Roundtable: Comic-Con returns to San Diego
S1: San Diego waited more than 1000 days for this weekend. Comic-Con International is back at full capacity , welcoming some of the biggest names in film , television and pop culture. It's our focus this week. I met Hoffman and this is KPBS roundtable. Welcome to KPBS Roundtable. I'm Matt Hoffman. And this week , our guests are KPBS arts and culture reporter Beth ACCOMANDO. KPBS reporter Kitty Alvarado. And San Diego Union-Tribune , tourism and hospitality reporter Laurie Weisberg. Welcome to you all. We all know you're busy covering the return of Comic-Con. We want to start out with how you guys think things are going early on. Let's start with Beth here.
S2: If people are using that clear pass , they're getting through the line pretty fast to get their verification. I think the biggest issue is that most of us who've been attending for a long time , we've had two years off and it feels like we've forgotten things like where's the fastest route to get from this place to this place ? And which is the street we're supposed to avoid and stuff like that. So it's just kind of the muscle memory still there. But so far , you know , I've seen things run pretty smoothly. I haven't seen anything that seemed particularly problematic.
S3: I'm just so excited to be there. I love it.
S4: And I and I normally , as you mentioned , I cover the business side of it. So it really doesn't necessarily require me to be there. And I know we're going to talk about this , but my time was occupied with a related hotel strike and I know we'll get into that. Yeah.
S1: Yeah. And there's a lot to get to there. We want to turn now to Kitty Alvarado from KPBS News. Kitty , you've been a reporter in Southern California for many years , and you just mentioned this is your first ever Comic-Con.
S3: It's absolutely overwhelming in a good way and magical. Everywhere you look , it almost seems like you're stepping into your favorite movie , your favorite book. And everything is coming to life and everything and is coming at you at the same time. Every building is wrapped in some sort of theme. There are digital displays. There are characters. There are everywhere you look. People are just taking selfies. There's costumes , there's interactive displays. There are so many selfie opportunities. It's just absolutely buzzing with so many people. It is absolutely beautiful in a site that everyone has to see and experience at least once in their lifetime.
S1: Agree on that. And Laurie , back to you. You alluded to this earlier. We know that you cover local hotels as part of your beat with the U-T. One of the hotels that plays a big role in Comic-Con saw its workers briefly walk off the job. We know it was resolved.
S4: And it's obviously one of the three big convention hotels right next door to the convention center. So they the union that represents the hotel had been negotiating since last year. Their contract ran out in November and they weren't getting much progress. They also knew Comic-Con was coming back , and so timing and leverage was clearly on their side. They were fortunate in that regard , and they called the Hilton Hotels Bluff. They had a day of negotiations. There was back and forth. But at the end of the day , into the evening , the hotel rejected the last offer by the by the union , which was for a $4 an hour increase over the over a two year period. And that was it. And and the union called their bluff and they walked off the job. And and that started it for the next morning on Wednesday. And all of a sudden it ended late that night when the hotel came back to the union , not in an official bargaining session , and made them an offer that they think is worthy of presenting to their membership. We're not being told what the offer is , but I'm assuming that it's a decent pay raise.
S1: And we are talking about the Hilton Bayfront down there.
S4: Yeah. And , you know , people aren't going , you know , during Comic-Con , they're not going to cancel these really hard fought reservations they got at a premier convention hotel. So they didn't they were in danger of losing the hotel revenue. But the optics weren't good. Their service wasn't probably going to be up to par. People , you know , that could have persuaded maybe some people not to come back again. So it was more kind of a public relations nightmare and potential staffing issue for the hotel. But yes , I , I think Comic-Con. Absolutely the presence of Comic-Con now during this period. He helped them in their strike and potentially moving to this this resolution.
S1: And , Kitty , we know that one reason why Comic-Con is so newsworthy this year is because it was canceled over the last two years. But people we know are still getting covered. Even the president of the United States announced a positive test recently.
S3: I haven't seen this. People gathered in one place since the pandemic started and I covered Coachella. And it's surprising to see , because , as you said , they're still covered , but they are making it pretty easy. You do need to have a negative COVID test within 72 hours , but there are little locations around there. If you haven't had an opportunity to get a test , there are locations around there where you can get a negative COVID test very easily , get it get in to get to be able to present that , you have to wear a mask indoors and or you also have to show proof of vaccination. But it's all very convenient and all ready for you so you can be able to get in and enjoy the convention. But , you know , they make it really easy. So not that big of a deal , but you do have to be extra careful.
S1: Yeah , we're hearing about people having to get those wristbands for their vaccination status. I know you were out there earlier in the week talking with some people down there.
S3: I ran into one young lady who hand-made her entire costume and she handmade six costumes , and her first one she wore was steampunk , and she hand-made every mask with her costume , and included with every costume was a N95 insert inside , but every mask was unique and handmade , and she got really into it , really creative. So she saw some some are very lucky because masks are already part of their costumes. But me , mine are all handmade originals and I'm just getting really creative and really into it.
S1: Yeah , I was wondering how some of that was going to work with the intricate costumes. And Beth , we know that you've been to Comic-Con many times and you all know how crowded it can get in those hallways.
S2: I mean , you will see people here and there , you know , in a booth where they're working , maybe they've taken off their mask. And , you know , people are you know , you're not going to get 100% of the people complying all the time. But for the most part , it seems like it's going well. And like Kitty pointed out , people are taking this as an opportunity to fly their geek flag. So , you know , you need to wear a mask. Well , then put a facehugger on or whatever it is that you want to show that you love. So , I mean , I think most people are in a pretty good mood about going along with it , although , you know , you'll see someone every now and then , you know , throwing a fit outside the door saying like , why do I have to wear a mask ? But for the most part , I think it's going well.
S4: Obviously , social distancing is not a requirement along with the vaccination. But I know every year it's always been cheek digital and that on the exhibit for , you know , the thing any additional.
S2: Space , you know , it does not seem quite as crowded as it has been special edition and this one feel like there's been a little more room. I went to Monster Palooza recently and that was literally shoulder to shoulder and it felt kind of uncomfortable being in that tight situation with other people. But walking around the floor now so far , like I haven't felt that super congested feeling yet. Of course , it's only Friday now , so we still have a busier day ahead. You know , and there is a lot , you know , people are moving and wearing masks. So I feel like the floor is not a place where I feel uncomfortable. Someone pointed out that Hall H is a place where you might want to feel a little more concerned in the sense that you're having people sitting in the same space for hours , possibly the same people , and there's less movement and circulation. And you're sitting next to the same person for possibly , you know , 8 hours , whereas when you're on the floor , you're constantly moving. And if somebody might have COVID , you might be next to them for 2 minutes.
S1: Now , let's dive into the event itself. A lot of Hollywood studios are back this year and the first couple of days include some major stars and some major panels. Beth , we're going to you , our Comic-Con expert here.
S2: Four. This is going to have Warner Brothers in the morning and marvel in the evening. I think people who get in there are probably going to stay for the whole day. But , you know , for me personally , I tend to go to smaller panels and hit the floor more because I don't really want to spend the time in line anymore at this point. I want to try and get as much , you know , as big a variety of stuff in as possible. And so if there are smaller panels that I can get into , I mean , there's things like a panel on letters , anchors and colorists , and it's a part of comic books that I don't know that well. And to be able to walk into that and get information that I don't know is really exciting to me or , you know , hitting the floor and seeing some artists and artists. Ali To me that that's a bigger part of the convention for me. But I know that Saturday is going to be crazy in Hall H.
S1: And you have a story for KPBS this week that sort of speaks to that star power. And it's about those who camp out for a spot in Hall H wait in those lines. Along those lines.
S2: They've changed , too. It's not DC Comics. It's not Marvel Comics. It's Marvel Entertainment and DC Entertainment. And the panels that are the biggest panels from Warner Brothers and Comic-Con are going to be about superhero movies and about films based on comics. So I don't think , you know , the the focus has shifted entirely , but I do think that the industry itself has made comics a bigger part of what it's done. I mean , look at the biggest shows that are on , you know , Disney and some of the other channels. So , you know , I think it's a natural progression of the actual entertainment industry as well. I mean , I know that people mourn the fact that there are some of these comic book , you know , collectible booths and and some of these older comic creators that maybe aren't as featured. And they feel that they're competing with the studios , like on the exhibit floor. But you can still find a lot of that stuff there. But I mean , I think it's it's basically just because , you know , Marvel launched its cinematic universe back in 2009 , the same year that the year after Twilight came out. And fandom just got huge for those kind of properties. And , you know , it's what the fans want to. It's not like it's a completely separate thing , I think.
S1: And we know that while there's stuff going on inside , there's also a lot of stuff going on outside. And Kitty Alvarado from KPBS News is here. And we know that you've covered some of that early transformation going on outside. So Comic-Con , we know it's sold out. So if you want to go , you kind of have to go outside , Kitty. Well , for me personally , those are some of my favorite things to do , the outside events and all the activations out there.
S3: You know , it's really hard to get tickets. I mean , but if you have a family and you can't afford to go inside or you just couldn't get tickets , there's so much to do outside , so many events , so many really cool things to do and see. I know right across there's a little display called Audible Audible Beach where you can build sand sculptures made out of sand and listen to audible originals. You can go to Petco Park , you can visit the Hello Kitty Cafe. You can just pose with the little kid inside the truck doll , little display and take pictures. You can get inside little different cars , build Lego , set things , just do so many different interactive things that I don't even think I could name them all. But there's so many different things. If you go to our Web site , KPBS , start org. There's a whole article written by our Julia Dickson that just goes on and on and lists the things. And it doesn't most of them don't cost a dime. And you can have so much fun with your family and there's just so much to see. Even if you just walk around and just buy a drink and get an ice cream with your family , I think you could just have so much fun.
S1: Yeah , that's the best part. Not only are they fun , a lot of them are free. And we know that some of the fun involved with Comic-Con is sort of people watching and seeing all the cool cosplay costumes.
S3: I did love that. That steampunk girl that I saw , I thought she was so amazing. And just seeing all of the different. I love the homemade costumes , I suppose that's why. And just thinking about the hours upon hours that it took for her to create this costume , that is pretty extraordinary.
S2: I have a first , which are the people who dress up as the villains from Star Wars and people who get into cosplay now are learning how to sew , actually getting degrees in , you know , being seamstresses , learning how to do 3D printing , resin printing , fabricating , vacuum forming. I mean , they are doing so much. Some of them are even opening Etsy stores because they've learned these new skills just to create their costumes for Comic-Con. So , you know , this notion of homemade costumes has just exploded into something completely different. And if you go and look at some of the costumes , when they do a lot of photo shoots in the back by the big the grand staircase , and if you look at the detail , work on some of those costumes , it's amazing.
S3: I had no idea. Beth , that sounds an awful. They should almost have a fashion show.
S2: And the masquerade is amazing. One of my favorites was they had these Rockettes dressed as the Godzilla monsters and smashing a city as they , you know , kicked up their legs. Wow.
S3: Wow. Well , maybe we should start a fashion show and give awards. Yes.
S1: Yes. Something KPBS can look into. And we know that there's while there's a lot of fun going on , it's also a very lucrative time for bars , restaurants and really any other businesses in that downtown area. We know that they missed out on this payday over the last couple of years.
S4: But it's it's it's huge. Now , granted , July is one of the best months for tourism in San Diego , even without Comic-Con. And there's other really big conventions that we just had , one that every convention that draws a lot of people. But those restaurants and bars , a lot of them make far , far more money than they normally would. I remember several years ago when I was covering Comic-Con , one very well located restaurant where Mickey's said that they will make 50 , $60,000 more in that time than they would normally so. And we already know that the economic impact , you know , is more than 150 and $60 million. And a lot of that impact is from clearly the direct spending on hotels , restaurants , bars.
S1: You're listening to KPBS roundtable. I'm Matt Hoffman. And with us this week to talk about the return of Comic-Con in San Diego are San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Laurie Weisberg. And we also have Beth ACCOMANDO and Kitty Alvarado from KPBS News. You know , Laurie , for years we've been told that San Diego risks losing Comic-Con if it doesn't expand the convention center. That hasn't happened yet. And that's a big reason why Measure C was on the ballot back in 2020. That was the primary just before the COVID shutdowns. Do we know like are we in a holding pattern right now or where do we stand with that ? Right.
S4: Well , so there's there's no way to have a convention center expansion without funding. And that Measure C was going to raise the hotel tax fairly significantly to pay for that. That measure at the time , we believe , required a two thirds vote to pass. It came very , very close , but didn't make it. But there have been court decisions since then that suggests that a citizens initiative , which this was , that's first , but that's raising money for a specific purpose , only requires a simple majority. So the city council had scored a complicated. But in order to buttress its case , the city council , a year after that vote took place , declared that the measure did pass , arguing that it had a simple majority. There is a recent court ruling , though , that threw a wrench into that whole plan , and the judge ruled that the city did not have the city leaders did not have the authority to declare it as having passed. He didn't get into the substance of whether you need two thirds or a simple majority. So that's put everything on hold. The city has a validation lawsuit where it wants a higher court to rule that that their their measure passed. But now we have to wait for this this interim judgment to be appealed and settled. So we are clearly in a holding pattern. There's there's not going to be any convention center expansion until there's money and there won't be any money until there's a vote that passes by the by the electorate.
S1: Yeah , it sounds very complicated. And bottom line , the convention center is still the same size right now. This one goes to both you , Laurie and Beth.
S4: I mean , I'm because I cover every every time that comic me Comic-Con threatens to leave or they're going to go to Anaheim or they're being wooed by Los Angeles. There's a new contract , and I don't know if the pandemic extended that contract , but when last we covered it , it was supposed to be here through 2024. Clearly , Comic-Con organizers want a bigger convention center , and they see that the city's trying to get that. I don't know if that knows that they're they're making noises about going elsewhere again.
S2: I mean , I don't think Comic-Con has ever really said they want to leave. I mean , they have a base of like 6000 volunteers that help them run that convention. It's going to be very hard to move it anywhere. I mean , they do want more space because obviously they can't generate any more income unless they have the ability to bring more people in and they've reached capacity. So they you know , they can't do that. I mean , I think they've been the city and Comic-Con have been pretty creative in terms of trying to find new places where you can extend the campus. They've got the new Comic-Con Museum , which allows them to have a little bit of space somewhere else where it can either draw some crowds or provide them with panel space where they can actually do some programming. They're doing stuff at the Central Library as well. So , you know , they're extending that campus as much as they can. You know , I've been going to Comic-Con almost since it began. And , you know , when it started , the city wasn't really that happy to have it here. And the idea of Comic-Con leaving was never anything that the city cared about for the longest time. And , you know , they only got their contract. Usually it was just a year to year renewal on their contracts. I mean , Comic-Con never had like a ten year contract to stay here in San Diego. So , you know , the fact that it's getting renewed every year or every three years , you know , is is a longer contract than I think they've had in the past. But , you know , it's a space issue. I mean , it really does come down to how many people can you fit in there comfortably and even pre-pandemic. That was pretty tight , you know , and uncomfortable , too , on some of those days where you were literally , you know , moving like sardines in a can. Yeah.
S1: Yeah. And we know you talked about it drawing a lot of people. And we know that this is an international event , but it still does draw a dedicated local audience. And , Kitty , we know that you were out there among the crowds this week. Did you hear from any locals or tourists about Comic-Con and you know what it means to them ? Wow.
S3: I was really surprised to hear the way people express themselves about Comic-Con , especially the locals. One young man said he's been coming since he was seven years old. He described it as a best friend who left , who left momentarily , and how sad he was when his best friend wasn't around. And it was he had such a sad look on his face when he was remembering Comic-Con being gone for those couple of years. And. And then when I said , and now that you're here in it's back. And he said , Oh , my gosh , it's like I'm like a volcano and it's just exploding. Boom , boom , boom. And I'm just so happy and I'm so excited to cosplay and be with my friends again. And he just lit up and it's just it means so much , he said. When I'm here and I'm surrounded by my friends and all of these people and characters , and that got me through so many tough times in my life and I'm able to be here and connect with them. It it means the world to me and and hearing him say that I genuinely saw how it just meant the world to him. And that's that's wonderful. That's wonderful to hear. And I heard that over and over and over. It wasn't a unique thing to hear him say that. And so I think just hearing what Beth said , that a possibility that , you know , if they don't expand , that they could lose it. I think that would be such a shame for San Diego to lose such a marquee event. That means so much not just to an international audience , but especially to locals who have grown to love the event that literally is synonymous with San Diego.
S1: Yeah , and I think everybody can relate to that sense of community there. Beth , final question goes to you. We know that you're the lead for all things Comic-Con and the days ahead.
S2: It's Annabeth , and then I'm posting articles over the weekend at KPBS dot org , where I'm visiting artist Sally. What I'm trying to do is highlight some places that if you don't want to wait in line , you can go to quickly. So you can visit artists alley , you can visit small press , you can hit the exhibit floor. You don't need to have , you know , any special badge or , you know , ticketed item or something like that. You can just go and enjoy meeting an artists and talking to them face to face. And I just think that that's a that's a great way for me to experience the convention. And you hang out with friends and you're around kindred spirits who don't think you're weird and get all your weird references. So like I said in my story , it's like , Chewie , we're home. Yeah.
S1: Yeah. And if you don't have a ticket , remember , you can still go down. A lot of stuff happen outside , a lot of cool Comic-Con themed food. We're going to have to end it there. That's all for this week's episode of KPBS Roundtable. I want to thank all of our guests so much. Be sure to keep tabs on Comic-Con throughout the weekend at pbs.org. And we also have plenty of video on our KPBS YouTube page. You can always hear the KPBS roundtable as a podcast any time I met Hoffman. Thanks so much for joining us. We'll catch it next week.