Two days after announcing Comic-Con Special Edition would be taking place in November, Comic-Con International (CCI) has posted an update to explain why they chose to hold an event on Thanksgiving Weekend. This announcement appears to be in response to almost immediate backlash from fans and creatives regarding putting on an event at the same time many will have their first chance in a year to gather with their extended families.
While not as loud as the outcry on social media, Hollywood’s response has been tepid with The Hollywood Reporter noting that producers and stars have been also expressing their displeasure with the dates. While none of the studio reps or other agents were identified by name, they were collectively negative with examples such as “We love San Diego Comic-Con and would love to support, but what actor or producer is going to give up their first post-vaccine Thanksgiving holiday with family to travel to San Diego to publicize a project?” and “During the pandemic, we’ve had Wonder Woman and The Mandalorian, but what we haven’t had is a hug from our parents and grandparents. Talent are not going to want to give up time with their families at Thanksgiving this year of all years. I have no idea what the organizers are thinking.”
Their announcement entitled Updated Statement Regarding Comic-Con Special Edition and posted on Monday, March 29, reads in full:
Our decision to hold an in-person event in 2021 was driven by a number of factors. Our primary hope was to be able to gather in-person as a community, something we have not been able to do since early last year. Another was to try to determine how best to effectively and safely produce events in light of current health concerns with the least negative impact on attendees.Comic-Con International press release
As conventions and events have had to cancel their in-person shows or have converted to virtual formats during the pandemic, some have been postponed to later years while others have been rescheduled to the later part of 2021, resulting in a very packed Convention Center calendar. When reviewing dates for an in-person event, it was clear that available meeting and exhibit space would limit our options. Of the dates presented with the fewest restrictions, Friday through Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend seemed to be the best balance of available space and our envisioned event. As longtime fans ourselves, we have attended many conventions over that holiday weekend, opting to spend Thanksgiving day with family and the rest of the weekend with friends and our families of choice. While this is not unusual in the convention trade, we understand this choice is not optimal for everyone.
Comic-Con Special Edition was never intended to be the large gathering reflective of the summer event. As a shorter event, it was our attempt to start slowly and cautiously while at the same time addressing the desire from fans to have an in-person show. There are still many factors that are unknown to us at this time, including space accommodations, travel restrictions, capacity restrictions, and required safety protocols. While open to all and with the hope that we will be able to accommodate fans from all over, we understand that due to potential travel-based restrictions and challenges, Comic-Con Special Edition may be an event attended mostly by fans more easily able to travel to San Diego.
Currently we do not know whether having this event in November is even feasible as we are still in the midst of the pandemic and while we are optimistic about Q4, we have not been privy to any specific information on large gatherings. However, it was our desire to have something in place for our fans who have longed for an in-person event. We truly hope that you will join us for this entry back into the world of in-person celebrations of the community we so love.
“Lucy, you‘ve got some ‘splaining to do!”
As we noted in our earlier article, there was swift pushback from fans and talent regarding the use of the holiday weekend. Rus McLaughlin, currently the Senior Content Strategist at Oculus, writer for IGN and former Principal Content Strategist for Sony PlayStation in North America, added his voice to the dissenters, observing “So, sure, I can see the #SDCC telling thousands of fans to forego the first post-pandemic Thanksgiving in order to stand in line at Hall H… …but they’re also telling major Hollywood actors and directors to do that, too. I’m guessing there might be some pushback there.”
The second paragraph of the announcement takes steps towards explaining the timing.
“When reviewing dates for an in-person event, it was clear that available meeting and exhibit space would limit our options. Of the dates presented with the fewest restrictions, Friday through Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend seemed to be the best balance of available space and our envisioned event.“
To be fair, a number of pop-culture conventions do take place on holidays. The Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (LASFS), the world’s oldest continuously active science fiction and fantasy club has held Los Angeles’ longest running fan convention on the three days after Thanksgiving for decades. Chicago TARDIS, the Midwest’s largest Doctor Who event likewise also runs that weekend. Even SDCC’s sister event, WonderCon, takes place on Easter Weekend every year.
As this writer suspected, CCI wanted to get the first available three-day weekend available in order to raise some much-needed funds after a year of no in-person events has financially strapped the organization. They are facing competition in what is a mad rush by organizers of other delayed and postponed events of all sorts to secure dates and venues. For those of us who may still remember the early days of the pandemic, conventions normally held in the spring were first “delayed” or “postponed” before the true nature of the outbreak was understood and then were simply “cancelled” for the year.
However, it appears that CCI’s board – after what was described as a “heated debate”, made the decision after consulting with local hotels about availability and not with studios about their interest. One studio representative noted that Halloween weekend, October 30 and 31, were still open on the San Diego Convention Center’s calendar.
The year-long halt to public gatherings didn’t merely affect pop-culture events. It affected concerts, trade shows and industry gatherings across the board. Now, with vaccines offering hope for a “normal” forth quarter, a large number of organizers are attempting to put on their 2021 events within the calendar year. In a sense, this is the expected scramble that was expected at the end of 2020 when those “delayed” events were thought to still be possible.
But still, the timing is what is causing the heartburn. David Glanzer, Chief Communications and Strategy Officer for Comic-Con International, appears to acknowledge that fact.
As longtime fans ourselves, we have attended many conventions over that holiday weekend, opting to spend Thanksgiving day with family and the rest of the weekend with friends and our families of choice. While this is not unusual in the convention trade, we understand this choice is not optimal for everyone.
While at first that could be seen as an insincere “hey, we’re one of you guys, right?” bit of weak tea excuse and backpedalling, the third paragraph explains the thought process, while also answering one of the larger questions concerning “what type of event is this?” The key points appear to be “Comic-Con Special Edition was never intended to be the large gathering reflective of the summer event…” and “…we understand that due to potential travel-based restrictions and challenges, Comic-Con Special Edition may be an event attended mostly by fans more easily able to travel to San Diego.”
Taken together, it would appear – and let’s be clear that this is a rapidly changing situation where even CCI has admittedly not fully fleshed out their plans – the intent is to hold a smaller, one-off event that in some ways harkens back to the early days of the San Diego Comic-Con where it was a regional event and not the industry defining pop-culture mecca it is today. In 1991, after having outgrown the various hotel ballrooms where the San Diego Comic Book Convention had been held since 1970, the event took up a single hall in the then two-year-old San Diego Convention Center. There was no Hall H at the time, and long lines for panels were not yet a thing. However, it was a big draw for locals throughout southern California with day trips being the norm rather than an epic half-week immersion.
It is NOT SDCC
And, looking at “Comic-Con Special Edition was never intended to be the large gathering reflective of the summer event.” it is clear that CCI does not intend to make this “Comic-Con in the Fall”. It is a different event, and will not be the expansive geekfest that spills out of the Hall and into the surrounding neighborhood and entertainment district to the delight of the local merchants and the annoyance (feigned or real) of many of the local residents. It is intended, it appears, as an effort to not only raise capital while also giving event-starved pop-culture fans something to salvage the year with, but it also helps the organizers get back into practice of holding a live event and taking into account any new health and safety regulations that may have be implemented for WonderCon and San Diego Comic-Con 2022.
Based on this statement and their previous one, there is still uncertainty about ticket pricing and badges, but it seems reasonable to expect that tickets for the Special Event will likely be less expensive. To that end, it’s not likely to be an “either/or” decision for badgeholders of the cancelled 2020 convention who had chosen to allow their reservation to roll over to the 2021 event. As SDCC 2021 is also going virtual, there will likely be a very limited number of tickets available for sale in January 2022 when reservations would normally be taken.
And, even though it’s not going to be SDCC and it’ll be held on Thanksgiving weekend with an eye on local participation, there are still plenty of people looking for exactly this outlet. A number of fans have expressed their hope to attend – holiday weekend or not. And at least a few fans have posted about how they’ve never been to anything larger than their local convention, but are hoping to be able to finally go to a Comic-Con event in San Diego even if it isn’t the San Diego Comic-Con. Some megafans, including the founder of BleedingCool have announced their intent to fly in from overseas in order to take part in re-entering “the world of in-person celebrations of the community we so love.”