The granddaddy of American pop-culture festivals will be so different in the time of coronavirus that it’s even going by a new name – yet there will be enough familiar faces and entertainment franchises to reassure fans.
For the first time in its 51-year history, San Diego’s Comic-Con International will not be a live gathering for ticketed attendees, but rather five days of online sessions, free games, a virtual exhibitor hall and fan “challenges” open to anyone who chooses to click in beginning Wednesday evening (July 22).
Branded as Comic-Con@Home, this year’s streamlined edition will feature hundreds of recorded panels spotlighting Hollywood talent (including Charlize Theron and Guillermo del Toro), rock-star graphic novelists (like Raina Telgemeier and Adrian Tomine), perennial Con favorites (Kevin Smith and Nathan Fillion) and such mainstay presences as “Star Wars” and “Star Trek,” “The Walking Dead” and “Doctor Who.”
Coronavirus life, though, will be a recurring topic through the programming, including “Watchmen and the Cruelty of Masks” and “Teaching Graphic Novels Online” (Wednesday); “Superhero Fandom Adapts to the Pandemic” and “Comics During Clampdown: Creativity in the Time of Covid” (Thursday); “Mental Health, Pop Culture and the Pandemic” (Friday); and “How to Thrive When It’s Hard to Survive” (Saturday).
Cartoon Art Museum curator Andrew Farago, who is moderating the “Clampdown” panel, has attended nearly every Comic-Con for the past two decades. “While I won’t miss long registration lines or that mad dash to grab a 10-minute lunch” this year, says Farago, who is also moderating a panel with his wife, webcomic creator Shaenon Garrity, he will miss personal rituals, favorite hangouts near the Convention Center and all the industry socializing.
Gene Luen Yang (“Dragon Hoops”), who will appear on the “Clampdown” panel, says he is somewhat Zoomed-out these days, and that “looking at photos of Comic-Con crowds feels weirdly nostalgic. I get the same feeling I get when I flip through comics from my childhood collection.” (The event typically draws more than 125,000 people.)
Rob Salkowitz, author of “Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture,” says he’ll even miss the hassles and crowds of the live event, but that he’s “very excited that there is some kind of San Diego Comic-Con experience to keep us going.”
Comic-Con will try to keep some aspects of the event interactive and dynamic in real time. In a nod to the traditional Artists’ Alley, there will be a Con art show on Tumblr. Fans can also participate in “@Home Challenges” such as sidewalk art and cosplay.
Although the Con is pared down, many of the usual publishers (such as DC and Marvel, Image, IDW and Dark Horse) and some networks, studios and streamers will provide recorded sessions; the Hollywood component will include shows like HBO’s “Lovecraft Country,” ABC’s “Stumptown” Amazon’s “The Boys” and Hulu’s “Solar Opposites.” On Friday, Theron will appear for a retrospective of her action roles, titled “Evolution of a Badass”; and Saturday, del Toro and filmmaker Scott Cooper will talk monster design for their new film “Antlers.”
“Our panel came out very well – at least I think so,” producer-writer David Silverman (director of “The Simpsons Movie”) says of the “Simpsons@Home” session posting Saturday.
“I am not jaded,” Silverman says. “I love it and will miss everything about” a live Con.
And “Comics During Clampdown” panelist Keith Knight (whose Hulu show “Woke” debuts in September), says that though “there’s nothing I like about” a virtual Comic-Con, “it’s necessary.”
Looking forward, Knight says: “I think we’ll all value our time together in a convention hall a little more than we did in the past.”