David Glanzer on Comic-Con and Going Virtual

by Rocio Ayuso and Anke Hofmann July 21, 2020
David Glanzer

For the past 50 years, Comic-Con has grown into the Mecca for all things Comics. Collectors, fans, and self-proclaimed geeks, as well as comic-book authors, exhibitors, and TV & movie stars, have all flocked to downtown San Diego to celebrate the 4-day event. What started as a “mini-con” by comic and movie enthusiasts on March 21, 1970, at the US Grant Hotel has turned into a yearly confab at the Convention Center and the Gaslamp District, visited by hundreds of thousands of people that either display or spectate myriad costumes worn by avid cosplayers.

This year, however, Comic-Con will celebrate its 51st anniversary online, due to restrictions brought on by the pandemic. But Comic-Con’s Chief Communications & Strategy Officer, David Glanzer, reassures the pop culture fans that there is plenty to look forward to. Attendees will still get a first peek into upcoming TV shows and movies, and they’ll have the opportunity to show off self-made costumes with cosplay competitions. One thing will be missed, though: personal interaction. Luckily, there is a silver lining: due to the fact that this year’s Comic-Con is free and everyone can attend from the safety of their home, the “Geek Fest” might gain more fans than what they’re losing.

Do you remember the moment when you decided: cancel or go virtual?

It really seems like years although it is just a few months ago. There wasn't a lot of information about the pandemic, so we didn't know what we were going to do. We knew that there existed a possibility of having to cancel the event. But we were also hearing that maybe this pandemic will be short-lived. So we monitored National, State, City Health officials. But when the governor said, “I can't see concerts or large gatherings at least through August,” we knew that we had to cancel the show. It was heartbreaking. First time in our 50 years! But then shortly after we said, “Okay. Can we do something online? And if so, how?” And then we started to work.

So what were the first steps?

Comic-Con is not just for the community, but it involves a community. We were very excited that a lot of the studios and networks and publishers wanted to participate, but it was a challenge. I'm excited that people have stepped up to the plate and are willing to kind of give back to the fans.

You did a limited virtual version of WonderCon@Home. Did this experience help to pull off Comic-Con@Home?

It helped a lot, to be honest with you. When we had to postpone WonderCon, we thought, “We have some videotapes. Why don't we put some stuff on our website? Maybe we can do links to exhibitors’ companies?” It was small, but I think it was successful. People were appreciative. And that gave us at least a foundation and starting point for Comic-Con@Home. Luckily, Comic-Con@Home will be much bigger.

What can fans expect from Comic-Con@Home?

We have in excess now of 350 panels. I think they're all pre-recorded, but some companies have reached out to their fans before they recorded the panels and asked, “If you could ask any questions, what would they be?” There will also be a Films Program this year. I don't know the selection of titles yet, but you'll be able to sit in a program, SCENER, that allows you to watch a movie with everybody else.

What are your first Comic-Con memories?

I was always kind of a geek and a nerd. My mother was born in Mexico, she learned to speak English from watching television and old black and white movies, oftentimes late at night. Watching with her, I grew such an appreciation for film. Then in high school, I met this girl, Allison. She was a big fan of Star Trek. And I said, “Oh my gosh, I love Star Trek.” She's like, “Do you like Planet of the Apes?” I said, “I love Planet of the Apes!”. So she said, “You really have to go to Comic-Con.” And I said, “What is Comic-Con?” She answered, “It's a big convention.” Back then big meant like 2,000 people or 3,000 people. She said, “You should go to Comic-Con because they show films 24 hours a day. They have an exhibit floor that has merchandise from movies. They have scripts, posters.” So, my dad dropped me off, and I remember walking through the door –it's a little emotional now because I’m reliving it – and seeing people dressed up in Star Trek costumes. I think this was 1978. But the best thing was that all these people embraced me without even knowing me. They didn’t care that I was a geek, they didn't care that I was overweight, they didn't care about anything, except that I had a passion. I didn't know much about comics. I had read Archie when I was a kid. But I love history. All of a sudden I discovered that there were war comics. So it was really a life-changing experience. And many of the friends that I met during my first couple of times at Comic-Con have become as close as family.

What makes Comic-Con so unique?

At one of my first times at Comic-Con, there was a gentleman sitting on stairs by himself. He was a cartoonist who drew a comic strip for the LA Weekly called “Life in Hell” with these crazy looking bunny rabbits. It was (The Simpsons creator) Matt Groening, and I had just happened to buy his book. I walked up to him and asked for his autograph. Well, he didn't just sign the book, he did this wonderful drawing of Binky. It says, “To my pal David from Matt Groening.” It was the best thing in the world. Where else can you go and meet your heroes? And I still see that today at Comic-Con when a kid or a young adult or whoever is waiting in line for an autograph or is at a panel and able to ask a question to one of their heroes. That's a really wonderful, warming experience to see.

Will fans still have the possibility to show off their costumes?

Yes. We’ll have our masquerade where people will be able to present really intricate and, we hope, beautiful costumes online that will be judged and that will receive prizes. I think that will be done on Tumblr. Then there will be a Cosplay Challenge. We created a badge that anyone can print out and wear, and then take pictures of themselves in costume and send it in. And we're going to feature some on the website or on social media.

Making Comic-Con virtual makes it possible for comic fans to attend that weren’t able to attend previously. On the other hand, as attendance is free, you will have no income.

Comic-Con@Home allows us to welcome anybody who wants to attend. Hopefully, we'll get a new audience, new people who will realize that there's a lot that Comic-Con has to offer. And they may be intrigued by movies or by television or by comics or by costuming or gaming or whatever that they may not normally have thought they might be a fan of. So those are the pluses, that certainly is the silver lining. The negative part, of course, is that our income is questionable. Now, I'm very grateful that we've had some people who have reached out and said, “Hey, are there sponsorship opportunities?” To which we said, “Yes. Let's try to figure that out.” So again, you'll see that on our website are some of those sponsors who've helped us to make this happen. We purposely made this a free event. And the primary reason really is community. There’s so much going on in terms of having to stay at home and being cautious about COVID, here was an opportunity, we hope, for people to have fun, to learn a little bit, and to join the community that is Comic-Con. And I think we'll be okay.

What will you miss most? And what are you looking most forward to?

Again, the people. It's funny because being a spokesperson for the organization, I do interviews, I give speeches and all that kind of stuff but I'm really a little bit of an introvert. I like my alone time and I don't go out to dinner very often. But I have to tell you being at home by myself for a few months now, I realized how much I really value and miss that interaction. You can look at a picture of Comic-Con, you can see a video of Comic-Con, but it’s no (comparison) to actually attending Comic-Con, right? Being there is so much different, so much more exciting. And if there is something that I'm looking forward to, it's being able to hopefully watch some panels.