Tag: SDCC

San Diego Comic-Con 2017: Recap and Photo Highlights

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Comic-Con International: San Diego or, as it is more commonly known, San Diego Comic-Con or simply SDCC, is a massive event. Each year presents attendees with a challenging exercise to determine which of the many simultaneous activities they can afford to miss. Comic-Con scheduling is particularly vexing in my case since I wear multiple hats. For Knowledge@Wharton I’m on the lookout for emerging business trends, which frequently sends me to many of the offsite marketing “activations” (as they are known). As a photographer for TwoMorrows’ Comic Book Creator and other magazines, I attend many of the comic book panels and autograph signings. And, of course, there are things of which I’m personally a fan, which often send me to the mammoth Hall H for the major movie and television properties.

Here is an overview of San Diego Comic-Con 2017 from my perspective. [Click on the images to view full photo albums.]

The Big Panels in Hall H

The most popular programming sessions at Comic-Con are held in the 6,500-seat Hall H.

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Kyle MacLachlan gives the thumbs up at the ‘Twin Peaks’ panel.

On Friday, the cast of Twin Peaks: The Return took to the stage for “Twin Peaks: A Damn Good Panel.” Moderated by Damon Lindelof, the panel included Kyle MacLachlan, Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Dana Ashbrook, Kimmy Robertson, James Marshall, Everett McGill, Matthew Lillard, and Don Murray.

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The cast of ‘Twin Peaks’.

Following the Twin Peaks panel, I was able to do a brief photo shoot with the cast of Twin Peaks before an autograph signing in the Entertainment Earth booth.

Saturday typically hosts the biggest panels to Hall H. This year, the day began with Warner Bros. and concluded with Marvel Studios.

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 ‘Ready Player One’: Steven Spielberg and Ernest Cline 

For the first Warner Bros. panel, Ready Player One, the curtains on the side walls pulled back to display a huge 180-degree video display that wrapped around the audience. Following a trailer for the upcoming film, moderator Chris Hardwick brought to the stage director Steven Spielberg; writers Ernest Cline and Zak Penn; and actors Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, and T.J. Miller.

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‘Blade Runner 2049’: Denis Villeneuve, Ryan Gosling, and Harrison Ford

The Blade Runner 2049 panel began with a display of a timeline of the events between the period of the first film (2019) and the upcoming sequel (2049). A version of this content can be seen at roadto2049.bladerunnermovie.com. Following this, the film’s trailer was screened, followed by a hologram-like projection of actor Jared Leto. Moderator Chris Hardwick then introduced director Denis Villeneuve; actors Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, and Lennie James; producers Andrew A. Kosove and Broderick Johnson; and screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green.

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The cast of ‘Justice League’ and ‘Aquaman’.

The final Warner Bros. presentation was for Justice League, which began with the stars of the forthcoming film charging down the center aisle past the Hall H audience to ascend the stage. Moderator Chris Hardwick first introduced Aquaman‘s Jason Momoa, who danced around with his trident like Jimi Hendrix on the guitar. Next up was Gal Gadot, followed by the rest of the cast: Ben Affleck, Ray Fisher, and Ezra Miller.

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Charlize Theron.

After Warner Bros., next up in Hall H was the “Women Who Kick Ass” panel. While this annual panel typically includes a group of female actors, this year it highlighted a single performer: Charlize Theron. After an extended clip from Atomic Blonde with Theron in an intense fight scene, the actor was interviewed by Sara Vilkomerson.

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The cast of ‘Stranger Things’.

The Stranger Things panel showed a trailer for season 2 of the popular Netflix series and then brought to the stage an enormous panel of cast and crew: series creators Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer; actors Natalia Dyer, Shawn Levy, Joe Keery, Gaten Matarazzo, David Harbour, Caleb McLaughlin, Matthew Modine, Noah Schnapp, Finn Wolfhard, Dacre Montgomery, Millie Bobby Brown, Paul Reiser, and Sadie Sink; and moderator Patton Oswalt. Midway through the panel, Shannon Purser, who played Barb in the show’s first season, emerged from the audience to join the cast on stage.

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Westworld’s Evan Rachel Wood.

The Westworld panel included a trailer for the upcoming season of the series and featured a large cast including showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy; actors Shannon Woodward, Luke Hemsworth, Angela Sarafyan, Ben Barnes, Jimmi Simpson, Jeffrey Wright, Evan Rachel Wood, Ed Harris, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, Rodrigo Santoro, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Simon Quarterman, and Tessa Thompson; and moderator Reggie Watts.

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Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige with his Inkpot Award.

Capping Saturday in Hall H was Marvel Studios. Moderator Chris Hardwick first introduced Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige. Before introducing other cast members, Comic-Con International Director of Programming Eddie Ibrahim presented Kevin Feige with an Inkpot Award.

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‘Thor: Ragnarok’: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, and Mark Ruffalo.

The first part of the Marvel panel then focused on Thor: Ragnarok. Joining Fiege and Hardwick on stage were director Taika Waititi and actors Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Cate Blanchett, and Jeff Goldblum. An exclusive trailer was shown.

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The cast of ‘Black Panther’ celebrate after seeing the first footage from the film.

Following Thor: Ragnarok, Feige brought to the stage the cast and crew of Black Panther: writer/director Ryan Coogler and actors Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Forest Whitaker, Daniel Kaluuya, Andy Serkis and Winston Duke. Exclusive footage from Black Panther was also debuted.

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Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston rousing the audience.

Although Fiege had initially stated the session would cover two films: Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther, when Fiege began to sum up after the Black Panther cast exited the stage, Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth, Chadwick Boseman, and Mark Ruffalo returned to egg Fiege on for more — pointing out there were three Avengers on stage. Responding to the rising audience demand for additional material, Fiege, playing along, relented and showed the first public footage from Avengers: Infinity War.

While the footage shown in many of Saturday’s panels was released to the public shortly following its debut in Hall H, the Marvel Studios footage remained unavailable elsewhere. While it’s a shame to keep the content from fans who couldn’t make it into Hall H — and it’s likely beneficial to the studios to have the material seen by the largest possible audience — I’m pleased Marvel is upholding the tradition of showing exclusive content to the fans who who camped out for hours (or even days) to get inside Hall H.

Comic Book Panels, Signings, and Awards

This year marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of famed comics artist and writer Jack Kirby. A number of this year’s comics-focused panels honored his legacy.

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Barry Ira Geller and Mike Royer.

On Thursday, the panel “Jack Kirby’s Consciousness, Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light, Barry Ira Geller, and the Real Argo” featured Barry Ira Geller and artist Mike Royer discussing Kirby’s work on a planned movie and science theme park based on Roger Zelazny’s novel, Lord of Light. While neither the movie nor the theme park materialized, the unproduced movie script and artwork were used as part of the scheme to rescue American diplomats who were in hiding in Iran following the Iranian Revolution in 1979, events portrayed (in a fictionalized version) in Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning film, Argo.

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Mike Royer.

Mark Evanier moderated a separate spotlight panel with longtime Kirby inker Mike Royer. In comparing his inking style with that of another noted Kirby inker, Joe Sinnott, Royer said, “Joe Sinnott inked Jack MGM. I inked Jack Warner Brothers…. MGM was glossy. Warner Brothers was raw, and to the point.”

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John Morrow.

TwoMorrows’ publisher John Morrow, editor of Jack Kirby Collector Magazine, was featured in a spotlight panel on Friday. At the outset of the panel, Morrow was awarded an Inkpot Award by Comic-Con International’s Gary Sassaman.

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“Jack Kirby: Friends and Family.”

Also on Friday was the “Jack Kirby: Friends and Family” panel with Kirby decedents Jeremy Kirby, Tracy Kirby, Lisa Kirby, and Jillian Kirby, along with artist and family friend Mike Thibodeaux and moderator Mark Evanier.

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Denis Kitchen and Danny Fingeroth.

This year also marked 100 years since the birth of Will Eisner, who was honored in a number of panels, including Denis Kitchen in conversation with Danny Fingeroth discussing Kitchen’s long associated with the influential artist/writer.

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Paul Dini.

The “Spotlight on Paul Dini” panel featured the writer in conversation with his friend,  writer/producer David Mandel.

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“The Women of Marvel.”

The Women of Marvel” panel included Sana Amanat, Lorraine Cink, Margaret Stohl, Rainbow Rowell, Christina Strain, Alanna Smith, and Mariko Tamaki, moderated by Judy Stephens.

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Comic book creators.

Beyond the panels, comic book creators are available throughout much of Comic-Con — in Artist Alley, at signing events, and simply browsing the con with the other attendees.

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The Eisner Awards.

And, as always, Friday evening brought the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards Ceremony, which is a wonderful event honoring the women and men who create comics. Among the many awards given that evening, the members of the Kirby family accepted the Bill Finger award given to Jack Kirby for his writing.

Science Fiction Meets Real-World Science

While Comic-Con often features panels that look at the scientific underpinnings of fictional worlds of movies and television like Star Trek or Star Wars, this year saw a number of panels and events focusing on science in the real world.

New at Comic-Con this year was the Futurism and Tech Pavilion (an expansion of last year’s VR Con) with demonstrations of a wide range of immersive entertainment technology including virtual reality, 4D VR motion controlled chairs, and augmented reality goggles.

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“Science Fiction, Science Future.”

In the “Science Fiction, Science Future” panel, science fiction writers, including The Martian‘s Andy Weir, discussed the synergies between science fiction and science fact with scientists and engineers.

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“No Tow Trucks Beyond Mars.”

No Tow Trucks Beyond Mars” featured engineers and scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) discussing how the space program works to anticipate and avoid problems in interplanetary travel.

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Richard Browning demonstrates “The State of Iron Man Tech.”

The “2017: The State of Iron Man Tech” panel, moderated by Dent the Future’s Steve Broback, featured inventor Richard Browning (who has developed a prototype jet-powered exosuit), actor and stunt woman Zoë Bell, NASA engineer Chris Gerty, and venture capitalist Adam Draper. That evening, Dent the Future hosted an informal get-together with Browning and Bell at San Diego’s Mission Brewery. While billed as an opportunity to see Browning’s jet suit, there were hints during the panel that Browning might do more than merely model the suit. And, indeed, midway through the gathering, people were given earplugs and asked to assemble outside the brewery where Browning flew around the parking area in his jet suit.

For more on the real-world science in evidence at this year’s Comic-Con, see Knowledge@Wharton, “Science — No Longer Just Fiction — at Comic-Con.”

Marketing: From Ubiquitous Banners to Immersive Environments

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‘People of Earth’ on the Marriott Marquis.

Advertising takes over nearly every square inch of San Diego during Comic-Con. This year’s award for Most Ubiquitous Ad Campaign would likely go, as in other recent years, to TBS. This year the network was promoting People of Earth (replacing the Conan ads from the past two years). Ads promoting the series appeared on everything from the stairways and baggage carousels at San Diego International Airport to the large building wrap covering the upper floors of the Marriott Marquis.

The companion real estate on the Hilton Bayfront was occupied by wrap for FX’s Legion, which mercifully replaced the creepy banners for The Strain that occupied that location in the previous two years.

The most significant marketing activity at SDCC occurs on the large-scale activations that take place around San Diego. Virtual reality was all the rage at many of the immersive marketing events in recent years. While VR was still in evidence, several of the most popular marketing activations this year were geared toward physical installations and real-world interactions. Scavenger hunts were featured in the activations for The Tick and Mr. Robot. Meticulously constructed physical environments populated with actors formed the core of the events for Blade Runner 2049 (which also included an optional VR component), Mr. Robot, and Westworld.

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The Tick Takeover.

The Tick Takeover, promoting Amazon’s forthcoming series, was a two-part activation. In the first section, fans could work the controls of the large tick antennae that towered over the sidewalk and rest on sofas while viewing the pilot episode of the series. In the second part, fans are first led into a reconstruction of a convenience store and are then whisked away into another room for a competitive scavenger hunt. Throughout the event, fans are required to answer a number of surveys in order to get free schwag.

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Blade Runner 2049 Experience: VR segment.

More immersive was the Blade Runner 2049 Experience. Located in a large temporary structure, this event was also presented in two parts. The first was a 4D virtual reality experience — 360-degree video and sound with a synchronized motion chair. In the simulation, you’re piloting a spinner, the flying car in the show, in pursuit of a runaway replicant. The chase soars between the skyscrapers in Los Angeles of 2049, eventually ending with both vehicles crashing to the ground.

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Blade Runner 2049 Experience: physical construction.

Once the virtual experience ends, you remove your headset to see the wall previously in front of the room has disappeared and you walk into a large scale reproduction of a street scene in Los Angeles 2049. The entire scene is suffused with a foggy haze. Actors wearing outrageous fashions interact with you. A chef prepares dishes at a noodle stand. Police keep an eye on things and, at one point, insist you submit to a Voight-Kampff test to verity you’re a human. There are also props from the film on display and, in an adjacent room a place to pick up noodles or drink vials of Johnnie Walker whisky.

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‘Westworld’ player piano.

Perhaps the most exclusive marketing event at this year’s Comic-Con was the Westworld Experience, which reportedly accommodated only 12 people per hour. The lucky few who were able to sign up for an appointment, were able to participate in an in-depth physical immersive experience. After being interviewed by a host, you were given a western hat — either white or black. Guests were then led to a full scale replica of the show’s Mariposa Saloon.

This year’s physical construction stood in sharp contrast to the Westworld activation at last fall’s New York Comic-Con, which used a physical entry point for a VR experience. [See Knowledge@Wharton, “Entering Westworld: VR Marketing at New York Comic Con.”]

Also built around physical environments, along with a mysterious scavenger hunt, was this year’s Mr. Robot Experience. As with the Westworld Experience, this year’s event stood in contrast with last year’s Mr. Robot Experience, which combined a VR experience with a physical environment.  That year’s hybrid experience reconstructed the Mr. Robot Repair Shop and the apartment of the show’s main character, and then launched into an extended, 13-minute virtual reality experience. [See On Technology and Media, “The Mr. Robot VR Experience, Storytelling, and the Future of Immersive Media.”]

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Mr Robot’s Bank of E and Red Wheelbarrow BBQ.

This year, the Mr. Robot Repair Shop was closed, with condemned notices posted on a reconstruction of the building’s exterior. Open next door was the Bank of E, where fans could get a bank card loaded with 20 ECoin, the show’s fictional digital currency, that could be used to buy food and other items at many locations throughout San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. At the Red Wheelbarrow BBQ, an establishment only hinted at in season 2 of the show but reportedly playing a larger role in season 3, fans could enjoy a pulled pork sandwich (supplied by Phil’s BBQ) with chips and a shake.

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The interrogation room in ‘Mr. Robot’ episode 2×11, nearly identical to the one at the Comic-Con experience.

As if this weren’t enough, observant fans discovered hints that led them on a hunt to decode additional clues around town. When all the clues were collected, they revealed a phone number that directed participants to the final stage of the activation. Past a secret doorway, guards confiscate your cell phone to prevent photos or recordings, and then lead you down a hallway to a dark room that is a near-exact replica of the interrogation room in which Angela finds herself in season 2 episode 11. You’re seated in front of a table with a red telephone and an old Commodore 64 computer. A few 5-1/4 diskettes are scattered around. At the rear of the room is an illuminated fish tank. But where Angela was interrogated by a young girl, you’re sitting across the desk from a masked representative of the Dark Army. He asks a series of odd, somewhat intimidating questions: “How many times have you lied today?” “Animal, vegetable, or mineral?” “Are you afraid of the dark?” “What does one in the darkness seek?” After the interrogation, a phone rings. When answered, you hear the voice of Whiterose giving you a cryptic message that may contain clues about the direction of season 3 of the show. You’re then handed a manila envelope and told you have 30 seconds to review the contents. Inside are photos from the upcoming season of Mr. Robot.

While these immersive marketing events relied on real-world environments populated by actors, rather than virtual simulations, next year may reveal whether this was a single year deviation or the beginning of a trend. [For additional commentary, see Knowledge@Wharton, “Marketing at Comic-Con Gets Real (Again).”

Cosplay and Talk Back

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Creative cosplay.

While I don’t photograph cosplay as extensively as many of the photographers at Comic-Con, I love original costumes and clever mash-ups. Highlights from this year included a combination of Sailor Mercury and Freddie Mercury, a Day of the Dead costume, and Dr. Strange with his floating cape.

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John Rogers responds to attendees at the Talk Back session.

SDCC 2017 ended for me, as it does each year, with the Talk Back session, in which Comic-Con International President John Rogers listens to feedback from attendees on what went right and what went wrong (mostly what went wrong) at that year’s Comic-Con. In addition to the usual complaints about long lines and over-zealous security staff, this brought a new concern: allegations of counterfeit Hall H wristbands. Although these reports were unconfirmed, it was clear something went terribly awry regarding Hall H access on Saturday. After the 6,500-seat room was filled for the opening Warner Bros. panel that day, a significant number of fans with wristbands — which should have guaranteed access to the room — were still outside waiting in line. Rogers made it clear that Comic-Con International needs to “look into the security of the wristbands and how we tie that into people going forward.”

For a gallery of 1,100+ photos from Comic-Con International 2017, see the Flickr photo album: San Diego Comic-Con 2017:

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The image from the Mr. Robot is from a copyrighted television program, the copyright for which is most likely owned by the show’s production company and/or distributor and possibly also by any actors appearing in the image. It is believed that the use of a web-resolution screenshot for identification and critical commentary on the film and its contents qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law. All other photos are copyright © 2017 by Kendall Whitehouse.

San Diego Comic-Con 2016: Recap and Photo Highlights

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Reports on San Diego Comic-Con always read like the story of the blind men describing an elephant. The scope of the event is so broad, its scale so large, that each attendee can only experience a small sliver of the long weekend’s activities.

This was Comic-Con International: San Diego 2016 from my perspective.

Because of my interest in the media marketing that accompanies Comic-Con, Wednesday afternoon before Preview Night provided a good opportunity to explore the branding and the media installations around the Convention Center and throughout San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter.

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Virtually entering the world of ‘Mr. Robot’.

Virtual reality was a major presence at Comic-Con this year, both at promotional events and at a separate mini-conference dubbed VR Con at the Con. A number of the large-scale marketing “activations” (as industry insiders like to call them) featured a virtual reality experience in combination with an impressive physical environment. Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle experience included a museum of set pieces from the program and an interactive VR experience using the HTC Vive. To promote USA Network’s cult favorite Mr. Robot, the network created a detailed reconstruction of the Mr. Robot repair shop and the apartment of the show’s main character, Elliot Alderson. Inside the apartment you could enter a 13-minute virtual reality experience written and directed by Mr. Robot creator Sam Email. [For more on the Mr. Robot Virtual Reality Experience, see “The Mr. Robot VR Experience, Storytelling, and the Future of Immersive Media.”]

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Crowds fill the exhibition hall floor on Preview Night.

Back in the real world, it was time to head to the Convention Center for the official opening of the con with Preview Night. For many, Preview Night is a mad rush to get first dibs on exclusive collectible items. I use it as an opportunity to visit the comic book creators in Artist Alley and elsewhere before the crush of the crowds in the subsequent days of the con. [See, “Be a Con-trarian: Go Against the Flow at Comic-Con.”] While San Diego Comic-Con attracts numerous high-profile movie and TV celebrities, I always enjoy the opportunity to meet the men and women who write, draw, and publish the comic books that form the basis of so much of our popular culture.

After Preview Night, it was off to Analog Bar for the annual Enchantment Under the SDCC party hosted by the SDCC Unofficial Blog.

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The show’s cast immersed in the Mr. Robot Virtual Reality Experience.

Thursday began with a second opportunity to experience Sam Email’s immersive Mr. Robot 360-degree film. Rather than taking place in the reconstruction of Elliot’s apartment, this second viewing was in Petco Park with cast members Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Portia Doubleday, Carly Chaikin, and Grace Gummer viewing the virtual experience along with the audience. At one point, while the audience members were still in the virtual world, Malek left the stage and sat in the crowd, surprising the adjacent audience members once the simulation ended.

First Timers and Old Regulars

Given the 47-year history of San Diego Comic-Con, it’s surprising to discover major popular culture icons who have never attended the event. This year a number of notable artists made their first appearances at San Diego Comic-Con.

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Oliver Stone and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Oliver Stone made his inaugural appearance at Comic-Con to promote his forthcoming film, Snowden, along with cast members Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, and Zachary Quinto.

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Luc Besson.

Similarly new to Comic-Con this year was Luc Besson, who brought producer Virginie Besson-Silla and actors Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne to present concept artwork and early footage from his film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Comic-Con International Senior Director of Programming Eddie Ibrahim presented Besson with an Inkpot award for his contributions to popular culture.

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William Gibson.

Also appearing at Comic-Con for the first time was famed cyberpunk writer William Gibson. Gibson also received a Comic-Con International Inkpot award for his contributions to science fiction.

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Dark Horse Presents: Conversations with Joss Whedon.

In contrast to these Comic-Con newcomers, Friday brought back to Hall H longtime fan favorite, writer/director Joss Whedon, who answered audience questions and hinted at future projects. He gave scant details about his current project, other than to say it was something new — neither a sequel nor a franchise piece. In response to an audience question, he reiterated his intention to eventually produce a follow-up to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, stating it would not be a prequel but, rather, focus on events following the original series. Work on this project isn’t imminent, however, since other members of the creative team (like Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancheron) are currently busy with other projects.

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Trey Parker and Matt Stone discuss ‘South Park’.

Following Whedon, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone discussed their 20 years of working on the animated series, moderated by host Chris Hardwick.

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The Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards.

Friday evening always brings the annual Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards ceremony, honoring the work of comic book writers, artists, and publishers. With industry notables and surprise guests, the event is always a high point of Comic-Con for me each year.

Big Shows in Hall H on Saturday

While each day in Hall H brings panels with notable celebrity appearances and exclusive content, Saturday is the day coveted by the major studios for their showpiece events.

With a number of major movie studios, including 20th Century Fox, Paramount Studios, and Sony Pictures, skipping Hall H this year, on Saturday the room was dominated by two studios: Warner Bros. at the start of the day and Marvel Studios at day’s end (before the annual Kevin Smith panel). It’s worth noting that although they skipped Hall H, Paramount made a big splash in San Diego this year with the world premiere of Star Trek Beyond, Sony brought a Sausage Party screening and cast appearance to the Horton Grand Theatre, and Fox television programming had a significant presence at Comic-Con.

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Eddie Redmayne distributes magic wands in Hall H.

Arriving late in Hall H that day, I missed most of the Warner Bros. panel. As I entered the cavernous room near the end of the WB presentation, I almost ran into Eddie Redmayne as he raced around the floor handing out magic wands to fans to promote Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

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Cast member celebrate the 50th anniversary of ‘Star Trek’.

After Warner Bros., the panel celebrating the 50th anniversary of the original Star Trek television series brought together cast members from several generations of the TV series: William Shatner, Brent Spiner, Michael Dorn, Jeri Ryan, and Scott Bakula in a session moderated by Bryan Fuller, showrunner and co-creator of CBS’ new forthcoming Star Trek series.

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Cast and crew celebrate the 30th anniversary of ‘Aliens’.

The panel following Star Trek marked another anniversary of a popular science fiction franchise: the 30th anniversary of Aliens. On stage for the event were Aliens writer/director James Cameron, producer Gale Anne Hurd, and cast members Sigourney Weaver, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Paul Reiser, Michael Biehn, and Carrie Henn (who portrayed Newt in the film).

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Melissa Benoist and Morena Baccarin on the Entertainment Weekly: Women Who Kick Ass panel.

Next up in Hall H was the annual Entertainment Weekly: Women Who Kick Ass panel moderated by EW’s Nicole Sperling, featuring an array of women who portray strong female roles on television and the movies: Morena Baccarin, Melissa Benoist, Nathalie Emmanuel, Lucy Lawless, Tatian Maslany, Connie Nielsen, and Ming-Na Wen.

Marvel Studios then capped the day with a session that featured cast members and exclusive clips from several of the company’s upcoming feature films introduced by Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige and moderated by the ever-present Chris Hardwick.

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The director and cast of ‘Black Panther’.

Appearing first was the director and cast of Black Panther: director Ryan Coogler and actors Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Danai Gurira, and Chadwick Boseman.

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‘Doctor Strange’ cast members Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, and Rachel McAdams.

Smoke then filled the stage and sides of the auditorium along with abstract patterns of projected light. The smoke cleared to reveal Doctor Strange actor Benedict Cumberbatch at center stage. Joining Cumberbatch was Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson and cast members Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen, Clyde Kusatsu. The Doctor Strange presentation included new footage and the debut of a new trailer.

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The cast of ‘Spider-Man Homecoming’.

Next up was Spider-Man Homecoming actor Tom Holland, joined by director Jon Watts and cast members Laura Harrier, Tony Revolori, Jacob Batalon, and Zendaya. A brief comedic video segment showed scenes of Peter Parker trying to balance his daily life at school with his responsibilities as a superhero.

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The cast of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’.

Director James Gunn next took the stage — along a cadre of fully-costumed Ravengers — for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Gunn then introduced cast members Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Dave Bautista, Elizabeth Debicki, and Kurt Russell (who was revealed to be playing Peter Quill’s father). Gunn also announced that Disney would be opening a theme park attraction based on the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. The Hall H crowd also saw a clip from the film and a new trailer.

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Brie Larson joins the Marvel family as Captain Marvel.

Finally, Feige confirmed the long-held rumor that Brie Larson would play Captain Marvel in the movie slated for Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Larson joined the cast members from all the films for a Marvel family portrait.

Wrapping Up on Sunday

Sunday provided the opportunity to visit some of the marketing activations I hadn’t yet seen, including the Timeless time travel ride (built around that old amusement park classic, the Gravitron), Adult Swim on the Green, and the Son of Zorn rock climb and giant leap into an air bag (the latter pair of which I merely observed rather than participating in). After the virtual reality experiences of Mr. Robot and The Man in the High Castle, these decidedly non-virtual activities were an interesting change of pace.

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Moved from its original 480-seat room, the Pokémon GO panel fills the 6,500-seat Hall H.

Sunday’s final Hall H panel was originally slated for a much smaller room. Back in April 2016, Comic-Con International was coordinating with gaming company Niantic to present a panel on their augmented reality game Ingress. When the programming schedule for Comic-Con 2016 was released — as usual, just two weeks before the event — Niantic was scheduled to speak about Ingress and a new game they planned to launch, Pokémon GO. Shortly afterwards, Pokémon GO debuted and quickly became the hottest thing on Internet. Comic-Con International quickly changed the schedule to move the panel from its Thursday time slot in a modest 480-seat room to the last available spot on Sunday in the 6,500-seat Hall H. While this initially seemed like overkill, it proved otherwise. The enormous auditorium was packed on Sunday afternoon.

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Niantic CEO John Hanke addresses the Hall H crowd.

Host Chris Hardwick interviewed Niantic’s CEO, John Hanke for the session. Fans’ expectations that Hall H events bring big surprises caused many to assume that a special, rare Pokémon creature would appear in the hall for attendees to capture. But, alas, CEO Hanke seemed somewhat taken aback by the amped up expectations of the Hall H crowd, and no special creatures were to be found.

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Comic-Con International President John Rogers ready to respond to fans at the Talk Back session.

As in past years, my final session at Comic-Con was the Talk Back session in which Comic-Con International president John Rogers responds to questions and complaints from attendees. This year, Rogers and Comic-Con International Director of Programming Eddie Ibrahim made a valiant effort to keep the session on schedule, only running roughly 15 minutes over the allotted one hour time slot in contrast to the two-plus hour sessions in past years. While the Talk Back can be a rather dour way to end the con, it offers insights into the choices made by Comic-Con International in running the complex event. For a good recap of the key points from this year’s Talk Back session, see the report from ConShark.

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One final look before saying farewell to Comic-Con 2016.

After the Talk Back, one final glance at the crowds streaming out of the Convention Center and it was a wrap for San Diego Comic-Con 2016.

For the complete photo gallery from Comic-Con International 2016, see the Flickr photo album: San Diego Comic-Con 2016:

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[Click to view photo gallery]

Mysteries of the Comic-Con ‘Hotelpocalypse’

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Due to the enormous popularity of San Diego Comic-Con, acquiring a ticket to the annual pop culture event is difficult. If you are lucky enough to snag a ticket, however, getting a hotel room may be even more challenging. In both cases, the demand far outstrips the supply. In the case of hotel rooms, confusion over how the sale process works exacerbates the situation. This past week, the quest to secure rooms for San Diego Comic-Con 2016 — affectionately (or not so affectionately) known as “Hotelpocalypse” — left many attendees confused and frustrated.

When Demand Exceeds Supply: Randomize!

As with most large conventions, Comic Con International, the organization that runs San Diego Comic-Con, arranges for blocks of hotel rooms to be available for attendees throughout San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter and as far away as the airport, Mission Valley, and Coronado Island. This year travel planning agency onPeak managed the annual hotel sale for Comic Con International.

Hilton-Bayfront-SDCC-20150-photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse-480x480While rooms are available outside this system, the high demand drives prices to astronomical levels. When booked through Comic-Con’s travel agency, onPeak, a room at the popular Hilton Bayfront costs $308 per night. (For comparison, on weekends other than that of Comic-Con, rooms at the Bayfront go for as low as $169.) If you book the same room outside of the onPeak sale during the weekend of Comic-Con, the price is $1095 per night (plus the usual taxes and fees). Understandably, many want to acquire rooms through the Comic-Con sale.

To apply for a room, attendees submit a form with their top six hotels choices listed in order of preference, enter their personal data, and specify what should happen if none of their six hotel selections is available: book a room in any hotel on the shuttle route, book a room at any hotel in the area, or discard the request.

In previous years, the form went live at a specified time and requests were processed in the order submitted. It was a mad dash to complete the form as quickly as possible. Getting a room in one of the popular downtown hotels required racing through the multi-section form in less than a minute or two. The high peak demand on the system led to numerous technical problems such as pages not loading or submissions inexplicably lost.

Tickets to San Diego Comic-Con were once similarly allotted on a first-come, first-served basis, with equally problematic results. Two years ago, Comic Con International switched to a system of randomized ticket sales. During a recap of the previous year’s event, CCI President John Rogers noted that the earlier approach had little advantage over a random lottery, stating, “There are so many people hitting the system at the same time that, in fact, it is random.” (“See Comic-Con Ticket Sales: Systematizing Randomness“)

This year, Comic-Con International decided to randomize the submission of hotel forms as well. Users were given a three-hour window to access an online “waiting room” and then, at the appointed time, were randomly placed in a queue to gain access to the hotel request form.

While this seemed to go well on the day of the hotel sale, there was a great deal of uncertainly about the details, particularly when attendees started getting the results a few days later.

People reported having relatively low numbers in the queue, yet failing to receive any of their hotel selections. Reports filtered in of friends with later spots in the queue getting rooms at popular hotels while people earlier in line got none.

Confusion over Sequence, Timestamp, and Duplication

While those who failed to get the room they wanted were obviously disappointed, much of the frustration arose from confusion about how the process worked.

The early word was that, even with the randomized queue as a gating factor, requests would still be processed in the order of the timestamp when they were submitted. Thus, as in past years, once the form appeared, many raced to complete it as quickly as possible, risking the possibility of making critical errors that would invalidate their submission. After the sale closed, a tweet from onPeak stated that forms would be handled in the order of the user’s assigned place in queue rather than the submission timestamp. Some anecdotal reports seem to contradict this, however, leaving it unclear how the forms were sequenced for processing.

Users were also told that duplicate submissions would not increase the odds of getting a specific hotel and, in fact, it would likely decrease one’s chances since “only the most recent submission received will be the one processed.” What qualified as a “duplicate submission” remains unclear, however, with reports (or speculation) of requests being disregarded for myriad reasons, including forms with the same mailing address, or with the same phone number, or for no apparent reason whatsoever.

A parody Twitter account, “Fake onPeak,” appeared shortly after the sale lampooning the organization behind the process, issuing tweets like: “Reminder: As you call us today, you’ll be placed in a random order. Call twice and we will have to ignore your request.

Hotel Allocation Schemes: Sequence and Preference

Another aspect of the system is unclear: What is the exact method by which hotels are allocated based on people’s sequence in the randomized list and their priority selections?

A common view is that the Comic-Con hotel sale works something like this: People’s requests are first randomly ordered and then the system goes through this list and examines each person’s six selections in the order given to look for an available room.

In other words, the system starts with the first person in the queue. If a room at their first choice hotel is available, they’re allocated that room. If not, the system looks at their second choice. If a room in that hotel is available, they’re granted that room. And so on through the set of their six hotel options. If none of these is available, the system follows the option specified for this situation such assigning the person to another arbitrary (randomly selected?) room on the shuttle route or in any available room. (The details of how this subsequent selection process occurs are also mysterious.)

While this system is simple to understand and relatively easy to implement, it can lead to potentially sub-optimal outcomes. For example, let’s assume that when my slot in the sequence arrives, my first five selections are unavailable and there is one room left at my sixth choice hotel, say, the Omni Hotel. I would get the room at the Omni. If the next person in the randomly-ordered sequence selected the Omni as their first choice, they would not get the room.

You can argue that this is fair, since I was randomly placed ahead of the other person wanting to stay at the Omni. But it’s unfortunate that someone who wants the Omni as their first choice loses out to someone who cares only slightly for that hotel (particularly since the selection was made randomly).

An alternative approach would seek to maximize the overall satisfaction of all participants by following a different algorithm. Rather than looking through all six hotel options for each individual before moving on to the next person, the system could fill each hotel by looking through the ordered list of all the requests by priority first. In other words, start with a hotel (in order of size or popularity — or simply alphabetically), then go through the ordered sequence of users looking for those who made this hotel their first choice before looking at the second-choice selections for this hotel

For example, when looking to fill the rooms at the Hilton Bayfront, look through the ordered list of people to identify those who listed the Bayfront as their first choice. Proceed through the requests in the ordered sequence – looking only at each person’s top choice — until either the Bayfront is filled with people who picked it as their first choice or the end of the list of people is reached. If the system gets to the end of the list of first-choice selections and rooms are still available, it then starts over at the beginning of the list looking for people who selected the Bayfront as their second choice. Continue in this way for each hotel until all the rooms are filled.

This approach would assure that each hotel is filled with those who are most desirous of that location. The randomized sequence would still be important, but it would carry less weight relative to the individual’s prioritization of the hotels.

Until Next Year

Because the demand exceeds the supply — particularly for the popular downtown hotels — there will inevitably be complaints from those who failed to get the room they wanted. But the lack of transparency about how the process works exacerbates the problem. Hopefully, for Comic-Con 2017 attendees will know more about how requests are sequenced, when they might be rejected, and how people’s hotel priorities are allocated.

This year’s Comic-Con International: San Diego takes place July 21 through 24, 2016, with a Preview Night on July 20.

Update 2016 April 13:

The SDCC Unofficial Blog has an update that clarifies some of the issues surrounding this year’s Comic-Con hotel sale, with a few technical details that will no doubt be helpful for next year’s Hotelpocalypse: “CCI, onPeak Offer Insight to San Diego Comic-Con General Hotel Sale 2016.”

Update 2016 April 26:

An analysis of the results of this year’s hotel sale based on data supplied to the Friends of Comic-Con forum provides additional insight into how the process worked: “SDCC 2016 Post Hotel Lottery, a Statistical Analysis.”

San Diego Comic-Con 2015: Recap and Photo Highlights

San Diego Comic-Con 2015.

This year’s Comic-Con International: San Diego was a mix of the new and the familiar, the wonderful and the weird, the carefully planned and the unexpectedly serendipitous. Here are highlights of Comic-Con 2015 from my perspective.

The Calm before the Con

The hours before badge pick-up on Wednesday afternoon provided the opportunity to stroll around downtown San Diego to get a glimpse at the official Comic-Con banners on the street lamps and peruse the advertising covering the buildings and transportation vehicles throughout the Gaslamp Quarter.

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Ads for TBS’ ‘Conan’ show were rampant around town.

As last year, the marketing onslaught started shortly after stepping off the plane. The staircases and baggage carousels at San Diego International Airport were covered with ads for Conan O’Brien’s TBS program Conan. The Conan ads continued in town with banner wraps covering trains, buses, and the upper floors of the Marriott hotel.

The trend of wrapping buildings in large ads seemed to have subsided slightly last year, with no wrap on the prime real estate of the Hilton Bayfront hotel that year. The building wraps were back in force this year, however, with multi-story ads on both the Hilton Bayfront and Marriott Marquis and — for the first time this year — with a pair of banners on the Hilton garage as well. In addition, the usual barrage of building-covering ads appeared throughout the Gaslamp Qaurter and around Petco Park.

As I outline in my Knowledge@Wharton article, the early appearance of these advertising installations triggers a flurry of social media activity that allows brands to tap into the pent-up excitement as fans await the start of Comic-Con. [See “Building Buzz: How Comic-Con Turns Froth into Frenzy” ]

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The Art of Comic-Con exhibition featured works from 45 years of San Diego Comic-Con.

This year, the pre-Preview Night afternoon also offered time to explore The Art of Comic-Con exhibit presented by Comic-Con International at the San Diego Central Library. The gallery included illustrations and documents covering 45 years of San Diego Comic-Con as well as Comic-Con International’s sister shows WonderCon and APE (the Alternative Press Expo).

After picking up my badge and connecting with a reporter from NPR to be interviewed for a piece on All Things Considered about immersive marketing [see “Want To Get Inside Your Favorite Show? Go To Comic-Con“], it was time to head the Convention Center to hit the show floor for Preview Night.

Preview Night

Preview Night has become one of my favorite parts of Comic-Con. The lack of competing programming that first evening means you can browse the exhibition hall floor without fretting about all the other activities you’re missing.

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Bernie Wrightson and Liz Wrightson on Preview Night

Once again this year, I followed my contrarian strategy for Preview Night. [See “Be a Con-trarian: Go Against the Flow at Comic-Con“] While most of the crowd rushes toward the booths of collectible vendors like Hasbro, Mattel, and Funko, I go against the flow and head over to Artists’ Alley. Comic book creators who would later have long lines of fans looking for autographs or commissioned illustrations were relatively accessible during Preview Night. Artist Bernie Wrightson and his wife, Chip Zdarsky, Stan Sakai and other writers and artists were readily approachable Wednesday evening. When artist Paul Guigan and writer Anina Bennett mentioned this would be the last major con at which would have a table, I took several farewell shots of their booth.

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San Diego Comic-Con Unofficial Blog’s Enchantment Under the SDCC party.

While I typically skip the nighttime parties at Comic-Con, on Wednesday evening I had two post-Preview Night events in my calendar: The Enchantment Under the SDCC party from the SDCC Unofficial Blog and the Game of Bloggers Meet Up hosted by Crazy4ComicCon’s Tony B. Kim. Despite a long day, I made it to the former, but only for a brief visit and few quick photos. As much as I wanted to stay longer and to stop by Tony’s meet-up, I wearily headed back to the hotel to get ready for the con to officially begin the next morning.

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Panels: From Grant Morrison and Geek & Sundry to Jack Kirby and the Culture of Comic-Con

On Thursday the con begins in earnest. My personal Comic-Con schedule typically lists four or five simultaneous events for any given time slot. The plan is to make on-the-fly judgments about what to attend based on line lengths, expected wait time, and conflicts with other activities.

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Grant Morrison discusses ’18 Days’ and ‘Avatarex’.

Thanks to a fortuitous tweet alerting me to a short line for Thursday’s opening panels at the Hilton Bayfront’s Indigo Ballroom, the day began with Grant Morrison in conversation with Graphic India’s Sharad Devarajan. Morrison discussed 18 Days, his retelling of the central battle from The Mahabharata, and Avatarex, a super-hero series placed in contemporary India. It was interesting to hear Morrison, who once penned one of the darkest Batman tales — Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth — talk about the current need for more optimistic narratives in comic books.

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Director Sanjay Patel and producer Nicole Grindle showcase Disney/Pixar’s ‘Sanjay’s Super Team’.

Between Morrison and the later Geek & Sundry panel in the Indigo Ballroom were two additional programming sessions. Director Sanjay Patel and producer Nicole Grindle presented an early screening of Disney/Pixar’s Sanjay’s Super Team, a heartfelt, loosely autobiographical piece based on Patel’s relationship with his father and his Indian heritage. In addition to showing the short film, the presentation included a touching clip of Patel showing the film to his father. The panel was a surprise highlight of the day.

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Voice Over Celebration with Beloved Cartoon, Video Game, and Film VO Actors.

Following this, the panel on Voice Over Celebration with Beloved Cartoon, Video Game, and Film VO Actors included moderator Genese Davis speaking with actors Anthony Bowling, Susan Eisenberg, Rob Paulsen, Tara Platt, Caitlin Glass, and Yuri Lowenthal.

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Felicia Day is mortified by the antics of Ryon Day and Wil Wheaton.

Next up in the Indigo Ballroom was the Geek & Sundry panel with Felicia Day, her brother Ryon Day, Wil Wheaton, and Geek & Sundry performers Laura Bailey, Matthew Mercer, Jessica Marzipan, and Hector Navarro. It was a rollicking session with Ryon Day and Wil Wheaton going out of their way to repeatedly embarrass Felicia Day.

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The other days of Comic-Con included an eclectic mix of panels —

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Scott McCloud.

The Spotlight on Scott McCloud featured McCloud interviewed by Gene Luen Yang.

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Marvel: Secret Wars.

The Marvel: Secret Wars panel included Marvel executive editor Tom Brevoort, writers Jonathan Hickman and Charles Soule, and others of the creative team.

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Geoff Johns in conversation with Dan DiDio.

DC Entertainment: One-on-One with Geoff Johns featured Johns in conversation with Dan DiDio.

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Trina Robbins, Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson, and Ramona Fradon discuss Women Artists in Comics During WWII.

Hermes Press: A Celebration of Women Artists in Comics During WWII, moderated by Daniel Herman, included a lively conversation among Trina Robbins, Maggie Thompson, Ramona Fradon, and Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson.

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Twisted Roots of the Comics Industry with Danny Fingeroth, Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson, Gerard Jones, Michael Uslan, and Brad Ricca.

Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson had to leave the Women Artists During WWII panel early to participate in Twisted Roots of the Comics Industry which overlapped the earlier panel by 30 minutes. The Twisted Roots of the Comics Industry panel also featured Michael Uslan, Danny Fingeroth, Gerard Jones, and Brad Ricca.

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The Seven Comic Shop Archetypes: Who Will Triumph, Thrive, and Survive.

The Seven Comic Shop Archetypes: Who Will Triumph, Thrive, and Survive moderated by Ed Catto, featured Christina Blanch, Glynnes Pruett, Joe Field, and Atom! Freeman outlining what it takes to be successful as a comics retailer.

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The Annual Jack Kirby Tribute Panel.

The Annual Jack Kirby Tribute Panel was, as always, hosted by Mark Evanier, and this year included J. David Spurlock, Marv Wolfman, Rob Liefeld, and Paul S. Levine discussing the work of the late Jack Kirby.

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The Culture of Comic-Con: Field Studies of Fans and Marketing.

In the Comics Arts Conference session, The Culture of Comic-Con: Field Studies of Fans and Marketing, a panel of college students discussed their analyses of different aspects of popular culture as evidenced at Comic-Con.

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Pics or It Didn’t Happen

Photography is a major focus of mine at Comic-Con, not only for my work for Knowledge@Wharton but, as well, for my roles as Convention Photographer for Comic Book Creator and ACE (All Comics Created) magazines, and as contributing photographer for the annual Bleeding Cool Power 100 List.

Peter Bagge at San Diego Comic-Con 2015. Photo by Kendall Whitehouse
Peter Bagge posing for ‘Comic Book Creator’.

On Thursday, I connected with editor Jon B. Cooke for a photo shoot with cartoonist Peter Bagge for an upcoming issue of Comic Book Creator. That evening I worked the red carpet at the Fandango Movieclips party to capture the arrival of celebrities including Heather Graham, Laura Vandervoort, Holland Roden, Naomi Grossman, and Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino.

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The ‘Agent Carter’ flash mob greets Hayley Atwell.

On Saturday, I helped photograph the Agent Carter flash mob that convened in the lobby of the Convention Center and, in a pre-arranged scheme, paraded to the Marvel booth to meet Agent Carter lead actress Haley Atwell.

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Comic book artists, writers, and producers.

Throughout Comic-Con, photographing the men and women who write, illustrate, and produce comic books was a major focus of my activity.

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Creative cosplay.

And, of course, grabbing shots of creative cosplay is always fun. Among my favorite costumes this year was a flawless implementation of Steve Ditko’s Mysterio from The Amazing Spider-Man #13. Also intriguing were the time- and gender-shifted Rococo X-Women.

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The Eisner Awards Ceremony

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The Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards Ceremony.
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The 2015 Eisner Award winners.

The Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards Ceremony is always a highlight of my Comic-Con experience, and this year was particularly noteworthy. Comic Book Creator, a publication for which I serve as Convention Photographer, was nominated for Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism. (The Eisner went to the well-deserving Comics Alliance.)

Philadelphia comic shop and publisher Locust Moon was nominated in two categories — Best Anthology and Best Publication Design — for Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream, and was awarded the Eisner for both.

In addition to the celebrity introductions and the always entertaining antics of Jonathan Ross, the main focus of the evening is on recognizing the work of those who create comic books. Seeing Shannon Watters and Noelle Stevenson accepting multiple awards for Lumberjanes was one of several high points of the evening.

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Planned Activities and Random Encounters on the Show Floor

Signings in the vendor booths on the show floor provide ideal opportunities to capture portraits of key comic book creators. This year, I snapped portraits of Grant Morrison in the Legendary booth, and Joss Whedon and Chuck Palahniuk in the Dark Horse booth.

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Todd McFarlane poses with Spider-Kids.

There’s typically a point during Comic-Con at which I decide to ignore my carefully-planned schedule and just wander the exhibition hall floor. This frequently elicits unexpected, serendipitous encounters.

Where else but Comic-Con would you find Todd McFarlane greeting fans and striking web-shooting poses with young kids dressed as Spider-Man and Spider-Gwen?

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Jonathan Ross (right) with Carlos Ezquerra (left).

Comic book creators are also fans, and it’s wonderful to run across industry notables greeting each other, such as Scott Snyder chatting with Paul Azaceta, Todd McFarlane hanging out with Marc Silvestri, and Jonathan Ross excited to meet Carlos Ezquerra.

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Strolling across the show floor I also ran into Marvel’s head of television Jeph Loeb , which provided the opportunity to tell him how much I loved his 1998 series, Superman for All Seasons.

Talking Back and Heading Home

My last session at Comic-Con each year is the annual Talk Back session, during which Comic Con International President John Rogers sits alone at long table and listens to a long line of attendees with comments, complaints, and suggestions about Comic-Con.

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Fans leave the Convention Center as SDCC 2015 ends.

This year’s Talk Back was relatively subdued. The long lines to access Hall H, the event’s largest venue where many of the high-profile Hollywood presentations take place, are a recurring topic during each year’s Talk Back. There was little mention, however, of this year’s most significant logistical change — the introduction of the “next day line” for queuing for wristband distribution for Hall H on the subsequent day. By distributing several waves of color-coded Hall H wristbands early in the evening and allowing people to leave the line once they have a wristband (with the ability to rejoin a similarly-banded friend holding their place in line or joining the end of the banded line), the new scheme essentially supplants the previous requirement to camp out all night with extended wait time during the preceding day. Given the lack of attendee commentary on the “next day line” during the Talk Back, expect this practice to continue next year.

Following the final events of the day, fans streamed out of the Convention Center as San Diego Comic-Con 2015 came to an end.

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On the televisions in the airport showing CNN: One more ad for ‘Conan’.

At the airport the following morning, the trip ended much like it began, with an advertisement for TBS’s Conan show appearing on the television monitors showing CNN in the airport. “Hope to see you next year!” the ad declared and, indeed, I hope to be back again for another Comic-Con International: San Diego in 2016.

 

 

Be a Con-trarian: Go Against the Flow at Comic-Con

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San Diego Comic-Con, the largest popular culture festival in the U.S., is exciting, illuminating, and crowded. Very crowded. And it’s confusing. With so many overlapping events competing for an attendee’s time, planning your schedule and determining the optimal time to queue up for specific events requires the logic of a chess master. [See Knowledge@Wharton, San Diego Comic-Con: Best Laid Plans.]

While there is no corner Comic-Con that isn’t crammed with people, there are benefits to be gained from being a contrarian. Going against the flow can lead to wonderful moments and a less stressful con experience.

Preview Night: More than Exclusives

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George R. R. Martin hanging out on Preview Night in 2014.

For folks lucky enough to have a ticket for Preview Night, the evening is typically a mad dash for Comic-Con exclusives. Preview Night lets fans get first dibs on these only-at-Comic-Con action figures and souvenirs from companies like Hasbro, Funko, and Mattel. Yet the full show floor is open that first Wednesday evening. While crowds mob the vendor booths, the comic book creators in Artists’ Alley and the booths of many publishers are relatively quiet Wednesday night.

Last year I strolled past the Avatar Press booth to find George R. R. Martin quietly chatting with at fan. I walked right up, asked for a photo, and had a brief chat with famed Game of Thrones author. During the rest of Comic-Con, autograph sessions with Martin required waiting in a long line. Over in Artists’ Alley, creative couple Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner were goofing around and greeting fans who wandered over to the far end of the hall that houses Artists’ Alley. Many comic book creators were more relaxed and accessible during Preview Night than at any other time during the con.

Every Day is a Big Day in Hall H (and Elsewhere)

Friday and Saturday typically feature the most popular panels in Comic-Con’s infamous Hall H. Access to these events involves camping out for most of the night in order to secure a seat in the cavernous auditorium.

However, in recent years, after the morning crush for the best seats, Thursday has been a relatively easy “walk in” day in Hall H. You still needed to get in line and wind your way through the entry chutes under the tents, but by midday the line flows freely, providing access to the vaunted Hall H after only a short wait.

And while the Friday and Saturday panels feature the most popular panels, the Thursday and Sunday events are nevertheless always noteworthy.

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Even on a relatively “slow” day, Hall H has much to offer. Harrison Ford waves hello at SDCC 2013.

At the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con, Thursday included Harrison Ford on the Ender’s Game panel along with stars Asa Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld, writer/director Gavin Hood, and producer Roberto Orci. The day also included the Europa Report panel; “The Visionaries” session with Alfonso Cuarón, Marc Webb, and Edgar Wright; the Divergent panel with series novelist Veronica Roth, director Neil Burger, and many of the film’s actors including Shailene Woodley, Theo James, and Maggie Q.

In 2014, Thursday saw the first Comic-Con appearance of director Christopher Nolan for the Insterstellar segment of the Paramount Studios presentation, which also featured actor Matthew McConaughey. Both were a surprise — neither was mentioned in the Comic-Con Program Guide — and access to the hall was relatively easy that day.

Panels like these would be highlights at any other fan fest. Only at San Diego Comic-Con do sessions of this magnitude pale by comparison to the even bigger studio events on Friday and Saturday.

Although Hall H typically hosts the most high-profile events of the con, don’t judge the quality of a panel by the size of its venue. Outside of Hall H and Ballroom 20 are many fascinating presentations. The smaller room may mean a long line (or even the need to attend the preceding panel in order to get a seat), but these sacrifices are minor in comparison to camping on the grass all night to gain entrance to Hall H. And these smaller panels often bring great guests and compelling conversations. [See Comic-Con Movies: From Tentpole to Shoestring.]

Beyond the Convention Center: Offsites

As the crowds flood into the San Diego Convention Center, other events around town provide often less-crowded alternatives as well as viable options for days for which you don’t have a ticket for Comic-Con.

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Felicia Day greets fans at the Geek & Sundry offsite event in 2014.

As a fan of the work of Felicia Day and the team at Geek & Sundry, I typically stop by the offsite event for the annual meet-and-greet and autograph signing with Day. NerdHQ provides a full range of programming with each event ticketed separately in an intimate venue. The Petco Park Interactive Zone is filled with fun activities, such as last year’s Sleepy Hollow virtual reality experience. This year the San Diego Public Library presents an exhibition on The Art of Comic-Con. Other engaging marketing activities for movies and television programs are sprinkled throughout San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. [For a comprehensive look at offsite events at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, see the calendar at on the SDCC Unofficial Blog: http://sdccblog.com/events/2015-07/

Finally, don’t be afraid to abandon your carefully planned schedule and just wander around. Peruse the show floor, check out the cosplay in the Sails Pavilion (where the bright but diffuse sunlight makes for great photos), or stroll the activities and exhibits on the lawns adjacent to the Convention Center.

By resisting the gravitational pull of the most popular events, by not following the crowd and going your own way to smaller, equally interesting events, you can have a fun and less stressful Comic-Con.

 

Con-fusion: What’s in a Name — or a Hyphen?

San Diego Comic-Con Challenges Salt Lake Comic Con’s Right to “Comic Con”

It’s a common occurrence: I tell a friend I’m going to San Diego Comic-Con and receive the reply, “Oh, yeah. I went to the one in Philly.” Or New York, or Chicago, or Cleveland or any of dozens of other cities. It’s awkward explaining that yes, you went to a comic con, but not what is generally considered the comic con: Comic-Con International: San Diego, otherwise known as San Diego Comic-Con or simply SDCC.

The organization that runs the annual convention in San Diego for fans of comic books, movies, TV, and all things pop culture has taken legal action to clarify the confusion, at least in regard to one fan convention. A lawyer representing Comic-Con International: San Diego has sent a cease-and-desist letter to the organizers of Salt Lake Comic Con over their use of “Comic Con” in the name of the Utah convention, according to an Associated Press report. The issue may ultimately hinge on the difference — if any — between “comic-con” and “comic con.” (More on that pesky hyphen shortly.)

The Utah event, reported to be the third-largest comic con in the U.S. with an attendance of 72,000 people last year, is one of dozens of similar — and similarly named — activities around the globe run by different organizations. The ReedPop division of multinational publisher Reed Elsevier hosts New York Comic Con, an event that last year boasted attendance numbers on par with San Diego Comic-Con. Wizard World Inc. puts on two dozen Wizard World Comic Cons in cities around the U.S.  Smaller, regionally-focused comic cons are available in many other cities and towns.

Given the broad adoption of the term “comic con,” why would the organizers of San Diego Comic-Con go after Salt Lake Comic Con rather than the larger and longer-running New York Comic Con or the rapidly expanding Wizard World cons?

The immediate trigger of the legal move was a marketing ploy by the Salt Lake event at San Diego Comic-Con which included driving a car through downtown San Diego advertising the name and dates of the Utah fan fest.

Comic Con International may also believe it will be easier to prevail against Salt Lake Comic Con as a first step in tightening control of its brand image. According to the event’s website, Salt Lake Comic Con is a Dan Farr Production, produced in partnership with MediaOne of Utah — perhaps a less daunting opponent than Reed Elsevier or Wizard World.

In the AP report Bryan Brandenburg, a co-founder of the Salt Lake City event, asserts that San Diego Comic-Con “tried and failed to trademark ‘Comic Con’ in 1995.”

San Diego Comic Convention does, however, hold trademark Registration Number 3219568 for “COMIC-CON” (spelled with a hyphen) covering “Education and entertainment services, namely, organizing and conducting conventions in the fields of animation, comic books and popular art.” San Diego Comic Convention holds other trademarks related to the event, including SDCC and PREVIEW NIGHT, along with a number of trademarks for events that don’t currently exist under the names listed, including ANAHEIM COMIC-CON, SAN FRANCISCO COMIC-CON, and LOS ANGELES COMIC-CON. Even though Comic-Con International also runs WonderCon, an event nearly identical to their San Diego Comic-Con in all aspects other than its size, they don’t use the ‘Comic-Con’ name for that event.

Most of the non-San Diego fan conventions eschew using the hyphen in their names, opting — perhaps for legal reasons — to use “comic con” (with a space between the two words) or variant spellings such as comiccon or comicon. Ironically, among the trademarks held by San Diego Comic Convention are “COMIC CON INTERNATIONAL” and “SAN DIEGO COMIC CON INTERNATIONAL,” both without the hyphen.

Does a trademark on “COMIC-CON” cover “COMIC CON” — and perhaps COMICCON and COMICON as well? If the issue is eventually settled by the courts, it will be interesting to see how the law views the presence or absence of the hyphen in identically-sounding terms.

Update: 2014 Aug 8:

The dispute has now moved to the courts. Comic-Con International has filed a lawsuit against the organizers of Salt Lake Comic Con in the U.S. District Court in Southern California over the use of the name “Comic Con,” reports the Salt Lake Tribune.

Update: 2017 June 27:

Settlement talks between the organizers of San Diego Comic-Con and Salt Lake Comic Con have broken down and both sides are asking a judge to settle the dispute over the naming rights of these events, reports the New York Times.

Update: 2017 June 30: 

Writing for Forbes.com, Rob Salkowitz provides a detailed review of the situation. Regarding the infamous hyphen in “Comic-Con,” Salkowitz writes, “Based on the filing, SDCC clearly believes their trademark covers both ‘Comic-Con’ and ‘Comic Con’ (as well as ComiCon and other variants).” Underscoring the brand confusion engendered by the widespread use of the term, he notes, “When the gang on The Big Bang Theory says they are going to ‘comic con,’ they are talking about San Diego, not Salt Lake City or anywhere else.”