Eisner Awards Plus Comic-Con@Home Continues To Live Online
The pop culture convention officially ended but you can still watch panels and Eisners
The first ever Comic-Con online came to an official close Sunday night. But you can keep the Comic-Con@Home experience going for as long as you’d like.
Virtual Comic-Con@Home has technically ended but unlike in the past when all we could do was share memories of panels we loved, or maybe find a studio panel uploaded legally or illegally to YouTube, this year we can tell someone this panel was awesome and here's the link to watch it.
Comic-Con International spokesperson David Glanzer was a bit guarded before the show about committing to whether or not these panels would remain up forever or get pulled down. He only committed to "some will likely remain up." And hopefully they will stay up as a testament to how the pop culture convention survived the pandemic and still delivered a show.
I know — Comic-Con online is not the same as the real thing. But let's face it, quarantine has taught us that nothing is quite the same — at least for now — and we should appreciate all the good things that still manage to happen.
So kudos to the nonprofit organization for making it happen and making it available to anyone for free. The organization took a huge financial hit by having to cancel both Comic-Con and its sister convention, WonderCon, this year. Next year when (I am being hopeful) they have a show they will have to contend with not being able to sell as many badges because so many people this year opted to carry over the hard-to-get badges to 2021. I appreciate all the work that went into making Comic-Con@Home happen and without a glitch, at least in terms of my experience of it.
Panels came online at exactly the time they were scheduled. I like that you had to do some form of waiting and everyone who had set up a schedule to follow was sort of experiencing panels at the same time and could pretend to be in the room with friends as we texted reactions.
Since COVID-19 has forced me to shelter at home and experience my favorite event of the year by myself in front of a computer screen, it made me think about what makes Comic-Con what it is.
I think it is important to remember that the people who started it never expected it to get this big. They were just geeky fans who wanted a convention that they would like to attend. Mark Evanier reminded us in the Jack Kirby 101 panel that the comic book creator predicted Comic-Con would be huge and would attract Hollywood — but he was probably the only who foresaw that future.
Those geeky founders were people who felt outside the mainstream and without an event that addressed their particular fandom. That's why as someone who has never felt like I fit in anywhere, I always felt like I fit in at Comic-Con. It seemed to cater to cultural misfits looking for a venue where they could just be themselves. When I started going in the late 1970s it really was the only place where all my weirdness (love of horror, old movies, monsters, toys) was no longer weird.
The true essence of geekdom is about unapologetically being on the fringes. In fact, you often wore not fitting-in as a badge of honor. Being a geek was and is about loving something that you often feel no one else loves and possibly no one else even knows about. But Comic-Con gave us was the opportunity to find like-minded people so we didn't feel so alone in our obsessions.
By looking to comics, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, genre films, gaming and more Comic-Con highlighted the things that society often looked down upon, dismissed or sometimes even tried to censor. The people who created those things were sometimes people who themselves felt like outsiders. So while Hollywood and a lot of other places are scrambling to check boxes for diversity, Comic-Con has always been diverse. It has had LGBT panels since 1988, a Black panel since early '90s, and a Super Asian America one celebrating its 10th anniversary.
This year you could also find panels highlighting Aztec culture, Native Americans, indigenous peoples, AfroFuturism, art and the Holocaust, LatinX, Japanese manga, and queer horror.
I know that many longtime con-goers felt Comic-Con changed over the years with big Hollywood panels taking over Hall H and an influx of new attendees who seemed too mainstream. As geeks we felt like the popular kids were suddenly moving in on our turf as geek became chic. But I always felt that Comic-Con is whatever you want to make of it. If you have mainstream taste and want Hollywood panels you can find them but if you want something more off the beaten path you could find that too.
So, while I am hopeful we will have the physical show next year, I was thrilled to be able to “attend” more panels than ever online.
The benefits of online
It was strange not having the pop culture convention in person. But on the plus side I got to enjoy 70 hours of programming without waiting in a single line or having my view blocked by someone’s crazy anime hair. Plus, this marks the first time that you can continue to enjoy much of the 350 hours of programming after Comic-Con has officially ended.
The panels varied wildly not just in terms of content but also in terms of quality. They were almost exclusively Zoom meetings with some boasting high end production values (like the studio panels for "Bill and Ted Face the Music" and "The Boys Season 2") and some felt like they were just casually slapped together.
Overall it proved to be a much more intimate experience, which is good and bad. There’s not the buzz of being in a crowd of 6,500 people as you see footage for a new film revealed but you got a front row seat to everything. Some of the panels were like conversations between friends that felt personal and thoughtful, more so than might have occurred in a large room with hundreds or thousands of strangers.
On the HBO Lovecraft Country panel a scene of a Black man in 1950s America being pulled over by a cop was discussed in the context of what’s going on today and how we have not come as far as we’d like, and actor Courtney B. Vance recalled a recent incident where cops were responding to a call in his mostly white neighborhood at night and when he came out his front door they demanded he put his hands up.
"But I’m a Black person and I have seen enough "Law and Orders" to know, don’t say a word Courtney, come out the house with your hands up in the air," Vance said on the panel.
I’m not sure if the discussion would have taken that turn in Hall H and you definitely would not have been able to see how this story resonated for the other Black panelists some of whom were visibly choked up as he asked how long do we have to play out scenes like this before real change happens. How long do we have to live with this double standard for Blacks and whites? There were a number of powerful and honest moments like that on panels that I think happened because of the format.
I think a majority of the panels took advantage of what this year had to offer. There was a panel on Mexican Lucha Libre that was all in Spanish but because it was a video it could be subtitled. A live panel would not be as easy to translate.
And the Harryhausen 100 panel had his daughter, Vanessa, and because she was in her home she could just run and get a movie prop to share. She would not have been able to transport many of those models her dad used in his stop motion animation to San Diego so the panel took full advantage of her being at home.
But not everything was great. I started a few panels where the moderator was so bad or the video or audio were so bad that I turned them off. The benefit of it just being a YouTube video was I could sample a panel and for whatever reason if I didn't like it I could just stop watching and switch to another panel. I didn't have to disrupt anything by walking out or be unable to switch to another panel because it was already full.
The Eisner Awards
These are considered the Oscars of the comics industry and usually they are a lengthy affair on Friday night, but this one was a mere hour with no presenter banter or acceptance speeches. You can go online and scan through it to get a great reading list.
Some winners that I am looking to pickup are "Bitter Root," "Way of the House Husband," and "EC Comics Race, Shock and Social Protest." Top winners were "Laura Dean Is Breaking Up with Me" and "Invisible Kingdom."
The publisher with the most wins was Dark Horse, but local IDW Publishing won for George Takei’s "They Called Us Enemy" and for an artist edition book of Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo. Here is the complete list of winners.
Comic-Con in the future
No one knows if Comic-Con can happen in person next year. But many people got to experience something of the convention in its online version and some expressed a desire to have the online version of Comic-Con continue.
The problem for Comic-Con as an organization is how to monetize that.
Panels have been recorded in the past and played at night at the convention center for people to catch but those never went online. Studios recently have been placing their Hall H panels online almost immediately to discourage illegal video going up. Now that people have had a taste of these great panels they understandably want more and many have enjoyed it being free and without waiting in line.
Comic-Con YouTube subscribers went from about 90,000 on Wednesday to 141,000 Monday. Topping the list for views were "The Vikings" and "The New Mutants" panel, both surpassing 200,000 views as of this morning with other Hollywood panels in the tens of thousands while smaller panels mostly in the few hundred to few thousand range. But all the panels were likely seen by more people than would have ever had a chance to watch them in person. So there will be some interesting challenges, expectations and logistics to tackle moving forward for the organization. But hopefully some kind of online component will remain even if it means the panels go up a week after the convention or maybe there is just a sidebar tract of online only content you can access with a code.
The Top Panels
What makes a best panel is personal. My picks were influenced by a mix of content, technical quality, moderator, uniqueness as well as special moments or wow factor. Click on panel titles to go to YouTube link.
Harryhausen 100: Into the Ray Harryhausen Archive
I think this was my favorite because Vanessa Harryhausen was so utterly delightful and was having so much fun sharing her father's work and her obvious love for him. My favorite moments were her sharing a photo where she was hugging an elephant her dad made as if it were a favorite toy and not a prop from a multi-million dollar movie. Plus, as she spoke she casually would pet the saber-tooth cat that her dad used for stop motion animation for "Sinbad and Eye of the Tiger." She treated it as if it were a real cat. It was a wonderful celebration of Harryhausen.
Comics Satire and the New Political Cartoon
This panel developed into a great discussion about how political cartoonists see their work. The panelists were smart, articulate and passionate and I wanted to run out and get their work. I didn't know what to expect from the panel and was richly rewarded by the results.
Another panel where I did not know what to expect but I got some great personal narratives combined with history for an enlightening hour of art, information, and propaganda that may resonate in new ways today.
Gender, Race, and Comic Book Coloring
I place a high value on learning something new so I watched this panel because I really did not know anything about comic book coloring and this provided some fascinating history and insight.
The Women Behind "Mythic Quest"
I love the AppleTV+ show "Mythic Quest" and this panel highlighted the women behind the show as well as women in gaming. Great discussion, practical advice, and some frank assessments of where we are. Check out my podcast with co-creator Megan Ganz.
Any time I can see this wildly talented group of people together I will jump at the opportunity. No more reason needed. These people and this show just bring me endless joy. Check out my podcast with Matt Berry.
The Wonderful, Horrible World of E.C. Comics
I have always loved comics but have never really been well versed in its history so I loved goinginto some depth and detail into the amazing E.C. Comics.
Again, I know of Jack Kirby and of his work but really didn't know a lot about him in terms of the history of comics so this was a loving tribute to him and if you are new to the comics world, this is truly a great introductory course.
I love horror and the surge in queer horror is fascinating and wonderful. Sam Wineman, (who has been a guest on Cinema Junkie) teased his new documentary that will debut on Shudder. Again an excellent, in-depth discussion of horror and queerness and how that means different things to different people.
Zombies and Coronavirus: Planning for the Next Big Outbreak
I was most looking forward to this panel and it would have ranked higher if not for the fact that it had so many good people with not enough time to talk. I wish the moderator had shortened his intro and questions to give more time to the panelists. I find it a bit ironic that a provocative, honest, critical, and highly informative panel on coronavirus comes at a pop culture convention. If you want to hear more from brilliant author Max Brooks, I do give him a lot of time on my podcast.
Honorable mentions to HBO's Lovecraft Country, Constantine: 15th Anniversary Reunion, Cardboard Superheroes, Guillermo Del Toro and Scott Cooper on 'Antlers' and Filmmaking, The Mandalorian and his Many Gadgets
Panels that highlight diversity
AfroFuturism and Black Religion
Aztec Depictions in Pop Culture: 500 Years After the Fall
Diversity and Inclusion: Why Diversity Matters
Giving Voice to Independent Comics
Latin American Horror Cinema 2: Sometimes The Come Back
Latinx and Native American Storytellers
LGBTQ Characters on TV: What's Next
Lights, Camera, LGBTQI-dentity! Never Alone
Reclaiming Indigenous History
Super Asian America
Wakanda Forever: The Psychology of Black Panther
Women on the Dark Side