I tell her that it’s just me stepping out of the closet once a year — give me a break!” I turned to look at his outfit, which most certainly seemed as if it had been put on inside a closet; a dark closet, I figured, that had to spill directly out onto the sidewalk, for anybody willing to cram himself into a Speedo that small would be unable to move through a house, where he might catch a glimpse of himself reflected in a mirror, window or even the chrome of the toaster.
“Right on,” said the other guy. I turned back around to the sound of a high-five being clapped through gloved hands.
And when everybody cheered a Wookie riding by in the back seat of one of the many rickshaw bicycles shuttling conventioneers everywhere around town, their applause inspiring him to stand up and do a Tarzan yell and to pound his chest triumphantly, my annoyance at both his shortness and his bravado quickly spread to a deeper annoyance with myself for being angry at the character crossover: Chewy, even if he were 5 feet 4 inches, wouldn’t act like Johnny Weissmuller, not even with a gun to his head, you lousy cocksuckers! I savored my rage, repeating the thought over and over again against my will, until my concentration was broken by the sight of a male Princess Leia riding next to the chest-thumping buffoon. Properly bosomed and as demure as royalty, he wore a goatee and real cinnamon buns on either side of his head, raisins and all.
Two hours later, during the Q&A portion of the editorial-cartooning panel I was on, a girl asked me, after seeing 10 of my angriest cartoons projected on a screen the size of a dead sail, if I was afraid of the U.S. government. I looked past her at the helmeted storm trooper in the very last row rummaging through his shopping bag and remembered my favorite Susan Sontag quote: 10 percent of any population is cruel, no matter what, and 10 percent is merciful, no matter what, and the remaining 80 percent can be moved in either direction.
“No,” I said, “not exactly.”