SDCC 2023: The recap!

Another year, another round of madness at San Diego Comic-Con. This year was already shaping up to be a different kind of experience with the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes happening. While the presence of big Hollywood celebrities and studios has been a bonus and not a priority for me at SDCC, I still wondered if their absence this year would make things feel different. Turns out I didn’t miss the star power at all. Here’s how my con went:

THE CRITTERDROPS:

You know what doesn’t require celebrities or big “first look” trailer reveals? Critter drops! This year was another year with 100% response rates! Every single one of my drops along with Gina’s guest critters were found and accounted for. Most of them found happy homes in California, with little Superman coming back to his place of yarn-ception in Houston, TX! Thanks to everyone who joined the hunt, can’t wait for critterdrop 2024!

THE CONVENTION FLOOR:

The convention floor was CROWDED this year, which isn’t a surprise. With panels being canceled left and right, all of those people that normally would’ve been in a panel or in the Hall H line ended up on the exhibition floor. The floor wasn’t as impressive as previous years, but I also feel like it’s been slowly winding down recently. One booth I was a little let down by was Lego. It’s one of my favorites to browse through for the large-scale Lego sculptures that they always have on display. This year the only real sculpture they had was a Sonic the Hedgehog, and the rest were flat mosaic-types of structures. The Lego art that I loved seeing may have been absent, but I LOVED the daily enamel pin giveaways, so it had its tradeoffs. I still miss the days when the booths were more elaborate (Walking Dead always stole the show!), but I DON’T miss the crush of people when celebrities showed up for their autograph signings. It was also great to see the downsizing of booths result in much more well-deserved attention on the smaller vendors and artists!

PANELS

Many panels were canceled due to the strikes, to the point where Hall H was completely closed on Sunday. No big Hollywood panels meant it was a fantastic time for international cinema and art to have their moments in the spotlight! I went to the Project K panel, which was the first time an Indian movie had been featured in Hall H. While I wasn’t familiar with the cast members who were on stage, feeling the CRAZY excitement from the crowd for these international megastars was such a cool thing to witness. And Amitabh Bachchan joined in via Zoom! I only know a handful of names when it comes to Indian movie stars, but even I recognized what a huge deal it was to have a global icon at Comic-Con, even if he showed up remotely.

Oh, and this panel featuring stars who have BILLIONS of fans across the globe was a complete walk-in. I’m never going to complain about that, ever.

I also loved seeing Junji Ito get so much attention this year. My group tried to go to his panel at the library on Thursday, but I underestimated how many people would show up and the panel was already full when we hopped in line. As someone in line had pointed out, “this dude isn’t just known here in the US, he’s famous ACROSS THE WORLD.” My husband went to his live-drawing panel the next day though, which I’m now kicking myself for skipping out on. The “Welcome to the Ito-Verse” gallery at the Marriott Marina Marquis on the other hand was great, and completely open to the public! This man’s art is just so, SO twisted, and I loved being able to see all the detail in the works on display, down to seeing where he covered up some mistakes in ink.

OFFSITE ACTIVITIES

I’ll always be pining for the days of extensive offsite activations, Conan O’Brien show tapings, and random street teams having fun with con attendees, but this year was an awesome return of offsite activations. Hulu’s Animayhem offsite was full of fun photo ops and some of the best swag around, and one event that I was SO happy to see again was the Adult Swim Festival! They came back with their carnival full of games and fun prizes, and they brought back the mechanical hot dog, but with a new rule. This time they encouraged onlookers to pelt the rider with foam balls, which absolutely KILLED me every time I saw those balls flying at whoever was on the hotdog. They managed to turn it into a team sport. Great swag, tons of fun (with free concerts at night!), and Adult Swim’s custom t-shirt making station always cranks out the best free shirts at SDCC every time.

The Jury Duty After Dark party was another highlight for me, which had free food, free booze, good swag giveaways, and HILARIOUS details from the show scattered throughout the party (the chair pants and “jorf” shirt!). It was just busy enough to be a fun party, but not too overwhelming or overcrowded where I felt like I needed some space. Great music, and the “it’s a girl” cake made an appearance. I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard at random party props in my life, and gladly ate the fondant topping off of my mini cupcake just because it had Ronald’s face on it. I haaaate fondant and I still ate it. That’s how much joy that goddamn cupcake gave me.

The offsite activities are always a favorite part of SDCC to me, to the point where it makes me wonder why I even bother with a badge sometimes. While some activations were underwhelming (FX to name one), it felt great seeing others come back with a vengeance after last year’s light selection of offsite activations. And the best part? SHORTER LINES. I still lined up early for the more popular activations to knock them out early in my day, but if lining up “early” means getting there at 7am instead of 5am, then YES MORE OF THIS PLEASE. Those extra hours of sleep were greatly appreciated.

SWAG

This year’s swag haul was great! After years of seeing the swag quality dwindle to the likes of photo ops, QR codes, and stickers, it was nice to see improvements in the freebies this year. This was one of the best years for swag in a while in my opinion. I’ve become far more selective about what I grab over time, so it’s nice seeing some more substantial things for me to bring back for my friends!

And Conair was back again with more random irrelevant-to-pop-culture swag to give out. Last year it was a nose hair trimmer. This year I’ve got a fabric shaver. It’s functional, okay? I might have to make it a new hilarious tradition to find the bizarre Conair swag if this is going to be a new annual thing.

I know some folks felt let down because this was supposed to be THE year that SDCC came back into full force post-pandemic. But I felt like it hit a certain sweet spot where it was ramped up more than last year’s “dipping the toes back in” kind of feel, but far more relaxed than the peak years. It’s hard to say what SDCC will look like in the future, but it’s still that big geeky playground that we all keep coming back to year after year, and this was a year where we got to see Comic-Con do what it does best for fandom’s sake. It’s a nice return to its roots, let’s see if it’ll spring more growth from here on out!

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