Wondercon has returned to the Anaheim Convention Center for 2017, and one of our comic-book enthusiasts, Jeremy from the Rolling 20's Show, went down to see what was new with the convention center and to get a measure of Wondercon's growth. Is the convention about to turn a corner into a new era? Is it still accessible to casual fans? Is the cosplay still on point? He was too eager to find out. Let's read!
The Anaheim Hilton is a very solid hotel on multiple levels.
Although they weren’t ready for my arrival at 6:00 a.m., they did have a room ready not long after the convention opened. The room was in very neutral colors of white, black, and grays with wood accents and the usual furniture in a two-bed room; a desk, a small dresser, a lounging chair, and an end-table.
I couldn’t figure out how to get the TV to take an alternative input. It looks like this hotel is geared a bit like some resort hotels in that they try to limit your entertainment alternatives so that you need to go out and engage in the local area. It’s a minor gripe in that I attempted to share a Youtube video and couldn’t get it on to the TV.
The hotel is also large and well-administrated enough that there was a dance competition that ran at the same time as Wondercon on Friday and Saturday, and you wouldn’t be very aware of it if you weren’t paying attention. There’s also a pool deck with waterslides for kids, a hot tub, a gym, and a couple of restaurant options in the hotel. They expanded the bar into some of the lobby seating area for additional service.
Between their helpful staff, professional demeanor, spacious rooms, proximity to the Anaheim Convention Center, and accessibility to the local theme parks, this hotel is a good place for your convention stay.
Comic-Con International (CCI), as of San Diego Comic-Con 2016, has begun mailing badges to their domestic customers. This practice expanded to Wondercon this year. It makes the process much easier when you show up with a badge and just need to pick up a lanyard and convention booklet.
There were decent lines of people who bought badges after the mailing deadline, but they set up a smaller-than-usual bank of people to process badges, and the process is still quick and efficient. If you are sure you’re going and bought your badge well in advance, barring some sort of missing mail, you won’t have a problem here.
If anyone from CCI is paying attention, though, I pray that they use a different return address on their envelopes. If my badges all come to my mailbox with “SDCC” on them, I’m worried someone will start watching my mail to steal the badge. With the RFID technology, it would be easy to inform CCI and invalidate the badge, but that would add extra inconvenience to replace it… and possibly require the attendee to pay to replace it, as well.
After a year in Los Angeles, Wondercon returned to Anaheim and the Anaheim Convention Center. I was really looking forward to reviewing the convention center expansion that began last April. Unfortunately, the new annex was not completed. There was a bit of limited access to it through doors added to the north end (Disneyland-facing side) of the second floor, but that ended in a locked rolling door after about 30 yards. I couldn’t gleam much from it at the time other than a large fountain that is being set in front of the new area.
The rest of the Anaheim Convention Center hasn’t changed much from the last time I was there. There is a pervasive aquatic theme in the carpet and some of the surrounding grounds. The building is a rolling architecture of glass and steel that has a pretty welcoming vibe. The grounds around the convention center and between the hotels has been further expanded in recent years to include a courtyard that is big enough to host about 10 food trucks that served lunch and had picnic tables set up nearby. This still left ample walking room to get to the convention center grounds.
The interior has a very ample floorplan with good open space, though people moving from place to place can fill it quickly, similarly to the lobby of the San Diego Convention Center.
CCI also spent extra time setting up rails all around the convention center to make the immediate grounds and everything between the hotels and the Anaheim Convention Center a badge-only zone. I read a lot of social media posts about this being unfair to ghosters, but, frankly, I read an equal number of posts of people saying that they preferred the badge-only zone to keep space open for people who paid for the privilege. Considering how open the grounds felt in the area, I think CCI made the right move.
Despite the praise, there is a problem. Parking is not well situated here. The new convention center expansion sits where a standby parking structure used to be, further exacerbating the issue. I heard reports of people driving around the area for an hour before being led to the overflow parking, including pretty far away at Angel Stadium, and then being shuttled over. Disneyland became aware of Wondercon attendees parking at their theme park parking and started shooing them away in earnest on Saturday. I heard complaining about parking a lot over the weekend. I don’t have any good suggestions in this realm other than carpooling and arriving early. You may not like sitting around waiting for things to open, but it sounds better than sitting in your car an hour after the convention opens wishing you were parked already.
Wondercon’s Dealer’s Hall feels like Comic-Con’s Exhibit Hall without the constant lines winding through everything. Don’t misunderstand, there were lines for major creators and some booths with exclusives, but they weren’t an overriding presence.
The Dealer’s Hall at the Anaheim Convention center is four halls that have removeable walls to make a mostly-continuous hall by passing through certain points between the halls. It was simple to walk through everything to get to where you needed and the selection of items to buy went from vintage to brand new debuts very quickly. More companies brought their bigger, more elaborate booths for people to visit including Loot Crate, DC Comics, Kotobukiya, Capcom, and Ultrasabers. You could find goods for gaming, cosplay, steampunk, comics, anime, and original creations. It wasn’t the most diverse selection I’ve seen, but it was close and enough to make me second guess my budget a few times.
The layout of the hall is also similar to Comic-Con with sections for Artist’s Alley, Small Press, and Fan Community Tables. The major difference was the number of bigger vendors and publishing companies at the front of the hall. Thankfully, they put a lot of space in the aisles between these booths, so it didn’t prevent you from quickly moving towards the heart of the halls.
Autograph lines moved briskly, and the guest list included Modern and Silver Age creators like Sanford Green, Maugerite Sauvage, Bob Layton, Michael Golden, and Mark Waid.
Wondercon’s Dealer’s Hall is well worth spending a day to see which collections need rounding out.
In 2016, I noted that I hoped more companies would bring debuts for a hungry Wondercon fanbase. I’m not going to say they heard me, but…
This year there were debuts of clips of the upcoming Wonder Woman movie and full episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and iZombie, in addition to the full debut of the DC animated film for Teen Titans: The Judas Contract.
There were also panels with Jim Lee, Warner Brothers, most of the Voltron: Legendary Defender primary characters, The Magicians, and several other industry panels. Among them were also fan-run and fan-oriented panels giving the weekend a very balanced feel. I would like to see Marvel take more note of a convention being hosted in the backyard of their Disney overlords, but it seems that they hold their news for Comic-Con and D23. If that changes, I could see Wondercon quickly explode into a convention that could rival San Diego, New York, and Salt Lake City’s Comic-Cons in scale, exclusivity, and must-see events.
Let me first say that the attitude regarding cosplay in Anaheim makes the Los Angeles Convention Center look downright prudish. People gathered in front of fountains, inside on staircases, on outer terraces, and while security was watchful, they didn’t interfere as long as nothing was being broken. It was nice to be able to wander without being admonished.
Moving on, people are still bringing their A-game cosplay for Wondercon. I saw hyper-authentic looking costumes for not just comic book characters, but soldiers from Battlefield 1, Halo, and Indiana Jones. There’s a small video on the Mission Start Podcast instagram that had a 1970’s Battlestar Galactica pilot being followed by a squad of Cylons, complete with the trademark Cylon-eye sound effects loud enough to be heard over the din of the crowds.
You also saw people’s more creative side come out for their costumes. The Sith versions of Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn was compelling.
The badge-only zone around the Anaheim Convention Center gave a lot of people fits about their ability to be photographed and gather, particularly the Overwatch gathering. They did adjust their plan to outside the zone, but it’s another example of how you’re going to need to plan your cosplay schedule around the badge zone or make sure your badges are purchased well in advance to avoid sell outs.
Comic-Con International seems to work hard with their security company to find people that know how to use “please” and “thank you.” I recognized the blazers from my recent trips to San Diego Comic-Con and they continued to be very attentive and prompt without being overbearing or rude. It’s nice to be treated so professionally after the one-year trip to Los Angeles was pretty lackluster.
The Anaheim Convention Center’s staff was pretty courteous, but, other than concessions, seemed to stay in the background and out of sight.
The local police seemed to just enjoy watching the cosplay and people expressing their hobbies.
Anaheim is well-tailored for mid-size events for the most part. There’s a lot of hotels in the local area around the convention center with more in moderate walking distance. There’s a good choice of restaurants which are in competition with the local theme parks, so the prices are a little higher than usual, but nothing truly deteremental.
Actually, Downtown Disney isn’t an unbelievable walk from the convention center, so there’s even more choices on where to eat, as long as you’re willing to go through the security checks. I wouldn’t recommend cosplay for that as costumes are generally not allowed on Disney entertainment property.
The theme parks also bring an enhanced security and police presence, so walking locally isn’t as harrowing as it is in Los Angeles. That being said, I would still be aware of your personal space for people watching you. There’s always someone willing to steal if you give them an opportunity
As per usual with Comic-Con International conventions, Wondercon doesn’t have any night time events. The most you’ll find is late night table-top gaming and an anime screening room. There were a couple of third party events, but they were loosely run this year and didn’t require a lot of time unless you started a great conversation.
You could always go to Disneyland for the price of a good figurine or back issue, but if that isn’t of your interest, I would suggest making a bit of a plan for your evenings to keep from getting stuck in a funk during the night-time hours.
Wondercon is now adding a secondary name, “Anaheim Comic-Con.” Considering the way that exclusives and major guests are starting to coalesce around this convention every year, the name is probably more earned than Los Angeles Comic-Con.
Wondercon has a lot of what makes San Diego Comic-Con interesting including exclusives, debuts, shopping selection, amazing guests, and unique experiences, without having Comic-Con’s downsides of major line and crowding issues. On top of it all, there’s a thriving cosplay community here that Comic-Con struggles with logistically. This is a convention I can recommend to a lot of people without hesitation.
The question I have is; How much longer will Wondercon be as accessible before too many people catch on and make it harder to attend? Make the trip next year before that becomes an issue.