Five insane days. More than 130,000 attendees. One-thousand-plus panels, screenings and gaming sessions. So many soft pretzels. With San Diego Comic-Con less than three weeks away, it is time to wrap your Daenerys-wigged head around the inevitable. As massive as it is now, Comic-Con's expanding pop-culture universe is getting even bigger. And you can visit without buying a badge, or leaving the house.
Say a big Hulk hello to Comic-Con HQ, a new subscription video-on-demand service that aims to bring the wild and wonderful world of the Con to a computer and/or mobile device near you. In addition to its current slate of nerd-friendly original shows and its eclectic film and TV library, Comic-Con HQ will be rolling out oodles of live Comic-Con programming from in and around the San Diego Convention Center.
If all goes as planned, it will be just like being there - without the blisters and the Cheetos' breath. Here is a look at what to expect when you check in.
Launched in May, Comic-Con HQ (comic-conhq.com) is a joint project of San Diego-based Comic-Con International and Lionsgate, a global entertainment company whose properties include "Orange is the New Black," the "Hunger Games" franchise and the Starz cable network. It is currently in beta testing, so you can see the programming free through Sunday, July 24, the last day of Comic-Con. After that, subscriptions will cost $5 per month or $50 for the annual plan.
Even if you are signing on for the free beta period only, you will have to provide credit-card information and pick a paid plan. Then you will have to remember to cancel your subscription before the paid memberships kick in on July 25.
In the weeks before the convention, your HQ membership gets you access to the site's handful of original shows, including Season 1 of "Con Man," the crowd-funded web comedy about the adventures of two members of a sci-fi cult series who are dealing with life after cancellation. It stars former "Firefly" cast-mates Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion, and any resemblance to their prematurely canceled sci-fi cult series is wryly intentional. The show's second season is expected to debut on Comic-Con HQ later this year.
Your subscription is also your ticket to many escapist hours of films and TV shows that live on the Con side of the entertainment tracks. At the moment, Comic-Con HQ will not be replacing your Netflix subscription, but with major help from the Lionsgate archives, there is a respectable collection of cult films ("American Psycho," "This is Spinal Tap"); horror flicks ("Peeping Tom," "The Blair Witch Project"); animation ("Astroboy," "Ultimate Avengers: The Movie"); and a smattering of TV shows, including "The Avengers" and "ALF."
Meet the originals
If some of the film and TV offerings are a little past their enjoy-by date, Comic-Con HQ's original programming is all about the new, the now and the still-under-construction.
The best of the bunch is "Film HQ." Hosted by John Campea of the Collider entertainment website, the weekly movie-centric talk show features industry news, themed lists ("Top 5 Marvel Movies," "Top 5 Alien Invasions") and some of the best panel-discussions this side of, well, Comic-Con. In these fan-boy and fan-girl free-for-alls, Campea and his guests have well-informed, yet totally geeked-out discussions about the awesomeness (or not) of the latest "Captain America" movie, the wisdom (or not) of making a "Space Jam" sequel, and the risks of debuting the latest "Star Trek" installment at Comic-Con.
Not all of HQ's originals have found their groove yet, but whether it is the egg-heady "Blame it On Science" or the video-game deep-dive that is "Endgame," Comic-Con HQ's best original shows are fueled by the crazy passions of highly articulate people. Just like a certain convention we could mention.
"The first thing we always think about is, 'Will this work with the Comic-Con name and brand?'" said Seth Laderman, Comic-Con HQ's executive vice president and general manager. "For many years, it was not OK to be a nerd, but Comic-Con allows people to be themselves and be safe. What I tell our team is, 'We are never mean.' We need to stay as positive as possible. That is how Comic-Con started, that is what fans like, and that is what we are following."
Live from the Con
Whether you are stranded at home without a pass or stuck in the Hall H line from hell, Comic-Con HQ plans to have your back. Its "Comic-Con HQ Live Stage" will be streaming live from noon to 5 p.m. daily with celebrity interviews, breaking news from the panel front and coverage of the many mad happenings outside the convention center. Team HQ will even brave the Exhibit Hall floor so you won't have to. But if you want that Comic-Con exclusive "Star Wars" Hot Wheels set, you're on your own.
The Con programming will also include live streaming of the June 22 Eisner Awards (considered the Oscars of the comics world) and June 23's eye-popping Masquerade costume contest. And in the Manna from Pop-Culture Heaven department, Comic-Con HQ will be recording as many panel sessions as possible, from the Hall H celeb-heavy blowouts to the kind of fan-fueled cult offerings that make the Con the beloved big tent that it is.
The panels will not air live, but Laderman hopes to get them on the site within 24 hours. Does this mean there is a front-row "Walking Dead" panel seat in your future? In the Comic-Con HQ clubhouse, anything is possible. Zombie miracles not excluded.
"We really hope people will be able to feel like they are there and that they got to experience everything," Laderman said. "For those who are there, we hope they can do the things they want to do without the fear of missing out. And if they don't have the opportunity to do or see it, they can come to Comic-Con HQ and experience it for themselves."
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