Comic-Con 2020 is virtual, and free: How to watch SDCC and what to expect

Ever year right around this time, the masses descend on Southern California for the giant in-person cultural blowout known as San Diego Comic-Con. That won’t happen this summer due to the coronavirus pandemic, but fans can join in a different kind of gathering. 

Organizers are planning [email protected], a digital version of the event, for July 22-26. A preview video boasts of the free parking and comfy chairs, the personalized snacks and the lack of lines that come with the home-convention experience. Here’s a guide to everything we know so far about how [email protected] will work.

The Comic-Con 2020 basics

[email protected] will take place online from July 22-26, and unlike the real-world event, it’s free. But like the actual event, there are expected to be over 350 panels featuring actors, writers and more famous names from the worlds of television, movies, gaming and comics

Comic-Con panels usually reveal long-awaited teasers, trailers and news tidbits from the entertainment world. The online panels should still boast some of that, though with so many movie delays due to COVID-19, it’s possible some films and shows won’t be quite as far along as usual, and may not have previews ready to show yet.

All the panels will be prerecorded, The Wrap reported on July 6, so there won’t be live fan interaction with the panelists. Still, some shows, such as animated Netflix show The Dragon Prince, have invited fans to submit questions for their panels.

How to follow along

Subscribe now to Comic-Con’s official YouTube channel, and sign up for notifications. That way, you’ll be sent the latest news once panels are posted online. You can also check Comic-Con’s official Toucan blog for the latest. The SDCC Unofficial blog is also a great place for news and tidbits.

Hot panels to look for

Who’ll be participating? Everyone! If you’re a sci-fi, fantasy, animation or comics junkie, this is your con. Look for everything from huge Hollywood blockbuster panels to small indie comics panels. You can scan through the full schedule here, but here are seven to watch for. 

Star Trek Universe

Space is still the final frontier. This panel brings together cast members and producers from Star Trek: Discovery, new animated series Star Trek: Lower Decks and Star Trek: Picard. Participants will include Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Jeri Ryan, Marina Sirtis, Sonequa Martin-Green, Michelle Yeoh, Wilson Cruz, Rebecca Romijn, Mike McMahan and more. Engage!
Thursday, July 23, 10 a.m. PT

Marvel’s 616

The Yes, Marvel will present at virtual Comic-Con 2020. Here’s what’s planned is vast and complex. Marvel’s 616 is an anthology series coming to Disney Plus, and each episode will explore a different corner of the Marvel Universe. Writer and host Angélique Roché will moderate the panel, which will include directors Gillian Jacobs and Paul Scheer and executive producers Sarah Amos and Jason Sterman.
Thursday, July 23, 1 p.m. PT 

The New Mutants

Some superhero films are horrible, but a superhero horror film? The New Mutants film is hoping to pull that off. The New Mutants are a group of teen mutant heroes in training, a spinoff of Marvel’s X-Men universe. Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones fame and Charlie Heaton from Stranger Things are among the stars who’ll be on this virtual panel.
Thursday, July 23, 2 p.m. PT

The Walking Dead

Chris Hardwick, who hosts the Walking Dead after show Talking Dead, will moderate a panel about the AMC zombie show. Cast members Norman Reedus (Daryl), Melissa McBride (Carol), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Negan) and Lauren Cohan (Maggie) will be featured, as will executive producers Greg Nicotero and Scott Gimple, and showrunner Angela Kang.
Friday, July 24, 1 p.m. PT

Bob’s Burgers

Fire up the grill. Bob’s Burgers creator Loren Bouchard and his voice cast, including  H. Jon Benjamin (Bob), John Roberts (Linda), Kristen Schaal (Louise), Eugene Mirman (Gene), Dan Mintz (Tina) and Larry Murphy (Teddy) will discuss the animated Fox comedy and answer fan questions.
Friday, July 24, 4 p.m. PT

The Right Stuff

The Apollo moon landing was more than 50 years ago, but it still fascinates almost anyone who’s ever stared up at the sky. The new original Disney Plus series The Right Stuff is a scripted series looking back at the early days of the space program, following seven astronauts as they prepare to make history. Real NASA royalty will help out with this one — former astronaut Mae Jemison will moderate the panel, which will include the enormous cast as well as showrunner Mark Lafferty and executive producer Jennifer Davisson.
Saturday, July 25, 1 p.m. PT

Bill & Ted Face the Music

Dudes, be excellent to each other. Bill & Ted Face the Music reunites Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter as the now-middle-aged rocker best friends, who have daughters of their own. Filmmaker Kevin Smith — yes, that Kevin Smith — will moderate the panel, which will include Reeves, Winter, director Dean Parisot and writers Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson.
Saturday, July 25, 3 p.m. PT

Cosplay, but not in person

It’s tough to envision Comic-Con without the colorful and creative cosplayers who attend the convention dressed as everything from superheroes to anime characters to robots to mythological creatures. Sadly, this year no one will be bumping into the Hulk in the hallway on the way to get a hot dog, but organizers say there will be a virtual version of the event’s annual Masquerade, its cosplay showcase. 

“Calling all costumers!” the tweet began. “For this year’s virtual Masquerade, a page shall be our stage. Attendees can watch your entry as a video presentation or a series of photos showcasing your cosplay talents on the official Comic-Con Tumblr page.” A linked page provides more specific details. Entries are limited to a maximum of 50, so apply soon if you hope to be one of them.

The Masquerade website will go live on July 23, though entries will be judged beforehand, and winners announced online on July 24.

If cosplay’s not your thing, maybe chalk art is? Comic-Con is inviting interested fans to submit photos of their own family-friendly chalk masterpieces. Selected entries will be featured on the convention’s website or social-media feeds.

Watch parties

Part of the fun of in-person Comic-Con was attending with your friends. There’s a virtual version this year. Comic-Con is offering online watch parties for such geek-favorite movies as Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Space Balls, where fans can watch the movie and comment, Mystery Science Theater 3000-style, as the films unfold. Note that you’ll need a subscription to whatever various service the movie is affiliated with, such as Disney Plus, Netflix, or Amazon Prime.

Shop for stuff

Comic-Con is so huge, visitors need a map of the exhibit hall to have any hope at all of finding their way around. The same goes for the virtual version. On July 22, the [email protected] Online Exhibit Hall will go live. The interactive floor plan will let visitors click on a cross-section of exhibitors, and will include “company listings, exclusive products for sale, promotional links,” and more, the organization says. Promotional links and company listings sound like a yawn to us, but the limited-edition products could be interesting. We’ll have to see what’s offered.

Booking it

Comic-Con is still planning to publish a 2020 souvenir book to celebrate the big event. Usually, the book is a full-color paperback given to all attendees for free. This year’s book will be a downloadable PDF, and should be available around July 23. It includes bios and photos of the event’s guests, tributes to industry stars who have died in the past year, special comics and articles. This year’s edition will mark events including the 100th birthday of late sci-fi author Ray Bradbury, and the 50th anniversary of Conan the Barbarian’s first appearance in comics. Fans were able to submit articles and artwork earlier in the year.

Honoring writers

Six writers are being honored with the Bill Finger Award, which honors the memory of William Finger, the first-ever writer of Batman. Convention organizers decided it wouldn’t be fair to honor a living recipient in a year when that person has no event to attend in person, so all six awards are going to writers who have died. Their biographies are rich and can be read on the Comic-Con website.

See you next year?

Comic-Con organizers are hoping for a regular, in-person gathering in San Diego in 2021, though the way the coronavirus pandemic is going, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether that’ll be possible. For now, the 2021 Comic-Con is set for July 22-25 at the sprawling San Diego Convention Center.

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