San Diego Comic-Con 2023: 11 Winners and 5 Losers From This Year’s Event

San Diego Comic-Con 2023: 11 Winners and 5 Losers From This Year’s Event

San Diego Comic-Con 2023 is officially in the books and it was a weird one. For the first time in years, Hollywood’s presence didn’t dominate the event, thanks to studios failing to meet the demands of striking writers and actors. And so, when that big shining star goes away, what happens? Does SDCC just die? Or does the light extend to other places and make everything brighter?

We’re happy to report it was the latter. This year’s Comic-Con was one of the best in years. Crowded, of course. But jovial. Without the stress of getting into a handful of panels, people spread out and did different things. More comics, more games, more interactive activations. It just felt like a more complete, old-school Comic-Con.

Was it perfect though? Of course not. What follows are the winners, and a few losers, of San Diego Comic-Con 2023.

Winner: The Fans

The floor at SDCC 2023.

After two years’ absence due to the pandemic—and 2022’s proof-of-vaccination wristbands and mandatory masks—2023 felt like San Diego Comic-Con’s true return, with crowds in and around the convention center every day, enjoying the panels, the shopping, the activations, and the sheer mountain of cool, nerdy stuff to stare at, not to mention the merciful retreat of California’s heat wave for the duration of the weekend. Though there was some concern fans would stay home due to the lack of star power, that proved not to be the case; sure, everyone loves seeing superheroes take the Hall H stage, but even in their absence it felt like the SDCC masses still managed to have a great time.

Winner: Video Games

The Spider-Man 2 panel in Hall H.

Video games are already the biggest pop culture industry and have a big presence at Comic-Con each year. But this year, in the absence of live-action television and films, games stepped up big time. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 had the first video game Hall H panel (which was an impressive feat, even if the panel was underwhelming). Other franchises like Star Wars also made their presence felt with games, with 2024’s Outlaws getting a spotlight. A major Street Fighter tournament was held on the floor, to cheering crowds. Comic-Con’s own director of programming said before the Spider-Man panel he wants to see more games in Hall H. It just felt like the beginning of games being seen alongside TV and movies as major, major draws at Comic-Con.

Oh, and when Spider-Man voice actor Yuri Lowenthal spoke out in support of his fellow artists in the WGA and SAG-AFTRA, you got the sense these people were here to stay.

Winner: Cosplay

Image: io9/Gizmodo

Fans donned their fandom best, from casual bounding cosplay (like the many Eddie Munsons from Stranger Things) to intricate cosplay like Spider-Punk and other multiversal Spider-sonas. Every day of the con had a fantastic showing of passionate fans dressed in their best.

Winner: Haunted Mansion

Photo: io9/Gizmodo

With free Doom Buggy rides around the Gaslamp, a proliferation of hitchhiking ghosts, and a surprise screening and party, Disney’s Haunted Mansion made its spooky presence felt. Director Justin Simien was on hand to promote the film and was well-received in a panel on directing.

Winner: Offsite activations

A moment at one of the off-site activations.

A recreation of Anne Rice’s haunted New Orleans for AMC’s Interview With the Vampire, a fun “ski lodge” that combined various Paramount+ properties, and maybe the most sought-after Jurassic Park photo op ever for the dinosaur blockbuster’s 30th anniversary were among the standout offsite activations this year. Best of all, fans didn’t need a SDCC badge to get in on the fun.

Winner: Tiny Toons

Image: Warner Bros.

The Steven Spielberg-produced animated series is back! It’s familiar for those of us who grew up on it, but really brings Buster, Babs, and friends into a new generation. There’s destined to be meme jokes, Looney Tunes slapstick classic funnies, and plotlines that really elevate the show for a modern audience.

Winner: Artists, comic creators, and authors

Fans lining up for comic creators.

Film and TV actors and writers may have skipped SDCC due to their ongoing battles with Hollywood studios for fair labor contracts, but plenty of talent in other realms was still able to attend. Artists, comic creators, and authors all turned out to meet fans and share their latest projects, with themed panels, events, and signings at the expo all bustling with excited energy.

Winner: Rachel Smythe

Image: io9/Gizmodo

The creator of hit Webtoon series Lore Olympus won a second career Eisner award for their modern re-telling of the Persephone and Hades myth. The series is currently on hiatus, but Smythe was on hand to participate in a number of panels as a special guest at SDCC—including a fireside chat filled with fans cosplaying as their favorite Lore Olympus characters.

Winner: Toys

The crowd at the reveal of the Ghost Haslab.

Toys are always a big deal at Comic-Con, mainly because—unlike games, shows or movies—you can put them on the convention floor for people to look at, take photos of, and enjoy up close. This year was no different, with companies big (Hasbro, Mattel, Lego), medium (Neca, Super 7), and small (such as Syndicate) having stand-out reveals and displays. Lego impressed with its Brickbuster experience, Hasbro unveiled its incredible Ghost Haslab, Mattel had a rad Jurassic Park exhibit, Super 7 had an unforgettable new Thundercats lair, and Syndicate had toys for True Romance, just to name a few.

Winner: Star Trek

Tawny Newsome, Jack Quaid and Anson Mount appear in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Again, no stars onstage, but Hall H was still filled with Starfleet uniforms for the Trek panel, which featured juicy tidbits for current and upcoming series Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Lower Decks, and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds—all capped off with a (slightly) early screening of the much-anticipated Lower Decks-Strange New World crossover.

Winner: Directors

Gareth Edwards, Justin Simien, and Louis Letterier at Comic-Con.

The actors are on strike. The writers are on strike. Who else is left that can easily speak to the entirety of a project? The directors, of course. And while directors—by definition—are usually at the forefront, this year they were doing their best to sell their work while also being respectful of their striking collaborators. Jeff Rowe came out for his new Ninja Turtles movie. Gareth Edwards, Justin Simien, and Louis Letterier were on hand to talk about their latest films, and Kevin Smith was around speaking his mind on all the issues, to name just a few examples. It couldn’t have been easy, or comfortable, to promote at this time, but directors did so gracefully.

Loser: Hollywood

A crowded Hall H at Comic-Con.

With the actors and writers on strike, so many other facets of what makes Comic-Con great were truly able to shine. And, by comparison, it made Hollywood’s presence feel slightly insignificant. Does Comic-Con need Hollywood? Probably not. Sure, a little of that buzz and excitement is gone, but this year’s convention made the strongest case yet that anything stealing the spotlight from the con itself isn’t always great.

Loser: Film Screenings

Comic-Con fans weren’t able to sneak off and watch Barbie because there are no longer theaters near the convention center.

In the past, film screenings at Comic-Con were the stuff of legend. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Shaun of the Dead, Superbad, etc. In the past few years though, the movie theaters near Comic-Con’s Gaslamp hub have folded up, which has all but stopped SDCC-related screenings. Movies that do screen require fans to shuttle out to remote theaters or take cabs away from the convention, which just sucks the Comic-Con energy out of them—and though that can work (in the case of last year’s Prey), reports were that same magic didn’t carry over to A24’s showing of Talk to Me. Plus, on Barbenheimer weekend, no one at the convention could partake in the global festivities.

Loser: Offsite activation lines

Long lines at activations.

While the experiences themselves worked, the bigger issue was getting into them. Fans needed a strong constitution to withstand the lengthy lines leading up to every single activation, with hours-long queues for the most popular attractions. Patient con-goers who brought portable chairs and sunscreen were at an advantage, but who really wants to spend hours waiting in line for a What We Do in the Shadows popsicle?

Loser: The Walking Dead

Image: AMC

The Walking Dead used to rule Comic-Con. All the stars would come out, all the biggest news would break, and Hall H would be jam-packed with fans. The original series may have ended, and obviously no actors were in attendance, but The Walking Dead still presented at Hall H this year—and despite lots of actual, big news (additional seasons of the new spin-offs, new trailers) it didn’t feel like it struck any kind of chord. Like at all.

Loser: Funko

Part of the Funko booth at Comic-Con

One year after buying the team at Mondo and just four months after firing most of the main people behind that, Funko was back at Comic-Con as if nothing happened. And to most fans, it didn’t matter. The company still had the biggest booth on the floor and the most sought-after exclusives, with huge crowds all weekend long. And yet, never before has the soullessness of the company been more obvious. The huge booth felt like a threat as it towered over smaller booths and took away space from a bustling Artist’s Alley. The crowds made browsing the booths near impossible. Mondo’s offerings were mostly leftovers from another era. Any excitement was just gone.