Reflecting on Comic-Con Special Edition
Attendees share their experiences at the scaled back pop culture convention.
Comic-Con Special Edition wrapped up on Sunday. Here are some reflections on what this scaled back pop culture convention was like.
I have been attending Comic-Con International since the late 1970s, so I have seen a lot of changes. It took me a little time reflecting on this Special Edition to sort through a lot of emotions.
Going two years without an in-person Comic-Con was sad. Being a lifelong geek there are few places where I feel truly at home and amongst my own tribe. Comic-Con has always been one of those places so even though we had an online version (which I also loved because of the ability to attend as many panels as I wanted) I missed seeing fellow geeks as well as artists and creators.
It's at Comic-Con where people get where that "plate of shrimp" reference is from or can complete the quote "no matter where you go" with the correct "there you are." So being able to meet in-person even at a scaled down event was welcome and also felt like the right way to transition back to a live event.
Plus the more spacious exhibit floor and more spread out seating at panels with everyone masked helped make people feel as safe as one can in a pandemic. It seemed oddly fitting that the new COVID-19 variant appears to have been dubbed "omicron" on the opening day of the convention and has a name that would seem more fitting to a "Transformers" robot.
Comic-Con did not have any final word on the exact number of attendees but you could clearly see walking on the floor that there were far fewer people to deal with and you could actually traverse the entire exhibit hall in minutes if you needed to. There was no waiting overnight for Hall H because Hall H was no longer the spot for Hollywood panels but rather for badge pick up. But many panels were full and some still turned away people. And while the floor was mostly open and spacious you could still find lines at Bait and Funko Pop.
The lack of Hollywood panels and celebrities was barely missed by many I spoke with. The absence of Hollywood meant that a lot of people who only came for those panels avoided Special Edition and left the show to those who could still find plenty to keep busy. It meant more time to see more things. More time to chat with creators, artists and panelists. It just felt so much more relaxing.
But it was a shame that there were no comics publishers. The big DC and Marvel booths were absent, but so too were IDW (which is based in San Diego), Boom!, Image, Dark Horse, Oni Press or Viz. I understand that some companies had a policy of no in-person events but it was sad that at a convention where they could shine without the shadow of Hollywood, they were not able to attend.
I also missed some vendors like Giant Robot, Anime Link, Little Vampires and others that I always enjoy visiting.
Special Edition was smaller but what made it weird was seeing empty booths throughout the floor and vendors arriving late or leaving early, all of which made the convention feel like it had lost some of its shine. And seeing the deserted areas of usually packed places such as Hall H and the Sails Pavilion gave it a certain post-apocalyptic vibe.
But I did get to see some great panels. John Jennings (a repeat guest on Cinema Junkie podcast) was a Spotlight Guest and had four panels including the brilliant Rise of the Ethnogothic. He also had the last panel of the day on Sunday, which had a small crowd but one made up almost entirely of friends so it had a very nice intimate feel and I got to learn so much about Jennings' work outside of his writing and art. He had also done some innovative exhibitions.
I also enjoyed The Legal Geeks panel, STEAM Superstars, Mictlán (a video game panel that I got to moderate and thoroughly enjoy) and Star Wars Samurai Universe (which I was on and got to be dazzled by the cosplay artistry of my fellow panelists).
All in all, Comic-Con Special Edition was a wonderful escape and a chance to reconnect with people and celebrate something we are all passionate about. Was it perfect? No. Was it something we needed to start to feel a little more normal? Yes. So thank you Comic-Con for giving us a little holiday treat.
And here are some comments from artists and attendees.
Reactions to Comic-Con Special Edition
Lenny Romero, artist and second time exhibiting at Comic-Con
I had a wonderful experience at Comic-Con Special Edition. I wasn't too sure how business was going to turn out seeing how the event took place right after Thanksgiving, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised.
Compared to the traditional Comic-Con, Comic-Con Special Edition definitely felt like a "discounted" Comic-Con, but even so I much appreciated the extra space and the calmness of the crowd instead of the usual chaos.
I loved seeing familiar faces as well as meeting new ones, and everyone was generally polite and kind. There was nothing I particularly hated, if anything I felt bad for people who paid the ticket price and only attended one day (I heard ticket prices were just a flat rate of $150 whether you were attending one, two or three days). All in all I'm very happy to have tabled at Special Edition and I would absolutely do it again.
Keithan Jones, KID Comics owner and Eisner Awards Judge
I had a good time. It was definitely a smaller "feeling" event. My only complaint: I wish the big publishers would have used the opportunity to promote their upcoming comic book projects and artists. Especially since the movie studios weren't sucking up all the limelight.
Patricio Ginelsa, filmmaker
We were caught so off guard by the overflow of folks waiting for the panel and screening of "Lumpia with a Vengeance." We had to turn away 200-plus people. And of course I feel bad because I know the feeling, I've been on the other end so many times here.
Our Comic-Con premiere was surreal and quite honestly a dream come true! Not only was it standing room only but it was our most mainstream audience to date. And judging from the non-stop laughing, they loved it! I was expecting a late night crowd wanting a room to take a nap in the back after a whole day of Comic-Con but again, I was wrong. They were so connected to the movie and they truly enjoyed hearing about our journey to get it done.
The screening made me feel validated that our film can connect with and attract a mainstream audience.
All the "Lumpia" love just spilled over the rest of the weekend, as our cast/crew autograph signing was packed, even overpowering some of the other mainstream signings next to us. All of our exclusive comic books sold out over the weekend and most of all, a lot of people came over to share with me their appreciation for the film. We were all nerding out over a movie I created! WOW! Sorry that was long but I'm still processing what happened this past weekend. Truly a dream come true!
Jose Iturriaga, cosplayer and Mictlán environment concept artist
First of all, yeah it was smaller than the typical San Diego Comic-Con, but still a lot of people attended. Panels were fairly packed, and even the “slow” areas of the Exhibit Hall saw a constant flow of people. I got to experience it a bit differently this year. Usually Comic-Con has a waitlist for panelists and exhibitors that can last several years.
This smaller Convention opened the door to a lot of independent artists, projects, small publishers and fan groups to have booths, workshops and panels and great exposure to a lot of people.
I’ve been working as an environment artist for an indie video game called Mictlán. Even though it has quite the following already in Mexico, it hasn’t made much noise on this side of the border, and this was the perfect opportunity to do so.
A lot of people from Tijuana, L.A. and San Diego stopped by our booth and told us how excited they are about this project. Our panel was also a great opportunity to reach more people and showcase a project that is being developed independently by about 80 people, between artists, modelers, programmers and designers. It was definitely stressful for us as first time panelists and exhibitors, but thanks to Comic-Con's experience, we were at ease on things that require support from the venue and organizers. For sure there were some technical glitches on our end, but the audience was really engaged and allowed us to share our trailers, gameplay, behind the scenes and some concept art as well. After the panel, a lot of people stopped by our booth to learn more about this project and overall it was an amazing experience despite the current pandemic.
Almost everyone was good at wearing masks and providing their vaccination info or test results in order to keep everyone attending safe, and that was a huge plus for this event.
Overall, a great experience, though it was a bit eerie seeing Harbor Drive and Gaslamp Quarter strangely empty, compared to how busy it usually is during Comic-Con. Cannot wait for WonderCon and summer Comic-Con if things go well next year.
Aaron Nabus, Hall H Show podcast co-host
With wider aisles than I remember ever seeing, I could have filmed a spontaneous TikTok dance video almost anywhere and not have gotten in anyone's way. All kidding aside, this Special Edition almost reminded me of the first San Diego Comic-Con I attended in 1995. It sort of gave me that same feeling that I had of just exploring and having fun.
While this iteration of Comic-Con may not be the Hollywood attracting behemoth that we've had prior to the pandemic, I feel that it still delivered something for almost everyone. If you were a general fan of pop culture, you could easily go with the flow and enjoy the myriad of excellent panels (I attended about eight of them and enjoyed them all).
I was also able to have conversations with vendors and artists without having to yell over the usual crowd noise. I think having the time to engage and re-connect with creators and friends, some of which I haven't seen in almost two years, without feeling so rushed, is what I enjoyed the most about Comic-Con Special Edition. I don't think this is something that I could have enjoyed with a full-blown Comic-Con.
If there was a word I would use to describe "Special Edition," it would be "comforting." Comforting like an old neighborhood bar where they might not remember your name, but they'll welcome you just the same.
Alonso Nunez, Little Fish Comic Book Studio and Eisner Awards Judge
Comic-Con: Special Edition was bound to be different — special, if you will — from the beginning. Set during (after?) a crazy, trying time for everyone, the challenge was immense. As an attendee since 1992 I think that they succeeded. Spirits were high, everyone was happy and the energy and sheer love of the comic art form was present in a way I've not seen in this millennium.
Little Fish's students (some attendees since birth, literally) and some brand new, all loved the immediacy of professionals and retailers and the greater ease of accessing panels and events. Half of my students attended an Origins of Comic-Con panel and they loved the history and energy. It was a comic love-fest that I didn't know I'd missed until I met it again.
Josh Gilliland, The Legal Geeks
It was a wonderful experience. We got to see friends, attend panels, and it was extremely healing.
We are expressly grateful for everyone who attended our two panels. Our Lawyer’s Holiday Special was standing room only. The Judges and Deputy City Attorney were very enthusiastic with their holiday topics, since covering holiday topics at Comic-Con normally would not ever happen. We had awesome audience questions at both panels and social media engagement afterwards. It was a joy to be back in San Diego and we look forward to next July.
Chris Martin, attendee
I really enjoyed myself. As other people are saying, it felt like a San Diego Comic-Con from 20 years ago. Actually, all three days felt a Thursday from 20 years ago. I usually make a point to see some smaller panels at the regular Con because they tend to be more informal and have more surprises than the giant Hollywood panels.
This Con was three days of those small panels, which didn't have the big recognizable names, but still had very talented people from behind the scenes in pop culture or knowledgeable people commenting on the culture. There was also more room to walk on the floor, and I did spend some more time and money in Artists Alley than at other Cons.
I also got to go with two friends and their children who are normally shut out of the Con by the scarcity of tickets.
A panel on coloring comics and how the process evolved from hand cut-outs for the plates to photography to digital. Not pictured was an academic panel on "The Long Run," discussing long comic runs from a single writer and how they varied in their storytelling approaches.
One of my favorite panels was a Sunday panel with visual effects artists who had done a lot of model work and in-camera effects in 90s films, before CGI took over. The moderator showed them scenes from 1970s era "Doctor Who," and the effects artists speculated on how the effects were done and how people in the audience could re-create them at home. Another panel had four doctors, and they discussed clips from holiday movies "A Christmas Story," "Home Alone" and "Die Hard," which showed people getting injured. The doctors discussed how realistically they were portrayed and any analogs they had seen in real life. For instance, how badly would Harry and Marv really been maimed by the little psychopath in "Home Alone!"
John Cena dropped in at the start of the Masquerade to promote his new HBO Max show "Peacemaker." The masquerade itself was smaller, but had entrants from Queen Elizabeth to Disney princesses to superheroes to Brak singing about beans. Brak was of course the best.
Shawn Richter, cosplayer and Sci-Fi Coalition club vice president
It was perfect. It wasn't typical San Diego Comic-Con and right now that's just what we need. Attendance was perfect — steady across three days but never super busy and packed with people. We were just as sad walking away Sunday evening as we always are after Comic-Con. Personally I am hoping this becomes an annual show. Any other weekend from early November until mid December would be amazing. But keep the movies and TV shows to a minimum. Keep it all about cosplay, artists and vendors. That would be amazing. Also it was great that the Science Fiction Coalition had a table there and we got to put all of our backdrops to good use.
It was a great time and felt so much like the great San Diego Comic-Con days of the `1990s, early 2000s. The days before "Twilight," the dark times. It felt great to see people come to the show. It had a great family atmosphere and Comic-Con did a great job putting on the show. Thought there were some hiccups.
Shawn Alexander Mullen, Sci-Fi Coalition founder and president
After five years on the waiting list our club the Science Fiction Coalition finally was accepted to have a booth at San Diego Comic-Con. In addition we were able to bring our sci-fi backdrops for picture opportunities. We took a whole aisle of eight of our backdrops and over 30 members in costumes supported the area over the weekend.
The area was very popular by the attendees. There were a lot of people taking pictures and selfies of themselves and also of the Sci-Fi Coalition cosplay volunteers. Also the buzz was all over the internet. I was so very proud of the club as this was our first appearance at Comic-Con and I hope to be invited back each year.
I understand when things get back to normal we will probably not have any space for our "picture opportunity area" with our backdrops and cosplayers but I will still be proud to represent the club at San Diego Comic-Con. I will never take the opportunity for granted.
Gary Dexter, husband, father, nerd
Obviously after two and a half years, any San Diego Comic-Con is better than nothing and it was wonderful to meet up with fan-person friends, attend panels, and admire the creativity of cosplayers, etc. However, this event appeared to be about one fifth the size of normal and lacked the majority of the prestigious exhibitors and A-list guests. For non-local guests, given the $158.50 ticket price (only approximately half of the four-day-plus-preview-night cost), plus travel, and accommodation costs, I wonder if the event was not a disappointment?
My fear is that by hosting this small-scale event, Comic-Con may have damaged their brand. Perhaps it might have been better to wait until 2022 and return with the "normal" Kaiju-sized event that we all know and love.
Francis Jay Bautista, gamer and attendee
First off, I absolutely loved how spacious and less cluttered this Con was. It felt more down-to-earth and more honest. There’s nothing wrong with the Con in its normal “Hollywood”-state but a con like this really brings it back to what really matters: A core love of pop culture.
We were the co-presenters of the "Lumpia" movie back at San Diego Asian Film Festival earlier this year. We bought a few of the comics and then we realized we forgot our own magazine. We gave them copies and they asked us to sign them.
Meeting up with friends is special. Especially if you haven’t seen them in months.
Marena Bronson, Fashion and Fandom journalist
I'll echo a lot of the other sentiments already voiced here — namely that the weekend reminded me a lot of what Comic-Con used to be like in the 1990s and early 2000s. I don't know about some of the rest of you, but as a journalist, Comic-Con has been pretty unenjoyable the last 10+ years for a variety of reasons and frankly, I've dreaded it the last few years leading into COVID. So the smaller crowds over the weekend made it a lot easier to get around the hall and to catch up with some friends and colleagues.
It was also nice that I wasn't technically working this show, so I got to catch some of the smaller panels I wouldn't normally be able to catch at a show. I loved hearing from people I chatted with on the show floor throughout the weekend who said they were actually able to get tickets after being shut out in the dreaded lottery each year. A good thing.
John Von Gunten, attendee
I've been thinking about this a lot and to me it definitely felt like a comic convention but not quite *San Diego Comic-Con*. The exhibition floor was closer to the size and variety of a smaller convention, and I was drawing a lot of comparisons in my head to the last Baltimore Comic-Con I went to in 2014.
Without the major Hollywood players in town the floor was much more focused on comics and individual/independent creators. I liked that shift the most because while I love seeing a life-size Thanos made out Legos or an animatronic Deadpool singing songs, those things bring with them giant booths for the third season of an NBC drama I've never seen or a huge line for a video game preview that I’m not going to play. Those megabooths are what make San Diego Comic-Con a huge destination for everyone and not having them on the floor really made it feel different.
But I liked the more comic-centric focus floor this year and my only real disappointment was that there were almost no publishers there.
I knew Marvel and DC weren’t going to be there but I though maybe Fantagraphics, Abrams, or even Humanoids would have something there.
The panels were pretty on-par with a smaller con, too. I like the smaller and more focused panels of a regular year anyway, so I had no problems with the absence of Hall H or waiting in line to get into the panel three panels before the panel I want to see.
Overall, I had a good time and I would be happy if they did this kind of smaller convention more frequently since my favorite things to do at conventions are to dig through long boxes, buy art from independent artists, and get signatures from comic creators. Being able to actually walk through the exhibition floor helps a lot too. But I’ll be glad when downtown gets completely converted again for San Diego Comic-Con in the summer and the floor is packed with people assholes to elbows and even when the Funko booth takes up an entire wall again.
Cody Goodfellow, author
Forbidden Futures vended in the small press pavilion this year, and the lack of corporate participation meant that, in spite of the smaller crowd, we did at least as well as in past years because folks had more time and money for indie creators. It felt good to see Comic-Con revolve around comics again, for a change.
Keith Hammond, teacher, filmmaker and pro wrestler
With Disney Days and Netflix experimenting with their own Con experiences to make announcements, I was actually afraid of Comic-Con's viability in the future.
However, this mini-con made me realize that even if they pull away Comic-Con would be OK. I had tempered hopes coming in but it was actually wonderful and nostalgic for me. I got to talk to a mini-press editor I totally admire for over an hour. I could really connect with panelists and do multiple things instead of blocking out the whole half of my day just to see the one panel I really wanted or wait in line for hours just for one thing not knowing if it would be worth it.
It reminded me of running into Matt Groening who drew me a quick sketch of Bart Simpson for no reason or watching a panel where my favorite Marvel editor explained his process on how a very specific issue was made and the changes that were made or notes he decided to let go of.
A part of me loves the cool things Comic-Con has become but the past few years it has been about trying to guess where the coolest things will be and being disappointed that there are several super cool things that you didn't even know were going on. I'll keep going but in some ways it was nice for things to return to basics.
Pia Thrasher, filmmaker and artist
I have mixed feelings about Comic-Con Special Edition. I loved that the crowds were much smaller and there were two panels I went to that I really enjoyed. It was great reconnecting with friends, visiting their booths, but I was also missing a lot of other small vendors that didn't/couldn't make it for this 'Special Edition.' I'm not a fan of the concrete on the main floor, but I can see how it's easier to clean and keep it sanitary, but it also makes it all feel a little 'cold.'
I get how a lot of people love having more focus on comics, games and cosplay, but without "Hollywood" there, I felt there was a lack of a certain energy or "buzz." It DID feel like the late 1990s when you could just walk in and buy a ticket.
My only major complaints: No Art Show and no Film Festival! There were some screenings of big studio holiday movies. Really? Why? Who goes to a Comic-Con to see old holiday themed movies? I would have loved to see blocks of indie shorts and features like they did in the past. I'd really like to see a renewed focus on their film festival in general — there's so much local talent to showcase, not just Hollywood!
All in all, I still had a great time and I'm grateful there was a "mini" Comic-Con at all. Things almost felt "normal" for a minute.
Andrew Barton, attendee
I’ll chime in quickly, and echo many others’ sentiments: It was fantastic to be back and have an opportunity to see friends. I can’t speak highly enough about my friends Jose and Blanca's hospitality and I wouldn’t have even been there were it not for Jose.
I kept repeating both days “This is so frakking weird!” over and over. But in the end I had one of the best Con days Saturday by completing my G.I. Joe collection I’ve been working on since 1985 and getting an amazing original page from Dustin Nguyen!
Blanca Iztak, cosplayer
I enjoyed the cosplay and not having to wait in line to get into a panel or a booth, but I missed the experiences outside and the nice freebies. It felt like there were less attendees in costume, when there should have been more to make up for the lack of the usual entertainment.
Kristi Schoeman, panelist
Our panel, The Future of Doctor Who, was so full they had to turn many away including the producer of the new "Batman" movie. Yes it was smaller and Hollywoodless but it was still fun and great to see many friends.
Tone Milazzo, author
One the one hand, my agenda to pitch my comic fell short due to a lack of publishers. On the other hand, I spoke to enough people who Kickstarted their comics to make me think that's the way to go. Overall, it was nice to have a smaller production. But (and this might be a weird thing to get hung up on) the lack of carpet in the main hall made the whole event sound and feel off to me.
Melissa Turner Milazzo, attendee
It felt very much like the first San Diego Comic-Con I attended back in 2001. I appreciated the extra space and how easy it was to run into friends and acquaintances in the smaller crowd. I appreciated that there was still plenty of low-key cosplay happening too!
On the downside, I was bummed that so many small/niche comic and book presses stayed home. I love finding new favorite authors or properties at Comic-Con, but this year there weren't many new ones on the roster.
I was also a bit disappointed to see less stock featuring original art (especially tee-shirts and art prints) from the small vendors. I love supporting artists, but I didn't feel like spending money on another Star Wars/Start Trek/Firefly/ Marvel/Disney character sketch. I get that this was probably a big investment for them, so they brought their most commercially viable stock, but it wasn't what I was looking for.
Julian Mushkin, attendee
I enjoyed the Con. I missed some of the vendors who declined to attend but I reveled in the space available to move easily.
Daniel N. Butler, attendee
I went for a quick half hour, just to get a gaze at how relaxing it was just being outside Comic-Con. A bit of people but nothing more than a Padres game. It was nice.
Kevin J. Ring, attendee
I loved it. Even on the way there it was excellent as I began with a trolley ride down the new Blue Line extension. No parking or traffic worries, really set a nice tone for me.
I only made it to half a panel, but that didn't disappoint me in the least. It was just so good not to have to fight through crowds on the exhibitor floor and be able to see across the aisles. Not to mention being able to actually get to a table to look at their wares without being jostled, pushed, and bumped.
But best of all was seeing great friends for the first time in over two years and having wonderful conversations.
Daniel Stafford, attendee
I was truly tickled that there were some first time attendees saying, “This is huge! Wow!” Sweet summer children, all of them. I will say that this vendor had the most brilliant idea. And cheaper than buying bottles of water.