I have to admit that I used to scoff at WonderCon. It always seemed like a low-budget version of the San Diego Comic-Con, which I began attending as a comic-collecting little kid way back in 1979 and began attending as a Giant Robot booth guy in the mid-1990s. When I first attended WonderCon in Oakland in the late ’90s, the event lacked the all-star panels that I loved as a young fan as well as the indie, arty, and underground elements that fueled my work at GR. My my snobbish point of view, the Marriott basically brought out folding tables for vendors selling superhero comics, original art, big little books, old lunchboxes, and other crusty, dusty stuff.
But now that Comic-Con is practically ruined by celebrity-driven programming, mainstream saturation, and a nerdier-than-thou attitude from just about everyone who can still manage to get in, WonderCon seems a lot cooler. The pop focus (well between the Hollywood insiders nor indie elite) reminds me of how going to Comic-Con used to be–back when I read mainstream comics before I was turned onto underground comix and manga. And it has evolved substantially.
Last year and this year, I’ve been helping out at my elementary school friend Mike’s Dr. Who-centric booth at the relocated-to-Anaheim WonderCon and have seen the event grow exponentially. Like Comic-Con, you see superhero fandom, anime otaku, Star Wars geeks, Harry Potter followers, and horror movie freaks coexist under the same roof. Except this one was sold out for only one of its three days and there were no corporate pavilions inside or tents. The DC booth was actually rather quaint.
There were indeed some big-time panels (Godzilla, Batman, Groo vs. Conan) but they didn’t seem to have the same commerce-sucking effect that the Hall H ones do in San Diego. And at least they were related to comics, sci-fi, action, horror, swords and sandals, etc. No Glee-type events that I noticed.
Of course I miss seeing friends at Drawn & Quarterly, Fantagraphics, Grass Hut/Gargamel, Super7, and Giant Robot. Those are the indie comics friends and comics-inspired subcultures that I’m closest to. I don’t miss the all-encompassing hunt for “exclusives” that has turned Comic-Con into a treasure hunt for Ebay capitalists. Meanwhile the cosplay is just as good–and more fun than sexy in real life, despite what most glossy/creepy bloggers would like you to think–and ample 12 dollar parking is pretty awesome.
So there is a lot of room for growth at WonderCon. The floor could be expanded by a full 50 percent without adding a hall. But how big is too big? How fast is too fast? Will more days sell out next year? Will the event even return to Anaheim? As of now, the latter hasn’t been settled. Popularity and success are the natural enemies of subcultures, and subcultures by definition can’t take over the mainstream, so as we stash our scores into Mylar sleeves, overstuffed bookshelves, and IKEA display cases we can’t help but wonder what will happen.
I’m hoping WonderCon returns to Anaheim in 2015 so I can find out. And hang out with my pal selling Dr. Who stuff while I’m at it.