Some Thoughts on Comic-Con 2022 …

Comic-Con 2022 is now one for the history books and it was a show that had a major personal effect on me. It was the first San Diego Comic-Con I went to as an attendee in 25 years (if you’ve been following along, you know I worked for the organization from 2000-2021), and this event acted as a sort of epilogue for me, the first real comics convention I’ve been to since July 2019, and after the pandemic started in 2020.

It was an incredibly busy week for me and I’m still coming down a bit from an over-socialization and over-stimulation high. Retirement is such that a busy day for me may include a walk, a visit to my local comics shop, a Target run, and lunch out … or maybe a twice-monthly happy hour with a friend. Seven straight days (I took the ferry over to downtown from Monday through Sunday for various Comic-Con related reasons) of lunches and dinners and being around 45,000 or so other people in a fast-moving, frenetic atmosphere took its toll on me and by Sunday at 1:00 or so, I needed a little quiet space for myself and enjoyed my only lunch alone, quickly followed by the 2:55 ferry ride back home to Coronado and a nap. Such is life these days for an old fart like me.

I’m grateful for being able to spend some time with everyone I did (especially those of you who joined me for a meal or drink: Amy, Rebecca, Charlie, Lisa/Tula, Laura, Analise and Grayson, Valerie and Sean, Maija, and Sherri and Karen and their respective—and respectful—kids). Comic-Con was never quite a social event for me in the past because I was always working, so it’s nice in my “elder statesman” days to be able to experience that part of the show that so many others experience. I also saw—only for a few brief moments—some of my old workmates, who were still toiling on the event, even if the number of people working full-time has dwindled to about half as many as were there when I left, due to the pandemic and other, more personal reasons.

Some people are saying attendance was down and that’s probably true, but the Exhibit Hall was so packed on Sunday in the Hall A-B area (my primary area of interest, where the exhibitors selling old comics are located) that I left after shuffling around seemingly endlessly. My poor toes hurt from banging against my shoes with such tiny steps. The crowds on Sunday effectively told me it was time to go home and Comic-Con was over, at least for me. I understand lines for Hall H and Ballroom 20 were relatively light (except on Saturday), also.

A look around this year’s show, both inside and out. All photos in this post by me.

Despite all of that social activity, Comic-Con to me was a bit of a mixed bag emotionally, but I did enjoy myself immensely. Minor disclaimer: My own personal interests these days lean towards my nostalgia for 1960s comics and smaller, modern publishers such as Fantagraphics. I’m not an activation type of person, I won’t go stand in line outside the Convention Center, even to immerse myself in some fantasy world from TV series and movies, no matter how much I enjoy them and no matter how amazing these displays are. Shopping-wise I picked up two nice stacks of books (about 10 graphic novels and about 16 Silver Age comics, all pretty much a good deal in one way or another). I saw just a handful of panels (Abrams ComicArts Marvel panel, Spotlight on Terry Moore, 40 Years of The Rocketeer, and the Marvel Studios panel—more on that in a bit) and spent an inordinate amount of time digging through long boxes and roaming around semi-aimlessly, kind of like a dog being lured away by endless squirrels. The dwindling Gold and Silver Age Pavilion was my focus for most of the time, along with publishers such as Fantagraphics and Abrams, both of which had familiar, easy to navigate booths. I don’t know what the hell was up with the IDW booth, which felt like visiting a bank teller and applying for a loan, with no visible product for sale. I found BOOM! Studios’s booth equally mystifying. I’ve always kind of stayed away from the madness of the Marvel booth, so no surprises there. I missed seeing DC Comics, Dark Horse, and Drawn & Quarterly on the floor, and if Top Shelf was part of the IDW booth, I couldn’t find it. (I did however, see TS publisher Chris Staros briefly on Tuesday … he’s one of the nicest guys in comics.) A smaller than usual Image Comics booth was set up nicely for sales and signings, with Skybound absorbed into it. I was hoping to find an early copy of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s Pulp Process Edition but no go … too early for this early August release, I guess.

The absence of the DC booth was particularly painful, since it has been an integral part of Comic-Con for numerous years. As I wrote about in this post, DC was among the first big comics publisher booths, one that set the stage for bigger and better booths from Marvel, Dark Horse, IDW, BOOM!, and others, including some companies which no longer exist. DC’s new corporate parents, Warner Discovery, opted for a Shark Week blimp as a Comic-Con presence that trolled the San Diego skies all weekend, showing that the current owners of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman would rather promote a bunch of sensationalistic reality TV crap than the “World’s Greatest Superheroes.” Probably for the cost of that painted blimp, the fuel it needed to fly around, and the crew to fly it (not to mention its insurance), DC could have had their old booth back, once again holding court in the Comic-Con Exhibit Hall like in years past. While both DC and Warner Bros. had a number of panels, without that marquee space on the floor, Comic-Con just didn’t seem the same to me. (It also didn’t seem the same in 2019 when WB insisted DC fit into a humiliating corner of their ugly and poorly designed booth, led by a WB exec who had no reason to be dabbling in comic convention planning. She was summarily laid off by the previous management, in one of the few good decisions they made.)

The last minute cancellation of Oni Press’s booth and panels as it seemed to pour itself into a dumpster and self-immolate was sad. I always liked seeing James Lucas Jones and admired and enjoyed some of the company’s books. Drawn & Quarterly’s absence was also keenly felt by me, but I knew that one was coming a while back, since I maintain a friendship—albeit via email—with publisher Peggy Burns. D&Q, along with Fantagraphics, publish some of the best alternative and historical comics material. Well, at least Fantagraphics was there and it was great to see Eric Reynolds and Jacq Cohen …. even Gary “Shit Show*” Groth showed up once again, and judging from their post-Comic-Con Instagram post, they had a great show, already saying they’re looking forward to 2023. (*Groth referred to Comic-Con as a “shit show” in an interview in a Seattle alt-weekly newspaper a few years back, ostensibly conducted to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the publisher. Funny that that sentiment didn’t stop him from publishing a book on the early history of Comic-Con, titled See You at San Diego, coming out in September.)

Some of the hotel wraps around the Convention Center, including (left to right) Apple TV’s Severance on the Hard Rock Hotel; the creepy doll faces for American Horror Story seemed even creepier at night on the Hilton Bayfront; and a hard-to-figure-out exactly what this Fox-oriented wrap was advertising on the Omni. Still, it’s great to see this kind of thing back in full force; there was also a Teen Wolf movie wrap, some Walking Dead stuff at the Hilton Gaslamp, and an all-encompassing Star Trek/Paramount+ wrap on the top of one of the Marriott towers. (I’m probably missing a few.)

I talked to two prominent comic creators—who shall remain nameless, but whose work I intensely admire and have followed throughout their individual careers—and one of them told me flat out that they were retiring their Comic-Con booth; the other told me they were on the fence about coming back, that they see the same faces each year, and that was great, but the entire show—inside and out—no longer feels like a comics show. It made me very sad to hear that. As someone who railed against all the continuous talk about Comic-Con not being about comics pretty much all the years I worked there (and did my best to always suggest a diverse group of guests for each show and include a lot of comics-oriented content in the 14 years I edited and designed the event’s Souvenir Book), it really still hurt, even though I’m no longer officially involved. I don’t know how much the current upper management of the show (with one or two exceptions) feels about comics. I know some people will argue that the comics industry isn’t really about selling comics anymore; it’s more about properties that can be translated to other media, and that’s all DC Comics is to a company like Warner Media, just a farm club with players to be named—and taken advantage of—later. I sincerely doubt that any Warner Discovery exec has even picked up a comic in the last decade.

I feel that this was a transitional year for Comic-Con in more ways than one. I overheard some anecdotal grumbling from exhibitors while I was digging through long boxes about how poorly they were doing early on during the weekend … but by Saturday and Sunday, I think that picked up a bit. That’s always the case at Comic-Con: Comics people tend to look first, make note of prices, and then come back and buy later in the weekend. I know I saw one book in particular that I wanted for anywhere from $10 to $34 to $60. I bought the $10 one, which was in nice enough condition for me. And don’t get me started on the commoditization of comics by slabbing them in plastic. That’s a rant that can bring out the whole “Hey, you kids, get off my lawn” in me. Suffice it to say, it ceases to be a comic book once you have it “professionally” graded and sealed in a plastic slab, at least to me. More and more dealers in the “Gold and Silver Age Pavilion” seem to be leaning towards slabbed comics. I don’t know what the future of comic book selling and collecting is at Comic-Con. Comic sellers seem to be gravitating towards smaller comics-centric events, where the only thing present is comics … no movies, TV, or toys, action figures, merchandise, and apparel. I think Comic-Con would prosper by taking some of their space at the Marriott or Hyatt and turning that over to the dealers that specialize in old comics selling and making that seem like a separate con within a con.

Some pics from the Marvel Studios presentation in Hall H on Saturday, July 23, including the Phase 5 timeline, Paul Rudd for Ant-Man: Quantumania, Cobie Smulders for Secret Invasion, Karen Gillan with Chris Pratt and Pom Klementieff for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and the surprising announcements of two Phase 6 Avengers movies, coming in 2025: The Kang Dynasty and Secret Wars, and the over-arcing title for MCU Phases 4, 5, and 6: “The Multiverse Saga.” Marvel also gave out a spiffy baseball cap with that title on it. Click on the photos to see them larger on your screen.

Programming-wise I enjoyed the few programs I saw—and make no mistake, this was an extremely heavy and active schedule, one that rivaled any previous year—but I have to tell you … when it comes to blowing the roof off the San Diego Convention Center, there is no one better than Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios. The week before Comic-Con I read on one of the Hollywood-centric websites not to expect anything more than She-Hulk and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever at this year’s panel, that Marvel was holding everything for D23, the Disney owned and operated convention, in September at the Anaheim Convention Center. Boy, were they dead wrong. The panel opened with an amazing montage of past Marvel films and Kevin Feige taking the stage and introducing the cast and showrunner for She-Hulk, which debuts on Disney+ on August 17. This was followed with a timeline of Phase 5 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which launches with Ant-Man: Quantumania on Feb. 17, 2023, with director Peyton Reed joined on stage by Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, and the new Cassie Lang actress, Kathryn Newton, plus Jonathan Majors as Kang. Cobie Smulders came on with a peek at Secret Invasion, streaming on Disney+ in Spring 2023, a much darker take on the MCU. Next was a very emotional visit by writer/director James Gunn—once fired by Marvel—with a preview of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which included cast members Chris Pratt, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Sean Gunn, and newbies Will Poulter (Adam Warlock), Maria Baklava (Cosmo the Dog), and Chukwudi Iwuji as the High Evolutionary, who marched onstage through the aisle ways in the audience, at one moment passing just in front of me. Gunn showed a reel—not a trailer—for the film, which was cut specifically for Comic-Con to be shown only in Hall H—that the cast had not seen until they got onstage and it had an incredibly emotional impact on them all.

In the midst of all this, Feige took a moment to offer a sneak peak of Phase 6 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which will begin in November 2024 with the premiere of Fantastic Four and end with two Avengers movies in 2025: Avengers: The Kang Dynasty (Shang-Chi director Destin Daniel Cretton was announced as director yesterday), and Avengers: Secret Wars. The overarcing title of Phases 4, 5, and 6 is “The Multiverse Saga,” just as Phases 1, 2, and 3 were called “The Infinity Saga.” And if this wasn’t enough, sandwiched in there were also mentions on the timeline for Phase 4 of new Disney + series, Ironheart (Fall 2023 and featuring the heir to Tony Stark, Rirri Williams who debuts in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever), Agatha: Coven of Chaos (Winter 2023/24), and Daredevil: Born Again (18-!-episodes in Spring 2024), joining the already-announced Echo (featuring Charlie Cox and Vincent D’onofrio as Daredevil and Kingpin, Summer 2023), and Loki 2 (Summer 2023). Marvel also confirmed release dates for movies The Marvels (formerly and unofficially known as Captain Marvel 2, July 28, 2023), and Blade (November 3, 2023), and revealed the new Sam Wilson as Cap movie, Captain America: New World Order, rounding out Phase 4 on May 3, 2024. The only thing missing that I had hoped for was an announcement and/or introduction of the cast of Fantastic Four, which may or may not is being saved for D23.

But Feige and Marvel saved the best for last and launched another trek through the audience with a pair of African American musicians to launch Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, clearly the showpiece of the entire presentation. As they made their way to the stage, the lights came back up revealing a number of other musicians onstage, also playing. Cast members from the sequel came out, including Lupita Nyong’o, Florence Kasumba, Letitia Wright, and Winston Duke, plus the official confirmation of Namor, the Sub-Mariner, with actor Tunoch Huerta being introduced to the Hall H audience by director Ryan Coogler. Again, it was an incredibly emotional moment, as they honored the late Chadwick Boseman, who played T’Challa in the original Black Panther movie and died of colon cancer in 2020. And while Marvel has said they would never recast T’Challa, there is a new Black Panther: in the trailer they showed a quick tight shot of someone from behind in the Panther costume unsheathing their claws. It’s hard to tell, but I believe the figure was that of a woman.

An apt metaphor for this epilogue year for me at Comic-Con. For the first time in over two decades, I did not have a staff all-access badge which let me into the “magical” back stage area of Hall H. And I’m not complaining. Ps … it’s not that magical.

I mentioned earlier that this show is a bit of an epilogue for me, maybe even providing a sense of closure to my 20+ year career at Comic-Con. It was odd at first to come home at the end of each day; since 2001 as a senior manager of the event, I was given a hotel room downtown, and from 2009 through 2019, that was at the Hilton Bayfront, next to the Hall H side of the San Diego Convention Center; it was my home away from home for eight nights each year. But by Friday night I began to appreciate grabbing the ferry from behind the center (and how convenient it was to take it over there each morning) and come home with my daily purchases. While I attended Comic-Con Special Edition last November and WonderCon in April, I felt neither of those shows approached what a full-blown, packed-house Comic-Con would be like, and I was right. This was the real thing, with real programming and real crowds and a triumphant return, even if some of the behind-the-scenes stuff was a bit messy. The first thing I noticed was a lack of carpeting in the aisles in the Exhibit Hall, something that I took for granted at Comic-Con but rarely saw at other conventions. It’s an expensive proposition to carpet all that square footage, but it’s a definite plus for walking comfort, and I always appreciated that Comic-Con went the extra mile to help with attendee comfort in that regard. When I saw it was gone this year, I assumed it was a cost-cutting measure on the part of Comic-Con, but I was told it was a Convention Center decision due to Covid; an uncarpeted Exhibit Hall is much easier to clean. The certification process for Covid vaccinations, tests, and wristbands went relatively smoothly (partnering with the Clear app was a great idea), but I was told the lines really backed up at times (I was lucky and got in and out quickly on Tuesday). Not so quick was picking up badges on that same day. Industry registration was understaffed and could have utilized a few more computers and printers and the ability to bulk-print badges for companies coming in to pick up all their badges at once, including for program participants. I understand that a lot of attendees got their badges in the mail in advance, and while I’m definitely no longer part of the show—nor was I ever part of registration and hardly an expert on this particular topic—I experienced a long wait to get a badge and a bit of confusion as to which line to stand in. There may have been more people available on busier days, such as Wednesday and Thursday, though; once I had my badge there was no need to go back to the registration area.

As for closure on my long career at Comic-Con … well, I believe in what Harry Bosch said when it comes to closure: It’s a myth; there is no closure and there is no peace. And while Bosch was talking about tragedy, my years at Comic-Con were far from that and will always be an important part of my life, causing me to have a rewarding career I never imagined and forging some friendships I will carry with me forever. I am grateful I retired when I did, during a turning point for the event, both from a pandemic and management standpoint; I firmly believe the organization will never fully recover from the death of John Rogers, no matter how much they may feel they have. The stars aligned for me—financially, medical coverage-wise, and for my own well being and peace of mind—and I’m happy to be—as my new business (or lack of business) card states—“Gainfully Retired.” I will always look forward to attending Comic-Con each year, while I’m able, and enjoying all it has to offer as an event. But sometimes the next chapter is just as rewarding—or much better —as the previous one.

Not sure which Netflix publicity genius decided to promote their new series The Sandman, based on the popular Neil Gaiman-created DC Comics/Vertigo series with a set of sand sculptures, but whoever it was, they deserve a raise. These were located across Harbor Drive from the Hall A side of the San Diego Convention Center.

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