With Hollywood on strike, Comic-Con is ‘back to basics.’ Here’s what to expect

A comic book style drawing of a giant "POOF!" cloud behind a panel table with a microphone and bottle of water.
(Patrick Hruby / Los Angeles Times)

David Glanzer has seen his fair share of Comic-Cons, and looking out from the San Diego Convention Center, he still sees evidence of the bustle that swirls around the gathering of comic book, animation and genre fans each summer: Vendors were unloading materials and craftspeople were erecting installations on the convention grounds in preparation for this year’s event, which starts Thursday (with a preview night Wednesday).

But strikes by members of the Writers Guild of America and the actors’ union SAG-AFTRA, preventing both writers and actors from participating in what has become a Hollywood-heavy event, is unprecedented. Glanzer is Comic-Con’s chief communications and strategy officer, and the question he’s been asked most over the last few weeks is “What’s going to happen?”

Although the strikes mean this year’s convention program will differ dramatically from what attendees are used to, Glanzer is confident that Hall H panels with bold-faced names are not the event’s only draw.

“Longtime attendees to Comic-Con know that there is so much going on, and that not every studio comes every year, that it’s not as much of a situation to them as to people who may have not really been at the show,” he says. “People who don’t regularly attend Comic-Con might not know that the convention sells out eight months or so before [it takes place]. Eight months before exhibitors are announced. Eight months before our special guests are announced and eight months before our schedule. I think people buy tickets because they know that Comic-Con is a great event and there is a couple thousand hours of programming and presentations over the course of the weekend.”

Though there hasn’t been a noticeable number of badge returns, according to Glanzer — which might have been an early sign of fan disappointment — Hollywood’s labor disputes have caused enough concern that convention organizers released a statement:

“We share the disappointment that a resolution could not be reached that would have avoided the current situation. We do reiterate our hope that a solution can be found that will prove beneficial to all those affected so they can return to the work they love.”


SAG-AFTRA is on strike, but WGA has a deal with Hollywood studios. Learn how actors can get help and which movies and TV shows have been delayed.

Sept. 26, 2023

For the record:

2:32 p.m. July 19, 2023In an earlier version of this article, a caption accompanying a photo of Kayden Phoenix gave the title of a comic as “Sonia.” It is “Santa.”

If expectations of a sellout crowd haven’t changed, Glanzer acknowledges that attendees may not gravitate toward the convention’s biggest rooms, like Ballroom 20 or Hall H, as they normally might. “How that will play out in terms of crowds and where they will be, I’m not sure,” he says. “There’s a lot of activations outside as well. We sold out of tickets this year, and I think we’ll still have that.”

So what can you expect from Comic-Con in the midst of a historic double strike in Hollywood? Here’s our guide, from The Times’ resident convention experts.

With writers and actors on strike, the studios have a full-blown labor revolt on their hands — and they have no one but themselves to blame.

July 18, 2023


Hall H

A scene from Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies' "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem."
April O’Neil, from left, Donatello, Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem.”
(Paramount Pictures)


With writers and actors prohibited from promotion of film and TV projects, the usual epicenter of Hollywood news at Comic-Con, the convention center’s Hall H, will not feature the A-list celebrities or franchise mega-panels of recent years. In fact, this is the first year since 2011 that neither Marvel nor DC will be packing out Hall H’s 6,500 seats.Paramount will be the only major studio presence in the hall with a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” panel (11:30 a.m. Thursday) that is expected to feature remarks from director Jeff Rowe.

With the Directors Guild of America already having reached a deal with the studios, directors are now at the center of the promotional machine; for instance, Collider will host a directors roundtable featuring David Leitch (“Deadpool 2”), Justin Simien (“Haunted Mansion,” “Dear White People”) and Gareth Edwards (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” “The Creator”) at 11 a.m. Friday.

Additionally, Indian sci-fi film “Project K,” which comes on the heels of “RRR”’s original song win at this year’s Oscars, will become the first movie from that country to present in Hall H, at 1 p.m. Thursday.

On the TV side, only a couple of panels remain on the Hall H schedule, including for Paramount+’s “Star Trek” universe and AMC’s “Walking Dead” universe.

Elsewhere in the convention hall, animation reigns supreme, as most animated shows are not covered by the WGA; writers are instead represented by the Animation Guild. (High-profile animated shows such as “The Simpsons,” “Bob’s Burgers,” “Rick and Morty” and “Big Mouth” are exceptions.) Scheduled panels include Netflix’s “Masters of the Universe: Revelation,” FX’s “Archer,” Hulu’s “Futurama” and “Solar Opposites,” Prime Video’s “Invincible” and Max’s “Harley Quinn.”

Live-action projects showcased beyond Hall H include TV series such as FX’s “What We Do in the Shadows,” NBC’s “Quantum Leap” and Peacock’s “Continental: From the World of John Wick” and films like Paramount+’s “Good Burger 2” and A24’s soon-to-open Australian horror flick “Talk to Me.”


Activations and exhibit floor

Kayden Phoenix framed by her graphic novels "Jalisco," "Sonia" and "Loquita."
Comic book creator Kayden Phoenix — shown here with graphic novels “Jalisco,” “Santa” and “Loquita” — will be exhibiting in artists’ alley at San Diego Comic-Con.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Hall H may draw the lion’s share of media attention, but exhibitors and comic book creators will remind you that there is so much more to San Diego Comic-Con than that.

“Comic-Con attendees are the ones that make Comic-Con at the end of the day,” says Kayden Phoenix, who will be showcasing her new series of graphic novels about Native and Latina princesses, “The Majestics,” in the artists’ alley area of the exhibit hall this year. “Studio presence is absolutely great, but San Diego Comic-Con stands on its own.”

It’s hard to argue with the math: Outside of the COVID-19 pandemic years, the convention generally draws more 130,000 attendees. Hall H can accommodate only a small fraction of that. Many of those who don’t spend their days inside Hall H (or in the line to try to get into Hall H) use their time instead to check out the exhibit floor and the various activation and pop-up experiences that surround the convention center.


And though some companies have reduced their footprint on the floor since the convention returned from pandemic shutdowns, says Glanzer, a map of this year’s exhibitors confirms that it will be plenty “robust.” Comic book publishers including Marvel, DC, IDW, Image and Dark Horse will have a presence, as well as big brands associated with toys, games and collectibles such as Funko, Bandai Namco, Lego, Mattel and Hasbro. Viz and Crunchyroll are among the booths that will represent anime and manga, while Capcom and Square Enix are among those holding down the fort for video games.

And it’s not as if Hollywood is going to be absent from the exhibit hall. Beyond licensed merchandise and collectibles at various vendor booths, Lucasfilm and Nickelodeon are among the studios with their own spaces.

“This really feels like kind of a back-to-basics year, where comics and anime and video games are kind of taking the top seat to the typical movies and TV shows that have dominated the convention for so long,” says Josh Trujillo, the writer of DC’s latest “Blue Beetle” comics and the upcoming graphic novel “Washington’s Gay General.”

Trujillo, who will be at signings hosted at the DC comics, Prism comics and Kickstarter booths over the four-day event, says “it’s really unfortunate that Hollywood is sitting this one out, but [it’s] for a good reason.”

“This year, I think, is a great opportunity to reassert that these conventions started and are about comic books, first and foremost,” says Trujillo. “The people who were planning on coming for all the Hall H panels, I think they’re going to be pleasantly surprised to see what the rest of the convention actually looks like when you’re not spending eight hours waiting to see the Avengers.”

The cover of ".375 Magnum Opus," a graphic novel by Ghezal Omar, Mingchen Shen, Phineas Conrad and Sandra Romero.
The cover of “.375 Magnum Opus,” a graphic novel by Ghezal Omar, Mingchen Shen, Phineas Conrad and Sandra Romero.
(Ghezal Omar)

Hollywood’s withdrawal from Hall H and other major panel programming could be seen as a setback for Comic-Con as it tries to regain its foothold as the premier pop entertainment destination event after being forced to go virtual for two years during the pandemic. After a smaller “special edition” of the convention during the Thanksgiving holiday in 2021, Comic-Con returned in full last year, taking back its usual summer time slot. But some noted that things seemed slower than in Comic-Con’s pre-pandemic heights.

So “.357 Magnum Opus” and “Pimp Killer” writer Ghezal Omar, who will have a booth in the small press area of the floor, is looking forward to it being “larger” this year, with “more creators, more fans, more costumes [and] a lot more excitement and energy.”

Some vendors even see the lack of a Hollywood presence in Hall H as an opportunity to interact with attendees they might not otherwise.

“With all the cancellations this year, we’re actually hoping for it to be more of a year that’s centered on the comics themselves,” said Tom Reiter, manager of the Comic Cellar, a longtime Comic-Con exhibitor. “That would draw more people into our area of the convention center, hopefully, [with] not having to wait in line for hours on end [for panels].”

Reiter notes that in recent years, there has been a bit of a slowdown in business at his booth, which mostly deals in Silver and Golden Age comics.

“A lot of people were spending time in line waiting for movies or in line waiting for exclusives or in line waiting for autographs for whatever movie star or comic artists that were being spotlighted,” said Reiter.

There‘s also plenty to do outside the convention center proper, with various activations and experiences promoting forthcoming film and TV projects. This year, those include the following:.

  • NBC will host a “Quantum Leap”-themed activation in the Gaslamp Quarter. The experience will involve guests leaping into the world of the network’s other shows, including “Law & Order: SVU” and “Organized Crime,” “The Voice” and “Chucky” while the “Quantum Leap” team has to sort out a crisis.
  • FX will take over the Hilton Bayfront Park for experiences pegged to “Shōgun,” “A Murder at the End of the World,” “American Horror Story” and “What We Do in the Shadows.”
  • AMC Networks will spotlight “Interview With the Vampire” and “Mayfair Witches” at the Hilton Gaslamp for an Anne Rice’s Immortal Universe-themed experience called “The Street of Immortality.”
  • Hulu will showcase its adult animation and anime library with its “Animayhem” experience in the Bayfront parking lot.
  • Paramount+ will feature its slate (from “Good Burger” to “Yellowjackets”) at its activation called the “Lodge” in the Gaslamp.
  • Those who have ever felt inspired by training arcs and montages can even try out a special accessible workout at Crunchyroll’s “Ultimate Anime Fitness Challenge.”
  • A “Twisted Metal”-themed activation featuring free ice cream and a surprise music performance will take place on Thursday, followed by the world premiere of the Peacock comedy series’ first episode. Salt + Straw will offer free samples of its exclusive “Twisted Metal” ice cream flavor beginning at 1:30 p.m. followed by a 5 p.m. music performance and 10 p.m. screening on the corner of J Street and First Avenue.
  • In celebration of the 30th anniversary of “Jurassic Park,” Amblin Entertainment and Universal’s products and experiences team will host a “Step Into ‘Jurassic Park’” activation on Friday and Saturday, re-creating scenes from the long-running franchise. The timed-entry event is free but requires advance reservations.

Whatever the challenges or opportunities presented by holding the convention in a summer with two strikes, Comic-Con veteran Dean Shimonishi, an employee at Long Beach’s Amazing Comics, knows the event has been through enough over the years to adapt accordingly.

“I’ve seen [Comic-Con] change in the ‘90s, and I’ve seen it change in the mid-2000s,” he says. “It’s survived this long. We’ll see how it goes.”


Around the Gaslamp Quarter

Each year, Comic-Con brings throngs of conventiongoers to the hotels, shops, bars and restaurants of San Diego’s downtown and Gaslamp Quarter, creating on average 55% spike in hotel room demand over a normal July weekend. But although big-spending procrastinators could land a last-minute room in the Gaslamp as of Tuesday afternoon (starting around $709 a night), experts predict that effects of the strikes on the event’s overall economic footprint will be marginal.


As with securing badges, sorting out lodging happens months in advance: Trying to snag a hotel room during the official hotel sale with special Comic-Con rates is an ordeal some have referred to as “hotelpocalypse.” Budget-conscious attendees who are less concerned about being downtown likely booked their rooms during the early bird sale, which usually involves prepaying for the stay in full. And since both methods of booking are nonrefundable, you can count on most patrons to be in attendance — and needing places to eat and drink during their stay.

“I’ve not read any articles or heard any news about how or if the strike would affect anything down here,” said Alejandra Arredondo, marketing coordinator for the National City Chamber of Commerce. “We didn’t even think about it [in the office] until you just bought it up.”