CCSE: An Intimate Return to San Diego

by Transmute Jun

San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) has not been held since 2019, leaving fans disappointed and eager for a return to the premiere comic convention in the US. Comic Con International (CCI) has had a difficult time financially, with no events held in more than 2 years. As such, Comic Con: Special Edition (CCSE) was welcomed by many as a reminder of the massive convention we all used to take for granted. CCSE was held November 26-28, over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

The Sails Pavilion was emptier than usual

Nothing about CCSE was as big or as splashy as SDCC attendees are used to seeing. Yet its impact was more emotional than physical. For those of us who live for Comic Con, for whom SDCC is the highlight of our year, it was deeply satisfying to be back in all of the familiar places, whether checking into the hotels, walking through the Gaslamp, strolling along the waterfront, or inside the convention center itself. The night before the con, we wandered the area, waxing sentimental about all of the places where we have line-camped over the years. Picking up badges inside Hall H was a strange, yet somehow familiar, experience as we mentally placed the stage and screens in our heads, gazing fondly at the pillars that are normally the bane of the Hall H viewer’s experience. Said simply, it was good to be back.

Virtual panel for La Brea

All of this being said, CCSE was nowhere near the experience of SDCC, or even of WonderCon. There was almost nothing in the way of studio panels, very little swag, and no major celebrities (with one notable exception). Many of the SDCC mainstays, such as Quick Draw, Starship Smackdown, and of course, the aforementioned Hall H experience, were not present. And yet, those who attended still had a good time. If the last 2 years has taught us anything, it is to appreciate the little things, and to never take any experience for granted. The exhibit floor was lackluster, yet attendees still happily shopped for collectibles and conversed with exhibitors. The panel lineup was light, yet fans were still eager to hear from those who presented and shared their expertise. Everywhere, fans were coming together, hugging and laughing as friends who had been apart for years were able to meet once again.

So CCSE wasn’t SDCC, not by a long shot. Yet it was still something truly special.

John Cena as Peacemaker at the Masquerade

While CCSE had an intimate feel not normally seen at SDCC, there were still some familiar highlights to anchor the experience. The Masquerade on Saturday evening was well-attended, and everyone present was gratified to witness a surprise appearance by John Cena in full costume as Peacemaker, turning the Masquerade’s introduction into a mini-panel for the HBO Max show. Funko brought exclusives to the con, and also some of the few lines present as collectors vied for lottery spots to get into their booth for purchase. Offsites graced the intersection of 5th and Harbor, as well as lawns outside of the Hiltons Gaslamp and Bayfront. 

Funko Lottery Line

With many of the ‘big ticket’ items not present, gaming had a chance to shine, and activities such as the Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator and Miniature Paint ‘n Take were well-attended. While there were fewer attendees in costume than usual, those who were dressed up were more appreciated by others. T-shirt and apparel sales were big, as fans were eager to replenish their geeky wardrobes and sport new attire amongst their tribe.

Vaccination/Test Check Booth

Of course, in these post-COVID times, there were restrictions in place. Every attendee had to show proof of vaccination or a negative test outside of the convention center. Doing so resulted in a red wristband being placed upon your person, which was required for entry into the convention center (even just to pick up your badge). Inside the center, masks were required for all, as frequent announcements in the Exhibit Hall reminded us. However, there was no mask mandate in San Diego, so hotels (outside of convention-use rooms) and restaurants in the Gaslamp, as well as the offsites, were blissfully mask-free. This gave everyone easy access to take a break and help prevent mask fatigue.

Brent Spiner panel

While it was wonderful to return to San Diego and experience CCSE, everyone with whom FoCC Blog spoke was eagerly awaiting the return of SDCC next year (scheduled for July 21-24, with Preview Night to be held July 20). Until then, we are grateful to CCI for all of the effort they put into hosting this event, and proving to the world that San Diego is once again ready to take center stage in the world of pop culture conventions.

Did you attend CCSE? Join the conversation on the FoCC forums!

Transmute Jun

Transmute Jun has an addiction to pop culture conventions, and attends as many as she can each year. When she's not traveling, she likes to stay at home reading a good book, playing a video game, or binge-watching a TV show. She can be bribed with pizza, Coke Zero and Belgian milk chocolate.

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