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Comic-Con is virtual again: When SDCC starts, how to attend from home for free

SDCC 2021 boasts panels on Rick and Morty, Star Wars and more. Plus, cosplay contests from your couch. But will Marvel Studios and DC be there?

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Even the cosplay will be virtual this year at Comic-Con.

Bonnie Burton/CNET

Comic-Con, the giant San Diego pop culture convention that gathers fans of comics, gaming, television, movies and more, will be virtual again this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, the enormous event moved online for the first time, bringing stars, directors and artists together via prerecorded panels. This year, it's scheduled for three days instead of four, running from July 23 to 25, with some early events on July 21 and July 22.

"While we lament the postponement of the in-person Comic-Con, our commitment to this community of fans and our celebration of comics and the related popular arts endures as an important part of who we are," Comic-Con organizers said in a statement in March. "We thank you all for your continued and unwavering support during these most challenging times."

There are good things about the con staying virtual: It's free, parking's not a problem, and your home snacks are probably better than the ones you'd get there. But attendees will surely miss seeing the stars of their favorite shows and films -- as well as other fans -- in person. One of the iconic elements of Comic-Con, the creative cosplay worn by participants, will still be featured, just differently. As with last year, the event is planning to show off all the cosplay outfits online. Here's what to know about Comic-Con 2021.

When is Comic-Con@Home? And how to follow along

The event is free, and runs July 23-25 online. 

Subscribe now to Comic-Con's official YouTube channel, and sign up for notifications. That way, you'll be sent the latest news once panels are posted online. You can also check Comic-Con's official Toucan blog for the latest. The SDCC Unofficial blog is also a great place for news and tidbits. And Comic-Con is also on Twitter.

Hot panels to look for

One panel will focus on Snake Eyes: GI Joe Origins.

Paramount

Reading through the Comic-Con schedule is like perusing one of those giant menus at a restaurant that strives to serve everything. There are huge Hollywood movie panels that are likely to break news, and smaller independent comics panels that offer specialized info you can't get elsewhere. 

Unfortunately for fans of the blockbuster movies from the two big comics publishers, neither Marvel Studios films nor DC films will have a presence at the convention, Deadline reports. (DC's CW television show Legends of Tomorrow does plan a panel for July 25 at noon PT, and there are a few DC comics-related panels, including a Wonder Woman panel on Sunday at 11 a.m. PT.)

You can read through the entire schedule here. I've picked seven panels to highlight.

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins

Hasbro is rebooting G.I. Joe movies with this feature film, scheduled for a July 23 release. The panel features stars Henry Golding, Andrew Koji, Úrsula Corberó, Samara Weaving, Haruka Abe, Iko Uwais, Peter Mensah and Takehiro Hira, as well as the writer of the G.I. Joe comic books, Larry Hama. 

Fans in certain cities who tune in to the panel will have the chance to win access to an advance screening of the film on July 21, just hours after the panel.

The panel is scheduled for Wednesday, July 21, 2021 at 1 p.m. PT.

Masters of the Universe: Revelation

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Star Wars fans will hear a familiar voice coming from He-Man's nemesis, Skeletor.

Video screenshot by Gael Fashingbauer Cooper/CNET

By the power of Grayskull! Netflix and Mattel have teamed up for a new Masters of the Universe series, following He-Man, Skeletor, Teela and your other 1980s favorites.  The cast and creators will discuss fan questions about reviving the iconic animated franchise. (Mark Hamill voices Skeletor, though we don't know for sure he'll participate in the panel.)

This panel is scheduled for Friday, July 23, at 12 p.m. PT.

Adventure Time: Distant Lands 

With Jake the dog and Finn the human, the fun will never end. Adventure Time is the Emmy- and Peabody Award-winning animated show on Cartoon Network, and Adventure Time: Distant Lands is a series of four streaming specials based on the show. Voice actors, including John Dimaggio, who voices Jake, and executive producer Adam Muto, will talk about the specials and offer a peek at the final one, Adventure Time: Distant Lands -- Wizard City.

This panel is scheduled for Friday, July 23, at 12 p.m. PT.

Star Wars: The High Republic

Star Wars: The High Republic features novels and comics set about 200 years before the Star Wars films and 800 years after the fall of the Old Republic. This panel offers a sneak peek at upcoming titles in the series, and will include authors Claudia Gray, Charles Soule, Cavan Scott, Justina Ireland and Daniel José Older. 

This panel is scheduled for Friday, July 23, at 2 p.m. PT.

Rick and Morty 

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You can bet your Szechuan sauce that there's a Rick and Morty panel.

Video screenshot by Gael Fashingbauer Cooper/CNET

Rick and Morty co-creator Dan Harmon, showrunner Scott Marder and voice actors Chris Parnell (Jerry), Sarah Chalke (Beth) and Spencer Grammer (Summer) will discuss everything Rick and Morty. The teaser promises "answers to all your Rick and Morty questions, like who is Mr. Nimbus, does Beth floss, and what are decoys?"

This panel is scheduled for Friday, July 23, at 4 p.m. PT.

The Patrick Star Show 

Patrick Star, of course, is SpongeBob SquarePants' dim but lovable starfish buddy, who now has his own spinoff show on Nickelodeon. Tune in for a table read from the show featuring Bill Fagerbakke, who plays Patrick Star, along with Tom Wilson (Cecil Star), Cree Summer (Bunny Star), Jill Talley (Squidina Star), and Dana Snyder (GrandPat). Co-executive producers Vincent Waller and Marc Ceccarelli will also appear.

You can watch the first five minutes of the premiere episode below.

This panel is scheduled for Saturday, July 24, at 3 p.m. PT.

The Legacy of Chucky 

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Chucky is a living doll. So to speak.

His name's Chucky, wanna play? Watch an exclusive featurette celebrating the 30-year legacy of killer doll Chucky and the Child's Play franchise. There'll also be a behind-the-scenes look and world premiere exclusive trailer of the Chucky TV series, which comes to USA and SYFY in the fall of 2021.

This panel is scheduled for Sunday, July 25, at 2 p.m. PT.

Virtual cosplay

A highlight of Comic-Con is always the creative cosplay that attendees come up with. Last year, there was a virtual cosplay challenge, and that's back again this year.

Beginning July 23 at 9 a.m. PT, cosplayers can share photos of their outfits on social media, tagged with #ComicConAtHome2021Cosplay. Categories include "best make-up," "best use of household items," "best duo" and more. Full details are on the event's site.

Wait, there's also ... pet cosplay? Attendees are encouraged to "dress up your dog, cat, pig, or hamster and show them off under #ComicConAtHome2021Cosplay." No categories in that pet cosplay, but there's another pet event, too.

If you're in the San Diego area and want to dress up your terrier as Thor, or your cat as Captain Paw-merica, you're urged to stop by The Helen Woodward Animal Shelter in Rancho Santa Fe the weekend of Comic-Con. There'll be events all weekend, but the pet cosplay contest is July 24 from 9-11 a.m. PT. Furry contestants will be judged on "creativity, enthusiasm, and execution" in a variety of categories.

Show off your art

Comic-Con attendees are a creative lot. In addition to cosplay, artists are invited to share other works of original art, from food to paintings to completely original superhero costumes. 

"Calling artists of all ages!" a tweet encourages. "We want to see your creative side. Starting 7/23, post an art piece you create under the hashtag #ComicConAtHome2021Art for a chance to be featured on our website! You can use any medium…macaroni glitter art included! "

What is Comic-Con Special Edition? 

In 2020, Comic-Con was hoping the 2021 convention would be held in person. That didn't happen, but hopes are high the 2022 event will bring people together in person next summer.

In the meantime, Comic-Con organizers are hoping to plan a smaller, supplemental in-person event called Comic-Con Special Edition, to be held in San Diego on Nov. 26-28. (That's 2021, so just a few months away.)

"It is our hope that by that point, conditions will permit in-person public gatherings of this kind," the statement said. "As details are still being finalized, badge cost, attendance capacity, and related information will be forthcoming." Follow San Diego Comic-Con on Twitter for the latest updates.