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WGA, SAG-AFTRA and the 2023 San Diego Comic-Con

The 2023 San Diego Comic-Con was busier than ever even with two Hollywood strikes. Movie stars may have stayed away but there was plenty to see and buy,.

Welcome to Comic Con 2023 Sign at San Diego Convention Center

When prospective attendees for the 2023 San Diego Comic-Con purchased their tickets six months in advance, neither they nor Comic-Con’s management could have predicted the two major industry strikes that put a huge damper on the event. 

About The San Diego Comic-Con

Before we get into the meat of this article, here is a little background on what Comic-Con International (the managing organization for the San Diego Comic-Con) actually is. 

Comic-Con International is a Non-Profit Organization. “It is organized for charitable purposes, dedicated to creating the general public’s awareness of and appreciation for comics and related popular art forms, including participation in and support of public presentations, conventions, exhibits, museums, and other public outreach activities which celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution of comics to art and culture“.

Its first event was held in 1970 and drew 300 attendees to a basement in a downtown San Diego hotel, but has grown over the years to the point where it now attracts over 130,000 attendees from around the world.

The San Diego Comic-Con is approaching the 50-year mark as the premier comic book and popular arts convention in the world.

Tip: The 2023 San Diego Comic-Con marks my 30th year as an attendee. 

Comic-Con 2023

In its history, the San Diego Comic-Con has only been canceled twice, both times due to COVID restrictions. However, after a strong comeback in 2022, some observers expressed alarm that this year’s event (2023) was in jeopardy. 

This was due to the continuing WGA/AFTRA-SAG strikes that were expected to curtail traditional appearances by Hollywood stars and writers at the event, especially for presentations in the two biggest auditoriums and the very popular autograph sessions with fans. 

Without stars and writers available for appearances, major studios such as Disney, Lucasfilm, Marvel, Universal, Legendary, Warner Bros, Sony, HBO, Netflix, Amazon, and more canceled their presentations. Some even canceled their exhibits on the floor, but Lucasfilm and Marvel still had large exhibits; albeit with a lot less fanfare. 

Actors and writers that chose to attend Comic-Con were not allowed to promote completed, current, or future work that would fall under their existing WGASAG-AFTRA contracts. Jamie Lee Curtis attended to present her independent graphic novel project, but could not discuss or answer any questions regarding current or forthcoming work that was affected by the strikes. 

Comic Con 2023 Badge

The Ticket Purchase Factor

The strikes and resultant studio appearance cancellations were announced mostly after the deadline for those that purchased tickets to cancel and get refunded. In addition, after the cancellation and refund period ends, tickets can’t be sold or transferred from the original purchase to someone else; show organizers are so strict in regard to this policy that the original purchaser and transferee can be banned for life from San Diego Comic-Con. 

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As a result, for 2023, regardless of the studio, actor, and writer cancellations, there were still over 130,000 attendees at the event. Most people doubt the attendance would have been that high had people been given the opportunity to cancel without penalty. 

What Really Happened at Comic-Con 2023

With the cancellation or reduced presence of several studios, there was a lot of gloom and doom speculation in the media regarding how Comic-con would be affected.

Were they right? 

My experience this year would suggest that it was a mixed bag but not a disaster in any way. 

San Diego Convention Center during Comic Con 2023

As predicted, the big presentation halls were mostly empty. Usually, the two biggest auditoriums, Hall H (6500) and Ballroom 20 (4000) are not only filled to capacity, but some attendees actually camp out overnight to get in. Turning people away is actually rather common. 

For 2023, the remaining presentations that were held were sparsely attended. Paramount did show up in Hall H and presented some news and showed an upcoming episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds which ended up attracting the biggest attendance for the Hall this year, but without the presence of cast members and writers. This room is usually SRO and it was not even close to that for this presentation. 

Other studios that showed up had similar attendance experiences, with no stars or writers on the panels for audiences to see and interact with. 

However, as large as the Hollywood studios, actors, and writer presence usually is at Comic-Con, the convention is a much larger event. 

As a result of the lighter schedule in the auditoriums, the rest of the convention experienced a rather significant surge in attendance which was great for vendors but somewhat uncomfortable for those walking the floor.

Many of the indoor and outdoor exhibits experienced long lines and not everyone that wanted to attend was able to do so; the surge in attendance in the exhibit halls turned into a rather brisk show for the vast majority of vendors in attendance; many actually sold out and were forced to restock on very short notice.

Ubisoft at Comic Con 2023

Tip: UBISOFT brought a MicroLED screen (the type used as a blue/screen substitute for a growing number of video and TV productions) to their Comic-Con exhibit to promote their Star Wars Outlaws video game.

A positive and negative result was that presentations in the smaller conference rooms were fuller than in past years. Some presentations in smaller rooms had to turn away attendees due to the lack of room. It would have been more comfortable had some presentations been moved to larger rooms, but according to Comic-Con’s staff, last-minute room changes would have caused even more chaos. 

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There is no doubt that the strikes affected this year’s Comic-Con. However, a lot of attendees expressed that they had a great experience despite the reduced Hollywood profile. Not having to camp out overnight or stand in several hour-long lines for the big Hollywood presentations was a relief for many. 

Although many were still disappointed that they didn’t get a chance to see and interact with their favorite stars and writers, there was so much else to see and do, the overall convention for 2023 got high marks from many attendees. 

Lego at Comic Con 2023

There has been growing discussion between the studios as to whether they need to spend the money to bring stars and presentations to the San Diego Comic-Con every year, and a growing number of studios have decided to only attend if the forthcoming movie or television series will benefit from the exposure and it makes sense from a financial standpoint.

Considering the state of the industry and the long-term impact of the strikes which are already forcing studios to adjust shooting schedules and release dates of new movies and TV series – any type of positive publicity is a good thing. The studios need Comic-Con more than the trade show needs the studios based on the attendance. 

Advertising Wrap on Building during Comic Con 2023

For example, many of the studios that didn’t come to the show still made their presence known by wrapping promotional skins on the office buildings, hotels, and San Diego’s Petco Park to remind attendees of upcoming shows, video games, and movies. 

Tip: Building wraps are mostly illegal in San Diego, but the movie studios are more than willing to pay $1,000 to $10,000 in daily fines as the cost of promotion.

The Strength of San Diego Comic-Con’s Appeal

If anything, the 2023 Comic-Con proved how diverse it is in regard to programming and other events. If one segment is affected by a downturn, there is more than enough to draw from to still hold a successful event.

Comic Con 2023 Exhibit Hall Map

After all, Comic-con is a pop-culture event, not just a Hollywood promotional event. The other segments of this event that are embedded within the convention center’s 440,000 square foot exhibit, meeting, and conference rooms include.

  • Comics and Books
  • Art and Artists
  • Toy makers and sellers
  • Anime and Animation viewing
  • Movie viewing
  • Game Playing and Tournaments (video, pinball, role-playing, and board games)
  • Costuming (Cosplay)
  • Kids Programming
Crowd at Comic Con 2023

In addition, there is a huge offsite footprint that weaves its way around the exterior of the convention center, neighboring downtown, and surrounding hotels.

Related reading: Summer Gift Guide for Enjoying Music and Movies Outside

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. ORT

    July 30, 2023 at 2:23 pm

    I had been to a couple of the early Comic Cons in San Diego back in the early ’70s. I have yet to attend one of the HUGE ones. I have friends that work Security at them but just do not want to go. My brother is a voice actor and he goes to a LOT of these events but hasn’t yet come to the Daddy of them all.

    But I am a Nerd and so one day I may venture into the Hallowed Halls of Adult Silliness again! 😉

    ORT

    • Ian White

      July 31, 2023 at 12:13 am

      ORT,

      I just want to go for the merchandise. I need another 2 dozen Star Wars items. To go with the other 500 I have. Wife will be pleased.

      Ian “Nerd” White

  2. Robert Silva

    July 30, 2023 at 3:41 pm

    The photo I included of the inside of the exhibit hall only shows 1/3 of the hall’s size and crowd – it is massive!

    • Ian White

      July 31, 2023 at 12:12 am

      Robert,

      I need to go to NYC if they are still having one?

      Ian

      • Robert Silva

        July 31, 2023 at 3:12 am

        NYC Comic-con is on Oct 12 – 15. It is run by a different organization (SD Comic-con is non-profit – NYC Comic-con is run by Reed Pop for profit) – here is where you can find all the details: https://www.newyorkcomiccon.com/

        • Ian White

          July 31, 2023 at 2:32 pm

          Robert,

          Thank you.

          Ian

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