San Diego Comic Con: Special Edition is the first of Comic Con International’s in-person events since the pandemic closed down both San Diego Comic Con 2020 and 2021, which is usually held in July, and in 2019, attracted over 130,000 attendees. Special Edition was a smaller affair, held over Thanksgiving weekend, and for many fans, it was a breath of fresh air.
So how was it?
In my estimation, SDCC: Special Edition was a return to form. For those who remember Comic Con in the era before superhero movies and major fandoms like Harry Potter became part of the popular zeitgeist, Comic Con: Special Edition evoked the nostalgic era of low-key conning, when there was room to breathe in the exhibit hall and no lines to enter panel rooms.
Comic Con International itself notes that “the programming is very light.” With a heavy emphasis on gaming, cosplay, and comics, there was little focus on movies or films.
Speaking of cosplay, there was surprisingly little cosplay compared to prior years. I did see some absolute stand-outs. There was the usual number of Spider-men (a lot) and plenty of Loki variants. But compared to 2019 it seemed far more casual. (This was the first year I myself did not come in cosplay.)
There was also a noted absence of major studios, both publishing and cinematic. Marvel, D.C., Dark Horse all stayed away, presumably for liability purposes, and there were no major panels for upcoming blockbusters, no sneak peeks for films or major actor appearances as there usually are. Most panels didn’t even fill the rooms halfway, and strangest of all, there were several empty booths: the sort of grim shot you might see in a post apocalypse film, alongside an overturned child’s bicycle or a graffitied church sign.
But that being said, the atmosphere was extremely enthusiastic. People had missed Con and no one had anything bad to say about the smaller size of Special Edition. For most, the “special” part of it was taken to heart, and people were happy to see their friends and pull out cosplays they had had prepped over two years before and had not yet gotten to wear.
I can also say I felt very safe; the masking rules were reinforced with terrier-like tenacity, and more than one person said that the line to get vaccine confirmation was the longest line the whole weekend.
The two panels that were the most well-attended were probably “Conspiracy Theories and Propaganda Throughout Pop Culture,” and “Unnecessary Debates.”
The panel on conspiracy theories, understandably, touched on the thing only whispered about in the halls: the pandemic. Hosted by J.D. Lombardi of Lombardi Labs, among others, it was a refreshing acknowledgement of the very real threat that had canceled the previous two Comic Cons, and of the kind of pseudoscience that had made it worse. I’m biased as a science nerd myself, but seeing a panel that leapt right into the issue of science denial without using allegorical comics to sugar-coat it was surprisingly refreshing. Plus, as something that was on everyone’s mind, having at least one panel to discuss it frankly was incredibly relieving in the same way popping a pimple is.
On the lighter side of things was GGG’s very own Unnecessary Debates. Unnecessary Debates was held in room 6DE, which Comic Con International noted was “the largest room utilized for the convention… with a capacity of 1,000.” It was more than half filled and the energy was incredible. With Tyler McPhail presiding over Team Khaleesi Was Innocent (Lemar Harris, BettieGeek, and Linsay Rousseau) and Team Never Seen Dragon Ball Z (Nicholas Doan, Nathan Longest, and Dustbunny Cosplay), the audience was treated to such questions as:
- Which superhero would accidentally get you to join a pyramid scheme?
- What movie needs to be made into a musical next? (Dr. Who won, although I personally though the pitch for “A Quiet Place” musical was pitch perfect.)
- Who would give the next Thanksgiving Speech: Drax or Donald Duck? (Donald Duck, pantless patriot, won by a landslide.)
- Which Justice League member would order their steak well-done?
- Who would make a better Dungeon Master: Ruby Rhod from the Fifth Element, or Luis from Ant-Man?
In the same way that the panel on propaganda and science denial was refreshing for its frank honesty, Unnecessary Debates was refreshing for its comedy. I spoke to at least one person afterwards who told me, in no uncertain terms, “Most panels are pretty boring. But this one was just a lot of fun.”
Naturally, of course, I’m inclined to agree, but don’t take my word for it. You can watch Unnecessary Debates virtually by checking out the Grand Geek Gathering YouTube Channel or, if you’re itching to go to a Con, come out and watch live at Los Angeles Comic Con this weekend, December 4th, with all-new questions to debate!
Personally, after my experience at SDCC: Special Edition, I feel a lot more confident about comic cons as a whole. Special Edition felt like it was well-planned and very conscientious of safety concerns, and the conviviality among like-minded fans was truly refreshing after two years stuck inside. It reminded me of my very first comic convention, back in the naughts, and it gave me hope of cons yet to come.