San Diego, the ultimate POP-Con adventure

  • Books
  • Saturday, 10 Sep 2016

Cosplayers dressed as DC universe heroes and villains face off. Photos: Richard Chua

Every July, thousands of geek guys and gals make the trek to Comic-Con International: San Diego to celebrate their favourite pop culture fandom. They come from near and far, all over the world, to converge on this city on the southern border of sunny California.

More widely known as San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC), the 47th edition of this multigenre convention took place from July 21 to 24 this year, offering its 130,000 attendees the latest news and announcements from the world of comics, TV, film and other entertainment media at the San Diego Convention Centre.

SDCC traditionally kicks of with Preview Night the day before the official first day of the convention, ie July 20. Preview Night is only open to holders of tickets that come at the hefty price of US$40 (RM160) on top of the four-day US$205 (RM830) convention pass. It’s a hefty fee because the exhibit hall is only open for three hours on Preview Night and virtually no other convention programming runs that day save for preview screenings of pilot episodes for upcoming TV series.

Despite the night’s extra cost, thousands of attendees swarmed the convention floor to see the latest exhibits from entertainment industry giants like Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox, Lucasfilm, Marvel and DC. They also had first dibs on convention-exclusive merchandise from popular brands like Hasbro, Mattel, Funko, and Bandai.

Cosplayers dressed as Green Arrow (left) and Arsenal from CW’s DC universe on TV.

Preview Night awesomeness

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the venerable Star Trek franchise, which made its debut on TV in September 1966 (which you would know if you caught Star2’s Thursday issue about the anniversary). Star Trek launched it celebrations at SDCC with the world premiere of Star Trek Beyond in the Embarcadero Marina Park South adjacent to the convention centre on Preview Night. It was the world’s first outdoor IMAX movie premiere.

Before the movie began, guests were treated to a concert of Star Trek music by the San Diego Symphony Orchestra complemented with a laser light show and spectacular fireworks over the nearby bay. In fact, the orchestra remained to score the music live to the screen for the entire movie! And the cast of the movie were in attendance together with director Justin Lin and producer J.J. Abrams at this red carpet event.

SDCC also highlighted anniversaries of a number of comic character icons, namely 75 years of Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Archie, Plastic Man and Captain America, plus 50 years of Black Panther and Silver Surfer. Even Deadpool celebrates 25 years since his debut in New Mutants #98 before he spawned his own on-going series six years later in 1997.

These characters were featured in the official Comic-Con souvenir book. Comics’ most iconic superheroine, Wonder Woman, also graced official Comic-Con T-shirts and merchandise.

Hallowed Hall H

The massive exhibit hall with over 1,000 stalls runs half a kilometre, covering 42,700sqm of floor space, almost 4.5 times the area of the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre.

Captain America cosplayers win Best Worksmanship in the Costume Masquerade.
Captain America cosplayers win Best Worksmanship in the Costume Masquerade.

Comic book legend Stan Lee (centre) was present throughout the convention on panels and the exhibition floor.

Major comic industry players present included Boom! Studios, DC Entertainment, Dark Horse Comics, IDW Publishing Image Comics, and Marvel Entertainment. From the movie studios, there were Lionsgate, Disney, Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Bros, and Marvel. And for TV networks, which are aplenty in United States, we saw ABC, Warner Bros, BBC America, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Nickelodeon, AMC, Starz, MTV, Twentieth Century Fox and TBS.

Most entertainment booths promoted their upcoming offerings or showcased existing properties popular with attendees, such as live “zombies” from The Walking Dead series at the AMC exhibits. Lucasfilm shaped its booth like an ancient temple from the planet Yavin and filled it with vendors of Star Wars merchandise and exhibits of costumes for the upcoming Rogue One movie.

Setups by both DC and Marvel included mini stages for booth activities and celebrity autograph signings. Many SDCC attendees flocked every day to these mainstay brands to collect giveaways.

The most exciting film and TV news is typically announced within Hall H in the southern corner of the convention centre. Only 6,500 Comic-Con attendees have the privilege of attending these announcement events, often at the cost of waiting hours in queue and sometimes even sleeping overnight on the park lawn or sidewalk!

These hard core geeks are rewarded with seats at their favourite panel presentations and being the first in the world to watch new trailers or exclusive footage.

They began their cosplay performance as Kylo Ren versus Rey with dueling lightsabers but finished as man and wife and won Crowd Favourite in the Costume Masquerade.
Star Wars cosplayers re-enact Rey's dream sequence from Episode VII The Force Awakens for HBO's Costume Masquerade competition.

Saturday’s Hall H panels were in particularly hot demand with reveals for Marvel and DC movies, plus Star Trek’s 50th anniversary and Aliens’ 30th anniversary. Trailers for movies of Wonder Woman, Justice League, Dr Strange, and the Lego Batman movie were timed to launch online following their respective panels in Hall H.

The Star Trek panel was especially interesting as it comprised one cast member from each of the five TV series and showcased a trailer for the upcoming sixth TV series, Star Trek Discovery, set to launch in 2017.

The Aliens panel that followed offered no new footage for obvious reasons but reunited much of the movie ensemble including James Cameron, Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn and Paul Reiser.

Cast members of the upcoming Marvel Luke Cage mini-series on Netflix introduce themselves before presenting exclusive show clips during their comic-con panel.
Cast members of the upcoming Marvel Luke Cage mini-series on Netflix introduce themselves before presenting exclusive show clips during their comic-con panel.

Lots more to see and do

Attendees unable to enter Hall H had the choice of sitting in on the other 786 panels scheduled. The second-most sought after panel venue, Ballroom 20, hosted up to 4,500 attendees with 25 scheduled panels from many of the TV networks featuring comic book shows like Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Luke Cage, and DC’s Supergirl, Legends Of Tomorrow, Flash and Arrow, as well as other prime time favourites like Family Guy, The Vampire Diaries, and Bones.

Numerous other panels took place in the 19 function rooms in the convention centre and eight other nearby venues.

Popular TV series are a popular choice for cosplay, such as John Snow and Yriggette here from Game of Thrones.

Panels are categorised under comics, animation, movies, television, games, sci-fi/fantasy/horror or “everything else” and may include guests like the legendary Stan Lee and William Shatner as well as current industry leaders.

SDCC extends beyond the walls of the convention centre with major sponsors setting up in adjacent parks, open spaces and businesses.

This year, adult animation sitcom South Park celebrated its 20th anniversary by giving fans a chance to experience being in the fictional town itself by setting up 2D cut-out environments in a neighbouring park.

Catering to a similar audience, adult animation network Adult Swim set up a carnival with thematic rides and games for fans to win merchandise.

Nearby FX Networks offered an “FXhibition” with activations from and fan experiences with its top shows like American Horror Story and The Strain.

Wonder Woman’s costume for her 2017 movie on display.
Wonder Woman’s costume for her 2017 movie on display.

At San Diego’s downtown Gaslamp district, HBO took over an art gallery to present a spooky interactive exhibit akin to the Hall of Faces as seen in its award-winning series Game Of Thrones. Next door at Hard Rock Hotel, Warner Bros set up the infamous Belle Reve penitentiary as an immersive experience for Suicide Squad fans.

Geek fashion on show

Cosplay is always aplenty at comic-cons and one may encounter all manner of characters from film to anime. Popular cosplay followings have fan groups arranging unofficial photo shoots at major conventions.

This year close to 150 cosplayers assembled for the Marvel group photo shoot while the DC equivalent gathered almost 40 cosplayers.

Yet these comprised only a small fraction from thousands of cosplayers at SDCC.

HBO once again presented Comic-Con International’s Masquerade Costume Competition with 35 entries including a surprise wedding proposal for two contestants duelling lightsabers as Kylo Ren and Rey from Star Wars The Force Awakens.

The Best in Show winner was Tonia Antilla in Queen Amidala’s elaborate senate gown from Star Wars The Phantom Menace, while the Judge’s Choice award was presented to Jose Davalos who came as a live-action Lumiere from Disney’s classic Beauty & The Beast animation.

Comic-Con International: San Diego takes place next year from July 20 to 23, with Preview Night on July 19. Registration is expected to open early next year. Demand for convention passes has far exceeded supply in recent years so it is essential to plan as early as nine months in advance. Those aspiring to attend SDCC 2017 may consider teaming-up with fellow Malaysians via the local Facebook group Ultimate Pop Culture Convention Adventures at

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