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Without Marvel or big studios, San Diego Comic-Con 2023 still mattered

The 2023 San Diego Comic-Con has come and gone until next year. For the better part of the week, Comic-Con devoured most of the non-Barbenheimer discourse in pop culture with exclusive previews, trailers, collectibles, and more comic books than you could ever read in a lifetime.

It can be an overwhelming experience for Comic-Con newcomers — and even for veteran attendees who can remember when the show was held at a much smaller venue just a few decades ago. In the aftermath of this year’s Comic-Con, we’re taking a look at the six big takeaways from SDCC 2023.

Comic-Con still matters

Mark as an Invincible flying above the cityscape.
Amazon Studios / Image via Amazon Studios

According to the talking heads from the Hollywood trades, this year’s Comic-Con was an existential crisis for the organizers because the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes kept the big-name stars from making the trip to San Diego. To which, I say Comic-Con was here first. Comic-Con didn’t go to Hollywood, Hollywood came to Comic-Con. As someone who has gone to Comic-Con for many years, I can point to 2003 as the year when Hollywood began sending its A-list stars. But even before that, the major studios still sent actors, writers, and directors to promote their films.

This may surprise Hollywood, but Comic-Con didn’t shrivel up and die without those stars. For one thing, the event was sold out months ago, and people weren’t about to cancel their long-term plans. While Hall H had many empty slots, there was no shortage of events or panels to attend. And the crowds were just as packed this year as they were at previous events.

Show and tell

Anson Mount Star Trek: Strange New Worlds' musical episode.

The Hollywood studios that didn’t cancel their panels had a surefire way to keep fans invested: They brought new TV episodes and animated films to watch. For example, the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds panel screened the crossover episode with Star Trek: Lower Decks. Amazon Prime Video also brought a special one-off episode from Invincible season 2 that focused on Atom Eve, while Warner Bros. Animation held the world premiere screenings of The Venture Bros.: Radiant Is the Blood of the Baboon Heart, Babylon 5: The Road Home, and Justice League: Warworld.

These screenings went a long way toward maintaining Comic-Con’s status as an exclusive venue for special events.

Activations are the new Hall H

The cast of Futurama.
20th Century Studios

For over a decade, the surrounding Gaslamp Quarter has expanded the reach of Comic-Con with “activations.” These attractions are free to everyone regardless of whether you have a badge for Comic-Con or not. And since Hall H didn’t have the big panels this year, a lot of the focus seemed to shift to the activations. Hulu’s Animayhem activation had lines that ran over four hours as fans waited to take pictures alongside props, settings, and characters from their favorite animated shows.

In France, the annual Angoulême International Comics Festival essentially takes over the city of Angoulême and attracts even more fans than Comic-Con. But with each passing year, Comic-Con takes up more space in San Diego, and it’s no longer inconceivable that it could expand even further into the heart of downtown beyond the Gaslamp Quarter.

Expanded programming

Jeffrey Dean Morgan in The Walking Dead: Dead City.

This is not a new phenomenon, but there was far more Comic-Con programming and panels than the San Diego Convention Center could handle. This is why Comic-Con took over multiple rooms in nearby hotels and the library to offer a robust lineup of events for fans of all aspects of comics, from cosplay to behind-the-scenes looks at TV shows and movies.

The programming schedules have always made San Diego Comic-Con stand out from the smaller conventions. But there are so many options now that it’s truly difficult to narrow down the options. Four days simply isn’t enough time to do everything you want.

Collectibles are still king

Batman Knightfall 30th Anniversary figure from McFarlane Toys.
McFarlane Toys

Fans come out to Comic-Con for multiple reasons, but one of the largest groups heads to San Diego to buy. This year’s exclusive collectibles were once again the hot-ticket items and fans waited for extended periods just for a chance to buy them. You would be surprised by how many people are willing to line up for little-known G.I. Joe characters or yet another Batman. And yet the SDCC exclusives never seem to fail to draw interest.

Video game panels can become Comic-Con draws

Peter and Miles perched next to each other in Marvel's Spider-Man 2.
Sony Interactive Entertainment / Sony Interactive Entertainment

The Spider-Man 2 Hall H panel didn’t come close to filling up the biggest room in the San Diego Convention Center, but it was still one of the largest crowds at Comic-Con. That’s because the right video game panels can be just as enticing as the latest Hollywood projects. And in the absence of E3, Comic-Con gave fans of Mortal Kombat 1, Hellboy, Tekken 8, and other titles a chance to see exclusive reveals and teasers.

It’s not like this is the first time that video games have been previewed at Comic-Con. But the continued popularity of these panels suggests that Comic-Con organizers have room to expand their video game programming in the future as yet another way to further the reach of SDCC.

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Blair Marnell
Blair Marnell has been an entertainment journalist for over 15 years. His bylines have appeared in Wizard Magazine, Geek…
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