From the ConNewRecaps, Reports & Reviews

My Experience at San Diego Comic Con 2023: No Hollywood, No Problem?

By Jason Delgado

San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) has been no stranger to adversity in recent times due to the pandemic. A new threat to pop culture entertainment emerged this year due to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, causing a work stoppage in Hollywood for film and scripted television. I had read some doom and gloom pre-Con articles speculating about the damage that this would have on SDCC, considering how celebrity-driven the Con has been perceived as being in recent years. Yet I am here to tell you that in my personal experience, as someone who is obsessed with movies, no Hollywood was no problem.

I kicked off my convention by driving down to San Diego to arrive on Wednesday morning in time for the tail end of the Friends of Comic Cons (FoCC) breakfast meetup (these meetups are generally reserved for FoCC members, please join up on the Forum to learn more) at the Broken Yolk Cafe. It’s a great way to mingle with new people, catch up with some old friends, have delicious food, and geek out over what is to come over the next few glorious days at the Con.

Wednesday evening was my first off-site experience of 2023 with the popular Paramount+ Lodge activation. I met up with fellow FoCC writer Michael Pea and editor-in-chief Kevin (DRWHO42) to enjoy the festivities together. First up was SpongeBob Squarepants photo-op within the immersive lodge, which also featured areas for Yellowjackets, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, Pet Semetary, along with a Good Burger 2 free burger (and two free drinks of your choice), Ink Master temporary tattoos, a Special Ops: Lioness test, and a cool 1923 photo op. The most popular thing at the lodge had to be the Star Trek caricature, with many different options (alien race, uniform style, and prop choices) to please any Trek fan. A common complaint that I heard was that many fans were not allowed to stay within the full hour allotted time if they came in on standby, which is a shame because this activation had more than I could do within the two-hour time frame that participants were allowed.

After the Lodge, I visited AMC and Anne Rice’s Immortal Universe, based on the properties Interview with a Vampire and Mayfair Witches. This reminded me a bit of last year’s House of the Dragon (HOTD) offsite, because both featured actors that stay in character and allow you to step into their worlds. However, I have not watched either of the Immortal Universe shows, so this experience was not as engaging to me as HOTD. Attendees had to go up to different characters in order to obtain certain items from a checklist, and I found that my experience was about merely trying to obtain those items rather than being immersed into the shows. The old time New Orleans sets, and atmosphere were cool nonetheless, but it seems like fans’ enjoyment of this experience varied widely between the small sample size of the people with whom I chatted. Living up to the online hype or not, this offsite was still a good time.

Straight after AMC, I made my way to the Grand Horton Hotel for the Indian sci-fi movie after-party for the highly anticipated Project K. Simple, yet elegant, decor, good appetizers, open bar, a DJ, and running into Michael Pea again with some of his fellow Expanse friends made this party a delight.

My final event for Wednesday/Preview Night was attending the XLE Ready Player One 8-Bit Legacy party at Parq nightclub. I enjoyed the green Mario plumber tubes that people could pop out of for photo ops, the arcade games such as the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game (that Kevin and I beat together after I ran into him again) along with the DJs and the cover band The Flux Capacitors. I wish that the 80’s theme had been carried out fully though, because many of the songs I heard (such as The Backstreet Boys) were newer than that decade, as well as the arcade games. Nerds like me recognize these types of inconsistencies instantly, so hopefully like an angry Hulk, these themed parties come back even stronger next year.

I kicked off my Thursday with the fun photo-ops heavy Hulu Animayhem activation, where fans could hop on the famous Simpsons or Family Guy couches, do a cool 360 degree camera video, grab one of Bob’s Burgers (which were tasty), check out Bender and the crash-landed ship from Futurama, or my favorite, ask Alanis Morrisette in the sky a question for The Great North (she was non-committal as to whether or not the Chargers will win the Super Bowl this year). The swag was also a treat too, with nice backpacks and neat pins based on the animated hit shows.

Next up, I went to check out the panel for Canadian indie pop identical twin sister duo Teagan and Sara’s Junior High graphic novel. The two sisters played off of each other hilariously, making the panel such a fun time. They seemed so honest about their raw and awkward teen experiences when they were finding out about who they are and discovering sexuality. Many of us can relate to these issues, and I am very much looking forward to reading their book. I also got to meet them while getting a photo and an autographed poster, and tell them a story about my own screenplay, which is about my awkward teen years, in which they seemed genuinely interested. It was an awesome experience all around for someone like me who enjoys their music and saw them live at Coachella years ago.

I had another great panel to attend after that titled: The Indie Filmmaker’s Survival Guide, which was led by Film Threat’s Chris Gore (Attack of the Doc!) and editor-in-chief Alan Ng, rounded out by Dante James (Verbal Riot), Ramesh Iyer (commercial director), and special guest Eric July (Rippaverse Comics). It was a positive and upbeat panel about the bright future of independent film, how to get your own projects off of the ground, and July’s success with his indie comic Isom. July spent three hundred thousand dollars of his own money, along with the help of his company’s crowdfunding campaign, to launch the title and it has made three million dollars in sales from the first issue alone. As the panelists echoed, this is the best time in history to be an independent creator.

I headed over to the Asylum booth in the exhibit hall and picked up some signed copies and posters of Chris Gore’s brand-new Blu-ray of Attack of the Doc!, which features over twenty-four hours of extras! This excellent documentary on the rise and fall of G4TV and Attack of the Show accurately documents the rise of SDCC and of nerd culture that coincided with their coverage of the Con.

My next event was for a party for the Junji Ito Experience, which was to be a showcase of the illustrious career of the manga horror artist. Unfortunately, it seemed as if there had an issue with the system and many invitees were being turned away due to not showing up on the list. It was a shame, but being a Con veteran, I have learned to move on and find something else fantastic to do.

I then went to try to attend A24’s horror screening Talk to Me in Mission Valley, but like other advance screenings I have attended, the event had been oversold \ so much so that myself and many others could not make it in, including those who had won tickets in the CCI lottery. I feel bad for the Congoers who wasted their lottery hopes away on a screening that they thought they had won a sure ticket to.

I turned lemons into lemonade and went to attend the Talk to Me after-party instead, which turned out to be my favorite Comic Con party experience of all-time, bar none (Yes, even better than Fandom). The A24 party took place in a difficult-to-find, seedy and poorly lit industrial area of town, which fit the criteria of a horror flick perfectly. After trying some of the best fresh pizza and salad in all of San Diego, guests were led upstairs to a room by themselves to take a photo. The large camera into which I looked had an onscreen message to grab the demonic hand on the table in front of me for my picture. Then the lights went out, and a guy in creepy face make-up jumped out from behind the curtains. I was then taken into a room to send myself the video of what had happened, while at the same time noticing that partygoers are watching the entire thing (giddily waiting for the jump scare) from behind a two-way mirror. It was strangely fun to voyeuristically watch the scares with a crowd (many of whom had worked on the movie) or hop over to the dance room that was complete with a DJ and open bar. The horror atmosphere was so unique and alluring, and the finale stunt where an acrobat was pulled up to the ceiling with a harness, and then seemingly stabbed himself with blood and guts gushing to the ground, drew large cheers from the demented partygoers. My final imagery of the fantastic night was of seeing the cast dancing and singing together at the top of their lungs to a song that is featured in the film. What a night, and what an instant horror classic movie!

My Friday started with the highly anticipated Jurassic Park offsite. It was quite the Comic Con workout to get there, taking over twenty-minutes walking from the convention center, but taking in the sights of the beautiful city while getting some exercise is all part of the fun for me. The activation recreated key parts from the classic film, such as the man on toilet or the raptor finale, to make for some neat photo ops. The free dino chicken nuggets and Amazon gift shop walk-through capped off the experience nicely.

Next up was a Venom Pinball game that brought me back to the fun old days of my childhood when arcades were everywhere. Learn more about Venom pinball here.

Meeting former WWE wrestler Jake “the Snake” Roberts in Sails Pavilion also brought me back to my childhood. I noticed that one of the photos he had for sale was the infamous moment when his snake was gnawing on the forearm of my favorite wrestler of all-time, Macho Man Randy Savage. I told Jake that I loved that moment. He replied matter of factly, “me too.” I enjoy these small, yet meaningful, interactions so much.

I had the tough and commonplace SDCC dilemma of having to choose between two events at the same time that I really wanted to attend. On one hand was the cheesy Sharknado ten-year anniversary panel, and the other was the Jimmy Eat World/Manchester Orchestra concert at Petco Park with some of my good Hall H line buddies whom I met years ago. Meeting up with old friends won out and I had a great time!

I then stopped by the Jury Duty party, where attendees could dress up like a judge in a courtroom for a photo or take a quiz to find out which character from the show they were. Dancing, drinks, swag prizes, and fun was in the air before I hit the hay after a full day.

Saturday was the day that made both my Con and year, because I finally got to interview Lakers Governor Jeanie Buss (I almost interviewed her around five years ago at LA Comic Con), and Superheroes Genesis and Kandi Krush about WOW – Women of Wrestling! I have looked up to Jeanie for so long as a diehard Lakers fan because of the grace, composure, and thoughtfulness with which she seemingly approaches everything. Krush and Genesis are so fascinating and wonderful in their own rights, that our meeting could not have been better. Read the full interview article here.

In a natural high daze after talking to these legendary women, I wandered into a surprisingly packed Hall H for the Star Trek panel. They showed clips from the various Trek shows, capped off by a hilarious special crossover episode between Lower Decks and Strange New Worlds that had the rapt audience laughing together many times over. This was yet another special shared Hall H moment between thousands of fans that I did not expect this year due to the strike. That is the magic of Comic Con.

I went to see my Film Threat buddies Chris Gore and Alan Ng again on another great panel titled: Everyone’s a Critic. Isn’t that the truth! To my surprise, AMC’s Comic Book Men star Ming Chen was also on the panel, whom I had just met prior to my big WOW interview, when he kindly gave me encouragement to calm my obvious nerves. Paulie from Latino Slant was added to the panel at the last minute, and he, like the other panelists, had some great advice for aspiring critics: you need to find your voice and be authentic.

I then went to the pop-up Mooby’s for the live taping of the Hollywood Babble-On podcast with Con luminary and writer/director/star Kevin Smith and former KROQ Hollywood beat reporter Ralph Garman. The dynamic duo was hilarious as always, pointing out oddly funny things such as an extra getting pantsed during a climactic scene in the Abyss. How did they miss that?!

In a day filled with surprises, my Saturday night ended with another great one. My Hall H line buddies gave me a ticket to the D23 X-Men Hellfire Gala because one of them could not attend SDCC this year. I almost turned around and went back to my hotel when I saw the line that wrapped around the block, but thankfully it was quick moving. I was so glad I had stayed after seeing the most incredible X-men cosplay from the fans that I’ve ever seen! Photo-ops, a 360 video, a drink ticket and a swag bag were all nice touches, but just hanging out with old Con friends was the best part of the night.

My Sunday began with what shockingly became my favorite offsite of SDCC this year: Quantum Leap. My wife and I had our faces scanned, and then undertook a mission through a futuristic looking tunnel that took us to various interactive experiences. The first one was for Law & Order, where we were placed in a crime scene and had to find the evidence to bag up. And yes, the famous music played after we solved the case! Next up was a surprise karaoke group session on The Voice, where a coach went around encouraging us while we sang “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds, so much fun! The finale put us in the world of Chucky, where we had to scan every barcode on a bunch of lockers until Chucky forcefully pushed one open, scaring my wife and other people to death in the process. I almost skipped this activation because I had not heard anything about it, but I am so glad that my wife and I tried it together!

Speaking of positivity, I wrapped up my Con by meeting up with my Hall H friends to enjoy the Friends of Comic Cons Sunday dinner meetup together. The entire place was booked for FoCC, and we filled the downstairs up! As people ate and mingled, Transmute June would bring over free swag to the big swag table for anyone to pick up an item or two that tickled their fancy (please sign up as an FoCC member on our Forum to be able to attend!). Some people say that San Diego Comic Con is like Christmas in July, and this spirit of giving exemplifies that!

I’ve said it before in articles such as my Ode to SDCC, but it is the people that make this convention. Things like big celebrities, movies, and TV shows are nice, but Comic Con is so much more than that. My family being there with me, my Hall H line friends from years ago, Carol, Kevin, Michael, Scott, TJ, Alyssa, Chris Gore, Alan Ng, Paulie, Dante, That Star Wars Girl Anna and Ming Chen are just some of the salt-of-the-Earth people who make all of the Con madness more than worth enduring. I give SDCC 2023 five out of five hot sauce packets; it could not have been more fire even if Tom Cruise had hopped on top of a couch like a maniac in the middle of Hall H.

How was your Con? Share with us in the Forum!


Jason Delgado

Jason is a CSULB film school alum and movie guy for Friends of Comic Con. He loves movies, TV, writing, comics, going to Cons, basketball (Lakers), music (all forms of rock + 90's hip hop), football (Chargers), his dog, and most importantly wife and newborn son. He's written a comedy/sci-fi script, and wants to write more in between raising a son. He doesn't often cosplay, but when he does, it's as Iron Fist. Follow him on Twitter @JasonDelgado78