24 JULY 2022
Last Comic-Con, I wrote a post on SDCC aggression that not everyone agreed with. This year, I met several people who remarked on the changes in SDCC culture and felt that this year had returned to a more mellow vibe. I felt the same way for the most part. There were a few ruthless acts here and there. Our line friend Natalie was in a non-motorized wheelchair and found herself getting outpaced by the motorized ones, who zoomed ahead of her, and when her underage daughter tried to hold her spot while Natalie caught up, the daughter was shouted at and told to move by an older woman who promptly took that spot. Things like that happened. But on the whole - I felt like people were laidback and feeling euphoric to be together again. What seemed like a slightly more spacious Exhibit Hall may have given us all some breathing room.
I naively hoped that the missing presence of some studios would mean maybe a stronger focus on comics. That didn't happen, not really. And comics panels I went to were a third full at best. In fact, I made a rather depressing list of the booths, panels, and creators I used to regularly see at SDCC and realized hardly any were still there. Same with many former friends who used to go. I think this is why this aspect of the Con felt hollow to me.
Inside the Con, everyone was masked - well, mostly - but outside was a mixed bag. I was relieved not to hear a sea of coughing inside the convention center, which is how my airport gate sounded on the way home. At the same time, I didn't see much signage about precautions. People seem pretty over the pandemic in general.
The Exhibit Hall
As expected. Not a whole lot of surprises, in my book. Every year it gets harder to find unique items - that feeling of hunting down rare discoveries has given way to walking through a vaguely nerdy flea market full of plushies and shirts and blind bag toys. Of course, on the flight home, the girl next to me had a really cute bag which she got in Artist's Alley from someone I didn't see, despite doing the complete floor 4 times. My discovery powers have waned.
One of the biggest issues I heard of was the lack of carpet. I never noticed there was carpet, but attendees far more observant than myself noticed and said the hard floor made their feet sore. Why was the carpet removed? I know the convention center sheltered homeless people early in the pandemic, so perhaps that was a factor.
One of the positive changes noted by veteran attendees - cooler temperatures and better smells. There were still a few dodgy places on the floor that smelled like a garbage truck capsized in a Florida swamp, but on the whole, the Exhibit Hall was a more pleasant place this year. It was significantly easier to move around, especially after 5 pm.
I saw some great cosplay - but less of it. Did the mask mandates annoy serious cosplayers? Did they feel it wasn't worth their while? Or do people just not have the funds to pull together a truly stunning display?
Signings, Exclusives, Photo Ops
Relying on reports here: while there were a few snafus and cancellations, most everyone I knew who was chasing down an autograph or photo got it. Exclusives were a different story; I talked to someone who was so angry over Mattel and being in a line that went nowhere that they swore they'd never come back to SDCC.
One recurring observation: that people (creators, authors, performers) were charging a lot. I think we can all figure out why, so possibly we should have expected this, but attendees still came away with a bitter taste in their mouths in some cases.
I thought SDCC programming did a good job of bringing variety. I'd say the best panels I went to were Thursday night - a future-focused panel of female scientists and the following panel which was a mock trial trying the mayor of Jaws. I wanted to attend the NASA panel on the Webb telescope and a few others that didn't work with my schedule, but I wasn't all that chagrined.
Attendees reported being surprised at how easily they could move between back-to-back panels, even those in big rooms. One said that Ballroom 20 remained fairly easy to walk into or at least wait only a short time for and that Friday in Indigo Ballroom - which usually sees a lot of all-day stays - wasn't as bad as expected. What was bad: standing in line for The Rookie panel, only to find out it was just a Zoom conference. Not the same, CCI! Going forward, it needs to be clear when a panel is virtual.
I tend to go to smaller panels, which makes me a poor reporter for the big panels people care most about. Because I did see all of Saturday's Hall H panels up to Marvel, I can report that it was all business as usual. There were cute stunts, like making us sing Happy Birthday to Paul Wesley on the Star Trek panel and bringing him a Captain Kirk birthday cake, and The Rock appeared for his Black Adam panel in thunder and dry ice. (He also gave us all free IMAX passes.)
The biggest snoozer - House of Dragons. The whole panel seemed half-asleep, including Matt Smith. You know things are grim when George RR Martin is the liveliest panel member. All in all, I can't believe a GOT spinoff with "Dragons" in the title could be this boring but there it is. The dragon in the Dungeons and Dragons offsite was more captivating.
I heard lots of complaints that certain actors weren't there. That's not my priority so I can't comment, but attendees did seem to feel a bit cheated - and I noticed a drop in the number of "late night drunken celebrity encounters in the Gaslamp" genre of photos and stories that normally land on my phone between 2 am and 4 am.
New category for 2022. Here I refer to the many people who did not attend this year, who told me the Con would be dull or a hotbed of infection or have no nightlife - yet wound up tracking down the most granular details of offsite lines and Mattel scandals and texting me with questions and rumors. Did you know these people too? Did they blow up your phone, demanding details about every panel and announcement? Hopefully they go next year because their regret and yearning was clear.
The Saturday Hall H Line
This year was my first willing descent into Hell H in years. While I originally planned on doing the regular line, come what may, what ensued Friday night convinced me I would have bailed and gone back to my room. I'm just not hardcore enough like you fine people. However, one of my friends had an accident Preview Night that put her in ADA, and other friends dropped out of our Hall H line plan, and things shifted so that we wound up with a small group of ADA and attendants.
This was my first ADA line ever. Friends had previously complained about it but now I experienced it firsthand: placing disabled people to sit out in the sun with no cover on hard cement for an entire day - and then hardly any of them got in. Kevin, our line coordinator, was impressively efficient and we all became big Kevin fans by noon - but I don't understand why they couldn't just tell everyone waiting past a certain chute that there weren't enough wristbands, that the line was capped. That's really the cardinal sin of SDCC: wasting people's time. We all know we won't get into every panel we want to see. But at least give people clear information so they can leave and spend their time elsewhere. Also - since CCI repeatedly makes disabled people sit in the same blazing hot location year after year, maybe they could invest in some canopies or tents? Or just find another location that's more comfortable for people with bad backs, arthritis, neuroskeletal and mobility issues?
As for the regular line - I heard about it but wasn't in the thick of it. People kept messaging me their updates, with their initial confidence turning to rage, then confusion, then bitterness and defeat. We knew Saturday was going to be the hot ticket. We knew CCI probably wouldn't take enough steps to manage it. And that people would form their own lines before the official line was formed, which led to mayhem when the different lines were told to combine.
But the actual experience was still deeply upsetting for even cynical attendees. I heard of volunteers fighting with each other and Security giving up and then various officials coming out to discuss it but in the end, it was the same as it ever was. People blamed CCI, blamed the different groups that get organized in Discord and Reddit and elsewhere, and blamed the entire system. I still don't know the answer. I do know this was probably my last Hall H visit for a while.
Note: the above applies to Saturday's line. Other days were much more reasonable, even easy in some cases.
Trailers and Buzz
Here are the winners that emerged with the strongest buzz:
The Lord of Rings: Rings of Power - Even non-Middle Earth fans seemed to come away hyped about this. Oh, and did you know that female dwarves will have facial hair? This seemed like the one soundbite to rule them all.
Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves delighted everyone I know who saw it.
Marvel - Black Panther: Wakanda Forever walked away with the trophy here, but there's also a lot of excitement about Marvel animation, including the Groot series, Marvel Zombies, Spider-Man: Freshman Year, and X-Men '97. Yes to all of that.
On the animation front, Little Demon seems like it will live up to the promise of Aubrey Plaza and Danny DeVito.
Sandman was my motive for enduring Hall H. I didn't come away with strong feelings. I think the show will hold my interest, but I don't expect it to reflect the cerebral, sometimes melancholy, nature of the comic. The trailer music probably threw me off as it was very generic "fantasy action hero fights bad guy" - well, that and Dream looking like a young Robert Smith from the Cure.
The Star Trek panel surprised Hall H by announcing a crossover between Strange New Worlds and Lower Decks, with the animated characters appearing in live action. I don't think Hall H gave them as robust a reaction as they expected, but I believe Star Trek fans are pleased by this news.
I found the trailer iffy, and I'm not feeling Claudia, but Interview with the Vampire seems to have intrigued many people.
She-Hulk has got many people jazzed, and I think we can all agree that's due to the uber-talented Tatiana Maslany.
Finally, John Wick 4 and Shazam both seemed to incite a strong audience response. I think the pandemic - and general grimness of world affairs - has people craving both light-hearted, even goofy, entertainment right now and franchises with beloved stars.
And now it's time to put this Con to bed. Like our last Returning Registration badge sale - held 3 years ago! - Ret Reg will be held in the fall, probably September or October. That's not far away at all.
I hope you had a good time; I hope you attended every screening, party and panel you wanted; I hope you returned home with that same mix of satiation and restlessness that leaves you anticipating the next Con, the next time, when even more Comic-Con adventures open up for you. See you next year - but hopefully sooner.