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What it’s like to do Comic-Con@Home?

Greg Bowlin, left, and Justin Smith dressed as Carnage and Venom from Batman at Comic-Con.
Greg Bowlin, left, and Justin Smith dressed as Carnage and Venom from Batman at Comic-Con.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

So, Comic-Con is here ... sort of.

Because of coronavirus, the pop culture convention has shifted to an online-only format. Instead of only 135,000 lucky badge-holders heading out to the Convention Center this weekend, the experience will be open to anyone around the world who wants to participate.

About 350 panels will be streamed, plus there’s an online cosplay challenge, a sidewalk art contest and — to make things authentic — you can even download and print out an official badge.

So what does this new Comic-Con@Home look like? I logged on to experience day one of the convention and here’s how it went.

Getting ready


Usually it takes me days to prepare for Comic-Con: buying snacks and aspirin, figuring out clothing layers for both hot outdoor lines and freezing air-conditioned halls, packing an ergonomic backpack full of water, various chargers, cash and stuff to read in line (to save cell phone batteries).

For Comic-Con@Home, I didn’t have to think about any of this, or battle with traffic or crowds. I just grabbed a drink, a laptop and a comfy spot on the couch.

The Panels


Normally, Comic-Con is very scheduled - you know what you’re doing every hour of the day. So, out of habit, I went to the Comic-Con site earlier in the week to figure out which panels I wanted to watch.

It turns out, though, this is not necessary.

The panels I watched on Wednesday were all pre-recorded, so the schedule just tells you what time each video will go live. If you’re 10 minutes late or 3 days late, it doesn’t matter, you’re not missing anything. Just press play and watch the full discussion.

This, of course, means you can watch ALL THE PANELS. You don’t have to pick and choose - a concept so foreign to anyone who regularly attends the convention.

The first one I watch is called Comics as a Conduit, and features comic book authors who cover subjects like social justice, environmentalism and mental health. Like the in-person panels, there’s a moderator who asks questions and the authors, who are also at home, take turns answering questions.

One of the best parts about going to panels is seeing the interaction between the artists, and this is largely missing as an online format. There’s not a lot of banter or any classic Comic-Con sentimental moments. You also don’t get audience questions, which is one of my favorite elements of the event.

The second panel I watch is New Kids Comics from Eisner Award Publishers, which follows a similar formula and suffers from the same issues.

I realize that in this more contained format, you really need to be invested in and excited about the subject matter, otherwise staying engaged from home is a challenge.

(Find a list of panels here.)

Inflatable characters "Yo-Yo," left, and "Hoops" stand in a corridor outside Comic-Con's main exhibit hall in 2013.
(Charlie Neuman)

Online Exhibit Hall


Next I head to the Online Exhibit Hall, which is a giant map of vendors that usually have booths on the main Convention Center floor. You click on each vendor and a little box pops up, showing what exclusive merchandise you can buy.

I’m not a collector, so unless it’s for a work assignment, there’s really no reason for me to go in the Exhibit Hall. In fact, I usually avoid it altogether — it’s crowded and chaotic and has been responsible for my most epic migraines.

The online version, though, I love.

I click on Mattel, Inc. and the first thing that pops up is the WWE Mr. T Elite Collection Action Figure. I never knew I wanted a WWE Mr. T Elite Collection Action Figure, but suddenly I do? Then I go to the Dark Horse Comics booth and see a “Stranger Things #1" Glow-in-the-Dark Convention Exclusive comic. A glow-in-the-dark comic? I want this, too.

Is this what I’ve been missing all these years?

I spend almost an hour just browsing and reading product descriptions. At the actual event, these booths tend to have long lines or giant crowds, plus there’s a frantic energy to get an exclusive item before it’s gone. Online, there’s absolutely no pressure and, even better, I don’t have to pretend to understand why these things are such a big deal anyway.

Art Show on Tumblr


The few things I actually have purchased at Comic-Con over the years have been cute, quirky items like posters, magnets, enamel pins and jewelry created by independent artists.

You can still do this via the Art Show on tumblr.

Though it’s not nearly as robust as shopping in person, there are plenty of fun items like horror-themed paintings, “Steven Universe” resin sculptures, painted sneakers, dolls made out of felt and yarn, mermaid jewelry and so much more.

The marketplace is on Tumblr, so the buying experience is different for each vendor and can be complicated to figure out.

Verdict

There’s a surprising amount of activities and experiences happening online, much more than I anticipated.

Other things to do include downloading the official souvenir book, shopping for official Comic-Con merch, joining a watch party or virtual film festival and watching the Masquerade.

None of these things can replace the in-person experience — online you don’t get the electricity of everything happening around you. But in these difficult circumstances Comic-Con@Home does a good job of giving fans a small dose of happiness, no matter where they may be.


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