Monday, April 21, 2014

Report From the Front: WonderCon 2014

In last July’s Report From the Front, we talked about what it is like to spend four days plus preview night at San Diego Comic-Con. We've gone seven out of the last eight years. As discussed in that report, there is a lot to see and do and as a consequence you can be left feeling exhausted, broke and unfulfilled at the end, while still looking forward to the next year’s Con.

This year, we decided to attend Comic-Con’s cousin: spending Saturday at WonderCon, which was recently held at the Orange County Convention center in Anaheim. (WonderCon was held in San Francisco until 2012 when it “temporarily” moved to Anaheim because of work being done to the Moscone Center.) We decided to go this year specifically to attend the Comic Creator Connection panel they were going to have to hopefully find a replacement for the artist we thought we had connected with at San Diego Comic-Con 2013.

Secondly, we wanted to see what the differences were between WonderCon and Comic-Con. Both conventions are dedicated to celebrating comic books, science fiction and motion pictures, but on different scales. If WonderCon has one of something, Comic-Con has ten. Everything is bigger at Comic-Con, more booths, more panels, more artists and more attendees. But is bigger really better?

What's a comic book convention without Deadpool making an appearance?

Living in Los Angeles, going to Anaheim is much easier than going to San Diego. This is essentially a day trip rather than an overnight stay. But that is only the beginning. While Comic-Con is Line-Con, such is not necessarily the case with WonderCon. The longest line we waited in was the one to get in and even then, they let us in early. The only thing they start early in San Diego is forming the line, which is often a line to get a ticket to stand in another line at a later time. Standing in line is the worst.

There is no Hall H, with lines forming now to be the first in to see what’s supposed to be the hot new thing in entertainment. There is no Hasbro, which is mostly an expensive time suck. We literally got in line in at six one morning, but couldn’t get the ticket. Likewise, there is no Mattel booth or others that offer overpriced “exclusives”.

Fewer exclusives means there is less anxiety. Standing in line before the floor opens at WonderCon is a much more low-key affair than the same situation at Comic-Con. And there is only one line to get in, not the two or three they run in San Diego. No one is scheming how they can jump to the front or worried about people getting to that booth with the exclusive ahead of them.

There are fewer big names at this convention and fewer artists. No movie studios this year, with the exception of a small Liongate presence. There were some games to play, but no Playstation and no Xbox. No Marvel. DC was in attendance, but in a smaller booth than the massive one they have on the Comic-Con floor. This is really a place for the smaller publishers like Boom!, IDW and Dark Horse to get attention for their artists, but even then the lines were fairly short and orderly.

No Xbox or Playstation displays, but there are still games to be played.

While WonderCon sold out, the floor was not overcrowded. You had room to walk at something that more closely resembles a leisurely pace, rather than the duck and shuffle we had to do for four plus days last summer. At the end of the day, we didn’t feel dog tired with a nearly mile walk to the car as a kicker. 

Room to walk rather than shuffle your way around the convention floor.

Everything is close at WonderCon. We parked at the convention Center and there was plenty of room. (No doubt it filled up before the day was over, but we didn’t have to reserve a space in advance at inflated prices.) At the end of the day, we stopped for dinner at a nearby hotel, like just across the street, and watched an episode of the anime My Bride is a Mermaid. (Sorry, but this was the 20th episode of the series and my first exposure, so I had no idea what was going on.)

In many ways, smaller was better. There was a lot to see, but not an overwhelming amount. We never made it to any panels, other than the Comic Creator Connection, but I could imagine that it would be quite possible to visit the floor and still be able to attend as many panels as you wanted if you were going to be there for more than one day. We were only in Anaheim on Saturday.

On the other side of the coin, bigger is sometimes better. While being able to walk the convention floor in one day makes for a pleasant day, it means there might not be enough to see and do if you’re there for more than one day. You have to count on there being compelling panels or autographs that you want to attend. The problem is that they don’t release the convention schedule until long after tickets have been purchased.

There are some universal truths that both conventions share:

1) Cosplaying is popular. Though there were fewer people in costume at WonderCon, their outfits could be just as elaborate as their counterparts at Comic-Con. 

Sometimes it's not important if anyone knows who you're dressed like.

2) People still seek autographs from major comic book writers and artists. While most of the lines weren’t as long, popular artists, like Katie Cook from My Little Pony fame, still draw a crowd.

Gail Simone drew a crowd at the Dark Horse booth.

3) Adventure Time is popular everywhere. A panel about the show at the end of the day had a Comic-Con-like long line. Not only did it start in a ballroom, the line continued into the hall and even outside; too long to wait in.

If you are interested in attending a comic book convention and live in Southern California, I would definitely recommend that you consider going to WonderCon. This is an attendee-friendly convention where everything is fairly close together and convenient. It should be enjoyed for what it is. Be aware, I don’t think this will truly prepare anyone for Comic-Con. 

However, if you’ve been to Comic-Con recently, you will definitely enjoy the more relaxed pace. You will still feel tired at the end of the day, but you won’t be exhausted. Depending on the booths you visit and what you collect, money will still get spent.

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