After two years of hybrid events, Comic-Con is ready for an in-person comeback
Comic-Con is back at the San Diego Convention Center two years after COVID-19 shut down live events
Get ready, San Diego. White-armored Stormtroopers will be swarming the streets next week — along with Klingons, Spider-Men and thousands of other cosplayers and pop culture fans. After two years of in-person hiatus due to COVID-19, Comic-Con is back at the San Diego Convention Center.
The (usually) annual event, which started in 1970 as a small gathering in the basement of the U.S. Grant Hotel, brings together emerging and independent authors and artists with some of the biggest names in pop culture, from legendary comic book creators to A-list celebrities hyping their latest Hollywood projects.
Among the top draws of the four-day convention — happening July 21 to 24 — are the panels, which include discussions on industry topics like disability representation, talks with actors and directors about popular and cult-classic shows and movies, and exclusive screenings of film trailers and new TV episodes. Fans line up hours in advance for the most notable panels.
One celeb certain to be a Comic-Con must-see this year is William Shatner, forever known to Trekkies as Captain Kirk. The nonagenarian, back on Earth after a real trip to space, will be joined by filmmaker and panel moderator Kevin Smith for “Shatner on Shatner.” The icons will discuss a new project from director Alexandre O. Philippe that takes an intimate look at Shatner’s life and career.
But star sightings are just part of the fun. Convention-goers also spend hours wandering the floor visiting booths, snagging free merch, buying books, artwork, and toys, and flooding social media with selfies. With cosplayers ranging from amateurish to astonishingly accurate, people-watching is also a favorite pastime. And while Saturday night’s big Masquerade is the best place to check out serious cosplaying talent, you don’t need a badge to see the costumed crowds partying in the Gaslamp Quarter.
To celebrate the return of the Con, we checked in with some San Diego regulars about what they’ve missed, their favorite memories, and what they’re most excited to see this year.
When Chris Morrow realized that the pandemic was going to shutter an in-person Comic-Con in 2020, she leaped into action. The social media influencer and journalist organized the San Diego Causeplayer Community Shrine, where popular local cosplayers and masked fans gathered to pay homage to the event with notes and flowers. The shrine also featured an organized blood drive with giveaways for blood donors.
“It was fun and a way to help people with their mental health during a hard time,” says Morrow, who has covered Comic-Con for 20 years for many outlets, including CNN. “About 10,000 people showed up the first year and around 30,000 came in 2021.”
Nothing compares to the real deal, though, adds Morrow, a panelist for a pop culture and mental health discussion on Thursday afternoon. This year, she’s launching a sticker-based positivity campaign called “We’re Home,” a nod to the famous line spoken by Han Solo.
“I don’t cosplay, but I’m like a kid in a candy store,” says Morrow. “I’m looking at booths. I’m buying things. I go to the panels. I go the parties. I donate blood every year. I do everything. And it’s a really magnificent place to reconnect with friends you haven’t seen in a year.”
The Dad-and-Daughter Duo
Brendan Prout isn’t sure about his first Comic-Con.
“I remember going in 1985, but my mom says she started driving me in 1979,” explains Prout, a Lakeside pastor and co-founder of the nonprofit San Diego Star Wars Society. His 15-year-old daughter Annika was a baby when he took her for the first time.
“We cosplayed her as Princess Leia as a joke,” says Prout. “But by 3 or 4, she was a Jedi fighting everybody with her little lightsaber.”
Now Annika makes her own costumes and Prout looks forward to being his daughter’s personal handler.
“We practice the penguin rule of thumb,” he explains. “She’s never alone. Cosplay is safety in numbers. There are kids you can’t see if you’re masked, and there are some creeps as well.”
While Prout’s Imperial Officer costume is painstakingly accurate — fidelity to costuming is a rule of his charitable fan club — Annika prefers a creative DIY approach to looks like Lara Croft and Bellatrix. She won’t divulge this year’s costume but hints “it will be Mandalorian-themed.”
She’s looking forward to the panels while her dad can’t wait to see all his pals, from artists to fellow cosplayers.
“I’ll get stopped every few feet, and it used to really annoy Annika,” says Prout.
“It still annoys me,” she replies.
The Cosplaying Do-Gooder
If you’ve been to Comic-Con in recent years, you’ve probably encountered Dude Vader, aka Christopher Canole, a professional artist who has done portraits for the Smithsonian and President Barack Obama. Canole is as famous for his unique golden helmet as he is for his gregarious personality. He’s also turned his hobby into a philanthropic opportunity.
In 2015, Canole spray-painted a Darth Vader helmet gold and added some steampunk accouterments. He paired the headwear with a bold Hawaiian shirt and Dude Vader was born. Canole quickly got the Lucasfilm nod of approval to appear at charitable events and has participated in more than 600 around Southern California since then.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm and anticipation for Comic-Con after two years pent up looking at a computer screen,” says Canole. “Looking at a computer screen of actors is just not the same as waiting in line for Hall H overnight and being with thousands of other fans.”
Canole says cosplaying is so popular because anybody can participate.
“This is the big event of the year for everyday fans,” he explains. “I can’t wait to take photos with people. My cheeks are going to be sore from smiling under my helmet for 12 hours a day.”
The Fun Maker
Funko founder and Coronado resident Mike Becker has come a long way since hawking his early bobbleheads in a 10-by-10-foot booth at Comic-Con. The company, based in Washington state with San Diego offices, now has licensing deals with major studios and makes a variety of pop culture collectibles, including the hit Funko Pop Vinyl line.
When it comes to Comic-Con, Becker is in charge of good times, hosting Funko’s annual ticketed Fundays at the convention.
“It’s the Super Bowl for our fans,” he says. (They’re called Funatics.) “It’s like the Fourth of July, Halloween, and Cirque du Soleil all in one. I choose a different theme every year.”
Friday’s “Blacklight”-themed Fundays will involve teams and a massive blacklight battle in Hall H. Funko is also hosting a multi-booth interactive experience called Funkoville, which will feature an immersive miniature city and exclusives from different fandoms, including “Stranger Things.” It’s open to all convention-goers.
Don’t be surprised to see Becker mingling with the masses.
“At every convention, I actually go and search out people that I think are genuine Funko family fanatics. I always have some nifty little prizes on me.”
When: July 21-24, with Preview Night on July 20
Where: San Diego Convention Center, 111 W. Harbor Drive, San Diego
Tickets: Sold out
Stephens is a freelance writer.
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