Palisadians Celebrate 50th Anniversary of San Diego Comic-Con

Marvel Studios Chief Feige, “Simpsons” Cartoonist Groening Among Local Attendees

By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer

With over 130,000 people attending each year, San Diego Comic-Con is no stranger to entertainment figures with Pacific Palisades ties.

In recent years, Palisades residents Steven Spielberg, Hilary Swank, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon have appeared at the iconic “Nerd Mardi Gras” to promote a project.

This year, the venerable four-day pop culture convention turned 50, and Comic-Con—which grew out of the comic book community’s humble El Cortez Hotel event and now unfurls at the massive San Diego Convention Center—celebrated its half-century mark alongside the Apollo 11 moon landing. (At least one cosplayer referenced Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin’s historic July 21, 1969, feat.)

At high noon on July 21, Santa Monica Canyon resident Matt Groening celebrated a different kind of historic landmark: 30 years of the animated comedy “The Simpsons” as television’s longest-running prime time TV show still in production.

Costumes abound at the 2019 Comic-Con
Photos courtesy of Michael Aushenker

Equally historic—upcoming season 30 will be its first under Walt Disney Company’s auspices since the Burbank studio absorbed 20th Century Fox in March.

At the panel, Groening, alongside “Simpsons” director Mike B. Anderson, married writers Al Jean and Stephanie Gillis, and voice actress Yeardley Smith (“Lisa Simpson”), previewed the upcoming season of America’s first family of dysfunction.

Groening also dispensed advice to aspiring artists and writers, whether they are working on a novel, comic book or graphics, warning them not to be perfectionists in their success quest.

“The world is filled with drawers full of half-finished projects,” the cartoonist said, urging would-be creatives to complete whatever they’re working on.

Groening has for years been attending Comic-Con, where he could be found posing for pictures with fans of his creations, “The Simpsons” and “Futurama,” at the Bongo Comics booth. However, since last year dissolving his publishing arm, which for decades fed comics based on both animated cartoons to newsstands, Groening has replaced it with Bapper Books (which he debuted at Comic-Con), now devoted to comics based on his latest, the Netflix cartoon “Disenchanted,” a goof on Tolkien-esque Medieval fantasy.

July 21 also saw Comic-Con 2019 pay tribute to Palisadians of yesteryear. The late Rod Serling wrote the scripts for his classic sci-fi series “The Twilight Zone” from his Riviera home.

However, it was his other show, “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery,” that also got the 50-year-mark tribute, in a panel led by Tom Wright, the artist who created the show’s paintings and now directs episodes of “NCIS” and “Supernatural.”

On the night of July 18, the apex of the convention week, actor Jonathan Mankuta, who starred in SyFy channel’s “Hollywood Treasure” and last year appeared on “Veep,” was spotted at the Entertainment Weekly party, hosted by Hard Rock Café alongside Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige.

Both Mankuta and Feige are longtime Palisadians. Feige, of course, is the mastermind behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which—since the 2009 purchase of Marvel Studios by Walt Disney Co. for $4 billion—has grown the highest-grossing franchise of all time in excess of $25 billion.

As Mankuta duly noted, “‘Avengers: Endgame’ just surpassed ‘Avatar’ as the highest grossing film ever produced.”

Feige and Mankuta

Mankuta told the Palisadian-Post that he loves attending parties during Comic-Con.

“It gives people in the entertainment biz a chance to geek out on each other’s work and network in a casual fun setting,” he said.

Mankuta, a Comic-Con badge-holder since 1993, has amassed a substantial portfolio of original comic book art.

“It always ends up being the greatest week of my year,” he shared. “If I can add even just one cool piece of original comic art from my want list to my collection each year, the battle through the mob of heavy crowds was well worth the trip.”

Mankuta half-joked that he blanked on conveying an important message to Feige, who practically broke the internet announcing MCU’s phase four (to include “Captain Marvel” and “Dr. Strange” sequels, as well as a “Blade” reboot).

“I totally forgot to ask him to give me work on one of them,” Mankuta said. “Oh, no … Kevin call me, ‘Veep’ is now over, and I need the work.”