Steve Wozniak's face beamed down from a sign above the San Jose Convention Center's doors, welcoming a multigenerational crowd willing to wait in long, long lines for another chance to dress up, listen in and geek out. Given the sold-out tickets and packed panels, Silicon Valley Comic Con could be the first year of something big.
As you can see in our video above, this comic con had the things you'd expect -- lines, cosplayers, panels, movie tie-ins, people buying and selling art, and guest celebrities, such as Star Trek icons William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols, Star Wars' Peter Mayhew, Marvel legend Stan Lee and Avenger Jeremy Renner. But the event had its own particular forward-looking, techie personality, in a large part thanks to its creator, Steve Wozniak. Let's consider Woz for a minute.
Woz is a good sport. He doesn't mind being called Woz. He can sit with a delighted grin while people hold up a series of fake eyeballs next to him to see if they match. He can describe waiting patiently for five hours in front of cameras for Madame Tussauds as "the greatest thing ever." Even his wax figure looks fun to hang out with.
On Friday night, he volleyed through an off-the-cuff interchange with William Shatner despite extra challenge intensity from being a longtime fan of Shatner's, not to mention Shatner congratulating him for the wrong claim to fame and then swerving into a metaphor about mysticism and horses. The funny, slightly surreal chat was a good lead-in for a con with a "Back to the Future" reunion.
Woz is an engineer. Apps, VR goggles and 3D printers were as much part of the con as movie memorabilia. As he pointed out at the show, science often chases science fiction. The futuristic and imaginative worlds in comics give us ways to rethink what's possible -- a theme seen throughout the con. Sci-Fi author Andy Weir and former MythBuster Adam Savage drew crowds to their panel, "Let's Go to Mars!" as did a talk on the quantum realm and a pitch for an alternative to chemical rocket-powered spaceflight (more details from our previous coverage in 2010). The number of attendees in classic Star Trek uniforms spoke of technological optimism.
So did Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey, who told Woz that he considered darker sci-fi visions of the future "sensationalism" and he's convinced we'll figure out how to use virtual reality, robots and AI for good.
Imagination fuels social, as well as technological, change. Because comics and sci-fi fans show it's possible to relate to blue aliens and orphan billionaires, panel speakers argued, it proves we can relate to people of other times or different races. Cosplayers talked about choosing characters that called to them and the quick, intense bonds formed by meeting people with the same passions. Wozniak in his keynote called out the abundant cosplayers as examples of the geek traditions of mental independence and finding a way to be "the kind of people we want to be." He gets it.
Woz is a Silicon Valley local. As one attendee said, "He goes to the IHOP in Cupertino to eat pancakes." Wozniak was born in San Jose, and said in his keynote that SVCC belongs here because "it's a startup company." In a nice community touch, you got a 25 percent discount off your general admission ticket if you had a San Jose library card, and the library provided a comic-themed rec room for kids.
Even Woz can't guarantee great Wi-Fi. The city's "Wickedly Fast Wi-Fi" network did its best, but 30,000 people in one place can suck up a lot of bandwidth. Panel speakers struggled to load presentations, and the con's app cut in and out. That said,
It's a new and far smaller con than, say, San Diego Comic-Con, which reports more than 130,000 attendees and has a heavy Hollywood presence. When we asked people why they came to SVCC, that was one reason: in a more laid-back setting, your odds of seeing Wozniak or other celebrities were better, and, "It gets you back to looking at the comics and visiting the artists, buying their toys." The lines for food were intimidating, but in the game room you could get your turn at pinball or classic video games. Check out our galleries of art sold (and in some cases made) at the show and scenes from the con for some of the flavor. Though of course,
Cosplay is not consent. As other cons are doing now, SVCC had signs not just banning any kind of harassment but warning attendees to ask permission before taking photos.
One speaker at a Saturday panel hosted by The Nerds of Color said he'd heard a man had grabbed a girl's butt, and been ejected "by a woman," and the room cheered. On the whole, the crowd showed more suits than skin -- especially you, all you Deadpools -- though there was plenty of classic and creative cosplay. Above are some photos. Yes, we asked permission.
Woz might be The Flash.
(This is unconfirmed.)