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Some Comic Con attendees say the Hollywood strike is a blessing in disguise

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

With Hollywood screenwriters and now actors on strike against major studios, this year's Comic-Con is hitting different. The big streamers and studios usually pull out all the stops to promote their upcoming releases and shows, but not at this year's big comic book and pop culture convention, which wraps up today. NPR's Mandalit del Barco is in San Diego for it and joins us now. Good morning.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Good morning.

RASCOE: So are there any celebrities there at all this year?

DEL BARCO: (Laughter) Well, you know, in past years, studios like Marvel and Warner Brothers brought out a cavalcade of stars of their upcoming superhero or blockbuster movies. Superfans cram in to cheer them on on stage in the convention center's famous Hall H. For example, the spotlight in the past was on the casts of "Black Panther," "The Avengers," the latest "Star Wars" movies or series. But under the strike rules of the actors' union SAG-AFTRA and the WGA, the Writers Guild of America, members cannot promote any of their projects at red carpets, at press events, promos. So there's nothing here for the upcoming "Blue Beetle" movie or "Dune: Part Two" or the series "Abbott Elementary." Some people are supporting the strike by wearing SAG-AFTRA T-shirts and pins over their costumes. And the union's executive director, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, who was here for a panel on AI - he told me that all that support is cool. But I did meet up with one A-lister, Jamie Lee Curtis, who's here not as an Oscar-winning actress, but as the co-author of a new graphic novel called "Mother Earth." That's not against the union rules to be - for her to be here. And during the panel, the scream queen talked about her eco horror story.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMIE LEE CURTIS: I am seeing the effect the climate crisis has wreaked on the world. And that's really the inspiration. The inspiration is terror.

DEL BARCO: You'll hear more about the book and the interview I did with Jamie Lee Curtis in an upcoming story that I'm working on for NPR.

RASCOE: Oh, I cannot wait. I love Jamie Lee Curtis.

DEL BARCO: (Laughter).

RASCOE: But if the studios can't bring their stars, what are the studios and streamers doing instead?

DEL BARCO: Well, you know, some studios are here promoting their books and their video games and toys. And there are some movie and TV show tie-ins outside of the convention center. For example, Disney is advertising its new movie, "Haunted Mansion," that opens on Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF IMPACT)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm so done with this.

DEL BARCO: The Haunted Mansion Activation - you can take pictures on a recreated - on recreated movie sets. And I talked with the pop-up's creator, Franki Chan. He's the founder of IHEARTCOMIX, and he's been coming to Comic-Con for 20 years, starting out as a comic book writer and artist.

FRANKI CHAN: The SAG strike and the WGA strike are both happening, but also the reality is that these movies are still coming out. They need to be promoted. And there's no other place in the world where you can be in front of as many fans than Comic-Con. So it is a tricky tightrope for sure, but I think there is something mischievously great about the purity of what Comic-Con was all about, kind of having a real presence here versus the marketing hype.

RASCOE: So, I mean, if Hollywood isn't sucking up all the oxygen at Comic-Con, then what are we seeing instead?

DEL BARCO: Well, you know, in a lot of ways, Comic-Con is really this year back to its comic book roots. It's been a chance for smaller, independent artists and publishers to get some love. I watched super devoted fans get their books autographed by Japanese artist Makoto Yukimura. He created "Vinland Saga." It's a manga that inspired an anime series. And he told me through an interpreter that he's in the U.S. for the first time.

MAKOTO YUKIMURA: (Through interpreter) I knew going into this manga series that I wanted to write a story about peace.

DEL BARCO: And I also stopped by the booth for Fantagraphics Books, where I met Briana Loewinsohn. She's here with her new graphic memoir, "Ephemera."

BRIANA LOEWINSOHN: It has really felt like is a return to comic books. The crowds have just been so hungry to look at comics and read comics, and it's been really fun selling out of my book.

DEL BARCO: And I also met some children from San Diego selling comic books that they had drawn themselves.

RASCOE: I mean, in the few seconds we have left, tell us about some of the best costumes you're seeing this year.

DEL BARCO: You know, there's lots of Barbies and Kens in fluorescent roller skating outfits, Indiana Jones, various "Mandalorian" and "Ahsoka" cosplay, Spider-Man of all ages, from the Tobey Maguire version to Miles Morales. And there are a lot of blue and green creatures from "Avatar" and "Guardians Of The Galaxy." It's really fun.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Mandalit del Barco at Comic-Con. Thanks, Mandalit.

DEL BARCO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.
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