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SDCC ’22: Winners and Losers of Comic-Con

The Beat staff reflects on the mind-testing kaleidoscope of adventure that was the return of Comic-Con.

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Once again, before we consign Comic-Con of ’22 to the archives of memory. it’s time for The Beat staff’s unflinching take on the winners and losers of Comic-Con:  what worked and what didn’t, the (many) ups and (sobering) downs. It was a heck of a time. Contributors to this report: Ani Bundel, Therese Lacson, Heidi MacDonald, Victor van Scoit, Rebecca Oliver Kaplan, Kelas Lloyd, Taimur Dar, Johanna Draper Carlson, 

Winner: Apple+ – everyone was raving about the Severance activation, and Apple+ probably won the buzz war for offsite events – and there were a lot – among streaming services. (HM)

Doubling down on this to say that activation was one of the funnest I’ve ever been to and was run by the same company that did the Westworld activation years back [Editor’s note: we’re told this may not be the case – does anyone know who did do it?]. It’s worth the wait if the activation is exciting and dynamic, and that one is. (TL)

Loser: People waiting in line for the Severance activation – standbys stood in line for 8 hours in the hot sun – inhumane. (HM)

Winner: DC Comics – despite some limitations most notably the lack of any booth, the comics publisher still managed to make its presence known throughout SDCC. The free exclusive pins at each panel encouraged fans to attend DC panels in order to obtain each one. With the most Eisner nominations, DC scored big tying with Image for the most awards, in particular the Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons creative team. Phil Jimenez could barely hold back tears during his moving acceptance that hit home. (TD)

Loser: The CW – with so many shows canceled or coming to an end, the writing has been on the wall for some time for The CW. The lack of any presence for its DC Comics fare like Superman & Lois, The Flash, or Gotham Knights doesn’t bode well. Riverdale fans didn’t even get a chance for one final goodbye with the show’s 7th and final season as the planned Sunday Hall H panel was canceled at the last minute. (TD)

Winner: Hilton Bayfront employees. In a testament to the power of collective bargaining the Hilton Bayfront union workers of UNITE HERE Local 30 were able to work out a deal for better conditions ending a strike that had begun on Preview Night Wednesday. (TD)

Loser: Anti-Vaccine protesters – ‘nuff said… (TD)

Winner: D&D – after the tavern and panel even people who don’t play D&D were excited about the campy possibilities of the movie, and it was one of the most talked about activations with some really cool special effects. They landed their movie on a lot of people’s must-watch list (KL)

Loser: Netflix. I didn’t hear a single person saying the Gray Man Activation was worth it, nor did I hear any buzz about the movie. What I heard was that the platform had so much content (including First Kill, which got talked about at other panels) that it was just neglecting. It’s losing subscribers and could really have used something flashy to get back on peoples’ radars, but Netflix phoned it in and it showed with the lack of anything interesting on display or swag. Not to mention the extremely long wait with the very simplistic, lacking, and ableist activity. (KL)

Winner: Prism Comics. I will admit that I am 1000% biased as I work with Prism Comics, but we killed it this year. BIG thank you to all our panelists, guests, people who signed at our booth, and everyone who stopped by, and BIG congratulations to Lilah Sturges on her Inkpot Award. It’s well-deserved. She’s such an incredible talent. If you’d ever like to volunteer at a convention, Prism Comics is a great place to spend your con. Just find the rainbow colored masks on the floor! (ROK)

Loser: Pin & Merch Collectors. For the first time in SDCC’s history there were no free SDCC pins given out with badges and bags. Everyone who wanted one was driven to the signalless underground bunker in the Marquis where they hid the official merch. The shop was ill-prepared for the oversized line, which at times was so long, it stretched out of the ballroom and formed a 3+ hour wait. The manager tried his best, doing extra giveaways to people in line in exchange for playing an impromptu Named That Tune, but when I asked, he admitted he’s already made a list of ways to get more efficient for 2023. (AVB)

Winner: Star Trek Universe Panel. I have three winners this year technically (Comic-Con Museum, heyyyyyy, the Spider-Man exhibit and Hunger Heroes were amazing). I was not able to physically attend the Star Trek Universe panel, but I was able to fully enjoy it from the comfort of my quarantine thanks to the excellent coverage of the panel provided on social media via Paramount+, the official Star Trek Twitter feed, and the short videos provided by StarTrek.com editor Christine Dinh. There were also longer videos posted to the account and official webpages over the next couple days, in addition to numerous write-ups across non-official websites, I really didn’t feel like I missed out. With COVID safety for high risk individuals becoming less of a concern for people organizing large events, it’s important to make the content at these events more accessible to people who are unable to attend due to disability and chronic illness. Star Trek did a great job at that, Marvel did not. (ROK)

Loser: COVID-19 safety. Maybe it’s fine if you aren’t high risk. I am not here to comment on that. However, if you are high risk, SDCC is still not accessible. ALL PANELISTS NEED TO BE IN MASKS. Celebrities are just as susceptible to COVID as the rest of us, so companies need to guarantee that all panelists will be masked (it’s the best policy for panelists and attendees). Honestly, I have a whole lot of feels about this topic and I am still gathering my thoughts on ALL the COVID-19 exposure into a coherent article. But after spending a whole day in the ER, I must admit I am annoyed. To anyone who saw me though, the PCR test came back negative and I am just normal person-sick and chronic illness person-sick at the same time. WOO HOO? (ROK)

Winner: The FX Labyrinth. FX always knocks it out of the park with their activations and this year was no different. They had multiple photo opportunities throughout the labyrinth as well as a 360 camera set up within the Nadja’s nightclub. On top of all that, they were custom embroidering bucket hats and handing out swag. The line to this activation is always long but it is still highly impressive (TL).

Loser: Anyone who got COVID at/from the show. Following up Rebecca above, I came home sick, due to exposure at a party (which meant eating and drinking and thus no masks). Thankfully, none of my roommates (who attended the convention many more days) have turned up positive. It’s clear that this pandemic isn’t over, and that where people gather, there will be spread. It only takes one or two people more interested in seeing celebrities than staying in isolation when they test positive. (And that can’t even be trusted, as I tested negative on at-home tests two days into my illness.) It’s not safe yet to go back to conventions, but they’re going to go on anyway, as businesses depend on them and contracts are enforced. (JDC)

Winner: Stranger Things cosplay. Despite Netflix’s current woes, there’s no denying Stranger Things is still as popular as ever. Perhaps even more so. Back in 2019 after the third season debuted, Scoops Ahoy couples cosplayers were all over SDCC. Three years later and you’re still guaranteed to see some. However, Season 4’s breakout character Eddie Munson is the current hot cosplay. (TD)

Loser: Getting COVID clearance. As someone who got their orange wristband on Wednesday, I’m very grateful that I didn’t take that thing off. The line to get into the convention to get the wristband went from the Sails Pavilion to the Pedestrian bridge and snaked around twice. They needed to tell people sooner that there are multiple locations to get that wristband and be proactive about informing people when they’re inline. (TL)

Winner: The Entire San Diego Gaslamp District. After three years, business was back. Restaurants were hopping, bars were packed, and hotels were full. More than one Lyft driver told me how happy the area was to see one of the biggest weekends of business return. Moreover, with SDCC really pushing how many hotels it spreads across, it seemed like nowhere was too crowded at any one time. (AVB)

Loser: Eisner Awards. Diversity and stagnancy is still an issue. Among my biggest gripes is Best Letterer. The people who have won in past years do deserve it, but it’s time for a woman to win. I am not the first person to suggest this (and won’t be the last), but splitting the category into career letterers and cartoonists who do their own lettering would be a good place to start. Also, should flatters get awards? Maybe. I would be curious what creators think about this. (ROK)

Winner: Kevin Feige. Well, duh, but instead of holding off for D23 the MCU laid out stages 5 through 839 in one swell foop, and managed to leave not a dry eye in the house with the Wakanda Forever trailer. Excitement for this panel was beyond anything I’ve seen in Hall H for a long time, with (based on my informal check) more people sleeping out than in a long, long time. (HM)

Loser: MCU. Pageantry aside, Phase Four has been hit and miss, and no franchise can sustain interest quite this long, and growing revelations of sweatshop conditions where the VFX sausage is made is tarnishing the brand a bit. When I found myself questioning whether a Morbius and Wong show was a joke or not, it wasn’t just me being punchy from lack of sleep: the MCU is churning out a LOT of content, and the gruel is beginning to be stretched pretty thin. (HM)

Winner: The Run crew. Rep. John Lewis is gone but his son and the creative team of Run staged one more symbolic walk recreating Lewis’s historic march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. (HM)

Loser: Food. Okay, okay I know we’ve been through a pandemic and supply shortages, but a bunch of places I ate at in November when I was in SD for Special Edition were just not as good for SDCC. Was it just the hordes of people who descended? Blueberry shortages? An army marches on its stomach, y’all. (HM)

Winner: A hearty oatmeal breakfast. For the first time perhaps EVER, I never had to eat a convention center pretzel, cookie or hot dog in the throes of perishing hunger. Of course, this is because I was only in the convention center Wednesday and Sunday, but still a triumph. (HM)

 

Photo courtesy of The San Diego Comic-Con Unofficial Blog

Loser: Lord of the Rings badges. What in Fangorn was this supposed to be? A sword that looks like Barad-Dûr? Okay I get the Second Age symbolism, but the first day of the con I stood around with a bunch of designers, and everyone was thoroughly underwhelmed by this imagery that looked like a little black squiggle from anything more than one foot away. (HM)

Winner: COVID Verification – Required verification for wristbands took only a few minutes for those that read Comic-Con’s announcements sent out weeks ahead, with locations easy to find thanks to maps they provided. Volunteers at the absurdly long line in front of the convention center kept reminding con goers that verification was only a 10 minute wait two blocks away at the Omni. But few took the advice. (VVS)

Winner: Mask Mandate – The risks of COVID were still there, but con goers were setup to make an informed decision whether to attend or not. Comic-Con implemented way more than other pop culture events at that scale. I saw hardly any con goers wearing masks incorrectly. The exception being panelist not wearing masks during their panels. Quite a feat for a pop culture event of 100K+ people. (VVS)

Losers: Standby Lines – Those that didn’t snag reservations for offsites experiences were content to wait in standby lines. But it would have been a kindness to inform hopefuls how unlikely it was to get in with waits lasting 6-8 hours with still no entry. A slim chance was better than no chance for some I suppose. (VVS)

Loser: Ventilation – The Eisner’s post party is held in a ballroom with an adjacent balcony – which has been closed for a few years pre-pandemic. Surely they would open it in these times? But no – the doors were closed. I opened them up and tried to get people to go outside only to have someone (not a comics pro) complain that having the doors open was “letting in too much wind” – That is the point my friend! The hotel eventually closed all the doors again and I was left to wonder why – especially after the Hilton was the likely site of a lot of covid infections on Saturday nightl. Air flow is good for you! (HM)

Winner: D&D Tavern – This was the first offsite that ran like a theme park experience. They managed to give ~100 con goers an immersive tavern experience roughly every 30 minutes. This was the one standby line that had people waiting less than an hour. To run those levels of capacity while delivering on experience and fun was astounding. Other offsites might have had more attention because of detail and immersive elements. But none ran it as fast or streamlined as the tavern. Huzzah! (VVS)

Winners: Feng Shui in Room 2 – I’d only wanted a seat for a rest, but the Feng Shui panel presentation had all the con goers in the room engaged. A 10 minute presentation on how feng shui could affect story and space led to a lively Q&A for the rest of the hour. Con goers asked about designing out their geek spaces, and how to influence their stories with the techniques. This was the kind of engaged audience you’d expect from large fandoms like Marvel or Critical Role. It showed why we always need outside influences at Comic-Con. To inspire pop culture from other directions. I’ve noticed Room 2 always has interesting programming and this year was a return to form. (VVS)

Winner: Comic-Con. According to THR, After Absence, Comic-Con Regains Status as Key Studio Marketing Launchpad, because after staying in your house for two and a half years, you want to just bust out! While Comic-Con fell out of favor with studios because of the cost-to-benefit ratio over the last decade or so, after three years of not doing it at all, getting people to tweet about live events seems like the only way to break through the wall of doom-scrolling.

Without minimizing the reason many called this San Diego Covid Con, Zoom is out and in-person is in! I can’t tell you how many people I talked to who were just thrilled to be talking to friends and fans face-to-face again. After a three-year absence, EVERYONE seemed united in making this a return to the experience we all knew and loved. And while maybe I’ve got my rose-colored glasses on, I felt a singular kind of unity among all the tribes and factions of Comic-Con – the comics crowd, the media fans, the cosplayers, the Funko fanatics, the studio wonks. In a very meta sense, it is the synergy of all of these forces that makes this the Super Bowl/Wrestlemania/Met Gala of pop culture, and I think we all wanted each other to have a good time. And for the most part, we did. (HM)

6 COMMENTS

  1. Severance was CAMP, House of Dragons was Giant Spoon (who did Westwood with MYCOTOO), D&D was NVE with Meta For You!

  2. I’m impressed that there is a whole fandom of Con activations now with people following who does what. A LOT of talent goes into making them!

    James: 100% that is a real wounder, especially since the in memoriam section covered three years.

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