There is nothing weirder than going to a feature panel at New York Comic Con focusing on a single actor and hearing them talk about… well… nothing. From Ewan McGregor evaluating the relative merits of New York bagels, to David Tennant discussing Shakespeare, to Chris Evans only spending 20 minutes on stage, most of it taken up with talk about his dog, Dodger, the stars really didn’t have much to say. Or, more accurately, they weren’t really allowed to talk about much of anything.
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It’s not just these individuals either. The Our Flag Means Death cast spent an entire hour answering superlative questions, finishing up the panel with a freestyle beatbox/rap by star Rhys Darby, never once saying the words Our Flag Means Death. The cast of Guardians of the Galaxy played “would you rather?” with the moderator. Star Trek did a single screening of next week’s episode of Lower Decks and didn’t announce any news. At least for major networks and actors, the panel vibes of New York Comic Con were entirely off.
It’s not anyone’s fault, really. This is what happens when actors aren’t allowed to talk about what they’re working on, and studios only have executive producers and production designers chatting with the press. These people are interesting, and they have fascinating things to say about their work, but it’s not who people come to NYCC to see, and it’s not what people want to read about afterwards.
AMC was the only major studio that was able to do anything significant. With a full slate of previews and teasers alongside an early showing of the Daryl Dixon finale and a panel with star-executive producer Norman Reedus, The Walking Dead walked away the winner. Or, shambled, really. The bar, which was “actors talk about their work,” was pretty low. AMC might have realized that waiting for the AMPTP to sign a fair contract was a losing game, and decided early on not to hold its breath. The Walking Dead has been a part of comic cons for over a decade. It would have been a shame to let corporate greed break the streak.
But despite all the weirdness, there were still some good things going on outside of the big stages. The cosplays were incredible—NYCC seems to love iterations and creative interpretation, and this year fans turned out. The fan events were also great; I went to a very charming meetup for fans of Izzy Hands and came away with washi tape, three pins, two temporary tattoos, and having signed a petition to renew as a crew. There was also a medium winner: comic books. Both DC and Marvel made big announcements about the books and arcs that are upcoming from their imprints. Despite this, even comics had their fair share of “what the fuck is happening?” floating around.
I’m talking about Tom Hardy. The actor stopped by NYCC on Saturday to promote Arcbound—the military sci-fi comic he co-created alongside Scott Snyder. Arcbound is the first series from Arcbound Studios, a company with strong ties to web3, crypto, and digital collectibles, aka NFTs. There was no word on how Arcbound will cross over between entertainment and digital collectibles, and Arcbound Studio’s website is similarly sparse, with no news, a singular focus on Arcbound’s characters and plot, and a strange button for “Kickstarter” with no information provided.
This is the kind of news that would typically be overshadowed at NYCC by big media events, trailers, huge casts, and premieres. It’s great that comics and cosplay got their chance in the spotlight, especially after how awkward it was at San Diego Comic-Con, which went on despite many actors pulling out at the last minute due to the timing of the SAG-AFTRA strike. But in a lot of ways, it really felt like some of the actors and cast panels probably shouldn’t have come to NYCC at all.
A panel styled like a game show is kind of charming, but is also absolutely meritless. It’s not interesting, it’s just there to take up time in a schedule. These panels were, in the least charitable terms, disrespectful to actors who are extremely talented and successful and would probably have fascinating things to say if they were just asked the right questions. It was also demoralizing as a fan to have spent money to attend a panel where you would hope to get interesting insights into who these people are, and instead you’re stuck cringing—much like the actors on stage—as the moderator asks “who would be most likely to take a selfie with Bigfoot?” as if that’s a real question people ask each other.
The biggest issue with all these folks on stage was that very few of them spoke about the strike, and only a couple alluded to the labor action in oblique terms. Everyone seemed to realize that they were walking a very fine line between what was and was not considered promotion of struck work, but the complete lack of labor discussion felt odd after months of support. The WGA strikes, which have only been resolved in the past month, weren’t mentioned at all. Ultimately, this mixed messaging—are they here to promote their work or not? Are they going to talk about the strikes or not? Are they going to talk about anything newsworthy or interesting?—produced a strange tension between the audience and the people on stage.
One of the best NYCC panels that I attended wasn’t actually held in any of the main stages… or even on a stage. In the back room of the fourth-floor River Pavilion, the National Association of Voice Actors held a panel discussion on AI that was insightful and full of personal experiences. Even though the panel took place in what was more or less a cafeteria, the topic was interesting enough that every table was full and people were paying close attention to what was being said. At a con where every other panel seemed to be actively, painfully, avoiding talking about the labor movements that are currently ongoing, the NAVA panel was a refreshing discussion that not only honored the time and expertise of its panelists, but respected the intelligence of the audience.
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