Here’s my final analysis of what we learned, what it says and what really matters! Here is the one thing you need to read about Comic-Con 2018! Here is a very late piece that no one will care about. But I wrote it anyway.
1:.Always, always bring trail mix. You would think as a veteran I would have known this, but even a grizzled road warrior can still mess up. Neglecting a simple 30 minute trip to Trader Joes, thinking “Oh I’ll go to Ralphs,” was a terrible mistake. Without simple nutrition at hand I was often forced to subsist on convention center pretzels, and other doughy fried crap. I wasn’t alone – those pretzels seem to have kept a lot of people going – but it was not optimal for energy or fitting into clothes. I did eventually learn that there is one secret Starbucks that served Nitro Cold Brew ON TAP as well as yogurt parfaits and it never had a line, either. I will never reveal where it is. The açai bowls at Lani Coffee on 1st were also life affirming.
2. The con continues to shrink to a normal size. The general impression I have is of a pot that boiled over for a few years, but someone came and turned the heat down. The soup is now simmering at a nice bubble. Fewer parties, fewer lines, fewer massive movie previews. Maybe it will all boil over again in a few years, but with studio consolidation there’s less reason to go whole hog.
I know everyone is saying the show floor wasn’t as crowded this year, but as someone who had to keep jaunting from Hall B to the press room over Hall H, it seemed just as hectic as ever. While the exclusive/autograph lottery meant some people didn’t have to line up, there were still plenty of line ups at various booths, sometimes for authors, sometimes even cartoonists. What did the people who weren’t sleeping out do, then? I’m not sure. The anecdotal evidence I’ve heard is that sales at booths were strong everywhere, so maybe they were shopping elsewhere? Or maybe the Funko Flunkies were just milling around on someone else’s lawn. Every time I cut through the Marriott lobby, it was as hectic as could be.
The need for a badge to walk in front of the convention center cut down on the spectacular cosplay displays of years past. It seems a lot of those folks didn’t have badges and just came to parade around, but no more. Cosplay in general has declined inside SDCC since its so hard to get a badge now, but such is the nature of change.
Still, there was no denying that there wasn’t as much frantic activity as in past years. It sounded glib to say the absence of HBO and Marvel would have a huge effect, but it did lower the overall excitement level. I’ve noted before that with Game of Thrones and Walking Dead sunsetting, we’re losing the two biggest fan franchises in nerddom, and I’m not sure what will replace them. My pick would be Riverdale, but it doesn’t seem to have the same momentum, maybe because of its largely teen appeal. Stranger Things was also missing, but I think that will burn out comparatively quickly as the kids age into awkward teens.
Of course, something will come from left field to grab us by the throats and pocketbooks, but the overwhelming number of TV shows on has left everyone a little glazed. The Arrowverse is aging, and Marvel has a bunch of shows on including The Gifted, Cloak and Dagger, The Runaways and Legion, none of which have caught fire. In fact I had to Google to remember them all.
3. It was easy to get into Hall H. Many people remarked that you could walk in most days and times. On my traditional Friday night walk to the Bayfront for the Eisners, the lines of campers were far shorter, and chatting with a few random folks, they agreed that there were fewer overnight sleepers. Also one woman confessed she wasn’t actually camping out – she was just waiting for the wristbands to be handed out and then she was coming back in the morning. A lot more folks seem to be doing this. When and if Marvel returns, however, everyone will be stopping off at Modell’s for their camping gear again.
As for that if: Disney’s own biennial fanfest, D23, is coming back next year, but this time it will be a month after Comic-Con, August 23–25 2019. Last time it was the weekend before SDCC, and Kevin Feige debuted Infinity Wars footage, which was later shown at the Marvel Hall H panel. It’s hard to imagine that Marvel would save the major Phase 4 reveal for D23 without first making a triumphant return to Hall H, Thanos vanquished and the time stream corrected. But you can bet they will save something.
And of course all the Fox Marvel projects will now be Hall H-ified. So yeah, get that inflatable hammock patched up!
4. Marvel and DC are headed for some changes. With both Disney and Warner Bros. undergoing huge corporate upheaval – Disney buying Fox, and WB coming under AT&T – it was hard to miss some signs. Marvel – well, the X-Men are getting big again! Whether the Mutants can ever regain their once vast popularity given their convoluted backstory – one that has a podcast 207 episodes strong and counting just to explain it – is open to question but at least they don’t have to compete with the Inhumans any more. DC’s situation seems even more tenuous, with the Phone People already throwing their weight around at HBO. DC Universe seems to be an early attempt to get more streaming content, and at the launch event Jim Lee was candid about this being an idea that came directly from WB head Kevin Tsujihara.
The dark tone and cheesy looks of the Titans trailer weren’t exactly a hit, though. Coming a week before the opening of the Teen Titans Go! movie, the change in tone was even more notable. (Also, has fan outrage over TTG ever been identified as part of the start of our current toxic fandom fixation?) The ongoing grimdark of DC’s efforts was highlighted by the Harley Quinn’s Chaos Room, part of the big DC UNiverse attraction. The Silence of the Lambs-esque video above that shows your humble reporter bashing blood soaked bedding with a baseball bat isn’t nearly as disturbing to watch as it was to experience, with the added soundtrack of “Cherry Bomb” in the headphones.
Speaking of this activation, you can see my plastic baseball bat bending a bit and three of them broke during the preview night alone. In fact I saw one of the activation designers holding up the broken bat to another with an “I told you so” look on his face. I have no idea how this area even survived over the next four days.
Swamp Thing was very cool, though, a misty swamp with lurking dangers. Some quality world building there. But see item 7.
Whatever AT&T thinks, perhaps they need to get one thing straight: there is only one Kevin Feige. All these attempts at shared universes at other studios have crumbled quickly, none worse than the DCEU. Far from being just a guy who does an ordinary task well, Feige is a unique visionary who does what no one else can.
5. The Masquerade is crazy! I attended the SDCC masquerade for the first time ever! Only for 10 minutes but WOW. Basically after the Prism Awards I went by Ballroom 20 saw it was starting and there were seats and…I ventured in.
I talked about what I saw at length in Episode Three of “Five Women in a Hotel Room” but if you don’t want to listen, basically, this atavistic throwback to the earliest days of fandom is a combination of an ancient ritual and an episode of “So You Think You Can Dance.” Like many things at Comic-Con, it’s been running for a long time and it has its own little quirks that I couldn’t even figure out. Hosts Phil and Kaja Foglio archly begged the crowd not to disrupt the event, but that was just an ironic dog whistle for the whole crowd to give some kind of chant every time a new contestant came out. I have no idea what that was, so if someone can explain in the comments I’d be so grateful. Also, the costumes were, of course, stunning, accompanied by dancing and lip syncing and fooferaw. Mind. Blown.
6. The Eisner Awards finally reflected contemporary comics culture. Much has been said about the number of women and people of color who won Eisners and I can only say, about time. As it’s also been pointed out, they beat out some of the traditional favorites who are always on the ballot. Taneka Stotts‘ win for Best Anthology for Elements: Fire, a book entirely by creators of color, was the occasion for a fiery speech that ended (paraphrasing) “You told us to do it ourselves and so we are.” The complete domination by Monstress and My Favorite Thing is Monsters, with a pit stop for queer tyro Tillie Walden, was oh so welcome. Despite all the battles over diversity in comics, and the endless background noise from bigots and reactionaries, these Eisners were a much-needed reminder that the future is happening and it’s inclusive and varied as hell.
7. Always talk to your Lyft driver. In LA for a few days of R&R, meetings and work, I had a long Lyft ride from NoHo to WeHo. Since you can’t shut up Lyft drivers, I chatted with the young white woman as she honked her horn and complained about other drivers. Eventually I mentioned that I had been to Comic-Con. She said she always wanted to go. I asked her what she was a fan of and it was mostly movies – Star Wars, DC.
“I’ve tried to get into the comics,” she told me. “But they’re too short. They don’t have enough story and I couldn’t get into them. I wish they published more…anthologies.”
“Well, they have collections,” I said, mildly. “You can get them in stores or on Amazon.”
This idea didn’t interest her much. “Maybe.”
I then mentioned that maybe something she’d like was DC Universe. “It’s only $7 a month and they have a lot of digital comics you can read.”
“That’s good, but the whole DC Universe thing is a dumb idea. I’m not going to subscribe to a whole service just to get a few shows! They really didn’t think that one through.”
Some marketing needs to be done here, I think.
9. Activations will continue to be huge. There were many winners and losers among the activations – I heard nothing good about “The Experience” in the PetCo parking lot – but Amazon spent a fortune on the Jack Ryan attraction which took up the space that had been THREE activations the year before. I think the exclusives will become a little less of a draw for attendees now that its random, but people will continue to come to stand in line for these Brigadoon events. For marketing, he steady four-day promotion of tweets and news stories is far better than a Hall H presentation that can only be seen by 6000 people.
10. It’s important to try new things at Comic-Con. I had a lot of conversations about rituals at the con. So many people have things they do every year, a lunch tradition or an annual dinner. I myself have so many regular things I do that now I have no time to try anything new. My 10 minute peek into the Masquerade was a thrilling deviation from plan, as was going to the Line WebTOON bash on Thursday instead of my traditional CBLDF party. I missed the CBLDF bash, which is one of the great nights of con, but at a different rooftop it was a different and spectacular view.
All of these rituals made me think about how for the 50th anniversary show next year I need to try to mix things up. SDCC has reached its final form for now – even arriving at the airport on Tuesday to the traditional Conan O’Brien signage made me think how he’s already been doing this for half a decade and it’s become something you expect, not the new thing. I’ve been having dinner with the same people the Sunday of con for more than 20 years, and while that is the one tradition I won’t change, I also missed out on so many people I wanted to see by getting caught up in press events. It’s important to keep the old ways, but make some new old ways too.
11. San Diego Comic-Con is still the most surreal, supernal adventure. I’ve remarked before that you can have two peak life experiences in an hour at Comic-Con, and you pack a year’s worth of encounters into a five day period. There’s no time to process it in the moment, just to survive it all and hope you don’t fuck up too badly. It’s addictive, the highest quality drug. This was my second year consecutive year in the front row of Hall H for the WB presentation and the impact of seeing Chris Pratt and Gal Gadot walking in front of you is hard to overstate. One of my traditions, walking to the Bayfront along the harbor route on Friday night always gives a peak Comic-Con moment as people are loading onto yacht parties and sleeping out in smelly tents, beneath the neon glare of the Adult Swim carnival. This year I was rewarded with an added blaring video of Winston Duke from the IMDB boat. How does such a place even exist? It’s all you can imagine and it’s suddenly real. It never gets old.
12. Never, Ever Take Lyft/Uber from JFK. It’s a clusterfuck. Coming home, apparently a lot of flights were delayed by weather and it was worse than usual but it took 40 hellish minutes and many cancellations for my Lyft to arrive, and even then it was a new driver who got lost in a graveyard on the way to Manhattan. I thought I had too much luggage to take the Airtrain but I should have just soldiered on.
1. Always pack trail mix. Always.
A few more photos and we’re OUT!
The Elite Beat Writing Squad on Wednesday night, perky and alert. How their mettle would be tested in days to come.
Megan Kearny and Hope Nicholson display floral splendor at the Comixology press event.
All those people leave a lot of trash.
Ape shall not harm Ape!
PS: big props to Frank Tieri for always being a good sport about making jokes like this. ALSO, the Shag booth was pretty cool. I picked up a set of exclusive prints for a pal and got to experience the FedEx shipping station first hand. It took a long time but quality service. Recommended!
A unique view of Tim Pilcher and Dave Gibbons signing.
When I said that Godzilla trailer made me cry, I’m not kidding, tears were streaming down my face.
Sorry for the water bottle view. There are other better pictures of this amazing Trina Robbins, Joye Murchison Kelly, Mark Evanier panel but this is MY photo.
The MINE! anthology signing with Barbara Kessel, Maia Kobabe, TK, Joe Corallo, Cecil Castelucci and TK. Fill in those TKs in the comments, folks.
What is even happening here?
I had a nice chat with Mike Kingston of Headlocked Comics while Jerry Lawler was signing, and I showed them my broken shoe, because goddammit, I want to be able to say Jerry Lawler looked at my broken shoe. That is what Comic-Con is for.
Tron-Face. It’s what’s happening.
With that I bid you a good day. Thanks to the Elite Beat Squad, in particular Todd Allen, Alex Lu. Hannah Lodge., Kyle Pinion, AJ Frost, Joe Grunenwald and Torsten Adair for all their hard work in front and behind the scenes. And to the rest of the crew, you are amazing. Special thanks to Nick Eskey. And to Brigid Alverson and Deb Aoki for being my con mates and boon companions for a few days. And also, don’t forget the trail mix.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.