San Diego Comic-Con: Looking Back and Looking Forward

San Diego Comic-Con: Looking Back and Looking Forward

SDCC 2019 Recap and Photo Highlights

This year Comic-Con International: San Diego celebrated the pop culture convention’s 50th anniversary. What began as a modest assembly of roughly 300 comic book and science fiction fans in the U.S. Grant Hotel in 1970 has now become a major media event attracting over 135,000 fans that fill the San Diego Convention Center and other venues throughout San Diego.

To observe the anniversary, many of this year’s programming sessions looked back on the history of the event. A series of “SDCC50” panels brought together those who were there in the early years and in the decades following to recall how Comic-Con has evolved. As in past years, many of the comic book panels also took a historical view of the medium. This year also marked the 50th anniversary of the first human landing on the moon, and that, too, was commemorated at a panel.

San Diego Comic-Con 2019 also looked forward. Comic book companies announced future plans. Offsite marketing events ginned up enthusiasm for upcoming movies and TV shows. The Future Tech Live! exhibition provided hands-on experiences with emerging technologies. Marvel Studios excited the Hall H crowd with the company’s movie and streaming plans through 2021.

It was a year to review the past and marvel at the future. Here is a recap of San Diego Comic-Con 2019 from my point of view. Click on the thumbnail images to explore larger photo galleries in Flickr.

Hollywood Wows Hall H

While this year I focused primarily on programming sessions covering comic books and Comic-Con history, I attended Hall H for two major presentations.

Gabriel Luna and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Paramount Pictures’ Thursday morning presentation for Terminator: Dark Fate included cast members Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Natalia Reyes, Diego Boneta, Mackenzie Davis, and Gabriel Luna; director Tim Miller; and moderator Grae Drake. In addition to the star power on stage, an extended sizzle reel wowed the crowd. At the conclusion of the panel, director Miller refused to leave the stage until the sizzle reel was shown a second time.

Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige.

The most anticipated panel of this year’s SDCC was the Marvel Studios panel on Saturday evening hosted by Jessica Chobot and moderated by Marvel Studios president and producer Kevin Feige. The common wisdom that Marvel Studios avoids breaking major news at SDCC in years when Disney’s own D23 event is held a few weeks later was proven wrong as Feige revealed the full scope of the studio’s Phase 4 plans. Since most of the films had not started production, footage was scarce, but the event overwhelmed the audience with star power.

Angelina Jolie waves to the Hall H crowd.

For The Eternals, opening November 6, 2020, Feige brought to the stage actors Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lauren Ridloff, Brian Tyree Henry, Salma Hayek, Lia McHugh, Don Lee, and Angelina Jolie, along with director Chloé Zhao.

To introduce the series The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, coming to Disney+ in fall 2020, Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan took the stage. Daniel Brühl made an appearance on video, in character as Baron Zemo.

Simu Liu greets the audience.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, due in theaters February 12, 2021, introduced Simu Liu to the audience along with an appearance by director Destin Daniel Cretton.

Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany came to the stage to introduce the Disney+ spring 2021 series WandaVision, along with Teyonah Parris who will play the adult Monica Rambeau, the child introduced in Captain Marvel.

Tom Hiddleston bounds onto the stage.

Tom Hiddleston then arrived on stage to introduce the Disney+ spring 2021 series Loki.

Next up was director Scott Derrickson with actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen to introduce Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, arriving the theaters May 7, 2021.

Jeffrey Wright was then introduced as the voice of The Watcher in the Disney+ animated series What If…? launching in summer 2021.

Jeremy Renner ran down the center aisle of Hall H to reach the stage to announce the fall 2010 Disney+ series Hawkeye.

Natalie Portman wields Mjolnir.

Natalie Portman will reprise her role as Jane Foster in Thor: Love and Thunder on November 5, 2021. Joining Portman on stage were actors Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, and director Taika Waititi. As Portman held Mjolnir aloft, Feige announced that Jane Foster will take up the hammer to become the Mighty Thor, Goddess of Thunder.

Scarlett Johansson was joined on stage by actors David Harbour, Florence Pugh, O-T Fagbenle, and Rachel Weisz, along with director Cate Shortland for Black Widow, opening May 1, 2020. Exclusive footage was shown for this film.

Mahershala Ali sports his ‘Blade’ cap.

Finally, multiple Oscar winner Mahershala Ali came to the stage and donned a cap showing the logo of his forthcoming role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Blade.

As is tradition for these mega-Marvel panels, the entire roster of stars returned to the stage for a final moment with the Hall H crowd.

Comic Books

While a commonly heard complaint about SDCC is that Hollywood has taken over the event, comic book panels were plentiful.

Brad Ricca, Marc Tyler Nobleman, and Danny Fingeroth discussing Bill Finger.

In the “Secret Origin of Bill Finger,” Marc Tyler Nobleman, author of Bill the Boy Wonder and subject of the Hulu documentary Batman & Bill, discussed his crusade to get Batman co-creator Bill Finger the public credit he was long denied. Joining Nobleman were comics historians Brad Ricca and Danny Fingeroth.

The Annual Jack Kirby Tribute Panel.

Mark Evanier moderated “The Annual Jack Kirby Tribute Panel” which included two members of the Kirby family — Tracy Kirby and Jeremy Kirby — along with writers Buzz Dixon and Kurt Busiek, Kirby inker Mike Royer, and Kirby Trust lawyer Paul S. Levine.

Neal Adams declares “Comic books are doing just fine.”

Although Neal Adams‘ solo presentation was billed as “What Is the Future of Comics?” the noted artist spent most of his talk discussing the present state of the medium. “Comic books are doing just fine,” he declared. After a few brief diversions into politics, Adams’ observations on the future of comic books focused largely on how comics and other media are sharing content and creators. “We’re mixing all our popular culture together — computer games, television, movies, and comic books — into one vast entertainment medium,” he observed. Adams announced that he is getting back into publishing, with plans to create audio-enhanced comics. “We’re building a great future with comic books,” he stated.

Jim Steranko talks about the artistry of escape.

The “Spotlight on Jim Steranko” featured the famed comics creator in conversation with Ming Chen from AMC’s Comic Book Men. The bulk of Steranko’s talk centered not on comics but, rather, on his former career as an escape artist. He stressed his escapes depended on skill rather than trickery. “I never faked it,” he asserted. “There was never any collusion between me and… the police who locked me up.” Near the end of the talk Steranko eventually linked his narrative to comics by noting that his days as an escape artist formed the basis for Jack Kirby’s character Mr. Miracle.

Mary Fleener with her Inkpot award.

In the “Spotlight on Mary Fleener,” the underground comix artist/writer was interviewed by Mark Habegger. At the outset of the session, Meg Mardian presented Fleener with an Inkpot Award.

Greg Bear speaking with David Clark.

In the “Spotlight on Greg Bear” session, David Clark interviewed the famed science fiction author and illustrator.

Because of my work for Comic Book Creator magazine and TwoMorrows Publishing, I attended several panels related to that company’s publisher and staff.

The World of TwoMorrows 25th Anniversary panel.

In the “The World of TwoMorrows 25th Anniversary” publisher John Morrow led a panel discussing his quarter-century publishing magazines on comic book history with panelists Keith Dallas, P. C. Hamerlinck, Jon B. Cooke, Dewey Cassell, and Mike Manley.

Jon B. Cooke and John Morrow.

John Morrow also moderated the spotlight panel on noted comics historian and editor of Comic Book Creator Magazine Jon B. Cooke. During the session, Cooke was honored with an Inkpot Award.

Jon B. Cooke surrounded by weirdos.

Jon B. Cooke was also featured in the session “The Book of Weirdo: A History of the Greatest Magazine Ever Published,” highlighting Cooke’s recent definitive history of R. Crumb’s magazine Weirdo. On the panel with Cooke were moderator Colin Turner, Mary Fleener, Krystine Kryttre, Ron Turner, Kaz, Carol Kovinick Hernandez, Gilbert Hernandez, and Bruce Carleton. At the outset of the session, Columbia University’s Karen Green joined Cooke on the dais to announce that all three editors of Weirdo magazine — Robert Crumb, Peter Bagge, and Aline Kominsky-Crumb — will appear together at a Columbia University Library event on Monday, October 28, 2019.

Eisner Award winners.

The centerpiece of my comics experience each year at Comic-Con is the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards ceremony on Friday evening. As I wrote for Knowledge@Wharton earlier this year, the Eisner Awards are a wonderful evening recognizing the contributions of the men and women who write, draw, and publish comics, a medium that was largely disparaged throughout much of its history. [See Knowledge@Wharton, “Comic-Con’s Eisner Awards: Honoring a Long-maligned Medium.”]

Outside the Con: Marketing Experiences

Amazon Prime Video once again had the largest offsite marketing event, occupying the same 60,000 square foot space as last year’s Jack Ryan Experience. [See Knowledge@Wharton, “Marketing at Comic-Con: More Is More.”]

A performance on the Amazon Prime Video tower.

In contrast to last year’s single focus on Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, this year the activation, created in conjunction with agency Tool, promoted three Amazon Prime Video programs: The Boys, The Expanse, and Carnival Row. Looming over it all was a three-story tower covered in a reflective surface used for periodic performances.

The wreckage in The Boys Experience.

The Boys Experience put participants into the middle of the aftermath of a scene from the first episode of the Amazon Prime Video series, where superhero hating renegade Billy Butcher runs his car through the front window of an electronics store to strike invisible superhero Translucent. In the activation, an actor standing in for Butcher instructs people to search among the wreckage of the crash for the security camera evidence of the crime and destroy it. Amid the haze of the smoking car, participants try to solve puzzles to grab the incriminating video tape and destroy it.

Investigating the stife on Illus IV in The Expanse Experience

In the Expanse Experience, participants enter the spaceship Rocinante where UN representatives brief you on your mission. You exit onto the planet Ilus IV, where large metal fins arise from the sandy surface. Live actors put you in the center of the strife on the planet.

Keeping a watchful eye on the Carnival Row Experience.

The Carnival Row Experience puts participants into a murky Victorian world of mythical creatures.

The secret comic book store.

Hidden away behind The Boys Experience was a secret comic book shop. If you discovered the password you could enter the space and select a free back-issue comic.

“Nothing ever ends” in the Watchmen Experience.

More modest in scale was the offsite for HBO’s forthcoming Watchmen series created in conjunction with creative agency Campfire. At two different locations in downtown San Diego fans were able to enter a cylindrical blue booth and see their image transformed in real-time through a simulation of Watchmen’s Intrinsic Field Subtractor into a Dr. Manhattan-like super being. A video of the transformation is mailed to the participant for subsequent social sharing.

Amid the Fantasy: Real-World Science

While most of the programming at Comic-Con focuses on fantasy and science fiction, real-world science also plays a role. [See: Knowledge@Wharton, “Science — No Longer Just Fiction — at Comic-Con.”

VR gaming in Future Tech Live!

The Future Tech Live! pavilion, now in its fourth year at SDCC, offers hands-on experiences with virtual reality games and other emerging technologies.

Interacting with objects on the moon in the Alice Space simulation.

The Alice Space “Earthlight: Lunar Mission” offered a deeply immersive visit to the surface of the moon. A team of five or six members is equipped with motion-control sensors and VR headsets to enter a multi-user free-roaming exploration of a lunar habitat and the surface of the moon.

Ryan Mosley, Ray Hedgpeth, Lovell Stoddard, and Mat Kaplan.

On July 20th, the 50th anniversary of the first humans on the moon, the panel “They Came for the Moon: 50 Years of Apollo 11,” filled its 500-seat room with fans eager to hear from Lovell Stoddard, a test engineer for the U.S. manned space program including the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs. Also on the panel was Mat Kaplan, host of Planetary Radio, and moderator Ray Hedgpeth.

For more on both science-related events, see On Technology and Media, “Lunar Past, Lunar Future at Comic-Con.”

SDCC50: Comic-Con Remembers Comic-Con

In recognition of the 50th anniversary of San Diego Comic-Con, several panels explored the long history of the popular culture festival.

Bringing Films to Comic-Con.

Despite the occasional complaints from attendees that Hollywood has ruined Comic-Con, science fiction and fantasy movies have been a staple of the conference since the beginning. At the “Bringing Films to Comic-Con” panel moderated Marc Bernardin, panelists Steve Sansweet, Craig Miller, Jeff Walker, and Gary Sassaman discussed the long history of movies at the event.

The Pros of Comic-Con panelists.

The “The Pros of Comic-Con” panel moderated by Bob Wayne included panelists Lee Marrs, Diana Schutz, Bob Schreck, Mike Friedrich, Phil Yeh, Dan Vado, Larry Niven, and David Brin discussing the Comic-Con experiences of professional writers, editors and publishers.

Memories of the First Comic-Con.

Jackie Estrada, one of only a handful of people who have attended every SDCC, moderated the panel “Memories of the First Comic-Con” with other panelists who were there from the beginning: Scott Shaw!, Mark Evanier, Mike Royer, Bill Stout, Bud Plant, Phil Yeh, Dave Clark, Roger Freedman, and Mike Towry.

Comic-Con in the 1980s.

Jackie Estrada also moderated the panel on “Comic-Con in the 1980s” with Rick Geary, Larry Geeck, Denis Kitchen, Wendy Pini, Richard Pini, Stan Sakai, Marv Wolfman, Mark Stadler, David Scroggy, and Maggie Thompson.

Comic-Con in the 1990s.

The Comic-Con in the 1990s” panel was moderated by Mike Pasqua with panelists Beth Holley, Janet Tait, Barry Short, Bob Schreck, Diana Schutz, Charles Vess, Mary Fleener, Bob Wayne, Jeff Walker, and Jim Lee.

Comic-Con in the 2000s.

The panel “Comic-Con in the 2000s and Beyond” included Kurt Busiek, Gene Ha, Eddie Campbell, Billy Tucci, Steve Sansweet, and the always entertaining Kevin Smith.

“Comic-Con Now” panelists.

The “Comic-Con Now” panel was moderated by Comic-Con Director of Programming (and popular Hall H presenter) Eddie Ibrahim with Comic-Con Chief Communications and Strategy Officer David Glanzer and several people who work behind the scenes to make Comic-Con a success each year: Chief Experience Officer Maija Gates, President Robin Donlan, CTO Mark Yturralde, Director of Exhibits Justin Dutta, and Director of Print and Digital Media Gary Sassaman.

The John Rogers Memorial.

Several of the “Comic-Con Now” panelists remained for my final panel at Comic-Con this year, the “John Rogers Memorial.” Moderated by Director of Programming Eddie Ibrahim the panel included David Glanzer, Rogers’ widow Janet Tait, Robin Donlan, Mark Yturralde, Maija Gates, and Mark Stadler. It was a poignant and emotional panel as the speakers remembered the longtime president of Comic-Con International who passed away late last year. [For my personal reminiscence of Rogers, see On Technology and Media, “Remembering Comic-Con President John Rogers.”]

It was a melancholy yet touching way to end the con this year.

For the full 1000+ image gallery from SDCC 2019, see the Flickr album San Diego Comic-Con 2019:

Comic-Con photo albums.

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