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SDCC 2021: Highlights of a Virtual Festival

Since 2012, I've been heading down to San Diego every July to meet with friends and family and wait in endless lines in hopes of getting something in limited supply or squeeze into a packed panel. I'd pack for every potential misfortune, with comfort food, comfortable shoes and the comfort of knowing that I'd meet people and learn new things. In many ways, a weekend at SDCC prepared me for the pandemic.

I remember waiting in line for "The Big Bang Theory" Soft Kitty exclusive (which I didn't get) and a Godzilla action figure which I did. I read all my emails and updates carefully, so I was able to get a limited edition "The Princess Bride" poster and sometimes I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and get into something unexpected. 

So, I was ready to get up extra early and line up to get eggs at the beginning of the pandemic and when the store was out of things on my grocery list, I remembered the words of the Dread Pirate Roberts: Get used to disappointment. 

Although I never watched the “The Walking Dead” after being traumatized at the imagery of a horse being eaten, I came to look forward to their activations at SDCC. “The Walking Dead” really were there for their fans. I was an “iZombie” gal, and I did see their panel at another con, what is now Los Angeles Comic-Con. First known as Comikaze, this was the first con my husband and I attended together.

More than vampires, zombies taught us how to handle COVID-19 living. “Twilight” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” would have you falling in love and inviting the vampires in. “The Walking Dead” and “iZombie” taught us to view other people with suspicion, keep our distance from the infected and how to go into survival mode by banding together in a trusted pod of uninfected people. “iZombie” also dealt with anger management. If COVID-19 has made you fear the air you breathe, the "Fear of the Walking Dead" has something for you (returning on October 17, 2021). 

“The Walking Dead” activation at the last live SDCC allowed people to test the virtual reality game which revealed another way of managing anger—killing zombies using guns, swords and other implements. Both zombies, vampire, Marvel and DC films teach us how to deal with disaster and despair. We really do have choices. Be a hero or be a zero. And, if you have cool gemstones, wear them on a gauntlet. For those who've taken to pandemic baking, that can even be an oven mitt. 

Early in the pandemic, I recalled that "The Princess Bride" predicted the future of mask wear: "It’s just they’re terribly comfortable. I think everyone will be wearing them in the future.” Although, I'm not thinking about becoming a female version of the Dread Pirate Roberts. Instead, I was thinking of putting my sewing machine to work on a Demon Slayer called Obanai Iguro. 

Last year's SDCC @Home was a hurriedly cobbled together affair and Zoom was relatively new to me. This year's @Home experience allowed everyone access to the panels via YouTube. I listened to the NASA panels and enjoyed learning that another local rabbit besides Bugs Bunny would be hitting the small screen when Stan Sakai's Usagi universe comes to Netflix. This is a rabbit a thousand years in the future, learning to be a leader. The program skews younger than the comics and will feature 3D and 2D animation (2D for sequences in the past).

I'm used to seeing Sakai at the two annual Long Beach cons and have interviewed him for in the past. With no booths, the pandemic Zoom reality has constrained interviews. 

The cons are all about personal contact, a time to get autographs, ask questions and even get photos. San Diego Comic-Con also usually hosts a film festival and that will hopefully return in 2022. With San Diego Comic-Con, the activations make it so special. 

Bugs Bunny's "Space Jam: A New Legacy," was the last activation I attended and that was earlier this month in downtown Los Angeles. I can only wonder what might have been. In 2021, I'd expected Disney and its properties to be a restrained presence at SDCC with its D23 Expo around the corner. Last year, in 2020, I also expected that SDCC would have limited Star Wars surprises because Anaheim was hosting the Star Wars convention. 

While "Space Jam" and "Jungle Cruise" weren't present at SDCC, there was a small attempt to make a tourist attraction into another dimension: The Winchester Mystery House is becoming a comic book. The widow of firearms heir William Winchester, Sarah Winchester, built a Queen Anne Style Victorian mansion without a master building plan, supposedly driven by the ghosts of those willed by Winchester rifles. 

"Black-ish" is one of my favorite shows and the panel on "Black Excellence" talked about making connections within the industry, including two people who are involved with hair (Araxi Lindsey—Emmy Award-winning hair department head of “Black-ish” and personal hairstylist to Tracee Ellis Ross, and Pierce Austin—founder of Red Rhino Trailers and personal hairstylist to Will Smith). I saw the cast of "Black-ish" at the last D23 Expo in Anaheim as they introduced a new season and a new show: "Mixed-ish."

What makes SDCC, D23 Expo and Star Wars conventions so fun are the cosplayers and the creative and sometimes kooky people you meet. When in-person events return, I know things will not be the same. Things can't be the same for the people we have lost during and because of the pandemic. While that's sad, it's also reason enough to find and give joy now before we're off finally off storming the next Con castle.

As the world of conventions return to normal, here’s the upcoming major lineup for Southern California. Hope to see you there.

SDCC Special Edition: Nov. 26-28, 2021

Star Wars Convention in Anaheim: May 26-29, 2022

SDCC: July 20-24, 2022

Disney D23 Expo: September 9-11, 2022



Jana Monji

Jana Monji, made in San Diego, California, lost in Japan several times, has written about theater and movies for the LA Weekly, LA Times, and currently, and the Pasadena Weekly. Her short fiction has been published in the Asian American Literary Review.

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