Comic-Con will return to the San Diego Convention Center this November, marking Comic-Con International’s first in-person con since the 2020 and 2021 editions of both SDCC and Anaheim’s WonderCon were scrapped due to COVID-19. This “Special Edition” of San Diego Comic-Con, which is being held over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, will be a scaled down event compared to the summer staple that’s drawn approximately 135,000 annual attendees for decades.
However, it’s not really the size of Comic-Con Special Edition that matters to the mini convention’s parent organization, so much as the lack of “@Home” in the event’s name.
“I think what kind of surprised all of us was how fast things started opening up. We were so used to being at home and Zooming everything and ordering groceries and food in. And then all of a sudden this year, we started seeing people venturing out a little bit,” Comic-Con International Chief Communications and Strategy Officer David Glanzer told TheWrap Monday, following last week’s second annual Comic-Con@Home, the pandemic-forced virtual edition of San Diego Comic-Con.
“And then all of a sudden you could meet people outside and then all of a sudden you can meet people inside, if you are vaccinated,” he continued. “And we thought, maybe we could have an in-person show in the fall. And sadly, the only weekend that really worked was the Thanksgiving weekend. And we thought, let’s go ahead and try to do that. So we know it’ll be at the San Diego Convention Center. But all the details really still haven’t been finalized because we’ve been so focused on the Comic-Con@Home version. But now also, we have our fingers crossed because we’re hearing more stories of the Delta variant and all this stuff and these different considerations. So we’re still moving forward, but we’re always listening to health officials and trying to make whatever decision we do make based on the safety of our attendees.”
See TheWrap’s full Q&A with Glanzer about Comic-Con International’s current plans for the Comic-Con Special Edition convention, which runs Friday, Nov. 26 – Sunday, Nov. 28, and the next full San Diego Comic-Con, which is set for Summer 2022, below.
TheWrap: What did you learn from last year’s inaugural Comic-Con@Home that you brought into your second virtual con last week?
David Glanzer: One of the things that we learned, which is very valuable, is that putting on an in-person show is very hard, putting on an online version is less hard — but it shouldn’t be confused with being easy. We tried to, honestly, do as much as we could that would engage people who would normally come to Comic-Con. You can’t duplicate the in-person show. I always tell people, even before COVID, I tell people you can see photos of Comic-Con, you can hear stories or see video, but it’s nothing compared to walking through those doors. There’s just the energy and excitement. So we tried to bring some of that to people all around the world. So I think, in some small way, we at least kept our community, but we’re looking forward to being able to do the in-person shows moving forward.
Do you have the streaming viewership data back from Friday, Saturday and Sunday yet to compare to last year’s Comic-Con@Home? And do you even care what the numbers are?
It’s less of a concern. Years and years ago, we used to do a press release for how many people attended our show because it would just grow by leaps and bounds from year to year. And then all of a sudden, we stopped doing that because people would equate that with how successful the show was. And sure, I mean, having more people at a show does mean that more people want to attend, but then there would be other conventions that would say, “Oh, we had 5,000 more people.” OK, well, maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. But all of a sudden, the story got to be about attendance and less about the content. So we stopped issuing press releases. And I think the same thing is true for online. It’s always good to know what the engagement was and all that, but that’s something we haven’t even looked at yet. And if we do, it will probably be after we’ve all had some much-needed rest.
What are your current plans for Comic-Con Special Edition, which will take place in-person over Thanksgiving weekend?
Well, I wish I had more information to tell you. This is the way this all kind of developed: When we were making a decision about whether we would be able to have an in-person show in July, it was apparent, because of such a long lead time, it was apparent that we really wouldn’t be able to, for safety’s sake. So we decided to do the online version. I think what kind of surprised all of us was how fast things started opening up. We were so used to being at home and Zooming everything and ordering groceries and food in. And then all of a sudden this year, we started seeing people venturing out a little bit. And then all of a sudden you could meet people outside and then all of a sudden you can meet people inside, if you are vaccinated. And we thought, maybe we could have an in-person show in the fall. And sadly, the only weekend that really worked was the Thanksgiving weekend. And we thought, let’s go ahead and try to do that. So we know it’ll be at the San Diego Convention Center. But all the details really still haven’t been finalized because we’ve been so focused on the Comic-Con@Home version. But now also, we have our fingers crossed because we’re hearing more stories of the Delta variant and all this stuff and these different considerations. So we’re still moving forward, but we’re always listening to health officials and trying to make whatever decision we do make based on the safety of our attendees.
There were a lot of mixed reactions when you announced the in-person Special Edition would be held over Thanksgiving weekend. Why pick a holiday weekend during which many people will want to spend time with their families, especially those that haven’t seen each other much due to the pandemic?
It really had to do with available dates. So there were other dates available on the schedule, but in some instances, there were meeting rooms that we wouldn’t have. There were some instances where we wouldn’t have the move-in time that we would need. Just having those three days doesn’t mean that you start moving in on Day 1 and that you move out on Day 3, in many instances, it takes a day or two after. Sometimes it takes a day or two or more to move in. And the facility, it wouldn’t be very good if we could only get one hall for three days, but no meeting space, or meeting space, but no exhibit space. So it was really kind of a Rubik’s cube type thing of trying to make all the colors align. And what was really available was Thanksgiving weekend. And then we thought, OK, well, do we have a convention or do we just not? And the fan community, especially the science-fiction community, has a history of having conventions on three-day weekends and holiday weekends. I remember when I was younger, I would go to science-fiction conventions and some of them were on Thanksgiving. And typically I would spend Thursday with my family and the rest of the weekend with my friends. So I think we decided, “Let’s go ahead. We know it’s going to be smaller. We know that everybody can’t attend. And hopefully those that they can, will.” It will be, basically, dipping our toe into the water of having live events again.
You usually spend a year or more planning the next Comic-Con. With just four months until the November Special Edition, what are the changes you need to make to condense that scheduling window?
I think people are a lot more flexible. We’ve not had four conventions: Two Comic-Cons not in July, and two WonderCons, our sister show in Anaheim. And I know a lot of the convention facilities around the world, let alone San Diego, also haven’t had conventions. So I think hotels and the facility are all willing to work with us and other events because we are coming out of something that nobody here has ever really experienced before, and that is an entire world that was in lockdown. So I think normally it would take a lot more time to do this. I think we’ve laid the groundwork for some stuff. We’ve done this before and we have a good reputation with our local stakeholders. So hopefully this can all come together well. But it’s going to be a little bit of, you know, adding oil to the squeaky wheels because we’re trying to make sure we can still do it and that people will come.
With it being Thanksgiving weekend, I’m curious what studio, network, publisher and talent participation will be like. What has the level of interest from that side been for the Special Edition?
I think people are very excited, but I don’t expect that we’ll have a lot of super-huge panels. And maybe we will, I don’t know. But I think it is true that there are a lot of people who do want to spend time with their families. I think one of the fascinating things now is a lot of people have been spending time with their families because a lot of the restrictions in a lot of states have been lifted or reduced. But Thanksgiving is still a big time, so I’m not sure. We’ve been pinged by a variety of people and a lot of that stuff, typically, believe it or not, happens a little bit closer to the show because a studio or network or even a publisher may commit and then it’s up to the talent whether or not they can make it. So I think we’re not sweating that. Again, we expect a smaller show, maybe a little more intimate show, but it’ll be a great opportunity to meet up with our friends who we haven’t seen, after we didn’t have these two conventions, in two years.
Do you think now that you, hopefully, will be able to return to in-person cons, beginning with November’s Special Edition and then next year’s WonderCon and Comic-Con, do you anticipate continuing to incorporate a free, virtual Comic-Con@Home element for the people who enjoyed the online content? Can you afford to do that?
I think that’s a great question. This was a great opportunity for people who’ve never been able to get Comic-Con tickets to see a little bit of what Comic-Con is about. And we’ve seen a lot of social media and a lot of contact from people, especially people from around the world, who really appreciated being able to take part. I think there will always probably be some sort of an online element. I don’t know how much of that there will be. We’ve been fortunate because even the online stuff costs money to produce and we’ve had some good sponsors who helped us to defray the cost. But the reality that you bring up is a really good point, and that is revenue. Comic-Con has always been pretty fiscally conservative in terms of making sure that we have enough resources, should something catastrophic happen and we weren’t able to have a convention and we’d still be able to meet our obligations and payroll and all that. I don’t think we ever thought that we would not be able to have four conventions. And it really has put a financial strain on the organization. So I think, in addition to just having the November show to have it, it’ll be an opportunity for us to generate a little bit of revenue. But that being said, I think we’ve had very, very limited discussions about continuing the online element. And I have a feeling we probably will do some stuff online, probably not to the extent it is now. But I think it’s kind of hard to put that genie back in the bottle.
Looking beyond November to the next actual San Diego Comic-Con in 2022, what steps have you taken toward planning that event?
The good thing is when the pandemic hit and we all started seeing these global stay-at-home orders, we were able to work with hotels and the convention facility to try to move things forward. So instead of this happening in 2020, we would try to do 2021, or we can’t do 2021, we try to move it to 2022. So a lot of the foundation already exists. Believe it or not, the show is already sold out. We sold our tickets for the 2020 show in 2019 and we rolled those over, for those who wanted to roll their tickets over, to 2021. And we thought we’d have a show in 2021, which of course, we didn’t. So many people rolled them over to 2022. So the show is sold out and the space is booked. A lot of the heavy lifting has already been done, but there’s still a lot more heavy lifting to do. For a period of time, we were working on three shows at the same time: @Home, Special Edition in November, and Comic-Con next July, and now we have Special Edition and next July. A little bit easier, but still a daunting task.
What does sold out look like in terms of attendees?
I don’t have the exact number, because there are some people who will opt to get a refund. We had very few of those. And as the show comes to a really, “You have to use your ticket now” place, we’ll have a better idea of that, if we’re going to lose some or not. But we always have over 135,000 people who attend and have tickets to get in. So I know we’ll have at least that many. And if we do outside activations, like we’ve done before, then there will be several thousand more outside, too. Hopefully it will be a great year in 2022.
When will badges go on sale for the Thanksgiving weekend convention?
We are discussing all of that, and I hope that we’ll have an announcement soon. Honestly, now that @Home is successfully done, we can focus 100% on Special Edition. And my hope is that things will start moving rapidly and we’ll be able to have some of that information in a short amount of time. But I don’t have a specific date yet.
Do you have an idea of what pricing will be for the Special Edition’s badges?
I don’t know. I think we’re kind of expecting this show to be similar to our WonderCon show. So WonderCon is a three-day show, and this will be a three-day show. So I think we’re looking at the similarities between that. But again, we have to see really how many people are interested in exhibit space, how many exhibitors are interested in coming. We’ve been pinged a lot, but until we start really in earnest writing the stuff down and cataloging and doing all the stuff that we normally do, I think some of that stuff is a little bit too early to tell.
You’ve now put on two virtual Comic-Cons, but this will be your first post-vaccine era Comic-Con, meaning you’ll be dealing with all of the COVID-19 safety protocols that you haven’t had to think about with the Comic-Con@Home edition, right? What will things at the Special Edition look like in terms of masks and social-distancing and vaccine passports?
I think it’s a big unknown and especially now when we’re starting to see some rises in COVID in certain states and some cities are again implementing mask mandates. So it really is a lot of unknowns. I think the one thing that we can count on is, whatever decisions that we make will be based on health care information that we get and governmental as well, because those are going to have certain restrictions on what we can and can’t do. And I know the convention center has done a fantastic job of pivoting after COVID. The first part of COVID, they ended up becoming a homeless shelter. And the second half of that, they were a refugee center. And cleanliness and sanitation stations and all that were really very important to them. So I think we’ve all learned some stuff and will implement all of that. And we’ll really have to depend upon what health care guidelines we are given. And then we will follow those. And hopefully it’ll be something that won’t be too cumbersome. But I got to tell you, even if I have to wear a mask, but I can see a friend that I haven’t seen in two years, I’m going to be very, very happy.