Popular culture

Is San Diego Comic-Con still the pinnacle of pop culture?

The place? Room H at San Diego Comic-Con. Time? 2019, almost a year before the COVID-19 pandemic hit us like a truck and changed our lives forever. The surprise? Kevin Feige and a stage full of superstars, including stars, Oscar winners and nominees, and everything in between, gathered for a photo after the big Marvel boss revealed the entire phase slate of projects. 4 after the massive success of Avengers: Endgame.

Everyone was there, and each revelation felt like a promise: Doctor Strange and Wanda teaming up for a multiversal adventure; Wanda and Vision in a Disney+ show, hinting at a potential adaptation of House of M; Loki finally gets a solo project. But that was not all. Eternals! Shan-chi! Scary Woman Thor! By the time Feige revealed Mahershala Ali would be playing Blade, the entirety of Hall H had melted into a pool of pure ecstasy.

Now, two years later, we’ve seen most of those projects, and the end results were mostly disappointing, more or less Wanda Vision; the story, however, was different back then. The reveals felt massive, and learning about them in real time felt special, like we were witnessing pop culture history in the making. Not everyone was personally at Hall H, but news travels fast in a modernized world, and every breakup story confirmed something we’ve known for years: San Diego Comic-Con was the place to be.

For the love of art

The now iconic image of the Phase 4 team posing together perfectly encapsulates what Comic-Con once meant to the pop culture landscape. It was the quintessential event, the place where big things were happening, heralded by even bigger names. Nerd culture flourished, creativity reigned, and fantasy ran rampant. Comics and superheroes were the cool kids, but there was room for everyone and everyone was invited. Expected shows like game of thrones and The Big Bang Theory were staples of the event, while wildcards like Riverdale and The right place also found themselves in the mix.

Above all, Comic-Con was a place of true camaraderie, where people who loved pop culture came together to share, laugh, and celebrate anything that might otherwise seem geeky. Comic-Con had a deep appreciation for the artist and the art; it was where comic book artist Bruno Redondo was as well known and celebrated as Dwayne Johnson. Comic-Con was a real party, the place where fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, and adventure collided and partied together, drinking from the same bottle of Romulan beer.

Comic-Con was the most important event for nerd culture, but there was nothing lame about it. Comic-Con was the coolest thing to happen in San Diego this summer, the place where Tom Hiddleston stepped out in full Loki costume and Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher shared a sweet kiss. It was there that Bryan Cranston showed up wearing a Walter White mask, which he then took off and kissed, which his co-star, Aaron Paul, also did. This is where the Avengers first gathered. Comic-Con was where fantasies came true and dreams came true.

Being at Comic-Con must have been a big deal. The convention was chaotic and wild, an explosion of escapism and imagination and an open invitation to dive into the depths of our inner geek. Thor and Mister Spock chatted in the queue while the Fourth Doctor and Sailor Moon took pictures together. Hell, this was where Henry Cavill wore a Guy Fawkes mask and walked around unrecognized. Anything was possible at Comic-Con.

The creativity and thrills offered by the convention opened the door for fans to let their imaginations run wild. Cosplay was vital to Comic-Con, rooted in its very DNA. Over the years, the convention has given us some of the most creative and daring examples of cosplay ever; it’s not Comic-Con unless you do it right, and fans everywhere have gone out of their way to do it right. The ground floor at San Diego Comic-Con might have seemed like madness to the uninitiated, but it felt like a dream come true for fans.

A world without Con

Artwork for DC FanDome 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our world forever. Hollywood felt the upheaval and, in addition to the business it lost as it saw cinemas close, it also saw many of its signature events slip away, including Comic-Con. The event that had been a pop culture staple for more than 50 years was suddenly brought to a halt, snuffed out by a global pandemic that showed no sign of ending.

True to its need to market its latest offerings, Hollywood has been looking for other options. There had always been other conventions — Disney had D-23 and its Investor Day, and at least two other big gatherings were already operating under the Comic-Con title. COVID also prevented them. Suddenly, Hollywood had to do something it doesn’t like: think outside the box. Looking for alternatives to make up for the loss of such a pivotal event, the film industry explored digital options, and studios had to get creative very quickly.

Warner Bros. offered DC FanDome, a generally successful event that couldn’t help but feel obviously small in scale compared to the heights of old Comic-Con. Disney/Marvel kept its major announcements going for its bizarrely anti-climate Investor Day and made full use of the exchanges, sending outbursts via The Hollywood Journalist, Variety, and many of the usual suspects. Most have done big business on Twitter, trending and managing to generate word of mouth. However, none achieved the same level of attention or caused the same excitement that they would have had they been announced on the Hall H stage. So while the Comic-Con announcement d ‘a Halloween Special Night Werewolf might have prompted fans to learn more about the character, the reveal of the project via Twitter was more of a fizz than a hit.

Hollywood had always known the importance of Comic-Con to its smooth running, but COVID again put things into perspective. Comic-Con wasn’t just a fun gathering where fans came to live out their pop culture fantasies, but a massive publicity tool that did half the job of selling any given project. And while the obvious solution might have seemed to create new conventions specific to each major studio, the reality turned out to be more complicated. The truth is, San Diego Comic-Con is the clash of several fandoms and, as hard as it may seem, not everyone is in love with the superhero content. So while Trekkies and Potterheads might have been compelled to learn more about Marvel’s newest adventure because of the rumblings coming out of Hall H, they wouldn’t even know about the reveal if it happened at an event. exclusively dedicated to superheroes.

Just because DC is hosting a convention doesn’t mean everyone will want to attend. Warner Bros. learned it the hard way.

Back for the second round

Kevin Fiege on stage at Comic-Con.

2022 will mark the return of San Diego Comic-Con, but the world is completely different than when the event last happened two years ago. However, the studios came to play; after all, a lot hinges on the success of Comic-Con 2022, and Hollywood isn’t one to go down without a fight.

Marvel garnered cheers when it announced it would be returning to Hall H, bringing a slate of projects waiting for their chance to take the stage and shock audiences once again. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will most likely be the centerpiece of the studio – it’s supposed to be three months away, and we still have nothing, not even a meager poster. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and the slew of upcoming Disney+ shows could also get their fair share of attention. We know Kevin Feige is a showman at heart, and he won’t waste the opportunity to star at the first post-pandemic Comic-Con. The event is where some of the best superhero movies first saw the light of day, and Marvel will be sure to keep that tradition alive.

Surprisingly, DC kept things simple by only inviting two major properties to the party, black adam and Shazam: Fury of the Gods. Netflix, HBO, Disney, Paramount and Amazon will also release their biggest guns, hoping to leave their mark on the event. Even Adult Swim, bless their hearts, is coming to play. They all know what’s at stake here and what will happen if this Comic-Con fails. Because Hollywood can’t let Comic-Con fail, the past two years have proven it’s crucial to the successful company’s existence. Hollywood isn’t Hollywood unless it has something to promote, and a good sales pitch involves the right stage and paraphernalia. From a business perspective, that’s what San Diego Comic-Con is.

But what about us fans who love Comic-Con for its sense of community? That’s the wonderful thing about the convention; we give it meaning; we make it a celebration of pop culture; we make it the place where we can be geeky and proud of it. We’ll wear the costumes and attend the panels, but most of all, we’ll celebrate the chance to be here again, surrounded by people who feel the same way we do; we may not know them, but they are no strangers. We are all part of the same community and going back will be like the first day after a long summer at the George RR Martin.

So, San Diego, I hope you’re up because we’re all coming. Comic-Con is back, and we’re going to make it better than ever.

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