With all of the hype every year around San Diego Comic-Con running pretty close to 11 months and 2 weeks every year, people often forget that Comic-Con International (the parent company of SDCC) has a second convention that seems to have gained a serious foothold in the hearts of comic fans in the Western United States, WonderCon. However, that foothold didn't stop Anaheim from performing a renovation and expansion on their convention center that made it unusable for WonderCon in 2016. Therefore, Comic-Con International signed a one-year contract with Los Angeles to hold the convention. On top of which, WonderCon became the testing ground for the new RFID badge system for Comic-Con itself. Did these changes make a better show, a worse show, or did it not matter in general. Jeremy from the Rolling 20's decided to take his family with him and find out for us.
I just can’t get enough of the Residence Inn at L.A. Live.
I have stayed here for multiple conventions and it gets more comfortable and interesting in each stay. I’m actually impressed that after staying there five times, enough of the employees remember me and that they make me feel welcome as I come through the door.
The rooms are decorated in rich reds and browns, making the rooms a bit dim and in need of interior lights, but they are spacious enough to have eight people sitting in them without feeling crowded. The kitchen with the full-size refrigerator is a gift of the gods. We didn’t need to eat out at all during the weekend since they provided us with enough tools that we could buy groceries and cook meals.
I also tried their grocery delivery service for the first time. It works, for sure, but you have to plan ahead of your needs. I ordered flats of water at 8:30 a.m., but they weren’t delivered until around 3:00 p.m.; well within their window of delivery, but still left us without our request for most of a day.
The staff is very accommodating for such a small location. They actually filled requests I had very close to my check-in date.
If you want the full lowdown, check out the Conover podcast associated with this convention, but this is not a hotel experience to take lightly.
Comic-Con International also rented busses to run from all of the hotels to the Convention Center no longer than 15 minutes between busses. I took a couple of them, and there were some missteps, including a couple of rides veering off into more sketchy territory when the missed a turn, but they seemed to correct pretty quickly and the system ran well overall.
This appears to have had different answers depending on when you stepped up to the table.
I went at about 10:00 a.m. on Day 1 (Friday, March 25) to get my badge, and I only waited about 90 seconds in a short line to get my badge. It took longer to apply for press on-site than it did to actually get a badge. This is what I have come to expect from WonderCon’s parent company, Comic-Con International.
However, as the weekend went on, I heard sporadic stories of people on Day 0 and Day 2 waiting over an hour to get their badges. There were some kind of apparent technical difficulties that I wasn’t seeing causing occasional long delays. I don’t know where these errors came from. I didn’t see or hear about anything similar happening in the Anaheim Convention Center during WonderCon’s years there.
Hopefully, they work out this problem ahead of their next move.
For the first time ever, WonderCon was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The convention previously existed in San Francisco, until the unavailability of the venue made them make a “temporary” move to Anaheim. When they moved, they experienced such an attendance explosion, they decided to stay in Anaheim until the building underwent an renovation and expansion that threatened to make a section of the building unavailable. Therefore, they made a 1-year move to the Los Angeles Convention Center.
WonderCon had to deal with several items that conventions like Comikaze and Anime Expo have had in the same building; a non-contigious exhibit hall space; the long Concourse Bridge between the halls, and the relatively asymmetrical layout. Surprisingly, they dealt pretty well with all of it.
Firstly, the West Hall of the convention center (or the LACC) was used entirely for registration, registration lines, and raffle ticket lines. That’s right… the entirety of the registration line was INDOORS.
Second, food trucks were in two different locations to alleviate some of the crowding other conventions cause; They were in the bus parking area in front of the Concourse Bridge and they were actually parked on the outer deck of West Hall. This made wandering the area of the South Hall less necessary and brought more foot traffic to the West Hall.
Third, several of the meeting rooms were set aside for overflow for large panels and lines to keep the upper hallways clear.
And fourth, the Microsoft Theater was used for all large panels, as well as a few panels even happening in the J.W. Marriott.
That isn’t to say this is a good building. It is still very aged compared to other California convention centers and the layout doesn’t promote growth for larger conventions. Actually, it can limit your potential when you have to split your dealer’s hall.
The staff is still standoffish, though I noted that there was a lot of new faces in between the staff in suits. There was a lot of security in red-and-yellow windbreakers that were more congenial and conversational in nature. I don’t know if Comic-Con brought them with them or if they were specially hired for the weekend. I will keep an eye out during Comikaze and Anime Expo to see if these friendly faces are back.
Talk about making the most of limited space. This convention knows how to put on a show.
There was a number of larger booths including Disney Music Emporium, Capcom, Nintendo, DC Comics, Aspen Comics. And then, there were independent dealers everywhere. If you were interested in vintage TV shows, throwback gaming, statues, toys, comics, movie collectibles, or various items you forgot existed, this convention had bits of everything to keep you coming back to the hall to think about.
The small press tables and Artist’s Alley were also in this space.
The thing that surprises me is that only rarely did it feel like there were too many people in the Dealer’s Hall. It was often easy to get around, even with a stroller and children in tow. I can only guess that had to do with the strength of the panels offered.
Also… where did all of the carpet come from? I’m not used to the Dealer’s Hall in the LACC being covered in carpet. Maybe it’s only there when there’s enough money by whomever’s renting it for the Union labor to put it out?
This convention has a good balance of panels for people to choose from. There were panels for various current television shows and a good number of debuts and announcements, as well as a lot of fan panels for people to choose from. You’d actually have to work not to find something to step into during the weekend.
During WonderCon, there was a debut of the animated film Justice League vs. Teen Titans, marquee panels with Legends of Tomorrow and iZombie, and a DC Comics panel headed by Jim Lee and Dan DiDio with the details of DC’s latest comic-shift event, Rebirth. While that is a good list of headline panels, I did notice one thing… All of the big panels were Warner Brothers/DC based. I don’t know if Marvel is not interested in WonderCon in general, saving it all for San Diego Comic-Con, or under orders by the “House of Mouse” to hold out for their own shows. While Marvel didn't have a larger appearance, several of their notable creators, including Brian Michael Bendis, did host panels during the weekend.
However, I do hope that other larger companies take notice of the growing WonderCon crowd to show off new debuts and content. There is a terrific fanbase here that would eat up the news that could be offered.
WonderCon is the upper end of the cosplay scale for comic book conventions.
You will find a veritable Bag-of-Holding worth of different types of cosplay for you to take pictures of, speak with, or share tips with. I was pleasantly surprised by people doing their best to emulate their favorite characters regardless of popularity.
If there was a problem with cosplay, it was the building itself. The LACC has made a shift in the last 18 months to keep people from gathering anywhere indoors, regardless of if it creates a hazard or is well-controlled. You might be better off wandering a bit away from the convention center for photos, if you can. There’s a few places around the Staples Center that are decent for photos, and, for some reason, they weren’t as eager to chase people away from their grounds as they are during Anime Expo, despite the fact that a professional sports game happened each day.
As I mentioned before, there were some strange issues with registration.
Setting that aside, Comic-Con International did its usual bang-up job of having professional people available to represent them. Even when I had difficulties, I wasn’t brushed aside or marginalized. It’s rare that I feel like, even when being denied, I’m still treated like a person and not a problem. Comic-Con trains its people well.
And, I got a good look at the system they were testing for Comic-Con at WonderCon; RFID badges. The newer badges will have an RFID chip in them that you must use to tap-in and tap-out of different points in the building. This can be used to accurately measure metrics like the number of people going in and out of the Dealer’s Hall, panel areas, and to the larger panel events. It also limits hot swaps (when 2 people go inside a convention, then one comes out with both badges so they can get a third unregistered person inside). It didn’t interrupt the flow of the convention and enough badge readers were used to make it actually a very simple procedure.
Downtown Los Angeles is definitely undergoing a transformation. Two hotels are actively being built, one across from the LACC, and one is about half-complete where the Wilshire Grand Hotel used to be at 7th St. and Figueroa; the new Wilshire Grand Tower.
There’s a better balance of places in the area to get what you need, including a Smart & Final and a Ralph’s Grocery within a moderate walking distance of the convention center and some hotels, but you needed to really look up where you were going before you start. The reason for this is that there are a number of homeless and beggars in the area that can be a bit aggressive. I had one tweaker follow me for half a block before I made it to my hotel. He didn’t turn out to be dangerous, but you can never tell these days.
I did walk a bit of the upper end of the Figueroa Corridor around 5th and Flower down to Olympic and there are a lot of smaller restaurants on the cross-streets between Figueroa and Flower, but, again, you should know what you’re doing and where you’re going before you leave. Google Maps is your friend, here.
WonderCon itself didn’t have pre-set parties. If you’ve been to San Diego Comic-Con, you know that parties aren’t their overall concern. That’s because other parties usually make other events around Comic-Con for people to blow off steam at.
WonderCon is starting to get the same treatment.
I was aware of different events on both nights of the convention being held by third parties, including That Hashtag Show, at different locations including the J.W. Marriott lobby bar and the Library Bar on Flower Street. These mixers are a good place to blow off some steam, but they also turned into pretty interesting discussions of comic books and related media, as well as a place to network and share ideas.
I don’t condone getting drunk for anyone, but everyone there seemed to avoid it in favor of just hanging out. It was pretty refreshing, really.
WonderCon seems to be shifting gears to grow to be its own large convention under Comic-Con’s umbrella, but they’re not in a hurry to get there. They are carefully tailoring their growth to keep its experience relatively consistent, but more grandiose each year. Whomever is in charge is pretty savvy.
I would recommend this convention. Despite a few bad eggs (mostly a few surly fans), this was a good place, not only for fans, but for new people and families, as well. I saw a large amount of kids also eager to see more of their favorite superheroes and pop-culture influences. This should be a must-attend event for comic book fans who want to see other fans or top-notch creators and see what they have to say.
Also, it should be noted that it was announced before WonderCon that 2017’s convention will move back to the Anaheim Convention Center. Look forward to next year’s coverage to include a look at the new convention center expansion and see if the growth continues in WonderCon’s current home location.
I can’t speak for everyone, but… I am really looking forward to next year’s show.