San Diego Comic-Con can be an inspiring, magical place or a hive of frustration and discontent, depending on your expectations going in. It’s been both for me over the years. I attended my first Comic-Con in ’97 or ’98 (I can’t remember exactly…)  At that time, it was a pretty big affair, but nothing like what it is now. Those were the good old days, when you could get a pass the day of, see any panel without waiting in line for days, walk the floor relatively unimpeded, and maybe even score a hotel room last minute. According to Wikipedia, attendance those years was a mere 42,000. By comparison, last year drew over 130,000. Ah, the simpler times…

Comic-Con 2004: Our very first Avatar panel drew a couple hundred people.

Comic-Con 2004: Our very first Avatar panel drew a couple hundred people. (From left to right): The moderator, Bryan Konietzko, Lauren MacMullan, Anthony Lioi, me, Dave Filoni, Giancarlo Volpe, Eric Coleman

In mentally preparing myself for this year’s con, I watched Morgan Spurlock’s Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, which is now streaming on Hulu. I remember hearing that he was shooting the doc at the 2010 SDCC, which was the first year we were there promoting Korra. It’s a great story about fans and creators that depicts a small, but from my experience accurate, portrayal of life at the con.

Last year, we had our first panel in Ballroom 20, which holds around 5,000 people.  Photo by Bryan, who was sitting next to me. Behind me are Joaquim Dos Santos, Janet Varney, David Faustino, PJ Byrne, Seychelle Gabriel, and Andrea Romano

Last year, we had our first panel in Ballroom 20, which holds around 5,000 people. Photo by Bryan, who was sitting next to me. To my right are Joaquim Dos Santos, Janet Varney, David Faustino, PJ Byrne, Seychelle Gabriel, and Andrea Romano

I have a love/hate relationship with Comic-Con, but watching this film made me appreciate what it has become and why it’s important to popular culture. Sure, it’s  more crowded and Hollywood-focused than it used to be. But through the people he followed, Spurlock showed how despite all that, it’s still a place where fans come to meet the creators of the things they love, express themselves through cosplay, and pursue their dreams as artists and future creators. The people interviewed in the film expressed how the Con was a place where they felt like they belonged. They didn’t feel weird or worry they’d be made fun of. They felt like they could really be themselves, which is a pretty beautiful thing.

Me and Bryan signing posters at Comic-Con 2004

Me and Bryan signing posters at Comic-Con 2004

It’s amazing to look back at that first SDCC I went to and where I am now. At the time, I never imagined being part of panels attended by thousands of people, or sitting at a booth where hundreds line up to get my autograph and picture. The thing is, I’ve never sought attention like that. Historically, I’ve pretty much tried to avoid being noticed. Part of that was from being self-conscious and fearing what others would think of me. The other part was from being an introvert. But that’s the amazing thing about Comic-Con, it can bring out the extrovert in all of us introverts (who I’m guessing make up 99% of the attendees.)

Susan Cain wrote a great book about introverts called Quiet. (She also did a TEDtalk about it.) I highly recommend it for all you introverts out there. Two big takeaways for me:

1. We live in a society that worships and rewards extroverts, despite the fact that many of the great innovations and creative leaps in the world were made by introverts.

2. We are born with certain personality traits, but we aren’t bound by them.  Cain writes, “Introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly.”

Me and Bryan in an early interview at the Nickelodeon booth

Me and Bryan in an early interview at the Nickelodeon booth, before we became the media-savvy guys we are now.

That’s why, at an event like Comic-Con, where thousands of eyes are on me, I’m able to overcome my natural shyness and become extroverted for a while. I love Korra and the world I’ve helped create and I’m passionate about sharing it with others and meeting  fans of the show. It’s an exhausting event for sure, but always rewarding, especially when a fan shares his or her personal story about how Avatar has touched their life in some meaningful way.

Amon and Beifong cosplayers pose for Bryan

Amon and Beifong cosplayers pose for Bryan — Comic-Con 2012

I’m looking forward to this year’s Con more than any other. Book 2 is coming together beautifully and I can’t wait to finally share some of what we’ve been up to since last year. Hope to see you there!

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