SAG-AFTRA Strike Took the Celebrity Out of New York Comic-Con

A fan cosplays as Loki at the 2023 New York Comic Con by Reed Pop at the Javits Center in Manhattan.
Shutterstock/Adam McCullough Shutterstock/DarkPlatypus

New York Comic-Con has been taking over the Javitts Center since 2006, and I’ve attended each and every one. Over the past 17 years, the con transformed from a splattering of comic fandoms celebrating the medium into the largest gathering of nerds in the tri-state area. Television and movie stars have always had their role, but somewhere along the way, they’ve crept into the main spotlight with panels and major announcements, pushing away the cartoon word balloons and stapled spines immortalized in the convention’s moniker. 

But 2023’s con felt like a different beast (not just because someone took a dump on the convention hall floor) since those stars of film and screen that packed out panels with thousands of fans couldn’t promote their work due to the ongoing Screen Actors Guild American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) strike. It left a void in the halls and panel schedules that had several effects I never would have foreseen. 

There were still your usual media brands creating activations with hour-long lines to promote what’s coming up. Paramount’s “Good Burger 2” had a fake restaurant, “South Park” created IRL versions of props from the show, and “Goosebumps” plastered a creepy doll face on the stairs. But where these shows would normally have packed out panels screaming for Kenan and Kel, instead executive producers, writers, and VFX specialists promoted their work. When actors did show up, mums the word on the struck work — like at a panel for “Guardians of the Galaxy,” where Chris Evans spent most of the time just talking about his dog and his favorite fall activities.  

The weird, confusing media landscape we are currently in the middle of felt to me like it had another effect. Usually at this convention, there’s one costume that dominates and can be seen almost everywhere you look, usually based off of the most popular media franchise at the time. In the early 2010s, you couldn’t turn a corner without bumping into Finn from “Adventure Time.” When Ryan Reynolds was joking it up as Deadpool, his copycats were everywhere you’d look. And in the midst of Tom Holland’s Rennaisance, Spider-Man’s pointing meme became an actual reality.

Though SAG-AFTRA has put in its guidelines not to cosplay-struck work, there was still plenty of Marvel, Disney, and Star Wars on the show floor. Still, this year felt different, as there was no one costume that seemed to dominate above all. There was an incredibly diverse mix of Mandaolorians, Teen Titans, One Piece Pirates, Barbies, and of course Spider-Men. The media vacuum created by the strike seemed to be a great opportunity for the comic books that most modern media blockbusters are based on to reenter the spotlight. Artist Alley, where fans can meet artists to purchase their work, buy commissions, or just get their favorite books signed, was bustling with new energy from the very start of the con.


Super crowded for a Thursday. I was told the numbers were even greater than San Diego Comic-con! #nycc #comiccon #sdcc #comics

♬ Come Check This – FETISH

Buzz, a veteran artist with 30 years of experience at all the major comic book brands, told Passionfruit that the SAG-AFTRA “strike is actually better for us” because when the actors are able to start promoting again “a big part of the fandom is just going to go back and worship at the alter of celebrities.” 

“It used to be back in the day, comic book artists and stars were the celebrities, every once in a while, you’d see a celebrity in disguise,” Buzz said. “This is kind of an opportunity to let the fans know that the comic book is the easiest, cheapest medium to lose yourself in fantasy.”   

Though the floors seem more packed with a diverse cast of kooks and characters, for some it’s just business as usual. DM James, creator of Stat Tracker (which makes tools for “Dungeons and Dragons” players), has attended three conventions this year and hasn’t really noticed a difference since the strikes started. 

“The crowds are pretty comparable, New York is always really packed,” James told Passionfruit. “The convention is so popular because the nerds are adults now and have money to spend.”

Over the past few years, I had become burnt out with the over-arching media shilling that Comic-Con transformed into. Seeing the same costumes, brands, and “Rick and Morty” memes became tiresome, and I was almost planning to skip this year. But after seeing this new wave of creator and comic fandom, the spirit of the con reinvigorated me once again.

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