Column: Comic-Con doesn’t need ‘Game of Thrones’ to rule the pop-culture world

In a photo from Comic-Con San Diego 2017, actors from "Game of Thrones" prepare to sign autographs at the Warner Brothers' booth. The HBO drama is not bringing a panel to Comic-Con this year.
In a photo from Comic-Con San Diego 2017, actors from “Game of Thrones” prepare to sign autographs at the Warner Brothers’ booth. The HBO drama is not bringing a panel to Comic-Con this year.
(Hayne Palmour IV / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The glittery casts of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and “Westworld” are not coming to Comic-Con this year, and I am not impaling myself on anything.

Marvel Studios isn’t rocking Hall H with an “Avengers” panel, and I am not waiting for Tony Stark to make one materialize at the last minute. There will be no panel for the Starz network’s swoony “Outlander,” and I have not rolled out the fainting couch.

When the 2018 edition of Comic-Con International kicks off at the San Diego Convention Center on Wednesday night, the pop-culture confab will be forging ahead without some of its biggest, most high-profile properties, and it doesn’t matter.

While Comic-Con buzz tends to focus on the blockbuster events taking place in 6,000-seat Hall H, one of the best things about this yearly epic tribute to movies, television, comic books and fandom is that you don’t have to be big to be massive.

Take John Barrowman. To the casual entertainment consumer, the Scotland-born, Illinois-raised, San Diego-educated actor is not a household name. But for a certain bunch of fans, the man whose cult-TV resume includes “Arrow,” “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” “Torchwood” and “Doctor Who” is the Mayor of Con Town.

The versatile Barrowman will be making multiple appearances at Comic-Con on Thursday. At 10 a.m., he will be signing autographs in the Sails Pavilion. At 2 p.m., he will be holding court in the Hilton Indigo Ballroom in “Anything Goes with John Barrowman!,” a one-man panel that will showcase his fan-friendly charms, his musical-theater chops and his willingness to quip about pretty much anything. At 6 p.m., he will be back in the Sails Pavilion, signing autographs and flashing the wicked smile that launched a thousand plot turns.

With some 135,000 people showing up at Comic-Con for 2,000 hours of panel discussions, film screenings, gaming smackdowns and the famed Comic-Con masquerade, the John Barrowman experience is not unique to John Barrowman. You don’t have to be a Hall H player to be capital “H” Huge at Comic-Con.

Like “Crazy Ex-Girfriend,” for instance. The CW network comedy launches its fourth and final season this fall, and chances are good that you have not heard of it or checked out its many hilarious musical numbers on YouTube. I recommend “Sexy Getting Ready Song” and “Let’s Generalize About Men.”

But Comic-Con Nation knows all about this sharp and wholly original series about an insanely driven New York lawyer (played by series creator Rachel Bloom) who ditches her fast-track career to reconnect with her high-school crush in scenic West Covina, Calif. Heartbreak, hilarity and production numbers ensue.

This under-the-mainstream-radar series is saying its goodbyes with a Thursday panel that will probably be beyond packed, and Bloom is also appearing on a Friday panel devoted to innovative female creators. Then there is the local stop by the “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Live” concert show, which sold out its Saturday performance at the Balboa Theatre in about 30 seconds.

There are all kinds of ways to be big at Comic-Con. Being a big fish in a cult pond is one way. You can also be a big-deal fish hiding in plain sight.

One of my favorite memories from Comic-Con 2016 was stopping by the Artists’ Alley space belonging to David Petersen, the creator of the New York Times best-selling, Eisner Award-winning “Mouse Guard” comic-book series.

While the Exhibition Hall insanity swirled around him, Petersen was quietly sketching in between ringing up book and T-shirt sales and chatting with fans. Underneath his table, a little girl — his daughter, I assume — was sketching, too. He’ll be in Artists’ Alley again this year. Swing by booth GG09 and say hello.

And you do not have to be a super hero to make a big difference at Comic-Con.

As she has for the last five years, local Licensed Clinical Psychologist, author and “full-time geek” Janina Scarlet will be appearing on panels dealing with such thought-provoking subjects as the healing properties of fandom and female role models in pop-culture.

On Sunday, she will be a part of “Superhero IRL! Join the Real-Life Justice League,” a panel that will present comic-book inspired strategies for dealing with bullying, racism, misogyny and injustice. It may or may not be big, but at Comic-Con, sometimes it is the size of your heart that really matters.

“Every time I do one of these panels, I have people come up to me and say they learned something,” Scarlet said during a recent interview. “When I look into the audience, I see so much diversity. It’s a safe place for everyone, no matter what your fandom is.”

Twitter: @karla_peterson