Walter Myrick had hoped to be on the West Coast this week, navigating the crowds and chatting up the artists at San Diego Comic-Con. “I had a hotel, I had a flight, I was all set,” said Myrick, an artist and Comic-Con regular since 2011.
The art teacher from AMY Northwest Middle School even had a cosplay character in mind. “I was going to do Doctor Voodoo, who is like the Black counterpart to Doctor Strange,” Myrick said last week. Then came the pandemic, and the event that last year drew more than 130,000 people from all over the world was canceled for the first time in its 50-year history.
Replacing it is Comic-Con@Home: five days of online presentations — more than 350 of them — that will largely premiere on YouTube Wednesday through Sunday, and in most cases will be available for some time after their premieres. Other aspects of the convention, including games and gaming demonstrations, can be expected to take place on platforms like Discord, Twitch, or Facebook Live.
The experience won’t be the same without the kind of serendipitous encounters Myrick has enjoyed in San Diego — like the time he ran into Marvel Comics editor-in-chief C.B. Cebulski in a Subway at midnight — but he’s determined to make the best of it.
“I have carved out time ... to just have my phone turned off and upside down so nobody can even contact me. I want to make it as much like Comic-Con as I can,” he said. “I’m a huge X-Men fan. I want to see the panel about the upcoming X-Men crossover. I want to see panels on drawing. ... I really applaud them for still having panels that are talking about things like, you know, drawing, cosplay, how to make a movie, how to get press. They’re still doing the bigger panels, like for Disney+ and Marvel TV [but] they’re also still doing those smaller things.”
Adam F. Goldberg, the Jenkintown-raised creator of ABC’s The Goldbergs, first started going to San Diego Comic-Con after moving to Los Angeles in 2001, before the convention became what he calls “nerd Vegas” — and when his friends would still roll their eyes about his traveling to buy comic books.
“It was always a great day trip,” Goldberg said in an interview this week. “I would get some kind of vintage toy stuff. I would grab some comics, I would go with a couple friends, some were comic book writers. And then it was really fascinating to just watch it become this huge Hollywood blowout ... over the next 10 years,” as movie and television studios began to see SDCC more and more as a promotional platform.
“I was there the first year that [It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia] did Comic-Con. ... And I know Rob [McElhenney] and Charlie [Day] and Glenn Howerton], and I was surprised that they were doing a panel because it just didn’t seem even comic book-y to me. And they sold out, like it was a madhouse,” he said. “And that’s when I realized, Oh, this isn’t even about comics anymore. This is just a way to kind of, for fans to interact with anything they love.”
Goldberg has appeared on panels himself, but hasn’t been to SDCC for the past five or six years (”too much of a madhouse”). The Goldbergs will have a panel, with the cast and executive producer Doug Robinson, premiering on YouTube at 4 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time Sunday. Goldberg plans to watch, and “I’ll for sure check in on some of those [other] panels,” he said. “Why not? Like there’s no crowds.”
What he won’t be able to do is walk the convention floor as he once did, “finding some cool vintage action figure I never know existed or some cool comic or getting to meet an artist I really liked.” And while the throngs in San Diego have driven him to other conventions, like WonderCon Anaheim and New York Comic Con, he’s been known to get someone else to stand in line for him in San Diego for some must-have collectible.
For Len Webb, who hosts the Black Tribbles geek-culture podcast and radio show on Philly’s WPPM-FM (106.5), 2020 had started out looking like the year the Tribbles — a local group of eight men and women who bill themselves as “too cool to be geeks, too cute to be nerds” — were finally going to make it to San Diego Comic-Con.
“It is pretty much like the nirvana for conventions and we actually had the inside track on being there this year, before the world turned,” Webb, a veteran of many other comics conventions, said last week. A couple of groups “were getting together to speak on Black experience in the geek culture. So they had reached out to us. And we were all collaborating on putting together a couple of panels and events.” But it didn’t happen.
A search of the Comic-Con@Home schedule for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) turns up a number of panels. Some, like “Afro-Futurism and Black Religion: Connecting Imaginations” and “Gender, Race, and Comic Book Coloring,” have already been added to the personal Comic-Con schedules of enough at-home participants to fill a sizable room in San Diego.
“I would say that within the last probably five to seven years there has been a concerted effort to have more representation [of people of color] on the convention circuit,” Webb said. “I think that now with ... the light that has been shined on the Black experience in America and the experience of people of color in general, in America and in American history, that that representation is being ... promoted all the more. And fortunately, there are a lot of people that are in the position to take advantage of that spotlight.”
For Myrick, events like Comic-Con have long felt inclusive. “I’ve never gone to a convention and felt like I’m the only Black person here, even if was the only Black person here,” he said.
When he and his brother travel to San Diego on Southwest Airlines, where passengers choose their seats as they board, the seat next to them is “always the last seat taken,” he said. “But when you go to Comic-Con, and have a seat next to you, like no one flinches. ... The cool thing about Comic-Con and the biggest thing to lose this year is that’s one place where everybody there is looking at you for what your interests are.”