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Comic-Con Goes Virtual For The First Time In History Because Of Pandemic

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

For the first time in its 50-year history, Comic-Con International canceled its annual pop culture convention and moved it online. The nonprofit organization has taken a large financial hit from dropping the live event. The San Diego Convention Center lists Comic-Con as its biggest gathering in terms of attendance - more than 100,000 people, with a major regional economic impact. From member station KPBS, Beth Accomando explains how cancellation of the geek gathering may have a silver lining.

BETH ACCOMANDO, BYLINE: David Glanzer, spokesperson for Comic-Con International, could've used some superpowers prepping for this year's show.

DAVID GLANZER: We've been working pretty hard, actually, trying to translate the physical show to an online endeavor.

ACCOMANDO: The good news is no long lines in the hot sun for Hollywood panels. Instead, you can experience 350 hours of geeky programming from the comfort of your own home. You can even print badges for you and your pets and download audio files of favorite announcements.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: The exhibit hall is now open to attendees. No running.

ACCOMANDO: Funko is often the destination of stampeding fans trying to get their hands on exclusives, but it's become increasingly difficult to get into Comic-Con. Funko Vice President Michael Becker says this virtual edition will be more accessible.

MICHAEL BECKER: There'll be a lot of people that for the first time get to at least get a little sense of what Comic-Con might be about.

ACCOMANDO: A new animated Comic-Con at-home logo introduced the first virtual panel on Wednesday, Comics in the Classroom.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Helps teachers with pop culture from video games to music.

ACCOMANDO: The YouTube video surpassed 9,000 views in 24 hours. The famous Hall H would have only accommodated 6,500. Plus, this panel would have probably been scheduled in a small room and likely overlooked by attendees in favor of splashier Hollywood programming. But now anyone can access it for free. IDW Publishing's Chris Ryall has been coming for years. He's excited that guests are easier to book on a virtual panel, but he misses having a booth.

CHRIS RYALL: There's the spontaneity of somebody walks up, and they have a kid with them, and their kid likes this. So what else might that kid like? And you can recommend and put in their head this thing. And they can flip through it and see that that might be a cool thing.

ACCOMANDO: Max Brooks, author of the novel "World War Z," has a panel on zombies and coronavirus - planning for the next big outbreak.

MAX BROOKS: People can expect to hear us discuss this real plague that we're dealing with but through the metaphor of zombies because the best tool of education is pop culture.

ACCOMANDO: And he'll be able to reach even more people, since many YouTube panels will remain online after Comic-Con at Home ends. At its heart, Comic-Con is about geeky fandom. Take 15-year-old Connor Lee, who loves superheroes, comics and cardboard.

CONNOR LEE: My mom - she actually used to babysit me at my Grandpa’s work, which was filled with cardboard boxes. And then when he retired, he actually gifted me all of his boxes. And this is, like, the best gift I've ever gotten.

ACCOMANDO: A gift that led him and his 13-year-old brother Bauer to create a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching kids how to turn cardboard into art. They're hosting a Comic-Con at Home panel on how to build a cardboard model of your favorite superhero. But if you're imagining jaggedly cut cardboard shapes awkwardly taped together, think again.

The models that the Lee brothers create, from a small AT-AT to a full-size C3PO, are intricately detailed sculptures. So grab some of those Amazon boxes you've been piling up while sheltering at home and take advantage of the rare opportunity to enjoy Comic-Con at home for the first time ever. For NPR News, I'm Beth Accomando in San Diego.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.