Appreciating Appreciation

By Brittany MenjivarFebruary 1, 2024

Appreciating Appreciation

PASADENA COMIC CON, Pasadena Convention Center, Pasadena, January 28, 2024.

Comic cons are like chain restaurants: everywhere the same. Whether held in sleepy suburbs or busy cities, comic cons share certain staples: brightly lit exhibit halls stretching into the distance; fan art and merch spanning from Spider-Man to Squirtle; and, of course, cosplay. Even so, a convention is never totally predictable; familiarity and novelty intertwine. Just as a Canadian Burger King might delight an American tourist with a different array of breakfast pastries, each con offers something new.

I happen to be a card-carrying geek myself (shocker, I know). During my East Coast adolescence, I spent many a Saturday at convention centers in DC and Maryland, snapping selfies with Joker impersonators and stuffing my shopping bag with Camp Half-Blood merch (my cabin was Apollo, for the record). When I learned that Pasadena was hosting its own comic con—and that James Duval, star of some of my favorite indie flicks, would be in attendance—I decided it was time to check out a West Coast con.

As I strode into the Pasadena Convention Center, I adjusted my wig—a black bob with blunt bangs that barely brushed my sunglasses. I was dressed as Amy Blue from The Doom Generation (1995), the Duval vehicle directed by Gen-X provocateur Gregg Araki. At first, I feared that I was the only attendee in costume, but as I approached the eye of the storm, my surroundings grew ever more bizarre: a Pikachu mascot doing an interpretive dance; a Furby on a stick, cloaked in velvet wizard robes.

Roaming the exhibit hall, I saw all the usual suspects. Some booths boasted comic books and action figures by the hundreds; others offered handcrafted jewelry or Dungeons & Dragons dice. While I was impressed by their grandeur, my ultimate quest was to track down the most obscure item imaginable. I accomplished my mission when I spotted a 245-piece disposable tableware set (70 plates, 35 bowls, 20 placemats, 70 napkins, and 50 cups) emblazoned with Pirates of the Caribbean’s Captain Jack Sparrow. So niche it transcended nostalgia-as-cash-grab and sat on its shelf with the aloof dignity of a museum artifact, its presence conveyed the comic con ethos: appreciating appreciation.

Satisfied, I made my way to the celebrity guest section. Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants, was the main attraction here—the line to meet him wound around the exhibit hall, snaking up and down the aisles. He was joined by several other voice actors, as well as Butch Hartman, the mastermind behind The Fairly OddParents and Danny Phantom. Banners displayed the characters that each guest had brought to life, almost all naming multiple cartoons I recognized. The lineup proved that conventions don’t just belong to celebrity superstars; they also highlight the geniuses behind the scenes of our favorite fictional worlds. 

As an indie screenwriter myself, I was pleased to see the crowds for Duval. This wasn’t an A-lister from a Marvel movie but an underground legend—a fixture throughout films like 2001 cult classic Donnie Darko (he played Frank the Rabbit) and much of Araki’s oeuvre, most notably his Teen Apocalypse trilogy. When I chatted with Duval, he was in awe of the turnout, but it made perfect sense to me: Araki was recently spotlighted on Criterion, and screenings of remastered versions of The Doom Generation and Nowhere (1997) sold out in repertory cinemas across the United States last year. I was heartened by this display of support for indie filmmaking in an environment so often associated with blockbusters.

Turning to leave, I found a small robot blinking up at me. His head bobbed up and down; his nose glowed gold as he squeaked out a high-pitched greeting. His handler, a kindly gentleman holding a remote control a few feet away, explained that he was a handcrafted recreation of RX-24, the robot tour guide from Disneyland’s iconic Star Wars ride. Passersby oohed and ahhed. A child waved, as if making a new friend. Why make art—in your garage, in a classroom, on a film set—at all? Pasadena Comic Con provides an answer: there is an audience for everything.


Photo by contributor.

LARB Short Take live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.

LARB Contributor

Brittany Menjivar was born and raised in the DMV; she now works and plays in the City of Angels. With her partner in crime Erin Satterthwaite, she runs Car Crash Collective, hosting late-night literary readings at Footsies Bar in Los Angeles. Her poetry and fiction have been featured in HADDream Boy Book ClubSpectra, and Dirt Child, among other publications. Additionally, she was named a 2023 Best of the Net Award Finalist. You can stream her short film on YouTube’s ALTER Channel, where it has nearly two million views. You can also find her on Substack: she posts cultural criticism via BRITTPOP, and keeps track of the most exciting events happening in L.A. each week via The Angel Almanac.


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