And I think to myself, what a Wonderful con
In recent years, I’ve joked that if you want to reclaim some personal space from the dense crowds at San Diego Comic-Con, just go where the comics are. Compared to where the movie studios and video game demos are set up, the half of the exhibit hall dedicated to comic book and toy retailers is significantly less crowded.
Last weekend, in Anaheim, that heavenly half of San Diego manifested in a convention of its own called WonderCon. I’d heard WonderCon described as a sister convention to San Diego, as it’s run by the same people, so I’d prepared myself to face the usual hodgepodge of pop culture in the hopes of finding an oasis of comic book love somewhere within. Fortunately, WonderCon was wall-to-wall funnybook fodder, from retailers with collectibles, to publishers like DC and IDW promoting upcoming projects, to small press publishers pushing their wares. Frankly, it was everything I love about San Diego, without everything I hate about San Diego.
Remember when MTV first started airing so much other programming that they launched MTV2 to play music videos? That’s what Wondercon is to Comic Con.
Of course, WonderCon isn’t a new show. It’s 27-years-old, formerly of the Bay Area, and only recently relocated to the Disneyland-adjacent Anaheim Convention Center. The new digs suit the show well, since, as my friend so aptly said, “If there’s one thing Disney can do, it’s fit a lot of people into a small space.” Parking on Saturday morning appeared to be a chore, as traffic congested Harbor Boulevard for both WonderCon and Disneyland, but we parked in the Toy Story lot across the street with the convention center in eye-shot. A family parked next to us, gearing up for a day at the Happiest Place on Earth, and asked us what was going on. “Some sort of convention?” they wondered. Wonder, indeed.
Another interesting quirk of WonderCon was “food truck alley,” as I’ll call it. In the promenade outside of the convention center, several food trucks had parked and begun serving the cosplay-heavy crowd. How practical! In San Diego, the Gaslamp District provides con-goers with a plethora of dining options; since Anaheim isn’t as pedestrian friendly, someone actually thought to bring those options to us. The Phoenix Comicon would do well to follow this model to keep its audience corralled downtown as long as possible.
I only had a Saturday pass for WonderCon, so I didn’t attend any panels or workshops. Since I have SiriusXM satellite radio, I didn’t have to. See, WonderCon had its own station on SiriusXM for the weekend — “WonderCon Radio” — broadcasting panels and interviews with artists and actors. So, while I drove home from Orange County through the desert on Sunday, I actually heard everything I missed, from DC’s New 52 panel, to interviews with Stan Sakai and other artists, to roundtables with the casts of upcoming film and TV shows. I wonder if that phenomenon will increase interest in attendance (not that Wondercon needs it), because, on one hand, folks that wouldn’t know what a panel is like might want to see it now in person. On the other hand, why pay for tickets and travel if you can have the con broadcast right to you?
For me, the answer to that question brings us back to my original point. WonderCon is Comic Con’s answer to the criticism that San Diego has strayed too far from its roots. It promotes an atmosphere of commerce and discussion, where fans can meet creators and retailers can connect with their customers. Now, remember my MTV2 analogy; inevitably, MTV2 started airing reality shows, as well, so WonderCon will inevitably find itself consumed by film, video games, and all of the other media that has usurped San Diego. Until then, if you’ve ever wondered what Comic Con was like back in the day — well, for now, you don’t have to wonder. Just go see for yourself.