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  • Sarah Mason

Comic-Con Diaries

Photo by Sarah Mason for The HMC.

Marvel and HBO skipped this year's San Diego International Comic-Con leaving extra room on the sidewalk in front of the San Diego Convention Center for diehard, annual fans to congregate--something nobody has been able to do since Comic-Con's peak in 2015 at 170,000 attendees. Is this the future of Comic-Con? Will the numbers continue to decline? Hard to say. There were a number of factors this year including the absence of HBO and Marvel. Marvel did have a presence with Marvel Games and Marvel TV Series but did not have their usual Hall H movie panel giving the DCU the space to put their best hero hopes forward -- Aquaman, Wonder Woman 1984 and Shazam. The Warner Bros. Hall H panel included Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, where fans were surprised by Johnny Depp in costume crashing the panel to deliver a monologue from the movie as Grindelwald.

HBO's absence and the coming end of Game of Thrones and the declining ratings of The Walking Dead also played a factor. After news leaked that Andrew Lincoln aka Rick Grimes would be leaving the show after the upcoming season 9, and then creator Robert Kirkman echoed the news at a panel, Lincoln was forced to confirm to the 7000 fans in Hall H the news that he in fact is leaving. We were in the press pit and although people were sad to hear the news, the reaction was tempered. Gone was the rock star crowds that used to welcome the cast in the height of the show's popularity, 2015. As we have said many times on the Harold and Maudecast, TV audiences are very different from comic book audiences. They never should have killed Glenn. The ratings have suffered since and continue to decline. We have now entered the stage where the cast members are leaving by their own choosing vs waiting for the dreaded call from showrunners telling them their character is being killed off. Lauren Cohan also confirmed, though not at the Hall H panel, that Maggie will no longer be with the group after season 9 but remains somewhere in the universe. Huh? We know she has a new TV show coming out apparently the producers and Cohan are keeping their options open when it comes to the fate of Maggie.

Also absent this year was the number of Cosplayers out and about in the convention and around San Diego. The annual ball had spectacular cosplay but we did not see the vast numbers we are a custom to seeing. Smaller, regional shows have been gaining momentum the last few years and are taking some of the numbers away from San Diego. Our overall assessment is that SDCC peaked and now its going back to the fans. And that is fine with us.

Here's our breakdown of the show!

The Show Floor

Photo by Sarah Mason..

This Lego figure of Thanos was Marvel's biggest presence at Comic-Con 2018. We visited the show floor on Preview Night, Wednesday July 18th. It was certainly crowded but manageable which is more than I can say for years past where you literally could not move in the aisles.

I picked up this lovely Creature from the Black Lagoon enamel pin that was part of this awesome set from Yesterdays.

Jake picked up this Comic-Con exclusive from Q-Fig of The Joker

One of the most surprising and exciting booths on the floor was Upper Deck. Their entire booth was an art gallery with incredible pieces like this, Pulp Fiction Wall Art by artist Dave Perillo.

Here's more pictures from around the showfloor.


Conan O'Brien, Andy Richter, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte, Giancarlo Esposito, Bob Odenkirk and Vince Gilligan. Photo by Sarah Mason.

For the fourth year in a row, Conan O'Brien brought his show to Spreckels Theatre in downtown San Diego for ConanCON. This year's guests included the casts of Breaking Bad, THE PREDATOR, GLASS and AQUAMAN. Lucky audience members went home with one of four of the Comic-Con exclusive Conan Pop figures from Funko--We got the Rebel Pilot! We were fortunate enough to attend Night one of ConanCON featuring the cast of Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte, Giancarlo Esposito, Bob Odenkirk and show creator Vince Gilligan.

ConanCon has become one of our favorite events at Comic-Con. Tickets for this years shows sold out in one hour. Conan and his incredible team pour everything into these shows, delighting Comic-Con audiences with specially catered bits, videos and surprise guests like Jamie Lee Curtis who gave Conan his Comic-Con Citizenship Test. He passed.

Good bet Conan will be back next year for the fifth annual ConanCON. Start working on your connections now -- these tix are the hottest in town.

Hall H

Jason Momoa, Amber Heard and Nicole Kidman, AQUAMAN, Warner Bros. Panel, Hall H. Photo by Sarah Mason.

Warner Bros. took full advantage of the absence of Marvel and HBO with a star packed two hour panel in Hall H featuring their upcoming slate of films. Warners brought 465 feet (as opposed to its 199 feet in 2013) of screens — each of which are 20 feet high. No other studio is allowed to use them, and Warner’s partner, AV Concepts, invaded Hall H a week early to run diagnostics and set up the screens (which took four men to open) to run their special illustrations and first-look footage. Warner and AV also schlepped down custom servers and 22 projectors with 200,000 lumia of projection that allowed for 25,000 pixel-wide images. They used Comic-Con’s sound system, but created specific panel art for each film.

The Warner Bros. panel opened with Newt Scamandar (Eddie Redmayne) appearing on stage. As he shouted the spell "Lumos!" bracelets distributed to the 7000 audiences members lit up. Aisha Taylor then joined Redmayne on stage and introduced his fellow castmates from FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, Katherine Waterston, Ezra Miller (dressed as Toadette from Super Mario) and new to the cast, Callum Turner, Claudia Kim, Zoë Kravitz and hot as ever Jude Law who plays younger Dumbledore.

Jude Law and the cast of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Hall H. Photo by Sarah Mason.

Johnny Depp shocked fans, coming out halfway through the panel in full costume as Grindelwald to deliver a monologue from the film. It was amazing and a great moment for Potterheads like me!

Johnny Depp at the Warner Bros, Fantastic Beast: Crimes of Grindelwald Panel, Hall H. Photo by Sarah Mason.

Next up, THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART! Warner Bros began the panel with a video featured Wyldstyle (Chris Pratt) and Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) with Batman (Will Arnett) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa), who Batman insists is not the real Aquaman as the real one is a blonde haired nerd, Cue the old school Aquaman waving hello. Enter stars Chris Pratt and Elizabeth Banks with writer/producers Chris Lord and Phil Miller (THE LEGO MOVIE) who briefly talked about the film and asked some audience questions.

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS introduced a new cast of characters played by panelists, Millie Bobby Brown aka Eleven from Stranger Things, Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel), O'Shea Jackson Jr. (STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON) , Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) and Director Michael Dougherty (KRAMPUS). The crowd was electrified viewing the first trailer which showed off Godzilla's Titan friends, Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah.

SHAZAM, looks like it may deliver on its promise to lighten up the DCU. Zachary Levi (Chuck), Shazam himself, stomped out on stage, Guinness (apparently supplied by Jason Momoa) in hand. He was later joined by his counterpart, Billy Batson played by Asher Angel (Andi Mack) and new character, Billy's BFF, Freddy Freeman played by Jack Dylan Grazer (IT). The trailer looks pretty awesome. Looking forward to this one now.

What would a Super Hero panel be without its Princess? Not to worry, Warner Bros did not disappoint fans. Director Patty Jenkins and stars Gal Godot and Chris Pine (who has yet to explain how Steve Trevor survived and jumped through time), took the stage to talk WONDER WOMAN 1984. Jenkins brought the Hall H crowd a gift of some rough footage (the film had only been in production for three weeks), and it looks just as kick-ass as the original.

And for the big finale, AQUAMAN! Utilizing every inch of those giant screens, Jason Momoa appeared on stage through walking through a wall of water. After panel host Aisha Tyler asked him a few questions he was Joined by cast mates, Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Patrick Wilson and Director James Wan. Wan gave fans something they've been waiting for for a very long time, the trailer and extended, exclusive footage from the film only for the Hall H audience (the official trailer was released that day).

Andrew Lincoln at The Walking Dead Comic-Con panel 2018. Photo by Sarah Mason.

Other highlights from our Hall H experience include The Walking Dead panel where Andrew Lincoln who has played the shows' lead Rick Grimes since the beginning, confirmed that Season 9 will be his last. Noooo! The gracious actor lingered on stage to sign autographs after the panel concluded.

VENOM, director Ruben Fleischer and stars Tom Hardy and Riz Ahmed thrilled the crowd with new footage from the film. In reply to whether there would be a Spider-Man/Venom crossover Tom Hardy said "Sure I'll have a go at Tom Holland." No confirmation as to whether that will actually happen.

Writer/Director Shane Black, THE PREDATOR, who appeared in the first film, gave Hall H an extended look at the new movie and introduced cast members, Olivia Munn, Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Augusto Aguilera, Sterling K. Brown, Thomas Jane, and Jake Busey--who noted that he fondly visited the set of PREDATOR 2 when his father Gary Busey was starring in it and that he is now the same age that his father was then.

Here are some Highlights from Hall H. Visit our Instagram Stories for videos and more pictures.


Zardoz cosplay

Sean Connery from Zardoz. Photo cred IMDB. Zardoz cosplay photo by Sarah Mason.

Cosplay watchers were slightly disappointed this year as there were few cosplayers on the convention floor and around downtown San Diego. Don't know what to attribute that to other than the overall, numbers down. Still we managed to spy a few gems like this absolutely spectacular Zardoz cosplay.

The annual Comic-Con Masquerade was held on Saturday, July 21 to a packed audience. This year YouTube sponsored the event adding some interim entertainment from The Corps Dance Crew, a hip hop cosplay dance crew. Never fear diehard fans of old school Comic-Con Masquerade longtime Master and Mistress of Ceremonies, Phil Foglio and Kaja Foglio presided over the festivities with their usual ready-for-local cable flair! Jesting aside, this dynamic duo have earned five Hugo awards among many other literature and cartooning awards, and together have created and published Girl Genius and other successful publications through their company Studio Foglio.

Here's some of our favorites from the evening as well as some of our favorite Cosplay around the convention.

Beyond the Convention Floor

As always, there's a whole lot going on at Comic-Con beyond the Convention floor. Downtown San Diego's Gaslamp district is transformed by the offsite Escape Houses, Virtual Reality experiences, Exhibits and Interactive Displays. The most popular were Cartman's Escape Room and the DC Experience, based on the lines that were deep and long. We had fun checking out the Mr Mercedes Immersive Experience that featured a Virtual Reality escape room and an Augmented Reality adventure game as well as props and footage from the show.

We also paid a visit to our friends at Future Tech Live! Housed across the street from the convention center at the Omni San Diego, now in its third year. This is the place to go if you want to explore and preview the most cutting edge Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality and Artiifical Intelligence. In addition to hands on interaction with the latest VR/AR/MR games and experiences, Future Tech Live! hosts some of the best panels at Comic-Con including this year's Blockchain & Gaming and Diversity in Tech in Gaming.

A complete list of all the outside attractions at Comic-Con 2018 can be found in our Countdown to Comic-Con 2018 post.

SCA group photo at Comic-Con 2018. Photo by Sarah Mason.

One huge advantage the smaller numbers provided to us this year was the opportunity to explore--something we rarely get to do with time constraints and crowd control. Strolling around the outside of the convention center we serendipitously stumbled upon a live demo from The Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), in their 50th year this worldwide organization has more than 50,000 members. They are dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe. Members, dressed in clothing of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, demonstrate period battles.

San Diego Convention Center Women's Restrooms during Comic-Con 2018. Photo by Sarah Mason.

That's a Wrap!

2018 has been the best San Diego Comic-Con of my eight years covering the convention. This is largely due to the more manageable crowd size but also because Comic-Con itself did an amazing job organizing. For the first time members of the Press and other badge holders got their badges mailed to them in advance. I can not stress the significance of this change it literally adds a half a day on to your schedule as you no longer have to wait in a disorganized, ridiculously long line to get your badge. Additionally the process of ban scanning as you entered the convention center, introduced in 2017, was far more streamlined this year. The volunteers were better trained and thus much more informed. The flow of traffic in the convention center was kept moving by increased security and staff on the floor and the process of entering and exiting panels felt seamless--often still crowded but the upgraded processes transformed my mood from annoyed to patiently chill.

We have seen the evolution of SDCC over a relatively short period of time in its almost 50 year history (2019 will be the 50th), yet witnessed significant changes that have dramatically improved the overall attendee experience. Bravo Comic-Con! You done good. Keep it up. Now please work on revolutionizing the hotel booking system and lowering the ridiculous hotel prices. One shouldn't have to spend an entire year's salary to attend Comic-Con. Smaller Cons will continue to gain traction and take numbers way from Comic-Con if hotels continue to be priced 5 times more than the regular rate and are impossible to book. We get it, you want attendees who have been going for years to feel exclusive, jumping online for the hotel lottery. But there's a fine line between exclusive and excluded. You can do better. Here's hopin.

For more a visual guide to our San Diego Comic-Con 2018 experience visit our Instagram Stories.

Listen to a full recap of Comic-Con 2018 on The Harold & Maudecast Episode 332, Comic-Con Diaries

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