Virtual Comic-Con a bright spot amid pandemic, but fans still long for in-person event

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SAN DIEGO – San Diego’s world-famous Comic-Con took place entirely online this weekend, but that didn’t stop a small group of cosplayers from donning their costumes downtown on Sunday.

The view outside of the San Diego Convention Center, which annually plays host to more than 100,000 convention attendees, stood in stark contrast this weekend from past years. Where there once were colorful crowds swarming to and from the venue and throughout the Gaslamp Quarter now was empty and quiet, the result of yet another pandemic-related cancellation.

“It feels like an apocalyptic movie,” said one cosplayer dressed as Dude Vader, adding that he still dressed up for each day of this year’s event. “It’s a little bit cathartic to get in the costume because it’s such a sad event for everybody.”

Organizers canceled the in-person Comic-Con event in April due to COVID-19, but later announced Comic-Con@Home, an online exhibit with panels and other programming made available to fans for free. Not only is Comic-Con missed by the fans, but the lack of a physical event marked a huge financial hit to the city. The total regional impact of the loss is estimated at more than $166 million.

But a small group of costumed fans still gathered together Sunday across the street from the convention center to get a taste of normalcy.

“Everybody is definitely missing it,” said another cosplayer dressed as Hawkman. “Definitely missing the vibes, the camaraderie and the socialization.”

Over and over the same sentiment is heard from the group — they miss the unique, inclusive community they feel they can only find at Comic-Con.

“There’s very few places in the world where you can go and have complete strangers just totally geek out over your costume and you can do the same vice-versa with no judgement,” said cosplayer Matt Mullis, who came dressed as Captain America.

The one silver lining for fans: they’re able to catch more panels with the event online.

“It’s normally like a Sophie’s Choice,” said a woman dressed as Ms. Marvel, referring to the 1979 novel which spawned a film adaptation starring Meryl Streep. “You have to like decide, ‘OK, am I going to run to this hall or am I gonna go to that other room and wait in line?’

“This time, everything is kind of a la carte because you can watch them at your leisure at home and that’s what I’ve been doing — staying up late.”

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