San Diego Comic Fest 2020: An Interview With Chairman Matt Dunford

Ahead of the 2020 San Diego Comic Fest, which takes place from March 5-8, 2020 at the Four Points by Sheraton in San Diego, Tim Midura chatted with SDCF Chairman Matt Dunford about this year’s event.

Tim Midura: For the uninitiated, can you give a quick rundown of what Comic Fest is?

Matt Dunford: San Diego Comic Fest is a friendly, intimate convention centered on comics, science fiction and animation. This event was founded by the original founders of San Diego Comic-Con Mike Towry and the late Richard Alf. In 2009 when the founding members of SDCC were reunited for the 40th anniversary they came up with the idea to create an event that returned Comic-Con to its roots. Back in the 70s, San Diego Comic-Con was a small event with legendary creators and fans all hanging out at the El Cortez. It would have been an honor to just be a fly on the wall back then with all the great talent around.

The first San Diego Comic Fest came about in 2012 with legendary artist Murphy Anderson as the Guest of Honor. The event took its baby steps and eventually grew into a flourishing one with exciting programs a relaxed environment. I’m a people pleaser and I want everyone to have a great time and ensure that the experience is so entertaining that you will talk about it non-stop until next year’s Comic Fest. You go into the event looking up to these special guests as heroes and by the time you’re done you call them friends. This year we are celebrating the centennial of Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen and their contributions to the world of science fiction and film.

Tim Midura: What separates Comic Fest from Comic-Con?

Matt Dunford: The most noticeable difference about San Diego Comic Fest and San Diego Comic-Con is the size. San Diego Comic-Con attracts 125,000 people annually, while San Diego Comic Fest cultivates an atmosphere for a few thousand. I love attending SDCC, I’ve been going for 25 years but I know that not everyone finds it to be the ideal experience and may find it overwhelming. San Diego Comic Fest allows attendees a unique opportunity to dip their toes into the shallow end with a relaxing environment.

San Diego Comic-Con is a great event and always will be but it can be a busy one. When you have so many great things going on all at once there is a looming pressure to do them all. So many people to see and things to do, it can be difficult to take your time. Sometimes creators don’t get the time to chat with fans and can do little more than signing an autograph before moving on to the next person.

I want to retain the small atmosphere that San Diego Comic Fest provides while San Diego Comic-Con remains the big one. These events can co-exist and I want all kinds of conventions to thrive where fans fan share their passion. At Comic Fest, you can hang out with creators, experience a broad range of high-quality programs, an artist’s alley, a small press area, a gaming area and a full dealers hall.

Tim Midura: The theme this year is the celebration of two Rays: Bradbury and Harryhausen. What made you want to celebrate them?

Matt Dunford: That came at the suggestion of our fearless leader, Mike Towry. Mike had the great experience of being around so many industry icons back in the day so it’s only necessary that we celebrate them. In previous years he spearheaded the Centennial of Jack Kirby, the bicentennial of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing. So we want to continue to celebrate giants like Bradbury and Harryhausen.

Admittedly, I’m not the most experienced fan in the realm of Bradbury or Harryhausen simply because I didn’t give myself the chance. I haven’t read every Bradbury story and I haven’t seen every Harryhausen film but I’m always happy to learn more about them. It’s what I get for spending my whole life being a comic book nerd. However, the creators that I love have been inspired by their work. Just about every Special Guest that has been invited to San Diego Comic Fest is absolutely ecstatic about celebrating Ray and Ray.

Tim Midura: Bill Sienkiewicz is the guest of honor this year. How did you snag a talent like that?

Matt Dunford: When it comes to San Diego Comic Fest I always want to deliver a better experience than the year before. However, in 2019 we had Sergio Aragones as our Guest of Honor and he’s a tough act to follow. There are only a handful of people on this planet who I could even consider on the tier of the world’s greatest living cartoonist. But few would argue that Bill Sienkiewicz is arguably among the top comic creators on the planet.

Getting Bill Sienkiewicz wasn’t exactly the easiest task in the whole world. He’s one of the most in-demand creators working today and can be hard to get ahold of. Fortunately, a lot of the right pieces fell into place to make it happen. When I offered him the invitation for Guest of Honor during San Diego Comic-Con he told me that he had heard so many great things about San Diego Comic Fest. Our mutual friend Barbara Kesel was there at his booth and she had nothing but great things to say about her experience. So he gladly accepted and said he was looking forward to a weekend with friends. Now, this small intimate convention suddenly has an art god as its Guest of Honor.

Tim Midura: For Rays Cafe, may I suggest options like The Mozzarella Chronicles or Jason And The Argonachos?

Matt Dunford: Those are some superb choices and I wish I was a little more versed in their works to come up with that kind of wordplay. But the Ray Cafe is coming along nicely and I’m sure it will be favorite with attendees. In years past we have done the Kirby Cafe, Cafe Frankenstein and the Lunar Cafe which have very been big hits with the fans. It will provide a great opportunity to look at the creative works of Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen.

Tim Midura: What should Fest-goers expect this year?

Matt Dunford: Expect our best Special Guest lineup yet. You can expect industry giants like J. Michael Straczynski, Liam Sharp, Marv Wolfman, Jim Krueger, Wendy Pini and Richard Pini joining us. Expect some never before seen details about the life and career of Steve Ditko from his nephew Mark Ditko. You can also some Rat Fink fans because Trixie Roth, the widow of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth will be coming to speak on her husband’s legacy.

You can also expect Disney Legend Floyd Norman to be there to tell about his time working with Walt Disney. You might even see our good friend TJ Shevlin chatting up with Marv Wolfman on 40 Years of New Teen Titans. You might even hear some notable scientists talking to our science fiction guests about where science fiction meets science fact.

But most importantly, you can expect an unforgettable weekend. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone there on March 5-8, 2020. Grab your tickets now and take a look at the incredible list of Special Guests. I promise you a great time at San Diego Comic Fest.

Check out San Diego Comic Fest at their website, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

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