8 recommendations to bring back the magic of Comic-Con

 9 JULY 2023

I'll post on Saturday and Sunday panels later tonight. For now, I want to talk ideas to put the rainforests and exotic animals back in our currently barren desert of a Comic-Con landscape.

And yes, it's a little audacious to tell Netflix and CCI and Marvel and others what to do. But we're their paying customers! If they genuinely care about staying successful, they should want to hear our feedback. 

So here goes, based on my thoughts and my conversations with current and former attendees this weekend.

#1. No more virtual anything

Zoom panels are crap. They really are. We can stay home and see that on YouTube. We bought badges and plane tickets and hotel rooms so we could be there in person. If you think we're going to do all that and wait in line for your panel only to get a talking head on a screen, you've lost touch with what makes SDCC so compelling.

#2. Make exclusives actually exclusive, actually interesting, and available on the show floor. 

When I see "available at Funko and Target. com on July 21," it stops being an exclusive to me. It's something anyone can order and frankly, I probably will order it from Target and get it shipped so it's one less thing to bother with at the Con. 

Also - pre-orders at booths are a let-down. This is like coming downstairs on Christmas morning and opening up an empty box. I know it's easier on vendors not to bring a bunch of merchandise in and then ship it back, but I'm so over falling in love with something and being told to fill out a pre-order card. Going home empty-handed feels wrong.

#3. Come up with better events

I understand that elaborate offsites like the glorious Blade Runner site a few years back can be $$$$. So come up with something lower-cost and just as interesting. This is where NYCC gets it right, in my opinion - well, they used to, at least. They would have events around the city from poetry readings to live art shows to comics discussions to cosplay contents to drinks with authors and more, often with a few writers or actors or artists sprinkled in, that just felt more intimate and enthralling than what's on tap at SDCC. 

Yes, SDCC does a little of this, but mostly it seems to be big splashy parties that sell pricey tickets for an experience you could basically get at a club in your home city.

#4. Bring back good comic talent. 

I'll hedge this one slightly because there are some quality faces showing up every year - but it's not what it used to be. I and other comic book geeks (and yes, we're still buying badges) feel that absence. First certain booths and artists went away, with some telling me they just couldn't make the money at SDCC to justify coming. Then even the panels with today's top comic talent started dropping off the schedule. Sadly, I think this is my most unrealistic suggestion. 

#5. Start an annual fundraiser or party at the Comic-Con Museum. 

I don't understand why they aren't using the museum more as an offsite. I mean, it's there, and I'll probably go on Wednesday, but they should be having an annual fundraiser with multiple celebrity guests and giveaways. People are already paying $150-300 for certain events - they will shell out for a fundraiser. This could easily become a huge draw on Wednesday or Thursday night.

#6. Work with fandom clubs to create offsites and events. 

I suspect this will evolve naturally after this year, because space rental prices will come down and scrappy attendees will spot the opportunity. Here's the difference between studios and attendees: the former is motivated by money, the latter is motivated by passion. That means attendees are willing to go the extra mile to conceive, organize, and promote events and get-togethers. We already hold cosplay photo ops and contests, Battlestar Galactica happy hours and other events dedicated to meeting the fellow fans of even obscure favorites. I think attendees will take this to the next level on their own because most SDCC attendees are veterans who understand the city venues and rhythms, and the more driven will create more elaborate parties and meetups to make the Con feel special again. 

I know CCI was open to these collaborations already on a small level, but I would like to see more crowd-sourcing that gives attendees a bigger voice in official programming. We're brimming with energy and innovation; use us! Just as anyone can submit a panel, they should be able to submit an event proposal with the understanding that they'll be carrying most of the load.

#7. Decide earlier whether to have an SDCC presence, then announce it and stick to it.

No matter what strikes or sinking economy or cancelled series are happening. I get that coming to SDCC can be expensive but there are ways to cut costs without skipping the Con entirely. I think this somewhat reflects the new mindset we see in cancelling series quickly, removing old series from streaming platforms, and hiring CEOs whose decisions irritate everyone.

Studios need to decide on a presence months before the Con and find ways to make it worthwhile even if they don't have anything big and splashy to promote. Someone like Netflix or Marvel or DC or HBO or Amazon Prime has many assets in their stable. It really doesn't have to be a big loss for them. 

#8. Understand that fan passion and loyalty are immensely valuable even when that value is difficult to quantify.

We all get it - the bottom line is the bottom line - but I think we also all sense a creative chill in the air where fans and followings and the magic of Hollywood are simply ignored in business decisions. I'm a writer (not a screenwriter - obviously) who is increasingly hearing clients ignore the low quality of ChatGPT writing. They are willing to sacrifice originality and settle for mediocrity because the people who could make them understand the value of originality are no longer in the room. We've all seen this trend growing for years - the focus on reboots and copycats, the unwillingness to invest in fresh ideas and stories, the hiring of creatives based on their social followings, the checklist approach to plots and characters - but it's going to get more dire before it gets better. 

Again, I think this will partly be solved by the rise of indie creators. Dinosaur studios will produce stale content that goes ignored and they won't understand why; some studios will invest in a few whipsmart fresh series and stories that perform well; indie creators will work outside the system, create something ragingly popular, and become the titans of tomorrow.

Okay, I have strayed far from the concept of making SDCC great again. But I think you get how it all comes together. I want to make it clear I don't really blame CCI for most of this; I actually have empathy for them and recognize the market factors assailing them. 

But I also recognize that innovation isn't CCI's strong point. They tend to stick with the way they've always done things, instead of being adaptive and responsive and open to outside ideas. So we'll just have to see what next year brings and who is wily and ingenious enough to seize the SDCC throne and fill the vacuum of 2023.

What changes do you want to see next year? How would you reinvigorate San Diego Comic-Con?

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