Every July, fans obsessed with genre movies, superheroes and all things pop culture hear the siren song of Comic-Con. Many of them flock to San Diego, one of the world’s most temperately climed seaside cities, only to deliberately seclude themselves inside its convention center for 10 hours a day. And even though everything from buying a badge to booking a hotel to waiting in long lines can be an ordeal, there’s just no better place than Comic-Con for aficionados to display their loyalty.
This year the cosplay flag that seemed most passionately flown was that of Wonder Woman. Viral footage of a young girl dressed as the superheroine meeting Gal Gadot, who plays the character on-screen, was making the rounds at the event and showing how powerful comics-inspired images can be.
With films like “Black Panther,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Suicide Squad” — and shows such as “Supergirl” and “Stranger Things” — eliciting the squeals of fans in every room at the Con, it’s no surprise that artisan-oriented panels on costumes and production design featured key contributors to the most popular properties.
On July 22, the Costume Design for the Screen session took attendees inside the sorts of challenges that could furrow the brow of the most confident artisan. Kiersten Ronning (“Supergirl”) spoke about the extensive background research she did to determine how Superman’s cape should move and what material would give the look she needed (she used leather).
Ruth Carter, who worked on “Black Panther,” said the film would become iconic for being the first Marvel movie starring an African-American superhero. She sought to give the main character a look that would honor its origins and thrill fans. Kim Adams, costume designer on “Stranger Things,” defied expectations by not taking the 1980s look of the show too far, so that the characters would appear authentic and not seem like comic stereotypes of the era.
At an event that attracts thousands of skilled amateur costumers, all the pros had praise for the fans who were enthusiastic enough to make their own art and wear it for hours on end, four days in a row.
John Muto, moderator of the panel The Production Designer: Architect of Imagination, wanted the audience to gain an understanding of what a production designer does. Since these artisans often work hand in hand with visual effects supervisors, Muto sought to define their various roles.
Production designer Hannah Beachler noted the differences in her job on low-budget and big-budget films, explaining how she did “everything” on a small-scale feature such as “Moonlight,” whereas on “Panther” she was in charge of 300 people.
Production designer Oliver Scholl found himself at the center of an age-old question for Comic-Con goers: Which did he prefer, Marvel or DC Comics projects? Scholl, who has worked on Marvel’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and DC’s “Suicide Squad,” said he didn’t see a big difference in the two universes. “In ‘Spider-Man,’ there are these brighter colors but there is darkness too,” he said. “In ‘Suicide Squad,’ it’s a dark story but the characters have a sense of humor about their situation.” If that sounds like Scholl was trying to stay above the fray, well, that’s a wise policy at Comic-Con.
The event has its fair share of unique hardships. For example, the long queues of fans waiting to enter the convention center’s main assembly room, Hall H, are legendary. Hall H is where many of the most coveted panels take place, and where the supersecret trailers and footage from upcoming fanboy/fangirl bait is revealed.
Slightly less competitive is the exhibition hall, where one can find comics and collectibles. One reporter was able to secure her own Con exclusive — the Hallmark 2017 Harley Quinn ornament. It’s too bad for her dog that all the Petco Star Wars chew toys were sold out.
Maybe one of the most moving displays this year was the Profiles in History booth, with its auction items from the estates of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher. Many of Fisher’s private production photos from “Star Wars” revealed a young actress having the time of her life.
Late on that July 22 night, it was hard to explain to a Lyft driver, who came in all the way from Rancho Cucamonga to pick up some Comic-Con business, why such pictures can have a powerful impact. “I don’t understand why it’s emotional for you,” said the driver, “but it’s good there’s a whole convention center full of people who do.”