San Diego Comic-Con came to a close on Sunday afternoon with the regular Comic-Con Talk Back panel, in which organizers of the show listen and respond to feedback from attendees. Based on that description, you might expect a laid back, self-congratulatory hour of talk about how well everything went. The reality was somewhat different.
Across the space of an at-times contentious hour, multiple showgoers shared their concerns and complaints about the 2022 event, with two major themes recurring: confusion surrounding the lines into the cavernous Hall H, and the event’s treatment of people with disabilities. While there were more than a few compliments during the panel, especially for the convention’s approach to COVID protocols, and attendees’ adherence to the mask policy, the organizers in attendance – president of Comic-Con International Robin Donlan, chief communications & strategy officer David Glanzer, director of programming Eddie Ibrahim, and VP of operations Craig Fellows – were faced with a number of angry and upset fans asking questions that didn’t have easy answers.
By far the most common concern was the organization of the Hall H line. With far more fans wanting to see panels from Warner Bros., Netflix, and (especially) Marvel Studios than could fit inside the 6,500-seat room, Comic-Con has taken to instituting what it calls the Toucan Tracker Wristband policy. What that means, in theory, is that fans will be able to line up the night before and receive wristbands for the next day’s panels. There are certain guidelines in place to stop this system from being abused, however, including a limit on the number of wristbands given to anyone in the line the night before (five per person). According to many fans at the Talk Back session, those guidelines and rules weren’t just not followed, they were actively subverted by a number of attendees – potentially with the assistance of volunteers and security people working for Comic-Con.
Multiple Talk Back attendees reported line-cutting in Hall H lines, with mention made that potentially as many as 3,000 people were allowed into the room ahead of those who had been physically present to receive wristbands. One of those giving feedback mentioned organized Discord channels created to assist in the illegal acquisition and distribution of wristbands to grant entry to Hall H, with the suggestion being made that some security guards were not only aware of, but complicit in, these unfair methods of wristband distribution.
Popverse was unable to confirm the Discord channel or these allegations.
Security in general came under fire on a number of occasions during the hour, being described as alternately “power-hungry” – a description used more than once – or inept. Fans shared their experiences of being given contradictory information by multiple security guards in the same location, including one example where those in line for Hall H were told without warning to move to an entirely different location, before being told by a different guard to move back, causing not only people to lose their place in line, but also creating physical danger for those in the middle of the moving crowd. “I was almost trampled because of that incident,” the crowd heard.
Another fan talked about the “ridiculous lack of communication” between organizers and security, describing the latter as giving out “false information” as a result. “You can talk to three people in the same space and get three different answers,” they said. Someone else mentioned an incident where, after a shift change between security guards, the new guard started bringing in fans from the back of the line instead of the front. When fans at the front of the line tried to point out the error, they were apparently told by the security guard to “shut up and keep f-ing walking,” with a physical fight reportedly almost breaking out as a result.
All told, across the hour, more than half of attendees asking questions complained about Hall H lines and the organization of them. One even told the room that they’d heard the show described by multiple people as “Lie-Con” because of the misinformation shared by security guards and volunteers with regards to Hall H lines and wristbands.
For their part, organizers seemed sympathetic to complaints, if unable to offer any concrete responses at that time. Multiple fans offered potential alternatives to the wristband system, including the potential for a ticketed lottery to gain entry, something that organizers dismissed almost immediately. “If we were to go in a lottery system, that means we’d have to clear every single room between panels,” Ibrahim argued. “One of the reasons we don’t clear the rooms is so that you guys get to see as much content as possible - clearing the room would increase space between panels. We want to have comics, and films, and all of that, but based on the system you’re describing, you’d be limiting the amount of panels we can run.”
Additionally, Donlan said, a lottery would require information on potential attendees to be held by Comic-Con – which would mean that no children could be admitted, as California law disallows demographic information on minors to be collected.
Another suggestion was that the more popular panels be scheduled earlier in the day, to prevent space in other panels being taken up by fans who only want to see the big end-of-day events. That, too, was dismissed as impossible for practical reasons; the convention is at the mercy of the companies behind the panels, argued David Glanzer. If a movie studio can’t fly in its stars until the end of the day, the convention would have to either schedule the panel for the end of the day or decide to forego the panel entirely.
More than one fan requested additional transparency when it came to the planning of Hall H line and ticketing policies in future, with others asking for further ways to provide feedback beyond the hour-long Sunday panel. Neither were given immediate responses.
If Hall H was the leading concern amongst those appearing at the panel, the level of deaf and disabled services at the show was a close second. The very first question at the panel was about the fact that attendees with presumed full hearing were sitting in areas reserved for fans with hearing issues which are placed closer to the front of the stage, with a sign language interpreter present to translate. (“One of the things you’re not really allowed to do is ask people what their disability is,” said Ibrahim in response. “There’s not really anything we can do to confirm, we can’t really go to them and ask, are you really deaf? Are you hard of hearing?”) The second came from a fan who described Comic-Con International’s attitude towards people with disabilities as having “gone from antipathy to outright hostility” in recent years.
Specific complaints about the show’s treatment of attendees with disabilities included the lack of coverage provided for those waiting outside in line for Hall H or entry to the show, as well as a lack of attention paid to the make-up of lines by those responsible for monitoring them – one fans broke down in tears after saying that fans with disabilities were put into a special line by guards at one point, with that line then ignored when it came to wristband distribution – and the show’s policy of requiring ADA attendants to buy a full pass to the show, which was deemed unfair given that it both places a financial burden on the attendant, but also unjustly penalizes attendants because of an official rule that disallows attendants from purchasing con-exclusive merchandise despite having paid full price for entry to the show.
Fellows argued that the reasoning behind the full price ticket for attendants was that, in the past, “we’ve had a lot of abuse of people claiming people were attendants to get people in free.” The issue of restrictions for full price tickets was something that would be looked at, he added.
Other subjects raised during the panel included the lack of a print program for this year’s show – the 2022 convention was funded by ticket sales from 2019, organizers said, which required a certain number of budget cuts in many areas – and the lack of diversity amongst moderators for panels. “There are a lot of able-bodied white men,” one fan pointed out. I don’t see enough of the inclusion you’re talking about on the big stage.” Panel moderators are selected by the subjects of the panels, not by Comic-Con International, organizers pointed out.
With the number of fans lined up to be heard pushing the panel all the way to its cut-off time, organizers took more of a listening approach for the second half of the runtime than responding to what was being said. After an hour that had, at times, made for difficult listening for all involved, the panel ended with a comment from an elderly fan that acted as both a balm for tender nerves and a suitable capper for San Diego Comic-Con as a whole, as they quietly and humbly told the room how grateful they were that Comic-Con had returned after a three-year absence, and instituted a mask and vaccine mandate in order to gain entry, because, “you did it in a way that I could feel safe,” she said. “This is just a thank you.”
Keep track of all the news, interviews, and notes from this past weekend with Popverse's San Diego Comic-Con coverage round-up.