After a two-year pause for the pandemic, Comic-Con wrapped up its return as in-person extravaganza on Sunday at the San Diego Convention Center.
And based on the feedback from attendees, there was some rust in the gears after the hiatus.
About 150 people let organizers of the pop culture extravaganza know what worked and what didn’t on Sunday at Comic-Con Talk Back, the convention’s traditional feedback session for fans.
There was a long line of speakers — so long that not everyone could be heard in full before time ran out. That mirrored what happened on the ground at times during the convention itself, especially as people lined up for popular events staged in Hall H.
Attendees were delighted with the return of an in-person convention but frustrated by line cutting, accessibility shortfalls and communications problems.
Catherine Murray, who has been attending Comic-Con for 22 years, traveled from New Mexico this year and waited six hours in a line designated for people with disabilities before being turned away. She said others that she knew waited 10 hours or more.
“I think they didn’t have enough people who knew what was going on,” said Murray about the convention staff. She suffers from severe arthritis, making the long wait painful. She would like to see a system to reduce the necessity of waiting in line without a guarantee of getting in.
People with disabilities have long criticized Comic-Con for discourteous treatment and insensitivity. One speaker pointed out that operators of large venues such as Disney and Universal have figured out how to accommodate people with disabilities without subjecting them to long lines and other difficult situations.
Yoshi, a Los Angeles resident who didn’t want to give her last name, has been attending Comic-Con since 2010. She got in line early, with just 50 or so people ahead of her. But then hordes began showing up to join those in front of her who were apparently holding their places.
“Hundreds of people cut in front of us throughout the day, in addition to it being hot and miserable,” she said. “I have been to other conventions where they put up tents along the line area” but security would not allow individual pop-up tents brought by those waiting.
Mixed messages also frustrated convention attendees, particularly contradictions between Comic-Con staff, volunteers and contract security personnel.
“You can talk to three people within a 15-foot space and all three will tell you something different,” an attendee told the panel.
While there were plenty of gripes, nearly everyone who spoke Sunday prefaced any criticism with praise for the in-person return. Several cited the enforcement of mask requirements and use of an app to streamline proof of vaccination procedures. They were happy with the in-person content, with none complaining that the panel sessions or exhibit hall displays came up short.
Meanwhile, organizers were putting on an event where most of the tickets had been purchased in 2019, said David Glanzer, chief communications and strategy officer for the convention.
The 2020 and 2021 conventions weren’t held in person because of the coronavirus pandemic. A majority of the attendees purchased tickets for the 2020 show. About 135,000 tickets were sold. Organizers sought to put on a flashy return this year with a 2019 budget — at least in terms of ticket sales.
“It is not an excuse, but it is an explanation as to why this year was a little rougher than it has been in the past,” Glanzer said. “It really is like holding dough and when you squeeze it, there’s a hole here or a hole there, and we are trying to patch those things up.”
Even so, the feedback is important, he said. It keeps up a tradition at Comic-Con of giving attendees a microphone to say what they would like to see improved.
“What really helps with this is people bringing to our attention stuff we might not be aware of or wouldn’t be aware of until sometime afterward,” Glanzer said.