Comic-Con at Home Requires More Than Online Panels

The reason we return to Comic-Con year after year is not to catch sneak peeks of movie trailers.
Scarface Lion King Comic Con

Welcome to Fandom Finds A Way, our new column delving into the virtual film and convention experiences offering us solace during this new era of social distancing. As Dr. Ian Malcolm once foretold, there is no room for randomness in chaotic situations, and patterns of escape will always emerge.

“Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.” I’ve been thinking about Andy’s words from The Shawshank Redemption a lot lately. You can mope. You can be frustrated. You can fear the future. Or! You can embrace your present.

I am damn sad to be missing the San Diego International Comic-Con this year. My wife and I have attended the event every year for the last nine years, and 2020 was meant to close out our decade of panels, cosplay, and collecting. But alas, COVID-19 struck, and we’ve hunkered down pretty tightly.

We understand and appreciate why it’s not possible to amass shoulder-to-shoulder with hot, sweaty humanity, but we ache for this particular crowd nonetheless. We crave relief from the doldrums of our apartment.

Back in April, when Comic-Con officially canceled this year’s event, the organizers promised they were working on a virtual alternative. Now, it’s official. They will attempt to translate their very unique experience and gargantuan physical attendance into an online space called Comic-Con@Home.

What does that mean? You can probably guess as they attempted something similar for their sister convention, Wonder Con, last month. Taking place on the same dates as the physical event was originally scheduled (July 22nd – 26th), Comic-Con@Home will offer a cyber equivalent to their massive Exhibit Hall as well as a seemingly endless array of panels and presentations.

Every year, many folks travel thousands of miles to score an exclusive Funko POP or Hasbro playset. Consumption in all its forms is vital to replicating the Comic-Con vibe. While the companies have yet to be named, you can be sure that those wanting to maintain their relationship with the convention organizers will be there. The same can be said for those studios and creatives who’ll pop up in for panels to promote their latest movies, television shows, games, comics, toys, etc.

The most glorious and appealing aspect of Comic-Con@Home is the fact that the virtual event will be free and available to all. That’s major. For a convention that normally requires hours of stress around a computer screen to (maybe) purchase a badge, such open invitation is not only unprecedented but ridiculously welcoming for those who have harbored resentment over being blocked out of the con year after year.

In the past, to routinely attend the convention, you had to amass an army of friends to work the site’s waiting rooms. Severing this hassle is a tremendous opportunity for Comic-Con to sell their experience to those who have always dreamed of being part of the event but were consistently denied. For them, Comic-Con@Home cannot be a half-assed version of its regular self.

To make waves, they would need some seriously banger announcements from big Hollywood players like Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm. However, with the state of the industry being what it is, Marvel Studios and other franchises barely have an understanding of their current release strategy. How could they promote Black Widow and The Eternals when those movies could easily fall back even further than they already have? Could Marvel and Lucasfilm focus on hyping their Disney+ shows? Probably, but why should they?

I would not expect much of a Hall H venue, where thousands huddle to see Tom Hiddleston command the crowd in character as Loki. More likely, we’ll get some one-on-one panels with professional convention guests like Zachary Levi (Shazam!) and Nathan Fillion (Firefly).

I want to be proven wrong. I want to see James Gunn on my laptop, revealing new footage of The Suicide Squad. Comic-Con has massive reach, but even the physical gatherings are not the Hollywood trade shows they once were. Comic-Con works best when its an explosion of niche tastes, catering to those who would sell their souls to witness make-up maestro Rick Baker lecture on the process of crafting Harry and the Hendersons.

Considering that Warner Bros. also announced a similar virtual experience called DC FanDome, including talent from across their multiple platforms of movies, TV, and comics, the chances of Comic-Con@Home hosting DC Comics guests looks less and less likely. There’s nothing to stop Marvel and others from doing the same.

Comic-Con@Home needs to get personal and nerdy as hell. The greatest joys born from the convention have never been the brands. Early access to trailers, slideshows, and guests only gets you so far. What Comic-Con@Home should focus on is replicating the conversations that occur while everyone is waiting to see Hugh Jackman or Jim Lee on stage.

The best Comic-Con parties never occur in Hall H. They happen in the six-hour line, slowly marching into the celebrated auditorium. That’s the secret of the show.

Comic-Con@Home must fabricate a space for these gatherings as much as the product that draws us. We want face-time with our artistic heroes, but we also want face-time with the similarly passionate. We need our people.

Give us Zoom Rooms where we can congregate and blather about the intricacies of Steven Universe and Roger Corman’s machete maidens of the ’70s. One of the most blissful and healing concepts of Comic-Con is the discovery that there are other weirdos like you out there. You may think no one in your town or state shares your enthusiasm for The Monkees, but at Comic-Con, you’ll uncover dozens, if not hundreds, of like-minded maniacs, and you’ll spend hours debating the merits of Micky Dolenz over Mike Nesmith.

We also desire a place where others can appreciate our mash-up cosplays. How many of you out there nodded your head with pride at seeing this article’s photo banner depicting Scar from The Lion King as Al Pacino’s Scarface? You belong at Comic-Con.

Above all else, Comic-Con is about community. The friends I’ve met in San Diego over these last nine years have transformed into some of my most cherished relationships. In their weirdness, I have validation for my weirdness. This lifetime spent obsessing over Star Wars, Batman, and Planet of the Apes has not gone to waste.

These virtual house parties are only going to get better. Comic-Con is not just learning from what they accomplished with their WonderCon@Home, but also from what Wizard World and the Chattanooga Film Festival achieved. When Comic-Con@Home hits your laptops, you can bet DC FanDome, Disney, Fantastic Fest, and the Sundance Film Festival will be paying attention.

The key to making any of these things work is not just selling their product. Movies, TV, and comics merely bring us together. The celebratory bash that happens while we have boots on the ground is what brings us back to these festivals year after year. We need that sense of community more than ever, now that a lot of us are trapped indoors. Manufacturing the fraternity of geekdom is essential.

Brad Gullickson: Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)