No stars? Comic-Con returns to roots as Hollywood strikes

Andrew Marszal - Agence France-Presse
No stars? Comic-Con returns to roots as Hollywood strikes
A view overlooking the exhibit hall during San Diego Comic-Con International in San Diego, California, on July 20, 2023.
AFP / Chris Delmas

SAN DIEGO, United States — Comic books, video games, and colorful "cosplay" outfits took center stage at Comic-Con as the giant pop culture event kicked off Thursday without its usual A-list stars due to the Hollywood strike.

Braving the soaring heat, tens of thousands of fans dressed as characters from Wonder Woman to Barbie and Ken flocked to San Diego, California.

While Comic-Con typically draws headlines for glitzy movie announcements and panels featuring stars like Tom Cruise and Dwayne Johnson, fans said they welcomed the chance to focus on costumes and comics — the event's original focus.

"Honestly, I'm more excited about the cosplay," said Janelle Hinesley, 32, who came dressed as Astrid from the "How to Train Your Dragon" films.

"Besides, I can't sit in this, so we're not going to any panels right now," she added, pointing to the giant axe strapped to her back.

The convention center's huge Hall H, where Hollywood stars and studios typically unveil the latest superhero movies to screaming fans who camp in line for days to get in, was markedly more relaxed than in previous years.

Early presentations included Paramount's new "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem" animated film, India's first-ever Hall H presentation for "Kalki 2898-AD," and an eagerly awaited look at video game "Marvel's Spider-Man 2."

Dressed as Ken in anticipation of the new "Barbie" movie, Tony Ring-Dowell joined the roughly half-hour Hall H line to see the Spider-Man presentation, excited that video games were getting "more exposure" this year.

Related: 'Voltes V: Legacy' to join San Diego Comic-Con 2023

"Going to a movie launch or announcement was not a big draw for me anyway," he said. "Celebrities? I don't feel the need to see them in person. I'll watch the movie trailer online." 


With actors last week joining writers on strike, A-listers are banned from promoting movies and shows.

That has forced Hollywood studios, still eager to reach Comic-Con fans, to get creative.

Paramount brought out "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" director Jeff Rowe — directors are not part of the strike — and played a video message from actor Seth Rogen, pre-recorded before the strike.

"Spider-Man" voice actor Yurie Lowenthal told the audience that his branch of the profession is not on strike as it has a different contract, but "stands in solidarity" with those on picket lines.

"Kalki 2898-AD" put on a presentation featuring Indian mega-stars such as Prabhas and Kamal Haasan — plus Amitabh Bachchan via video — who are not members of the striking US-based Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA).

The uncertainty over this year's line-up also created logistical headaches for organizers.

Talks between Hollywood actors and studios went right down to the wire last week, giving Comic-Con just a few days to pivot since the strike was called.

Sorting the event's sprawling schedule is "like a Rubik's Cube" every year, said Comic-Con marketing chief David Glanzer, but this installment has required more contingency plans than usual. 

Related: Striking actors join picket lines as Hollywood shuts down

"We're all rolling with the punches," Glanzer added. "We really wish that a resolution could have been found before this."

Celebrating roots

Comic-Con began more than 50 years ago as a tiny event where fans could connect with each other and meet their heroes — the comic book creators.

But it has ballooned to become North America's largest pop culture gathering, drawing 130,000 annual visitors.

Besides Hall H, a giant convention floor with countless talks, seminars, and signings has continued to allow fans to do just that.

"I am probably more excited this year than any year in recent memory," said Chris Gore, owner of the "Film Threat" website and director of "Attack of the Doc!" "San Diego Comic-Con is gonna get back to its roots — which is celebrating the art of comic books."

"Comic-Con has never been just Hall H," agreed James Witham, host of the "Down & Nerdy Podcast." "It's a unique animal... you have movies, television, comics, anime, animation, toys."

Janelle Hinesley and her sister Kelsey — dressed as Wonder Woman — said they would not have gone to Hall H panels even if there were no strike, "because we don't want to wait in line."

"Honestly, they deserve to strike. I hope it makes things better," she said. "I'm OK with it. There's going to be less waiting I guess!"

RELATED: 'We were duped' by studios, says Hollywood actor union president Fran Drescher

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