Welcome Back, San Diego Comic Con.
With the cancellation of San Diego Comic Con 2020 and the much smaller capacity San Diego Comic Con ‘Special Edition’ over last year’s Thanksgiving weekend, SDCC returned in all of its 130,000 attendee glory this past week (July 20th-July 24th), and it was both good and a little terrifying at the same time. A part of me was thrilled to see a full-capacity Comic Con for the first time since 2019, but the COVID-mindful part of me was more than a little skittish at jumping right back in those kinds of crowds again; I mean, I haven’t even gone to a movie theater since seeing “The Invisible Man” in February of 2020. Yes, my wife and I have been to a few conventions since restrictions began to soften, but no convention anywhere even remotely compares to San Diego Comic Con in either scale or capacity.
Once again, much of the downtown San Diego area, including surrounding hotels, restaurants and even the downtown library, was once again tapped to support the event, which is a traffic nightmare for locals as many sections of streets near the Gaslamp Quarter are cordoned off. This was done to aid the small army of traffic cops as they tried valiantly to maintain crowd control over 130,000 people. Luckily, they pulled it off, and SDCC 2022 was a resounding success. Yes, mask-wearing to the event was mandatory, despite loosened restrictions around California, but otherwise it looked like any other Comic Con–including packed crowds in the Dealer Hall, and a seemingly endless line of attendees waiting to see the big-ticket panels in Hall H. Some of those dedicated souls in the Hall H line waited over a day in line to see their chosen events.
Ah, just like old times…
The Dealer Hall Exhibits.
Once again, the movie studios and publishing houses, as well as various personal vendors, retailers, artists, charities and small press authors put out their best wares for the event. Lucasfilm, Marvel (both Disney-owned), DC, Nickelodeon and ParamountPlus all had large walk-thru exhibits with costumes, screen-used props and merchandise for sale. The din of thousands means you pretty much have to throw your voice most of the time, even to the person next to you (masks made this slightly more challenging, but doable). Throwing myself into those Dealer Hall crowds is something I always try to brace for, until I’m actually there … and once again, I find myself overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, crowds, cosplayers, etc. At my age, a walk through the entirety of the massive Dealer Hall is so exhausting, that I sometimes find myself needing a nap afterward…
Once again, I swore I wasn’t going to attend any panels, and once again, I attended some panels. Usually the big movie and TV show panels are standard-issue press junkets, where everyone describes working with their on-set colleagues in glowing praise, using phrases such as, “it’s been a journey,” “he/she/they have such a vision,” or “it was such an honor to work with (insert name here).” Usually these mutual admiration societies are followed by a spoiler trailer, and one exclusive bit of news that you can read online seconds after you leave the auditorium. This is why, after 21 years of conventioneering, I’ve become a bit weary of the big-ticket panels.
However, there are always exceptions. Sometimes a panel that you didn’t anticipate seeing at all turns out to be wildly entertaining, with enthusiastic panelists offering vivid anecdotes, or rare experiences you didn’t count on having. This year, I attended about six panels, and a few of these were panels I squatted through to snag a seat for the ones I really wanted to see. All the same, some of these other panels offered pleasant surprises!
One such panels was called “The Futurists,” which featured a wonderfully diverse group of women scientists offering up their visions and hopes for the future, from the perspective of their various fields of study. The panelists included Dr. Jasmine Sadler (rocket scientist, STEAM Collaborative), Dr. Erika Hamden (Telescope Builder, University of Arizona), Dr. Beat Mierzwa (Molecular Biologist & artist), Dr. Becca Peixotto (archeologist), Sydney Hamilton (rocket scientist, Aero Structures Manager at Boeing, astronaut) and Gracie Ermi (computer scientist & AI practitioner). It was very engaging, as they laid out realistic roadmaps for roads we may or may-not take someday.
The panel I was waiting for was “JAWS: The Trial,” a mock-trial which imagined an aggrieved Mrs. Kintner (as played by Valerie Tosi) suing Mayor Larry Vaughn (Jeff May, wearing a killer Great White Wig) and the town of Amity for damages in the shark-related death of her son, Alex, in the movie “JAWS” (1975). The trial was argued by the real-life lawyers at thelegalgeeks.com. I enjoyed the panel so much, that I wrote a guest column covering it for my UK-based friends Ross and Dean at thedailyjaws.com; the most loving and enthusiastic JAWS fan network anywhere on the planet. Anyone who knows me knows that I love JAWS with the passion of a shark feeding frenzy. In fact, I’ve written extensive reviews for “JAWS” (1975), “JAWS 2” (1978), “JAWS 3-D” (1983) and yes, even the craptacular “JAWS: The Revenge” (1987). I also once had the pleasure of attending an exhibit of JAWS artifacts and artwork from the making of the film, called “JAWS: The Art of Fear in Filmmaking”, which toured the Catalina museum on nearby Catalina Island–70 minutes off of the SoCal coastline by boat, without a single great white attack…
One panel I really had my heart set on attending was the panel for AppleTV’s “For All Mankind”, which has become my favorite current series right now (yes, favorite … from a guy who hates picking favorites and making rankings). FAM chronicles an alternate timeline where Russia beat America to the moon, prompting a far more ambitious space race that continues well into the 1990s and possibly beyond.
Sadly, I wasn’t able to attend this panel, because of a double-knee injury suffered both en route to, and at the convention the previous day. The first injury occurred when I tripped on uneven sidewalk at a railway crossing, and kissed the asphalt. I scraped the skin off of my left knee, and was in agony, thanks to a long preexisting history of arthritis and injuries. With my wife’s help, I bandaged up my knee and limped painfully back to the convention later that evening when someone accidentally backed into me after a panel and I fell on my other knee! Who the hell falls on their knees twice in ONE day? I do, that’s who. So, I had to sit out Friday’s events while my sore joints calmed down with a mix of ibuprofen, antibiotic ointment, and rest.
Fortunately, my loving wife went to Ballroom 20 in my place, and took many pictures of the “For All Mankind” panel–so many, that I had an embarrassment of riches afterward. The actors, who are mostly in their 30s and early 40s, looked almost shockingly baby-faced in real-life, since they undergo subtle aging makeup progressions as the series follows their characters from the end of the 1960s through the mid-1990s. While the actors offered the usual praise and enthusiasm for their show, they also confirmed that the series will be picked up for a 4th season that will (eventually) catch up to our own timeline in the 21st century. Ah, that future that never was…
On Saturday, I was feeling well enough to throw on my Fred Flintstone cosplay and head over to Ballroom 20 for myself, where I was waiting for a panel on AMC’s remake of Anne Rice’s “Interview With The Vampire,” which was to be followed by a panel for another current favorite TV show of mine; Seth MacFarlane’s “The Orville: New Horizons.” In order to get a decent seat, I ‘squatted’ through two panels.
The first was for “The Simpsons” (1989-present), which is now in its 33rd season (!!), making it the longest-running TV series in US primetime history. Panelists included longtime producers/writers/artists David Silverman, Al Jean, Caroline Omine and Matt Selman. The lively panel was made even more fun by audience-suggested live-drawings (made by Selman and Silverman) of Homer fighting Shrek, as well as Principal Skinner enjoying the Aurora Borealis with another character. I used to love the show for its first decade or so (particularly the Halloween specials), but sadly, I’ve lost interest over time. From the hilarious banter between the show’s panelists, I really wish I’d kept up.
Next came a panel for Seth MacFarlane’s twin animated series, “American Dad” and “Family Guy”; unfortunately the planned “Family Guy” panel was cancelled, so a sneak preview of its fall premiere episode was shown instead (it featured a slew of 1990s movie parodies, including “American Beauty” & “Silence of the Lambs”). The “American Dad” panel featured actors Dee Bradley Baker (“Klaus”), Jeff Fischer, producers/co-creator Matt Weitzman, producers Joe Chandler, Nicole Shabtai, and moderator Jordan Blum.
Note: Confession time: I’ve never seen either “American Dad” or “Family Guy,” and was only there for that other Seth MacFarlane series. In fact, MacFarlane never really came onto my radar until he produced 2012’s “COSMOS” reboot with Neil deGrasse Tyson. All the same, the amazing vocalizations of voice-actor Baker and the wit of the other panelists certainly made it worthwhile.
Finally, I saw the first of the two panels I’d waited for–AMC’s remake of the late author Anne Rice’s “Interview With The Vampire,” the 1976 novel which was adapted into the hit 1994 movie starring Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Kirsten Dunst and Christian Slater. This newer version has adopted the miniseries format, and will use foreknowledge of the other books in Rice’s famed “Vampire Chronicles” books to create a Marvel-style, integrated series of adaptations going forward (hopefully). The remake also resets the beginning of protagonist Louis’ (Jacob Anderson) story to early 20th century New Orleans, instead of the late 1700s. Louis is also played by a Black actor, adding a thorny racial element to the vampire Lestat’s efforts to dominate Louis’ will. Speak of the devil, the vampire Lestat is (finally) played by a blonde European actor (Sam Reid), who also adopts an appropriate French accent for the character.
Young vampire child Claudia (Bailey Bass) is now a teenager, making her locked-in age arguably more angst-ridden than before. The interviewer character of Daniel Malloy is now played by veteran actor Eric Bogosian (“Talk Radio”), who is playing a quasi-sequel version of the character. In this version, Daniel interviewed Louis back in 1973, and is finally getting the rest of the remorseful vampire’s story, decades later. From the trailer and preview shown at the panel, the miniseries features an opulent production design by Mara LaPere-Schloop and lush cinematography by David Tattersall (“The Walking Dead,” “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace”). I love Rice’s Vampire Chronicles books and the 1994 film, and I’m curious to see how they’ll be updated for this reboot.
Next came the panel for Seth MacFarlane’s “The Orville: New Horizons.” This is a series that began as a quasi-comedic sendup of Star Trek, a la 1999’s “Galaxy Quest”, but quickly evolved to become a sometimes more daring counterpart to the long-running Trek franchise. Season 1 of the series was a little uneven at times, but by season 2, I was hooked. Season 3, which has left Fox to find a better-fitting home at Hulu, has rolled out with longer episodes (from an hour to 90 minutes), as well as a more cinematic production quality overall, with some of the best visual effects on TV right now. The characters have grown on me, as well.
On deck for the panel were Penny Jerald Johnson (“Dr Claire Finn), Mark Jackson (“Isaac”) J. Lee (“John LaMarr”) Peter Macon (“Bortus”) Chad Coleman (“Klyden”), Anne Winters (“Charly Burke”), Jessica Szohr (“Talla Keyali”), series producer Brannon Braga and the surprise addition of series creator/writer/producer/star, Seth MacFarlane, who joined the panel via Zoom. Actor Peter Macon told a horrific story of red ants which crawled into his ‘Bortus’ headpiece during a filming break, only to be sealed into his scalp when shooting resumed (!). Seth MacFarlane also admitted to Macon that the series frightened him with its daunting storytelling potential, a potential reached in its third season. MacFarlane also announced that while a fourth season isn’t yet confirmed, seasons 1-3 will soon be running on DisneyPlus, in the hopes of expanding the show’s audience and (perhaps) getting a fourth season.
There are also outside attractions for the convention throughout the downtown San Diego area, including off-site events, panels, parties and other gatherings (such as the VIP-invite only “IMDb boat” docked in the San Diego Bayfront marina), as well as large advertisements for popular genre fare plastered all over the city.
In the convention center’s “Sails Pavilion” area is where most of the celebrities gather to sign autographs and conduct meet-and-greets with their respective fans. Over the years, I’ve met more of my idols that I can honestly remember. These days, I come to the Sails Pavilion simply to hang out, relax and just to say hello to an actor/celebrity I’ve come to know over 18 years of attending San Diego Comic Con. Actor Herb Jefferson Jr. (“Battlestar Galactica,” “Night Gallery,”) is one face I always enjoy seeing, and we got in a warm handshake; he still remembers my “Fred Flintstone” costume. I always like saying ‘hi’ to Herb!
My wife came dressed as “Muriel” from the beloved 1990s/2000s cartoon series “Courage the Cowardly Dog”, for which she gets a lot of Millennial and Gen Z attention. With both of us dressed as our respective cartoon characters, we paid a visit to actress Jackie Dallas (“Stranger Things,” “13 Reasons Why” “Hawaii 5-0”). I briefly met Dallas years ago at WonderCon 2019 during her “Women of Sci-Fi” panel, and we somehow became Instagram follows. We met again last year at Comic Con Revolution 2021 in Ontario, California, where I told her that she should do signings at San Diego Comic Con, but she seemed a little daunted by the prospect. Well, here she was, and she was having a blast at the Mt. Everest of pop culture conventions. She loved my wife’s handmade “Courage” dog, and we all posed for pics. Dallas also told me that she has a part in a new film called “Paradise Highway” starring Morgan Freeman (yes, the Morgan Freeman). I’m very happy for her, and I look forward to seeing where her career goes next. Wishing her all the best.
One of my favorite aspects of attending sci-fi/fantasy/comics conventions is, of course, the cosplay. As I’ve said before, and will say again (my column, my rules), cosplayers are the heart and soul of conventions, and San Diego Comic Con is the Super Bowl of cosplay. Most everyone brings no less than their A-game to this one. This year’s cosplayers did not disappoint…
Until Next Year…?
San Diego Comic Con 2022, despite a few pandemic-era precautions, felt like the real deal once again. The large venues, like Hall H and Ballroom 20, were both back to full capacity. While proof-of-vaccination and masks were required for entry, there were some attendees who took their masks off inside, and not just for photo ops. All the same, I don’t blame the event staff if some attendees don’t adhere to the rules. In defense of the largely-volunteer staff, it’s awfully challenging playing hall monitor for over 130,000 people (!).
Despite the humidity, my own stupid injuries (two falls in ONE day), and the long lines which instantly ruled out my attending some of the higher-tier events, I had a wonderful time as always, and I very much look forward to attending San Diego Comic Con 2023, where I hope to relay the experience to you once again. Until then, all 250-odd photos that I (we) took at the convention are available to view on my Flickr page in the link below.