So this is the biggest discussion I have had with people at San Diego Comic-Con: Special Edition yesterday, specifically comic book creators and publishers. And it is one of appreciation for something they remembered but had partially forgotten. Because this year's show reminded them of the first shows when they started coming. The date of that show will differ depending on the person telling it. But there was a sense of recapture of innocence lost, when the show had more of a comics focus – or at least wasn't distracted by the bright shiny lights of Hollywood over in Hall H.
San Diego Comic-Con: Special Edition was a show put on to give the fans something, anything, after a year with another cancelled San Diego Comic-Con in the summer. It was also the first major US show to run an event after the travel ban was lifted. But it was also held over Thanksgiving weekend in a time when many are understandably wary of the pandemic. It didn't book big TV or movie stars. The studios didn't come or put up big booths, for TV, toys, film or gaming. The big comic book publishers didn't come either, although some made it in spirit.
But somehow this didn't make it worse, it may well have made it better. It was a fully masked (although they did slip at times), vaxxed, and ventilated event, and the most infectious thing going on was a sense of bonhomie. The faces may have been covered but the smiles could be seen in the creases of everyone's eyes. The gratitude to volunteers and staff was effusive. People had missed that, and given the chance they turned out in their… well, tens of thousands, certainly. You can see the lines in the videos here, there are so many.
And rather than having hardcore attendees who had booked a year earlier by waiting in online queues, constantly refreshing their browser, there were still tickets available at the show. One could walk up, pay, and enter. Once you'd got through the big physical queues of course. I spoke to a number of publishers and creators who told me they chose to attend at the last minute, and found it easy. One even found their regular table still available for them, just one week ago. Previously tables and booths could only be applied for years in advance and with some egregious begging. Not so this time which meant while there were many familiar faces missing (it was so strange to see Randy Reynaldo's latest Rob Hanes Adventures without Bob The Angry Flower next door). There were even some unused tables and several tables that had been booked, but that the creator has chosen not to attend, it seems, though of course there could be many reasons and it would be unwise to speculate.
But it did help engender a more casual atmosphere, there wasn't the insane rush to get from one place to the next, and it seemed vendors appreciated that as well. Early reports are very encouraging on that front, and I am sure I will find out more in the Hyatt bar tonight. Because while this was a more relaxed and chilled comic con, it was still an insanely popular one, and maybe the lack of extraneous distraction focused people more on the joys of the show.
Might the Big Proper Summer San Diego Comic-Con for 2022 be able to learn some lessons? With the pandemic still likely to be a thing then, is it possible that pulling back on some of the movie and TV stuff, to achieve a balance of material closer to what they had a few decades ago be something that might solve all manner of issues regarding crowds, social distancing and the like? Might San Diego Comic-Con: Special Edition have created a new happy medium, one that might entice a few more folks back – but not too many? We look forward to finding out.