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Review: SDCC creates memorable experiences beyond the con floor

Night shot of San Diego Convention Center

San Diego Comic-Con is a five-day event that offers fans of all genres and mediums the opportunity to indulge in their fandom and become immersed in their favourite fictional worlds.

In its second full edition since the pandemic, San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) is still waiting for that return to normal that everyone is talking about. In 2022, badge holders who held over their hard-won passes year after year were finally able to attend their beloved gathering of like-minded fans. But not all studios or vendors returned, leaving large holes to fill on the show floor and in the panel schedule. Then, just as congoers thought 2023 would be a return to glory, strikes by the Writers Guild of America followed by the Screen Actors Guild — American Federation of Television and Radio Artists just a week before the convention promised a little less glitz and glamour at this year’s event.

Courtesy of Titan Comics

Days before fans from around the world descended upon the San Diego Convention Center, autographs and panels were cancelled, leaving the long-coveted Hall H room without an A-list headliner. Some panels plowed through, featuring directors, producers, clips and previews of upcoming episodes, though with less swag than may have been seen in past years. Jamie Lee Curtis maintained her commitment to appear, restricting her promotion to her debut eco-horror graphic novel, Mother Nature, and Japanese artist Junji Ito presented to elated Western fans who can’t get enough of his horror manga. But with fewer high-profile panels drawing people away from the show floor, it was definitely a little more difficult to get around.

On the other hand, all the changes to the traditional convention allowed the light to shine on the many offsite activations and parties taking place over the course of five days, July 19-23. One of the unique elements of SDCC is the fact that it spans beyond the confines of the convention centre’s walls, taking over several blocks of the surrounding downtown area. Hotels and trolleys are wrapped in high-quality images promoting studios’ latest offerings, with this year’s larger-than-life representations including Abbott Elementary, The Boys’ spinoff Gen V, Shogun, Wheel of Time, Yellowjackets and Hulu’s many animation offerings.

Offsite activations and parties are a significant part of some congoers’ schedules, engrossing them in their favourite TV shows and movies, and providing unmatched experiences. One of the things that can make an already good offsite great is the swag, and food and drink offerings. Afterall, hydrating and refuelling when spending all day running around or standing in lines can be a lifesaver, and take-home souvenirs are an absolute must for photos and collections.

A big winner was Paramount+’s The Lodge, which offered a number of themed activations in a cabin-esque atmosphere. Visitors had the opportunity to have a hand-drawn, Star Trek caricature; take an old-fashioned photograph a la 1923, as well as grab a branded root beer or a bourbon-based cocktail in a collectible cup; snack on a beef or vegan slider c/o Good Burger 2; enter the world of Special Ops: Lioness and test your problem-solving skills; get a faux tattoo from Ink Master; and partake in photo ops for Pet Sematary, SpongeBob SquarePants and Yellowjackets. They also hosted a scavenger hunt, rewarding those who completed all tasks with a sling bag and collectible cup.

AMC also impressed with Anne Rice’s Immortal Universe, “The Street of Immortality,” which immersed travellers into the world of Interview with the Vampire and Mayfair Witches. The trip begins in a darkened speakeasy offering “The Elixir of Immortality,” a mocktail presented by POM Wonderful. An array of actors transport visitors into Rice’s New Orleans, as street performers tap dance, trick the unsuspecting with an awesome shell game, play Lestat’s latest song on piano, and convince tourists of their need for a charm to ward off the evil that lurks in the streets. Visitors may interact with the actors as much or as little as they choose, personalizing their experience, which ends with the selection of one of four lovely posters.

Hulu’s “Animayhem” took over a large section behind the convention centre, providing congoers the opportunity to fill their Instagram feeds with photos taken with their favourite animated shows’ characters, including American Dad, Archer, Bob’s Burgers, Family Guy, The Great North, The Simpsons and Solar Opposites. But the big attraction was a 55 ft replica of Futurama’sHQ, alongside a crash-landed Planet Express ship. Inside, fans immersed themselves in the once-again revived series via a number of photo moments. Upon exiting, visitors received a cartoon-esque backpack and a Futurama pin set.

While “Jurassic World: The Exhibition” tours North America, SDCC got its own engaging experience with “Step into Jurassic Park,” celebrating the first film’s 30th anniversary with a walk through the prehistoric park. High-quality photo moments included a Dilophosaurus “spitting” in your face and the chance to recreate the infamous toilet scene complete with giant T-Rex. If fans make it out of the park alive, they’re treated to dinosaur-themed chicken nuggets and choice of dipping-sauce flavours: honey lime sriracha, togarashi BBQ or honey mustard.

Finally, almost at the edge of the con’s perimeter, Cozi TV celebrated 30 years of Roseanne with “The Lanford Lunch Box” pop-up. Recreating episode 15 from season five, visitors are encouraged to try their hand at one of the many carnival games for a chance to win (mediocre) prizes, including sponsored bags, water bottles, Roseanne magnets, the episode’s script, or season six or seven of Roseanne on DVD. Fans are also treated to a recreation of the episode’s guest star appearance by country music star Loretta Lynn by lookalike actors. Most notably, visitors are offered a sample loose meat sandwich and mini bottle of water to refuel for the long walk back through the Gaslamp.

As far as parties go, there were some inevitable pros and cons. Indian sci-fi blockbuster, Project K, now revealed to be titled Kalki 2898 AD, went all-out at this year’s SDCC, taking over Hall H for a dynamic panel with writer-director Nag Ashwin, and stars Prabhas, Kamal Hassan and Amitabh Bachchan, which included a first glimpse at the film’s teaser trailer. To build even more hype, they hosted an afterparty Wednesday night to celebrate the film’s presence at the con. While the themed-food was hit and miss, the open bar was a winner — until two bars were cut to one as the talent arrived, closing off an entire room and never emerging to greet partygoers. Those in attendance made the best of the night, but it wasn’t without disappointment.

The sixth annual Fandom Party, which is undoubtedly one of the most desired afterparties of the con, became an even bigger ticket with the announcement that K-pop group NCT DOJAEJUNG would be headlining. Rather than the usual FCFS ticketing system, admission was granted to lottery winners who entered by completing various social media tasks. The result was a different atmosphere from previous years, with NCT fans lining the stage for the entire length of Thursday night’s party, while others mingled and played rock-themed pinball machines provided by Stern. But nothing can takeaway from the open bar and tasty appetizers floating around, if you managed to spot a server amongst the crowd. NCT eventually took the stage 15 minutes before the party’s close to wow diehard fans and casual listeners with three of their six songs.

In the end, National Geographic hosted one of the most relaxing events with their annual Comic-Con Lounge on Saturday, which featured cocktails and bites inspired by Nat Geo’s lineup of adventure series, including Running Wild with Bear Grylls: The Challenge, Animals Up Close with Bertie Gregory, Arctic Ascent with Alex Honnold and Never Say Never with Jeff Jenkins. Ample seating, easy bar access, a soft-shell taco station and frozen treats, as well as a green screen photo moment with the Northern Lights, made for an enjoyable evening, which was topped off with a large, compressible cooler and full-sized canteen for attendees.

There’s always plenty to do at SDCC and even with the strikes casting a dark cloud over the annual event, there was no shortage of activities to enjoy outside the convention.

Review: SDCC Creates Memorable Experiences beyond the con floor
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Review: SDCC creates memorable experiences beyond the con floor


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