San Diego Comic Fest 2019: An Interview With Chairman Matt Dunford

Ahead of the 2019 San Diego Comic Fest, which takes place from March 7-10 2019 at the Four Points by Sheraton in San Diego, Tim Midura chatted with SDCF Chairman Matt Dunford about this year’s event.

Tim Midura: When people think comics in San Diego, their first thought is Comic-Con. What sets Comic Fest apart from the beast that is Comic-Con?

Matt Dunford: Well, nine times out of nine when I mention San Diego Comic Fest to someone new they say “Don’t you mean Comic-Con?” But I am always happy to clear things up.

I have nothing but love for San Diego Comic-Con but it’s nice to have some variation in the comic convention experience. I have been attending SDCC for 25 years now and I know how to tame the beast and have a great weekend every time. However, not everyone has the same experience with the convention and it may be intimidating. Some people may take missteps with time management or problematic planning and might not have the best time.

What sets San Diego Comic Fest apart from bigger shows is that we provide an approachable convention experience for everyone. San Diego Comic Fest has an intimate atmosphere where attendees can interact with legendary creators in a relaxed environment. Experienced con-goers have a great time at Fest because it’s a more interactive space with comic book giants. While new fans looking to dip their toes into a smaller show before diving into a bigger one.

TM: Does it take everything in your being not to sell out to Hollywood like SDCC?

MD: I don’t think SDCC is selling out, I think they have grown to provide more offerings at their event. However, for San Diego Comic Fest, the keywords are “Comic” and “San Diego.” Our focus remains on comics, science fiction and film like the original San Diego Comic-Cons of the 1970s and bringing in the community.

San Diego Comic Fest is an event driven by passion, not profit. I do this because I genuinely love it and want everyone to have a great time. It certainly helps that we are a small convention and not on Hollywood’s radar. I mean, Dave and Busters approached us with a sponsoring of some kind but that was easy to turn down because it has nothing to do with our event. Most importantly, keep San Diego Comic Fest as a small community-focused event.

TM: What’s the draw for fans of comics to come to Comic Fest?

MD: A great time. I want everyone to have a great time and celebrate their love of comics. The intimate environment is not only great for fans, but it is great for special guests too. As some of these industry icons get up there in the years, bigger conventions may be a little more difficult for them to attend. Whereas, the relaxed setting of Comic Fest allows everyone to go at their own pace.

But above all else, the main reason you should go to San Diego Comic Fest is the programming. I oversee all the programming to ensure that everything is informative and entertaining. I’m pretty picky when it comes to special guests for this show. But then when we have all the players, we get to put piece them together in panels and lectures to make the perfect puzzle.

Over the years we have had great themes for the event such as the Jack Kirby Centennial in 2017 and the 200th Anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in 2018. These themes allow us to focus on fresh and interesting programming so fans don’t end up seeing the same thing over and over again.

This year, our theme is 50 years of the moon landing and we have some very good guests coming in to talk about the moment where science fiction became science fact. We also get to celebrate 25 years of the Spider-Man Animated Series with show creator John Semper and 25 years of Starman with James Robinson.

TM: This year’s guest of honor is Sergio Aragonés. How do you get big names like that? Is it keeping it comics-focused?

MD: There aren’t too many people on this planet that would argue against the claim that Sergio Aragones is the greatest living cartoonist. Getting Sergio to the show was a process many years in the making but it finally happened.

San Diego Comic Fest takes a step forward, evolving each time. Each year we add a new theme, new guests and we keep improving. Word of mouth spreads from attendees and special guests. After a few years of building upon the convention, everyone starts hearing about how great it is.

This year, not a single special guest declined an invitation Comic Fest claiming they heard nothing but great things about the event. Sergio was very enthusiastic about being the Guest of Honor after all of his friends and collaborators told him about their experiences.

So yes, keeping things comic-focused certainly helped build up our reputation. But improving upon the convention each year would be the main thing I attribute to its success.

TM: This year’s Comic Fest is shaping up to be the best one yet. What’s the future hold for Comic Fest?

MD: Right now I’m focusing on the present, but I don’t want to lose sight of where Comic Fest will go. But the difficult thing here that we keep raising the bar. We have Sergio Aragones for 2019, so 2020 is going to be a tough act to follow.

During the first two years of San Diego Comic Fest, I attended as a fan. During those years I felt there was a great idea of a convention here, but it wasn’t being brought to life. I started as a volunteer for the third year and the convention picked up the pace. The fourth year of San Diego Comic Fest, that was it became the event that it was meant to be. In the fifth year, people were coming up to me saying there were too many cool things to do going on at the same time. That’s a pretty good problem to have. And last year, people called us America’s best small convention, which was a real honor.

Despite the challenges that I am presented with, I push hard to ensure that each year will be a better show than the one before. We have a dedicated group of volunteers that is putting together a great event and I deeply appreciate all of their help, uniting this community

For more information on San Diego Comic Fest, click here.

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