WonderCon Is Wonderful, Even In Anaheim [Feature]

WonderCon spent its first year in Anaheim last weekend, and even though I don’t like the city as much as San Francisco (its regular home), the convention still ranks among my favorites. WonderCon is run by the same company that puts together Comic-Con, and in many ways it’s like that show’s younger sibling. It’s smaller, more mellow, and there is less of a studio presence. There were some celebrities, but media guests weren’t the big draw. Comics were everywhere, and plenty of creators were in attendance as well. Frankly, WonderCon has everything I want in a convention.

Remember how I noted in my MegaCon recap that every convention has a different personality? Whereas MegaCon was just sort of there, WonderCon was memorable. It’s small but not small enough that the publishers don’t make announcements. It has enough oomph to attract some studios and great comic book creators. It offered a wide variety of panels, and you had multiple options to pick from at any time. At MegaCon, I looked at my three days there and wondered what I would possibly do to fill the time. However, at WonderCon I was constantly on the go and there was tons of stuff to see.

The exhibit hall hit the right mix of vendors for me. Comics publishers like Marvel, DC, Archaia, and IDW had big spaces and lots of creator signings. T-shirt companies like Superhero Stuff and We Love Fine offered all kinds of nerdy shirts, and I was happy to see that We Love Fine had many designs in lady sizes. I flipped through boxes of comics from all eras (I got the first 12 issues of Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld, yay!) and piles of discounted graphic novels.

That’s not all though. Prop replica and higher end toy companies like QMx, ANOVOS, Gentle Giant, and Kotobukiya had booths. If loose or vintage action figures are more your style, you could find plenty of them. I even spotted high quality original Star Wars Kenner toys displayed on the card and everything (yeah, I so couldn’t afford them). Corsets, leather journals, steampunk accessories, wonderful licensed Marvel jewelry, TARDIS bathrobes – I think this convention had it all. Even geeky carved craft pumpkins.

The best part? Since the crowds were manageable I didn’t just get shoved past displays. I could take the time to feel up the fuzzy Star Wars wallpaper at Super 7 and drool over the prop replicas at QMx. I spent a solid twenty minutes in the Gentle Giant booth talking with them about their statues. That couldn’t happen at Comic-Con. No one was in a hurry.

The Artists’ Alley and Small Press areas were stuck to the side of the exhibit hall (I wish they’d get put in the center once in a while), and I found many treasures. Plenty of independent companies were displaying stuff like comics and books, art prints, clay monsters, R2-D2 hats, nerdy stationery and custom commissions. I happily dumped most of my convention spending money in this area. I bought an art print or two, and I picked up a commission and acquired additions in my Captain America sketchbook. If you’ve never been to a convention, please take the time to check out these two areas when you visit your first one. You won’t regret it.

Though I spent as much time as I could in the exhibit hall, I made sure to sit in on some panels. Like I said, the options were numerous. I checked out a panel about the upcoming Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and it was paired with a discussion with Sir Ridley Scott about Prometheus. Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender showed up. I did arrive to the room early because I’m paranoid, but I could have walked right in five minutes before it started. That doesn’t happen at Comic-Con either. I also attended panels focusing on horror in comics, steampunk, and Jim Lee.

Naturally, I saw costumes everywhere I went. The Disney theme seemed especially popular. In addition to the usual Disney Princesses, I saw Maid Marian, Prince Eric, and Peter Pan. Steampunk outfits and superhero costumes were also well represented. Weirdly enough, I didn’t spot one Slave Leia. In fact, I didn’t see nearly the number of Star Wars costumes I normally do at conventions. Maybe everyone’s saving it for Celebration VI later this year. I can’t say anything blew me away as far as construction, but creativity abounded. I saw a Supernatural cosplay group featuring one girl as the Impala. Genius. One of these conventions I’ll actually get to the masquerade.

I had a blast, but the differences between Anaheim and San Francisco are worth noting. The area around the Moscone Center in San Francisco lends itself to multiple meet-ups and parties. Anaheim isn’t as well suited for that, and the convention date coinciding with St. Patrick’s Day made finding bar space for post-convention shindigs challenging. The Anaheim Convention Center was also not as well prepared as they could have been for parking challenges. Apparently the rain caused flooding in the garage adjacent to the convention center, but you didn’t know the structure was closed until you were already buried in traffic. Twitter really helped give people a heads-up.

The convention center staff also seemed a bit confused about where things were happening (and where the ATM was located), but they weren’t rude like the last time I was at a convention in the same location. Surprisingly, attendance seemed about on par with what I remember from San Francisco last year. It may have been down slightly though, as I didn’t have to wait in line for any panels or arrive crazy early. The numbers also didn’t translate to money for vendors. I heard from more than a few vendors in all areas of the exhibit hall that numbers were way down from what they earned in San Francisco.

A rumor is going around that Anaheim could become the permanent home of WonderCon. I’m not sure how I feel about that. This location is definitely closer to me, but San Francisco just seems to suit the convention better. I enjoy WonderCon so much though, I’d follow it anywhere.

View more photos from the convention here.

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