I have been trying to get to WonderCon for the last couple of years. Granted, the sudden and forced move to Southern California should have made it easy, but it wasn’t easy to shift money and time around between my day job and my family to make it possible. This year is the third year WonderCon has been in Anaheim, and things have finally worked out so I could get my oversize self to the second largest convention in Comic-Con International’s cycle. I’m a big fan of the product in San Diego, but does this displaced middle child live up to its big brother? Time to finally find out.
There is no shuttle system at this convention due to the compressed nature of the nearby hotels around the venue.
There are several hotels on the same block as the Anaheim Convention Center. There’s a Sheraton, a Hilton, a Marriott, and a few other non-chain hotels nearby. As I looked at the skyline, I noticed that north and south of Convention Center Way, there are new hotels that look to be finished before the end of the year.
I managed to snag one of the last reservations at the Anaheim Hilton. The last time I stayed here was in 2006 for the Anime Expo and there have been a myriad of changes. The fountains in the lobby have been removed and the floor is now level. There’s a lot of seats and tables and a bar added to the central lobby. The hotel used to be decked out in blues and whites, and they have shifted toward copper and earth tones.
There have been more additions and subtractions to the pool area. A lot of the plants that were used as backdrops for the Dead or Alive Xtreme groups in the day have been removed. The bar/grill outside of the pool has been beefed up and there’s a workable menu on it. Some of the raised garden area and all of the trees are gone. However, they have expanded to two hot tubs next to the pool, and they have a kids’ water playground.
The rooms are very spacious. We had dual queen beds to accommodate bodies and there was more than enough room to stretch out. The bathrooms were all right, though there was no exhaust fan in the bathroom, so a hot shower makes your mirror useless for half an hour and, as with some more modern renovations, there is no actual lockable door on the bathroom; it has one of those odd sliding doors. It’s something that isn’t bad as long as you keep a simple rule; if the light is on, don’t go near it.
It’s a solid hotel, though I miss the prior fixtures in the lobby.
Although this convention is run by Comic-Con International which has run the slickest registration process I have ever seen, we have seen that conventions run by the same management group can have different problems. (Otakon rocks, but Japan Expo USA, which has some of their managers, does not.) I didn’t know what to expect when I walked up to registration a little after 8:00 a.m. on Saturday (Day 2 of the 3-day convention).
I didn’t expect to walk straight into registration.
There was no line. There was zero wait. Before I could pick where I was going, there was a dozen people energetically waiving signs to get me to get my badge from them. These people were very eager to get badges processed and put more people inside the convention. Professional registration was in the same area and never had lines of more than five people in them.
In fact, all of Hall A (1/4 of the total convention hall space) was reserved solely for registration and to house the lines for the Exhibit Hall and the Arena where main events were to occur. The room was kept practically chilly for the entire weekend. They definitely expected a lot of people to linger in here, but they were doing too good of a job keeping people cycled through as necessary and getting us on our way
I have to hand it to them. These people really know how to use space.
The Anaheim Convention Center itself hasn’t changed much in the last 10 years. It’s still a 6 story structure with only 3 floors inside and large ceilings. They have one of the largest convention spaces in California with a decent amount of meeting rooms and several outdoor balconies. If you were here at the last Anime Expo, the only major change is that a lot of the older monitors on the walls have been taken down.
However, that isn’t to say things haven’t changed and aren’t changing. The city recently agreed to expand the convention center with a 200,000 building to be added adjacently to the main building and connected by a bridge. Additionally, the island on Convention Center Way has been expanded to twice its size, adding a plaza between the Hilton and the Marriott. In fact, the expansion of walking space is so aggressive, Convention Center Way is no longer a street through the block. It stops at a round-about a third into the block giving access to the Marriott and the Hilton before you have to go out the way you came. The rest of the street has been converted to plaza and walking space. Even the grassy areas outside of the Arena have been replaced by more plaza space and a very little grass is left there.
There is a lot of space here.
The Exhibit Hall is busy.
Just as with Comic-Con, the main commerce is done at the Exhibit Hall. This is another convention that is an unapologetic trade show. They’re brining you in with a little bit of possibility of news, but the obvious purpose of this show is that they want you to buy and sell your collectables here.
There is a robust group of dealers here. Towers of T-shirts, classic and modern comic books, comic book grading services, models, robot toys, corsets, steampunk gear and clothes, comic book story boards, artists both professional and burgeoning, etc. It’s not as grand and all-encompassing as Comic-Con, but there is a good chance you can find what you’re looking for.
In fact, one person I ran into said that a lot of dealers have willingly come to WonderCon INSTEAD of Comic-Con. The reasons vary a bit. Some came because their customers can’t get into Comic-Con, but they were coming here, so this is where they went. Others can’t afford the booths at Comic-Con anymore and decided to go to WonderCon instead. Either way, WonderCon’s Hall is benefiting from those who can’t get to the big show.
Every member of my family walked away with something they truly wanted, and, in the end, isn’t that all you can ask for?
The list of panels was more of a hodgepodge of geeky interests. The meeting rooms had different panels regarding the future of Battlestar Galactica, women and their roles in comic books both on the page and behind the scenes, different creators sharing their process and things they would like to see, and more.
However, the larger panels were held in the Arena. There is a 7,700 seat arena that offers better seating than in Hall H at San Diego or other meeting spaces due to the stadium-like nature of the seating. In this building, there was a masquerade and a panel for the 75th anniversary of Batman starring, among others, Kevin Conroy, Kevin Smith, and Jim Lee. They talked about the projects for the year involving the Dark Knight including new comic series, video games, and animation.
I’m not sure if you can say that the panels are a large part of the convention. There are some gems in it, but the grouping of them are largely more about discussion than much hard information.
Comic book conventions aren’t known for intricate or detailed cosplay. It seems that WonderCon’s fans are seriously throwing that trend out the window.
Not only did I see a number of new cosplayers displaying some imaginative and detailed cosplay, I saw a good number of the more talented cosplayers in the California circuit had come to WonderCon with improved or new costumes. There were extremely large groups for both Marvel and DC, though there were also a good number of anime, video game, and steampunk costumes.
It does seem like comic book cosplay is starting to turn a corner and become more prominent than it used to be. I’m sure that a large part of that has to do with the comic book inspired movies gaining a serious foothold in success. There’s a part of me that wants to come back next year to see if more cosplayers and fans attend since costumes in comic books change about as often as Wolverine joins new teams.
The staff here, both for the convention and convention center, are serious, but courteous. No one seemed to be wasting any breath or time as they moved about their business. The registration staff smiled a lot and moved quickly.
Unfortunately, there was a bit of confusion over something that happened to my family while we were there. Thankfully, we were able to resolve it on our own and no one was hurt.
The staff here were more like dealing with ninjas sometimes; you know they are there, but your rarely see them unless you’re really looking.
Anaheim is one of those places that does robust business without a convention around, and, as I’m sure you know, that has to do with the Anaheim Convention Center being across the street from Disneyland and California Adventure. The city doesn’t have to be heavily involved with the local conventions because there is already a large amount of commerce happening on any given day.
The advantage to that, though, is that there is a metric ton of eateries nearby with fair prices. I say fair because it does seem that the prices in the area are a bit above normal. They know that they have a lot of the locals by the short-and-curlies when it comes to the local area and they do their best to be a bit cheaper than places to eat inside the amusement park, but they are certainly going to make sure that they get their piece.
Overall, it is a place with more choices than a lot of cities, but you should be prepared to pay for that premium.
There is no night life at the convention. None.
There were no dances or after hours entertainment arranged by Comic-Con International. The closest you come is the nighttime cosplay that some people do. Then again, you can always visit the pool at your hotel and see what’s happening there. Pools tend to draw conventioneers after the sun goes down.
WonderCon’s move to Southern California was a necessity when it first happened a couple of years ago due to their regular Northern California venue being unavailable. Now, it appears to be in Southern California by choice. You would think that such a move would hurt a convention that has been slowly building. Instead, the convention has exploded to fill most of the Anaheim Convention Center and has drawn new vendors and fans alike to it.
WonderCon has even left itself room to grow with the Anaheim Convention Center’s scheduled expansion and the fact that they did not use ¼ of the total convention space available. Cosplayers have descended upon the convention in droves and the convention responded by making sure they are well staffed and housed to handle the new bodies. The end result is a convention that isn’t quite as must-see as Comic-Con, and not as fan friendly as Comikaze, but is still a fun time in its own right. They also fall into an interesting part of the Southern California schedule that didn’t previously have a large comic book convention.
Come and see a convention that is likely to become extremely large in the near future.