Convention Report | WonderCon 2013 (03.29-31.13)

Sarah Boslaugh checks in from the famed Comic-Con International spinoff, spending its second year in Anaheim.



When I tell people that I went to WonderCon, their usual response is: What’s that? This is perhaps not surprising, because there are a lot of comics and popular culture conventions out there, and this one is put on by the same organization, Comic-Con International, that also does the much larger San Diego Comic-Con.
WonderCon began 26 years ago as a small festival in Oakland, then moved to San Francisco, and has been held in Anaheim the last two years due to scheduling difficulties and renovations to the Moscone Center. While today WonderCon is not exactly small—it had about 40,000 attendees in 2012, and about 700 exhibitors and 240 hours of programming this year—it’s still dwarfed by its big brother in San Diego, which had attendance of over 130,000 in 2012.
Of course, bigger is not necessarily better, and I found WonderCon to be a manageable size while still offering a lot of variety in programming. The temporary location in Anaheim is a good news, bad news, situation—while I missed the quirkiness of San Francisco, I did appreciate the beautiful Anaheim weather and the spacious convention center that hosted most of the events (a few were held in the conference hotel, the Anaheim Marriott).
Mads Mikkelsen (Le Chiffre in Casino Royale, Citronen in Flamme & Citronen) cast his baleful glance over WonderCon attendees this year. He plays the title character in the new NBC series Hannibal, and looks pretty scary in this photo, but can he make you forget about Anthony Hopkins’ performance as Hannibal Lecter? You’ll have to decide for yourself: if you didn’t make it to WonderCon to catch the preview screenings of the first two episodes of this show, it premieres on broadcast on Thursday, April 4.
The palm trees, as well as the word “Anaheim” displayed prominently in the WonderCon logo and on the convention center itself, provide clues that this convention did not take place in San Francisco.
The palms also cast lovely shadows over the patio area surrounding the Convention Center. Unlike, say, Atlanta’s Dragon*Con, Anaheim’s WonderCon has strong outside as well as inside components, if I may borrow from Jackie Mason’s description of Catskills hotel culture.
But enough about the horticulture: I was here to present a paper and participate in another panel as part of the Comic Arts Conference (CAC), an association of academics and others who take a scholarly, critical interest in comics. The CAC put on nine sessions over the three days of WonderCon, covering everything from the figure of the journalist in superhero comics to the work of Matt Kindt (with the St. Louis-based artist himself being part of that panel); you can see the titles of several CAC panels on this schedule.
Since I’m a total academic nerd, I spent a lot of time at panels focused around issues like the LGBTQ subtext in comics, sci-fi, and fantasy—although as the room was packed and the audience response was lively for that particular session, I’m clearly not the only one interested.
But for those who are into cosplay, the latest video games, upcoming releases from the big comics publishers, or any number of other things that fit into the broad category of comics and popular culture, WonderCon offered plenty of options. Part of the Con experience is the gathering of many, many tribes, and you have to love an event that has room for everything from Disney pin collectors to fans of Hip Hop comics, and for people interested in breaking into the business of popular culture as well as those who are primarily consumers of it.
If you’re a person who likes to take pictures of people in costumes, or to take pictures of people taking pictures of people in costumes, WonderCon offered plenty of opportunities to play those roles as well.
And of course, there was a blood drive; you can tell by the tiny “SF” pin on my badge that I was a donor at this Con. Here’s a fun fact: the noted science fiction writer Robert Heinlein helped organized the first Con blood drive in 1976, at the 34th World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City, and it’s been a tradition ever since. Heinlein had a personal interest in the project: he had a rare blood type (AB+), was a supporter of the National Rare Blood Club, and worked his knowledge of blood types into his novel I Will Fear No Evil. | Sarah Boslaugh

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