San Diego Comic Con 2023 soldiered on, despite some new challenges…

Comic Con Returns

Once again, my wife and I returned to San Diego Comic Con, as we have almost every year for nearly the last two decades. The last time the event was cancelled outright came in 2020, the year the COVID pandemic changed everything, and prematurely ended millions of lives around the world. That’s literally the force it took to stop this juggernaut of an event, which is perhaps the single largest annual pop-culture/media convention on the planet

ParamountPlus’ stable of Star Trek shows were advertised across the Marriott Marquis hotel, near the Convention Center. As usual, San Diego Comic Con’s influence dominated the entire downtown San Diego area, with many off-site events, as well as countless banners and advertisements.

Even with COVID raging, SDCC tentatively returned in an atypical late November for 2021’s San Diego Comic Con: Special Edition; a scaled-down version of SDCC that had far fewer attendees but no less spirit.  There were plenty of panels for comics, artists, writers, and yes, even a few brave actors—most of whom were wearing masks and following then-strict COVID protocols. Many of the cosplayers smartly integrated masks and other COVID protections into their cosplays as well. Yes, it was still San Diego Comic Con, though not quite operating at full strength. 

The main lobby of the massive San Diego Convention Center Dealer Hall.

Soon, with many COVID restrictions lifted (arguably unwisely), SDCC returned at full strength—in the summertime—for San Diego Comic Con 2022. With a full talent pool of writers, artists and big name celebrities back onboard, and with mask-wearing not quite as militantly enforced as in 2021, this Comic Con felt closer to pre-pandemic versions of the event.  While many (like myself) still chose to wear masks, I appreciated the organizers’ attempt to bring back the spirit of the pre-COVID era.

This year a new set of challenges befell SDCC at the 11th hour—a pair of labor strikes that have deeply impacted the entertainment industry; the Writers Guild of America strike, and now, the Screen Actors Guild & American Federation of Television and Radio Artists strikes. This led to many last-minute cancellations and program changes that left big venues half-empty, while also leading to traditionally smaller events getting a lot more notice—and bigger crowds.

The Dealer Hall

The SDCC Dealer Hall is one area of the convention that seems to defy any challenges the event faces; it’s pretty much always crowded at “Soylent Green”-levels, with bodies brushing and pushing each other along, as it’s been for most of the 20 or so years my wife and I have attended SDCC. The Dealer Hall is a textbook agoraphobe’s nightmare.  Each time, I steel myself for it, but my endurance level for navigating the nearly-unnavigable crowds shrinks with every new year.  All the same, the displays and wares for sale by the studios, publishers, toy/trinket makers and fans are always impressive and colorful.

A panoramic overview (top) and sections of the massive Dealer Hall of San Diego Comic Con.
My wife took these on “Preview Night” (the night before SDCC ‘officially’ begins), when it’s far less crowded.
Top: Lego “Brickbuster Video” was an interactive 1990s-style Blockbuster video store filled with Lego merch and titles. Bottom Left: The Marvel X-Men attraction. Bottom Right: IDW Publishing booth, with included previews of their new Godzilla line of graphic novels.
Left to Right: Glass case with screen-used Marvel action hero costumes, including “Guardians of the Galaxy 3″‘s ‘Adam Warlock’ (Will Poulter) costume, along with “Captain Marvel” (Brie Larson) and one of the TVA (Time Variance Authority) costumes from “Loki.”
The “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” booth with screen-used costumes that included those of “Uhura” (Celia Rose Gooding), “Una” (Rebecca Romijn) and “Spock” (Ethan Peck).
Left: Also from the “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” booth; an LED virtual reality wall similar to the one used on the series to creative immersive planet or other exotic environments. Right: Fans also had the opportunity to sit in a perfect replica of Pike’s captain’s chair from the USS Enterprise
Pop Culture Lives, at the ENTERTAINMENT EARTH booth, along with classic Twilight Zone’s “Talky Tina” That doll scared the hell out of me when I was little–and for some reason, I always thought it was “Talking Tina.” It’s like misremembering a song lyric only to find out you’ve been singing it wrong for 40 years!
“This shark? Swallow you whole! A little shakin’, a little tenderizin’…down you go.”
VIZ booth promoting “Zom100: Bucket List of the Dead” which includes being eaten by a glowing-eyed zombified shark.

If you have the stamina, endurance and patience? The SDCC Dealer Hall can be a lot of fun. It’s still the single biggest draw of the entire convention.

Impact of the SAG-AFTRA/WGA Strikes

At the ‘panel’ for NBC’s reboot of “Quantum Leap”, which showed the season one finale and a few minutes of the season 2 premiere, with no actors, writers or showrunners.

The WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes directly impacted many panels and other programming, including one that I attended. NBC/Peacock’s reboot of “Quantum Leap” (2022-present) held a screening of its season one finale along with several minutes of its season two opener with absolutely NO TALENT available for the event–not even an emcee. The programs simply started and ended, with no actors or show-runners to answer fan questions or offer any insights. A sad, but necessary sacrifice, until studio executives realize that writers and actors (whose work is being threatened by AI and cheated by streaming revenue) deserve more than half-hearted promises or short-term raises while many non-creative executives take home hundreds of millions of dollars a year. The panel before the “Quantum Leap” event was cancelled altogether. One upside; the infamously crowded venues of Hall H (where most of the A-List movie events happen) and Ballroom 20 (where most big TV series panels take place) had rows of empty seats on Saturday…

Under the Sails Pavilion was a lack of actors and screenwriters, but no shortage of crowds.

The upper-deck “Sails Pavilion” of the San Diego convention center is a large area tented by large sails, under which you’ll usually find free swag tables and dozens of celebrities autographing both in individual booths and special group signings. This year, the SAG-AFTRA/WGA strikes meant that many actors and screenwriters cancelled their appearances to the convention, since striking SAG-AFTRA unions typically forbid talent from promoting their work during the strike. However, that didn’t mean the Sails Pavilion was hurting for crowds. Authors and graphic novelists stepped in to fill the void left by actors and screenwriters, with long queues for their autographs as well.  In a way, Comic Con was returning to its comic book roots.  A few actors did stop by to promote non-screen work, such as the legendary Jamie Lee Curtis, who was promoting her children’s books and autobiography, along with a few other actors here and there…

Always nice to see my “Instagram friend”, actress Jackie Dallas, who made her stance on the SAG-AFTRA strike known.

In the Sails Pavilion, I had a great conversation with a friend of mine, actress-model Jackie Dallas (“Stranger Things” “13 Reasons Why” “Criminal Minds”) and we talked about the dangers of actors having their likenesses scanned only once to be used ad infinitum by studios while only being paid a small, one-time rate for usage. The lack of residuals from highly profitable streaming platforms is a crime as well. Jackie and I both stand firm with the SAG-AFTRA strike, and she conspicuously did not promote any of her TV & film projects at this convention. Jackie’s stance on the strikes is a fairly uniform one throughout the San Diego Comic Con talent pool. This lady’s got integrity.

“Mushka” (2023)

Panel moderator Gary Miereanu talks with “Mushka” director and lead animator Andreas Deja, along with producer Roger Viloria, animator Courtney DiPaolo and composer Fabrizio Mancinelli.

While waiting for the “Quantum Leap” event in Room 6A, I wandered into the start of a screening and panel for an animated short film called “Mushka” (2023). The 2D, sketch animated film is about an orphaned tiger adopted by a 9-year old Russian girl. A beautiful film, elegantly rendered in sketch-style, hand-drawn cells. On the panel were director and lead animator Andreas Deja, producer Roger Viloria, animator Courtney DiPaolo and composer Fabrizio Mancinelli (“Land of Dreams”).

This free cell reproduction was given to all audience members who attended the screening and panel in Room 6A. I promptly gave it to my art teacher wife, who was elsewhere at the convention, and unable to attend this screening that I lucked into.

At only 28 minutes long, “Mushka” is an astonishing piece of work; as moving as any big budget animated feature, but madefor a fraction of its cost, and with a surprising pool of veteran talent, including Andreas Deja (“Beauty and the Beast”) and many others. The post-production sound mix was done by Skywalker Sound, a division of Lucasfilm (which was purchased by Disney over a decade ago). Keep an eye out for this one…

Blast From Childhood

As a kid in the 1970s, I used to love frogs; even owned a few of them at various times. Naturally, I was enraptured by a children’s TV show called “New Zoo Revue,” which featured the dancing, human-sized “Freddie the Frog,” along with “Henrietta Hippo” and “Charlie the Owl.” The two young humans who led this singing and dancing menagerie were writer-producer Doug Momary and his then-new wife, Emily “Emmy Jo” Momary (nee: Peden).

Doug & Ellen Momary along with “Freddie the Frog” from New Zoo Revue, a show I used to watch as a kid.

Doug was writer, producer and songwriter for the show, which was his baby.  The Momary’s daughter, Joanna Lee, was at their booth as well, and she was very proud of her parents—who weren’t even sure if anyone would still remember them.  Judging by other early-Gen X attendees (like myself) who stopped by their booth, I’d say the nostalgia was strong with the creators of this simple, sweet-natured children’s show.

“Look Sir, Droids!”

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Comic Con (or sci-fi/fantasy convention) without the presence of “Star Wars” and the sight of a few droids here and there. In the Dealer Hall was the massive Star Wars booth, which was showcasing props and costumes from the upcoming DisneyPlus Star Wars series “Ahsoka,” which features many of the characters from the animated Star Wars series “Rebels” being rendered in live-action for the first time, including a feisty, ill-tempered astromech droid named “Chopper” (C1-10P). See the link to my Flickr album at the bottom of this column for more photos of the items on display at the booth. 

Left: “Chopper” from Star Wars: Rebels is finally rendered in live-action for the upcoming “Ahsoka” series.
Right: Droid Builders’ faithful recreation of R5-D4, whose famously ‘bad motivator’ has been replaced.

In the mezzanine level of the convention center were meetings of various fan groups from Star Wars, Star Trek and Lord of the Rings, among others. One of the groups included the famous Droid Builders club, whose R2 units are so well-crafted that they’ve actually been featured in live-action Star Wars productions, including “Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker” and The Mandalorian. This year they trotted out R5-D4, the bucket-headed astromech droid with the famously “bad motivator” (“A New Hope”) who went on to become a hero in season three of “The Mandalorian.” 


As I’ve said many times before, and will say again (hey–my column, my rules), cosplayers are the heart and soul of these fandom conventions, and San Diego Comic Con is the SuperBowl of cosplay. Most cosplaying attendees brought no less than their A-game to 2023’s Comic Con as well. These were some of my personal favorites…

Left: “Jonah” from “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” along with his robot friend “Tom Servo.”  Middle: The aforementioned “Freddie the Frog,” who was technically part of the “New Zoo Revue” autograph booth, but was still a welcome sight. Right: And, of course, “Cap’n Crunch,” the Quaker Oats (now PepsiCo) mascot of sugary children’s breakfast cereals since I was a kid.
From the cartoon and movie series, “Scooby Doo,” it’s the famed “Scooby Gang” of Velma, Fred, Daphne and Shaggy along with Scooby in puppy form (or it could be Scrappy-Doo; I’m not sure…). 
Left: Two sets of Batman (Batmen?) and Robin(s) from different eras are being interviewed by a reporter from FX (no, she’s not cosplaying—she’s an actual TV reporter; lots of them at San Diego Comic Con). Right: Classic Superman proves he’s still got it! 
Left: “It ain’t easy being green,” says “She-Hulk,” of the same-named Marvel comic and streaming series. Right: A very impressive homemade cross-play of “Hell-Boy” as “Hell-Girl” (and yes, she did the arm and makeup herself!). Loved the cigar, too–nice touch. The level of talent and passion with cosplaying fans rivals that of big studio productions, so help me. 
Left: Along with a friend, an inspired Darth Maul (“Star Wars”) cosplayer shows us the fabulous side of the Force. Right: The voice-snatching villainous “Ursula” from “The Little Mermaid.”
Left: A model-perfect WonderWoman cross-player. Middle: “Wakanda Forever!” ‘Okoye’ cosplayer from the “Black Panther” movies; she looked amazing!  Right: The Pumpkin King himself,“Jack Skellington,” from my favorite animated movie of all time “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (which I first saw theatrically in 1993 at the tender age of 26). 
Left: Delightfully Disney “Beauty and the Beast” cosplayers. Middle: A photo-perfect ‘Tiana’ from the underrated “Princess and the Frog.” Right: Also from Disney; Star Wars’ “The Mandalorian” crashes the convention on another bounty hunt!
Left: Speaking of “Star Wars,” I was in my Fred Flintstone costume when I was given a piece of candy and a sticker from a kindly pair of junior Jawas, who told their mother I was “the Fruity Pebbles Man!” I think I want to make that my new legal name.  Right: An X-Wing pilot dad is proud of little R2 unit. This picture was just too adorable not to share. 
In other big space franchises, we have the Romulan Commander herself, from Star Trek: The Original Series’ “The Enterprise Incident” hanging out with Starfleet officer Nurse Christine Chapel from Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. 
My favorite cosplay of the entire convention! ‘Diedre Beaubeidre’ (Jamie Lee Curtis’ character) from 2022’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” This clever cosplayer converted her own walker into Diedre’s IRS desk!  Complete with phone, pencils, Rolodex and even a small bottle of Whiteout!  This was the best. I only hope that Jamie Lee Curtis (who was attending the convention to promote her books) had a chance to see this one. 

Shortened Stay

My wife and I both got into the cosplay game (again), as we often do.  I wore my time-tested “Fred Flinstone” cosplay for the 13th year. I have two different Fred suits (both made by my genius wife) which I wore for Friday and Saturday.  My wife made an entirely new cosplay for this year—one she labored mightily to produce. She cosplayed as ‘Gale Cumulus’ from the new Pixar cartoon “Elemental.” ‘Gale’ is a cloud-woman, representing the ‘Air People’ of the Elementals’ universe, where creatures of Earth, Air, Fire and Water exist in segregated zones of Elemental City, until two younger elementals—a rebellious fire girl and emotional water boy—cross cultural lines to fall in love.  Not the most original idea, but my wife did a great interpretation of sports fan Gale, who loves her “Windbreakers” (teehee). 

Left: My wife’ as ‘Gale Cumulus’; an “air person” from Pixar’s “Elemental.” Right: Myself as ‘Fred Flintstone’ (my tried and true cosplay of nearly 14 years now).

Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite so well for my wife and I this weekend. For much of Saturday, my wife had a nasty cough that she assumed came from dust at a crafts panel she attended, but later that evening she took a COVID test kit we had in our luggage, and tested positive.  We made immediate plans to leave for home early Sunday morning. We also informed the hotel staff about my wife’s COVID status, so that they could prepare themselves and appropriately sanitize the vacated room for the next guest. Fortunately, as of this writing, my wife’s fever broke (yay!). However, I still need to be retested soon, to make sure I’m not COVID-positive.  To be continued.

Until Next Year

The last time my wife and I left a San Diego Comic Con early was back in 2005, when a late night vehicular police pursuit in downtown San Diego ended with a suspect’s car jumping the curb of the hotel parking lot and colliding with my 2001 Honda Accord (a faithful, reliable car which I still own). Like 2023, a dramatic ending to an otherwise wonderful week.

The view of downtown San Diego from our room at the Hilton Embassy Suites.

All 162 photos of our shortened San Diego Comic Con stay can be found here:

San Diego Comic Con 2023, July 19th-23rd.

See you next year San Diego Comic Con, barring any dramatic police chases, or medical malaise.

All Images: Author, Author’s Wife

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Paul Bowler says:

    SDCC always looks so amazing! Looks like you had a really good time, great cosplay as well! That dealer hall looks incredible! Cool features as well, like that mini Star Trek bridge / chair set and the Jaws shark!

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