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Comic-Con 2021 Goes Online, But In-Person’s On The Way (Maybe). What You Need To Know

An image of a group of people riding an escalator at Comic Con in New York. Two of them are wearing Star Trek costumes.
Spock cosplayer arrives at New York Comic Con at Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Oct. 3, 2019 in New York City.
(Craig Barritt
Getty Images for ReedPOP)
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Near the beginning of the pandemic, Los Angeles pop culture fans — along with others around the world — had a slightly less serious concern: what about Comic-Con? The annual gathering of hundreds of thousands to celebrate the movies, shows, comics, and more that they love seemed like a real bad idea as COVID-19 was spreading out of control, and organizers had to cancel both the 2020 Comic-Con and their smaller Anaheim event, WonderCon.

They’ve had to cancel both those events again this year, but like they did in 2020, the nonprofit organization behind it has put together the virtual Comic-Con@Home. They’re trying to capture some of that same excited vibe as the real thing for everyone who can’t get together with like-minded fans. It’s a lot less spontaneous — the panels, while being released on a schedule, are pretaped. But one big advantage: the online version is completely free, so get a taste as you select from hundreds of online Comic-Con events before having to buy tickets and book a hotel next time around. (View the full schedule of free Comic-Con@Home programming here.)

A potential return to in-person gathering is on the horizon — maybe. Since starting in 1970, what was then the Golden State Comic Convention became San Diego Comic-Con before evolving into Comic-Con International. The next iteration: “Comic-Con Special Edition,” scheduled as a three-day event the weekend after Thanksgiving now that restrictions have been starting to lift.

The convention is planned as a smaller version of the regular Comic-Con extravaganza, but how many attendees will be allowed, what the requirements will be to get tickets, and more all remain in flux as everyone keeps an eye on COVID-19 and the delta variant. “Con crud” was already an issue even in pre-pandemic times, with people getting sick after spending days in close proximity, often without enough rest. And the same questions remain for WonderCon in Anaheim next spring, along with whether Comic-Con will be back to the traditional version of the show next July.

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That doesn’t mean that there aren’t gems to be found in the virtual convention, which runs through Sunday. Here are highlights of the virtual event (you can watch all panels when they go live here):

Sneak Peek

Unmasking Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins

While only being scheduled for three days starting Friday, this panel is giving a preview of sorts for their full convention. It went live Wednesday afternoon, going into the prequel movie that hits theaters this weekend. Along with the cast, including star Henry Golding, it also features a comic book legend: Larry Hama, Snake Eyes’ creator. He weaved in his own background as a Vietnam Veteran as he wrote years of the acclaimed G.I. Joe comics that led to the hit 1980s cartoon.

Thursday, July 22

Teaching and Learning with Comics

A panel of educators, including Peter Carlson from Los Angeles’s own Green Dot Schools, speak with comic book creators Kelly Sue DeConnick, and Matt Fraction about how comics can connect with civic action. DeConnick is best known for the modern reimagining of Captain Marvel that helped inspire the Marvel film, while Fraction’s work includes an acclaimed run on Hawkeye that created a new version which looks to be heavily inspiring the forthcoming Hawkeye TV show on Disney+. This panel is part of another day before the convention officially kicks off, with all the Thursday panels focused on comic books in education.

Friday, July 23

A fan in a Darth Vader costume stands with arms crossed on a San Diego Gaslamp District street, with fans walking in the background, a blue sky, and various businesses decorated for Comic-Con.
A cosplayer dressed as Darth Vader attends Comic-Con International on July 20, 2019 in San Diego — the last in-person Comic-Con before the pandemic.
(Matt Winkelmeyer
Getty Images)

Star Wars Day: Machete Order

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It’s been hard this past year to gather together to watch movies. Whether you’re ready to head back to the theater or not, Comic-Con is hosting watch parties online where you can watch movies from popular streaming services synced up with fellow fans, engaging in a live chat as you dive in. The watch parties include watching the Star Wars films in the popular “Machete Order,” which means watching Star Wars, the Empire Strikes Back, then skipping the first of the prequels (sorry, Jar Jar) and instead watching Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, before jumping back to the original trilogy to wrap things up with Return of the Jedi.

API & AAPI Creators: The Original Comics Pioneers

Get a look into how Asian American and Pacific Islander comic book creators have had an impact on the comic book industry, and how that influence continues today. The session also includes Q&A from librarians and educators about how to include API/AAPI voices in their collections.

Entertainment is Female: A Conversation with Hollywood Executives

Powerful women leaders including execs from the companies behind Into the Spider-Verse, The Walking Dead, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker talk about how new projects get developed, how to turn intellectual property into a movie during the pandemic, and more. (And if you want more talk on how the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd are changing the future of entertainment, be sure to check out LAist Studios’ own Hollywood: The Sequel.)

Afrofuturism, Funk and the Black Imagination

This panel includes UC Riverside’s own John Jennings, a professor and comic book creator, alongside authors of afrofuturist books and the co-founders of the Museum of Funk. They’ll be looking at afrofuturism in comics, as well as the larger influences it has in our culture — any of you see Black Panther? (You can read our interview with Jennings about a 2019 Luke Cage art exhibition here.)

A fan stands wearing a costume of the X-Men member Rogue, with a yellow and green leotard, yellow boots, a belt with a red X on the front, yellow gloves, and reddish brown and gray hair. She stands on the street in front of two bright lights behind her, creating a lens flare, as other fans walk in the background. The convention center can be seen to the sides.
A fan cosplays as Rogue from X-Men and the Marvel Universe during the 2018 New York Comic-Con at Javits Center on Oct. 7, 2018.
(Roy Rochlin
Getty Images)

Marvel Comics: X-Men

X-Men comics have been hot thanks to comic writing mastermind Jonathan Hickman creating a whole new take, as well as Disney’s purchase of Fox leaving fans anxious for the X-Men to meet the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This panel includes the creators behind the current crop of X-Men books — minus the elusive Hickman — and just might give you a peek into how these marvelous mutants will capture our pop culture next.

Stan Lee, Marvel, and Rolling Stone: 50th Anniversary

This panel includes comic book creators and editorial staff looking back at a major moment in the ascension of Marvel Comics: a 1971 interview with Marvel icon Stan Lee in the influential Rolling Stone magazine by his former assistant, Robin Green, who’d go on to be an executive producer on The Sopranos. The panel includes Lee’s right-hand man Roy Thomas, Lee biographer Danny Fingeroth, and more.

Video Games, Art, and Mexican Culture

This panel looks at how video game creators are bringing the history, culture, and traditions of Mexico into the gaming world. They’re taking everything from lucha libre to the stories of indigenous peoples to create games unlike what’s come before.

Batman: The Long Halloween, Part Two

A Comic-Con tradition for many years has always been to a screen a new DC Comics animated movie. The screenings are a casualty of the pandemic, but panels with the stars of upcoming animated movies continue. This one features a voice cast of stars including Jensen Ackles as Batman, Katee Sackhoff as Poison Ivy, and more. It’s based on an acclaimed comic storyline that helped influence the Christopher Nolan Batman movies, and may have an influence on next year’s The Batman.

Neurotic Superheroes and the Writers Who Love Them

Author and psychology professor Dr. Travis Langley is going straight to the creators to find out how their own experiences go into creating Spider-Man’s angst, along with other superheroes’ real-life problems.

Gay Geeks and Where to Find Them

This panel explores recent work by gay creators, along with how LGBTQ+ diversity is increasingly a part of the comic book creator and fan communities.

Her Universe Fashion Show

Even geeks can hit the runway. The Her Universe fashion show features comic book-inspired fashions. A previous one of these shows featured Doctor Who actress Jodie Whittaker showing off her own look, so who knows what sort of surprises may be there this time around.

Queer Horror

This stacked panel examines the connection that members of the LGBTQ+ community can feel with the “otherness” often present in the horror genre. They’ll be exploring everything from Frankenstein to what they note may be the “gayest movie of all time,” A Nightmare on Elm Street 2. The panel will be exploring whether queer horror is its own genre and how it differs from mainstream horror.

Saturday, July 24

Actor Tom Hiddleston speaks onstage at Marvel Studios "Thor: The Dark World" and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" during Comic-Con International 2013 on July 20, 2013.
(Kevin Winter
Getty Images)

Art and the Holocaust - The Art of Holocaust Survivor Dr. Viktor Frankl

The grandson of the holocaust survivor and acclaimed author of Man’s Search For Meaning is a producer and filmmaker in Los Angeles now, as well as a psychotherapist. He talks with the director of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute and others about Frankl’s art.

Truth, Justice, and A Better DC Universe: A New Future for The Man of Steel

Superman’s been getting some new blood in the comics, with up-and-coming writers Tom Taylor and Phillip Kennedy Johnson on this panel discussing both the Superman we know and a new generation of comic book heroes led by Superman’s son. You’ll also get to hear from legendary creator/occasional occult magician (true story) Grant Morrison, writer of Superman and the Authority, a new take on a timeless character that also finds resonance in the conflicts facing our world today.

Women Rocking Hollywood 2021: Supporting Female Filmmakers in a Post-Covid World

This panel features women from across Hollywood talking about the state of the film industry, along with their recent and forthcoming projects. You’ll hear from Loki EP/director Kate Herron, the manager of public programs from L.A.’s Women In Film, Orange Is The New Black writer/director Sian Heder, Blindspot executive producer and Kung Fu EP and showrunner Christina M. Kim, and Alaska is a Drag writer/director Shaz Bennett.

Robert Kirkman @ Home

Robert Kirkman created The Walking Dead and Invincible, and his jovial personality combined with a dark sense of humor have made the influential creator a Comic-Con favorite. This panel features him answering fan questions about the comics, movies, and TV shows that he and his work are a part of, along with his colleagues at L.A.’s Skybound Entertainment.

Diversity and Comics: Why Inclusion and Visibility Matter

This panel look at how comics and popular culture at large have grown more diverse this past year, despite obstacles such as the pandemic and the storming of the U.S. Capitol. That diversity has also helped to reach an evolving fanbase — and it’s even been financially successful. The panel includes comic book creators, university professors, and more.

Rep. John Lewis, wearing a trench coat, shakes hands with a female fan in a green t-shirt and wearing a lanyard while carrying a backpack. A man in a red plaid shit is directly behind them, along with another fan with a camera. They are surrounded by other fans, as well as art on display at booths along the back wall of the Comic-Con floor. They are near a standup banner for an artist with an illustration of an apparently scared man on it.
The late Rep. John Lewis shakes hands with a fan during Comic-Con 2016 in San Diego.
(John Horn
LAist )

First You March—Then You Run-Celebrating Congressman John Lewis' Legacy

The late U.S. representative and legendary civil rights activist John Lewis had become a surprising mainstay in recent years at Comic-Con, making several appearances to promote a graphic novel telling his origin story, March. He even cosplayed as himself, wearing a jacket and backpack a la what he wore when taking part in that march from Selma, then leading marches through the halls of Comic-Con at the San Diego Convention Center. Now a new graphic novel following John Lewis getting into office, from the rest of the creative team that created March including a former Lewis aide, is coming out — it’s called Run. The panel also includes Lewis’s nephew.

Out In Comics Year 34: Mainstreaming

With an increasing number of LGBTQ+ creators, this panel that has been held each year for decades looks at how to continue to best present that diversity in the comic book world and beyond. They’re also looking at how to present these issues in a time of politicization and polarization. They’ll be talking about whether the LGBTQ+ community in comics has finally gone mainstream, with both DC and Marvel releasing Pride anthologies this year. They’re also teasing a surprise closing guest making what they’re calling “a major announcement about queer comics.”

Cartoon Voices

A perennial staple of the in-person Comic-Cons, tune in (pun maybe intended) to hear voice actors talk about how cartoons are produced, do some of their most recognizable voices, and do a cold reading of a cartoon script for your enjoyment.

X-Men Fandom Surprise Party: The Sequel

While most of these panels are the type of Zoom events you may have gotten to know well over this past year, this panel features something that’s more difficult to pull off: a virtual surprise party. They’re taking a group of X-Men fans and, after telling them it’s just a panel of fans talking about loving the mutant heroes, surprising them with appearances from X-Men cartoon voice actors, comic book creators, and even the actor who played Iceman in the X-Men films.

Sunday, July 25

A smiling brown-skinned woman in a Wonder Woman outfit, including golden tiara with Wonder Woman logo, red top, blue bottoms with white stars (a la the U.S. flag), golden bracelets with red stars, and carrying a golden lasso. (She also has on pink nail polish.) She stands in front of fans, as well as a standup at the DC Comics booth showing Wonder Woman through the ages, including the 1940s, 1980s, 1990s, and a more modern take on the comic book character, evolving from the 1940s version wearing a skirt. A logo celebrates Wonder Woman's 75th anniversary.
Mariah Cletus plays Wonder Woman in front of a poster showing Wonder Womans through the years at Comic-Con 2017 in San Diego, July 21, 2017.
(Bill Wechter
AFP via Getty Images)

Wonder Woman: Episode: 1.01 - "Pilot"

Put on your tiara and bracelets, then tune in to a day of Wonder Woman programming, kicking off with the pilot of the 1970s TV show that introduced the character to a new generation. See the show that became a cult favorite, along with laying the groundwork for how Wonder Woman’s been depicted ever since.

The Legacy of Del Close, Creator of DC Comics' Wasteland

Del Close is widely heralded as one of the creators and central prophets of longform improv comedy. But in the 1980s, he also co-wrote the horror anthology comic Wasteland. This panel includes the co-writer of that comic, UCB co-founder Matt Walsh, and many more talking about the comic book and Close’s broader legacy.

The Annual Jack Kirby Tribute Panel

Jack Kirby is the legendary comic book artist who created or co-created many of the most iconic comic book heroes, from Captain America and Thor to the Fantastic Four and the New Gods. While collaborator Stan Lee’s boastful nature often grabbed Lee the spotlight, Jack Kirby was the hand drawing many of those comic books. This panel features Kirby’s former assistant and other comic industry colleagues.

Black Nerd Problems

This panel has the authors of a new book talking about the problems faced by Black nerds, how that relates to diversity and representation coming from authentic voices, and where Black nerds fit on the nerd spectrum. What constitutes the Black nerd subculture? Find out more at the panel.

So have fun at a convention where you don’t have to make as many hard choices between great panels all happening at the same time, or waiting in epic lines only to find out you didn’t get in. And where you don’t have to worry about your health so much — well, at least not for the same reasons as previous Comic-Cons. You can also check out the smaller-scale Los Angeles Comic Con this December, if their current dates hold.

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