When people ask me what I love about San Diego Comic-Con I tell them two things. First, SDCC is the Iowa Caucuses of popular culture. This is where the most passionate fans get a chance to learn about, experience, and sometimes interact with their favorites in movies, television, games, collectibles, and of course comics. It’s in no way limited to comics and comics-based entertainment, though. Anything with an element of science-fiction or fantasy is there and a lot that is just plain old fun. And it’s refreshingly judgment-free. If we’re both into “Pokemon” or “Game of Thrones” or “Clone Wars,” great! If I’m into Silver Age Comics and you’re into “Battlestar Galactica,” also great! There are events people wait in line for days to see in the cavernous Hall H, with the biggest Hollywood stars. And there are panels I love with the behind-the-scenes people like location scouts, costume designers, production designers, and voice talents from animated series. (One of the biggest cheers I ever heard at SDCC was for Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob.) Panels topics include underground comix, MAD Magazine, “Archie,” steampunk, and sometimes feature academics presenting their research on the world of comics and Comic-Con itself.
Second is the most important rule I have learned about the best way to enjoy SDCC. You will never see more than a small fraction of all there is and it’s just about guaranteed that you won’t make it to something you and many, many other people want to see. When that happens, here is what you do: go to the room next door. Or any nearby room with space available. Every year, doing that turns out to provide some of the Con’s most surprising and memorable moments.
Plus of course there’s the pure pleasure of just walking around, looking at all the displays and costumes, and spotting performers and creatives either on panels or sometimes just hanging out. I was once going down an escalator when I saw on the up escalator next to me most of the cast of “The Hobbit,” including Benedict Cumberbatch, Andy Serkis, and Cate Blanchett. “Look over there!” I said quietly to my husband, pointing to a man crossing the street a few yards away. “Why, who is he?” “Uh, look at your badge.” All the badges last year featured “The Walking Dead,” and ours had pictures of Norman Reedus. And one time, a guy wearing a Mexican wrestler mask asking about Bernie Wrightson art at a booth turned out to be none other than Guillermo del Toro.
A highlight every year is the Masquerade (the costume competition). One year a couple perfectly re-enacted the battle between Rey and Kylo Ren in “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens,” every detail of their costumes and lightsaber thrusts exactly like the movie. And then, he dropped to one knee, pulled a ring out of his pocket, and proposed to her. 6,000 fans stood up and cheered.
SDCC also always has the latest technology. Long before they were commercially available, I saw a 3D printer that made action figures of Predator to order, holding a replica of each purchaser’s head.
So, what is SDCC going to be like without all of those unreproducible in-person experiences? The good news is that you can find out for yourself. Everything is free and almost everything is open to everyone. Cosplay optional. Take a look at the schedule. There is something for everyone, including:
- Henry Winkler and children’s book veteran Lin Oliver discuss their New York Times-bestselling book Alien Superstar and its forthcoming sequel, Lights, Camera, Danger: Alien Superstar 2
- J. D. Lombardi (host/producer, YouTube’s Lombardi Labs and middle-school science teacher, Glendale Unified) along with Justin Montgomery (MentalXhaustion.com), Guadalupe De La O (STEM teacher/science instructional coach, Alliance Schools), and G. L. Lambert (screenwriter, G.L. Lambert Explains It All podcast) will trace conspiracies and propaganda throughout comics, shows, and movies, and how they correlate to the current climate of increased conspiracy theories.
- The artists behind some of Cartoon Network Studios’ hit series provide top tips for aspiring storyboard artists worldwide, to learn how a concept or script is brought to life through the beloved art of storyboarding.
- The art of collaboration panel includes 2nd unit director/stunt coordinator Hiro Koda (“Stranger Things”), stunt coordinator/performer Jahnel Curfman (“Cobra Kai”), professional video game streamers Avori and D Rich (303 eSports), producer/supervising editor Arielle Kilker (Netflix’s “Cheer”), and supervising editor David Nordstrom (Netflix’s “Cheer”).
- Panels on Afrofuturism and Black Religion, LGBTQ characters on television, the upcoming “His Dark Materials,” women in Hollywood, what’s next for “Upload,” and Bugs Bunny’s 80th anniversary.
- Acclaimed director Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart,” “Hostiles“) and horror maestro Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water“) tease their upcoming Searchlight Pictures movie “Antlers” along with how they designed the Wendigo-inspired monster. In addition, the two go in-depth on the craft of filmmaking and how they create a visual style.
Stay tuned. We’ll be covering the highlights.