A creative marketing agency with a focus on entertainment and music, IHEARTCOMIX works with major studios to create experiences, stunts and digital campaigns around fan-favorite properties. Franki Chan and his company helmed two major activations at San Diego Comic -Con this year, interactive promotions, venues and stunts for Disney’s Haunted Mansion and Peacock’s Twisted Metal, both of which release this week. We asked him to give LA Weekly readers a behind-the-scenes, moment-by-moment look at what went into creating them.
IHEARTCOMIX has been around pretty much as long as I’ve been attending Comic-Con. Having come from promoting music events, when I made the move to L.A. to start DJing and throwing my own parties there, the name IHEARTCOMIX was the natural fit. It was a dream to bring the energy from the music scene I knew to the fantasy land of Comic-Con. It’s always been my annual happy place. Before I attended my first in 2003, it was a place of legends, and since, the relationship I have with the convention has changed since making the initial trek as an illustrator to running a creative marketing agency now.
This year, the Comic-Con experience was very different. It was my 20th year and the first time that IHEARTCOMIX had a real major production, and instead of one, we had two! We’ve done smaller campaigns in the past for people like Adult Swim, VICE, and HULU (last year), and we’ve also done our own IHEARTCOMIX parties, but this was the first time we had the opportunity to do high-profile IP activations there.
This level of production diverted my attention from the standard Comic-Con fair and I really just invested all my time into trying to make our events great. So, my team and I lived and breathed our Twisted Metal (Peacock) and Haunted Mansion (Disney) experiences.
With the SAG strike and the WGA strikes happening, some of the Hollywood element was missing, but that put the attention back on the fandom. Movies are still coming out and they need to be promoted and that’s reality. There’s no other place in the world where you can be in front of as many fans as Comic-Con.
It’s still the pinnacle of fandom in America, and the granddaddy of all comic conventions. It’s had its challenges the past few years between COVID and ever-growing competition, sure. But no others truly compare. Comic-Con is where fans meet (and become) their heroes.
The first couple days in San Diego (Mon.-Wed.) were all about loading in for both of our activations. Teams gathered, walk-throughs were had and lots and lots of little adjustments were made. With any activation of this scale, there will always be elements that are unexpected, adding to the chaos of a convention. IHC’s team and our partners are pros who were able to meet the challenges head-on and deliver on schedule.
For Haunted Mansion, this meant transforming a wedding venue into a version of the famed Disney ride, complete with multiple photo opportunities for fans. Plus, building a movie theater from scratch inside a nightclub at a separate venue.
For Twisted Metal, this meant coordinating a post-apocalyptic marching band stunt led by lead character Sweet Tooth himself, which culminated with a surprise performance.
Thursday was our big day with multiple activations happening at one time. First up was our post-apocalyptic marching band stunt led by Sweet Tooth, the killer clown from Twisted Metal. Our team of performers and band members began getting in costume at noon and hit the streets of San Diego by 3:30 p.m., marching along the causeway and up and down 5th Ave, creating a big moment under the Gaslamp sign. They were there to cause a scene and drum up excitement for Sweet Tooth’s show happening at a lot we took over on 1st & J.
While the marching band began, we were simultaneously opening up at NOVA for our first screening of the day for Disney’s Haunted Mansion. D23, the Disney fanclub, gave 150 lucky fans first access to both see the film and then experience the mansion itself after.
Around 5 p.m. Sweet Tooth and his band made it back to the lot to welcome musical guest Sisqó, who “crashed” the post-apocalyptic party as part of Twisted Metal‘s world premiere event. He sang his ubiquitous “Thong Song,” which is featured in the series.
Next up was Disney’s Haunted Mansion, where we created an immersive photo room full of jump scares. We did our best to pay tribute to the original with as many fine details added (Mickey Mouse plates) and nods to some of the classic effects (Madame Leota, The Hatbox Ghost).
Jared Leto himself did not attend, and while we fully support the strike, we still wanted to give Comic-Con fans a unique experience with familiar imagery from the movie. A side-by-side projection with his ghost in the movie celebrated the creepy character.
Thursday evening we hosted a second screening of Haunted Mansion hosted by the Director Justin Simien. Another group of 150 guests got to see the film at the NOVA, then enjoy a private party we hosted at the experience itself.
After the screening, we held our 2nd marching band moment of the day: a New Orleans-style group, which lead the screening guests four blocks to the experience and after-party.
NPR’s Weekend Edition journalist visited the Haunted Mansion and I talked about Comic-Con past and present. Listen here: Some Comic Con attendees say the Hollywood strike is a blessing in disguise : NPR.
Some fans had to wait in line for 1.5 hours to get inside. There was a line around the block the entire time. Our favorite cosplay: Ghosts!
Loved our awesome photo opp that put guests in the middle of the poster. Pictured here, Barbie makes her own appearance!
If a fan loves a certain movie or property, they deserve a great experience no matter what else is happening in the world. It’s a tricky tightrope for sure, but I think there’s something mischievously great about the purity of what Comic-Con got to be this year.
Our Haunted Mansion experience was named one of the best things at Comic-Con by San Diego Union-Tribune and The WRAP . This kind of recognition and seeing so many happy faces makes all the hard work worth it.
More info on IHEARTCOMIX here.
Peacock’s Twisted Metal premieres today, July 27 on Peacock.
Disney’s Haunted Mansion premieres tomorrow, July 28 in theaters.
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