Hall H may draw the lion’s share of media attention, but exhibitors and comic book creators will remind you that there is so much more to San Diego Comic-Con than that.
“Comic-Con attendees are the ones that make Comic-Con at the end of the day,” says Kayden Phoenix, who will be showcasing her new series of graphic novels about Native and Latina princesses, “The Majestics,” in the artists’ alley area of the exhibit hall this year. “Studio presence is absolutely great, but San Diego Comic-Con stands on its own.”
It’s hard to argue with the math: Outside of the COVID-19 pandemic years, the convention generally draws more 130,000 attendees. Hall H can accommodate only a small fraction of that. Many of those who don’t spend their days inside Hall H (or in the line to try to get into Hall H) use their time instead to check out the exhibit floor and the various activation and pop-up experiences that surround the convention center.
And though some companies have reduced their footprint on the floor since the convention returned from pandemic shutdowns, says Glanzer, a map of this year’s exhibitors confirms that it will be plenty “robust.” Comic book publishers including Marvel, DC, IDW, Image and Dark Horse will have a presence, as well as big brands associated with toys, games and collectibles such as Funko, Bandai Namco, Lego, Mattel and Hasbro. Viz and Crunchyroll are among the booths that will represent anime and manga, while Capcom and Square Enix are among those holding down the fort for video games.
And it’s not as if Hollywood is going to be absent from the exhibit hall. Beyond licensed merchandise and collectibles at various vendor booths, Lucasfilm and Nickelodeon are among the studios with their own spaces.
“This really feels like kind of a back-to-basics year, where comics and anime and video games are kind of taking the top seat to the typical movies and TV shows that have dominated the convention for so long,” says Josh Trujillo, the writer of DC’s latest “Blue Beetle” comics and the upcoming graphic novel “Washington’s Gay General.”
Trujillo, who will be at signings hosted at the DC comics, Prism comics and Kickstarter booths over the four-day event, says “it’s really unfortunate that Hollywood is sitting this one out, but [it’s] for a good reason.”
“This year, I think, is a great opportunity to reassert that these conventions started and are about comic books, first and foremost,” says Trujillo. “The people who were planning on coming for all the Hall H panels, I think they’re going to be pleasantly surprised to see what the rest of the convention actually looks like when you’re not spending eight hours waiting to see the Avengers.”
Hollywood’s withdrawal from Hall H and other major panel programming could be seen as a setback for Comic-Con as it tries to regain its foothold as the premier pop entertainment destination event after being forced to go virtual for two years during the pandemic. After a smaller “special edition” of the convention during the Thanksgiving holiday in 2021, Comic-Con returned in full last year, taking back its usual summer time slot. But some noted that things seemed slower than in Comic-Con’s pre-pandemic heights.
So “.357 Magnum Opus” and “Pimp Killer” writer Ghezal Omar, who will have a booth in the small press area of the floor, is looking forward to it being “larger” this year, with “more creators, more fans, more costumes [and] a lot more excitement and energy.”
Some vendors even see the lack of a Hollywood presence in Hall H as an opportunity to interact with attendees they might not otherwise.
“With all the cancellations this year, we’re actually hoping for it to be more of a year that’s centered on the comics themselves,” said Tom Reiter, manager of the Comic Cellar, a longtime Comic-Con exhibitor. “That would draw more people into our area of the convention center, hopefully, [with] not having to wait in line for hours on end [for panels].”
Reiter notes that in recent years, there has been a bit of a slowdown in business at his booth, which mostly deals in Silver and Golden Age comics.
“A lot of people were spending time in line waiting for movies or in line waiting for exclusives or in line waiting for autographs for whatever movie star or comic artists that were being spotlighted,” said Reiter.
There‘s also plenty to do outside the convention center proper, with various activations and experiences promoting forthcoming film and TV projects. This year, those include the following:.
- NBC will host a “Quantum Leap”-themed activation in the Gaslamp Quarter. The experience will involve guests leaping into the world of the network’s other shows, including “Law & Order: SVU” and “Organized Crime,” “The Voice” and “Chucky” while the “Quantum Leap” team has to sort out a crisis.
- FX will take over the Hilton Bayfront Park for experiences pegged to “Shōgun,” “A Murder at the End of the World,” “American Horror Story” and “What We Do in the Shadows.”
- AMC Networks will spotlight “Interview With the Vampire” and “Mayfair Witches” at the Hilton Gaslamp for an Anne Rice’s Immortal Universe-themed experience called “The Street of Immortality.”
- Hulu will showcase its adult animation and anime library with its “Animayhem” experience in the Bayfront parking lot.
- Paramount+ will feature its slate (from “Good Burger” to “Yellowjackets”) at its activation called the “Lodge” in the Gaslamp.
- Those who have ever felt inspired by training arcs and montages can even try out a special accessible workout at Crunchyroll’s “Ultimate Anime Fitness Challenge.”
- A “Twisted Metal”-themed activation featuring free ice cream and a surprise music performance will take place on Thursday, followed by the world premiere of the Peacock comedy series’ first episode. Salt + Straw will offer free samples of its exclusive “Twisted Metal” ice cream flavor beginning at 1:30 p.m. followed by a 5 p.m. music performance and 10 p.m. screening on the corner of J Street and First Avenue.
- In celebration of the 30th anniversary of “Jurassic Park,” Amblin Entertainment and Universal’s products and experiences team will host a “Step Into ‘Jurassic Park’” activation on Friday and Saturday, re-creating scenes from the long-running franchise. The timed-entry event is free but requires advance reservations.
Whatever the challenges or opportunities presented by holding the convention in a summer with two strikes, Comic-Con veteran Dean Shimonishi, an employee at Long Beach’s Amazing Comics, knows the event has been through enough over the years to adapt accordingly.
“I’ve seen [Comic-Con] change in the ‘90s, and I’ve seen it change in the mid-2000s,” he says. “It’s survived this long. We’ll see how it goes.”