I’ve kept meaning to write a big long post about WonderCon last weekend since…last Sunday night. But a new project, other deadlines, general lethargy, and now incipient MoCCA Madness have prevented me from getting the kind of court time I need for a long post. So here are a few short thoughts before I get totally distracted by the next thing. And yes, I was a guest of the con, and they are an advertiser, so you can take all the following thoughts with a big salt cellar, if you so choose.
1. At approximately 3:25 pm PDT Sunday, April 4th, I was walking around the floor of WonderCon and spotted a totally cute wallet on sale at the Gama-Go booth. Because I was low on cash and there was a $60 credit card minimum I had to run outside the Moscone Center, find an ATM (took four tries!), run back into the show and purchase the wallet. All of which was accomplished by 3:45 pm PDT. Perhaps it is unnecessary to make so many comparisons to the Behemoth to the South, but there is no way in hell anything I just described could have taken place at San Diego (which we should all start calling CCI, since it may not be in San Diego any more.) Just moving to another part of the hall would have taken 20 minutes, what with negotiating crowds, avoiding camera crews, saying hello to 40 people (although this doesn’t happen as much any more) and so on. At WonderCon you can do things on the spur of the moment. And also buy lethally adorable wallets from Gama-Go
2. San Francisco is da bomb. In all the talk of whether there are absinthe bars and truffle-oil pancakes in Anaheim or not, people forget that there is another West Coast convention that is set in a gem of a city. The Moscone Center is located right in the heart of downtown with shopping, movie theaters, food, bars, and everything else you need a few steps away. Even better neighborhoods and world class restaurants are a mere BART, Muni or cab ride away. I got an excellent $10 manicure on the third floor of an old Victorian office building after consulting Yelp. Two dinners — one at the W, and one at a Thai place behind the convention center — were absolutely top-notch. I dare not say more about the bar with the three-legged cat for fear of having to be silenced later on. You get the idea. If you want a convention as an excuse to play tourist, WonderCon is it.
3. WonderCon is Hotel-Mas. SF is home to many, many hotels, and getting a room during WonderCon is as easy as picking up the phone. The Marriott Marquis, HQ hotel, had a room rate of $109, which is dirt cheap, all things considered. It wasn’t the most up-to-date hotel in the world — no Wi-Fi in room? — or the cheapest for amenities — $15 Ethernet and $14 cocktails–but it did the job. Also the $14 cocktails undoubtedly cut down on BarCon, which was one of the great things about the old WonderCon. However, the Death Star bar at the Marriott made drinking $14 cocktails seem a little more civilized. There are many other affordable food and drink options around the Moscone Center, so with a mere 35,000-40,000 people attending WonderCon, getting a hotel room and getting fed isn’t a problem or an ordeal.
4. Bay Area residents know how to dress up. While every comics convention has become a floating Halloween in terms of giving people a chance to let their freak flags fly, free spirited northern Californians pretty much dress up and run around this way 365. We saw more people who seem to have closets full of ninja/dominatrix/Gothipunk/mystery oddball garb daily than at any other show. And the costumes were fun to look at, with no huge crowds around to trample or obscure the view. The good: This being Cali, there were lots of fit folks wearing skin tight costumes. The bad: lots of guys need to wear a dance belt under their lycra. Seriously, I haven’t seen so many franks and beans since I toured the B&M factory.
5. It’s laid back. I don’t know whether it’s that the plethora of conventions on the circuit these days so that everyone hangs out every other weekend, but there was a very low level of anxiety in the places visited. I had nice long conversations with people I normally never have long conversations with, and the mood was relaxed overall. This placid relief extended to the con staff, who were seen just hanging out in the hotel bar at various times, as opposed to orbiting in their all-access command module, as they must do at CCI. That was nice.
6. San Francisco has a strong comics heritage. Whether as the breeding ground of the underground comics movement — see Last Gasp’s 40th Anniversary party on Thursday — or as the present hothouse for innovative retailers — Comix Experience and the Isotope, both leaders in their respective genres — or even as the home of the Cartoon Art Museum, which is definitely the best established existing institute of higher comics culture in the land, San Francisco welcomes comics culture.
7. It was just a nice show. Good guests, good programming, good amenities. Nice.
So that’s all the good stuff. The big question over the weekend was whether WonderCon would start to become the “spill over con/pressure cooker release valve” for those too poor, too stressed or too hotel-room deficient to go to CCI: San Diego. For the reasons outlined above I can see that happening, and indeed, many comics types mentioned that they were going to their first WonderCon for similar reasons. (I also heard there were a lot of first time con-goers and comic book purchasers.) After hearing a lot of conspiracy theories, speculation and off the record conversations, I would say that there is a very good chance that CCI could leave San Diego for a few years, even with the new convention center expansion supposedly happening, and the experience will not be the same if it does. WonderCon definitely provides that sophisticated big city, West Coast experience that a congoer might wish for. Of course, this means that it is probably going to get spoiled really fast.
The big question mark with all of this is Hollywood’s participation. I had one of those pale green pants moments back in the press room for the KICK-ASS junket when I realized that as I see them over and over again, I was getting to know some of the entertainment website journos covering these events, and they aren’t so bad. In fact, a lot of them are really nice, and professional and struggle to get their jobs done, just like the rest of us. Hollywood had a reduced presence at WonderCon, but it was still big enough for a big off-site TRON event, and a score or so of movie stars. A big question I had for anyone was whether the Hollywood Hype Machine will be comfortable with a move to Anaheim/Los Angeles/whatever, and the answer is yes. Studio PR people don’t really care if they herd journos into a meeting room in San Diego, in San Francisco or in Sacramento as long as they get coverage. And the journos themselves, not being stupid, can see how much easier things are at WnderCon for themselves, as “Frosty” Weintraub at Collider wrote:
But…I think WonderCon is going to slowly get closer to what Comic-Con is – especially if they keep the early April date. The Hollywood studios that attended loved being able to promote their summer movies close to when they were coming out and I’m sure they loved the response to the footage shown.
Also, many journalists (myself included) attended the convention for the first time and I think word will spread about how cool WonderCon is and how relaxed everything is when compared to Comic-Con. Of course as more attend, that will change.
While I think Comic-Con is worth the money to fly to if you can afford it…WonderCon is really more for local residents and die-hard fans. Saying that…I think in a few years, we’re looking at an event that could rival Comic-Con.
And it did. I had to throw elbows just to cross the floor (even avoiding lines for guys like David Finch or Geoff Johns, the real big-ticket items). It was packed. It was packed everywhere but I was. Now normally I’d attribute it to my prickly personality, but I’d gone through months of intensive one-on-one therapy so that I could get past my interpersonal relationship issues.
The fact of the matter was that there just weren’t many people where I was. Even fewer buying. In fact, so few bought, that I’d have been disappointed with the sales had the show been a smaller local instead of a smaller national (which Wonder-Con is; traditionally the first of the year, though ECCC stole that thunder this year.) Could this be fixed? I don’t know, honestly. If this was designed to be a transit lane and not a shopping lane (it was wider than others) then, well, it served its purpose. I’ve never planned a show for retailers and vendors (though I did help organize a SF fandom show back in…oh 1987, let’s say, back at UC Irvine where I was going to school at the time), but nothing approaching the scale of this one. I can say, however, with some certainty that I will not be buying a small press table at Wonder-Con again (and I do plan on showing at Wonder-Con next year, though in the Artist’s Alley).
I love the show, though there’s some trends that I find troubling (which I’ll get to in a bit). But small press? Never again. If I have to, I’ll split a table with someone and upgrade to an actual vendor booth, assuming the second STRANGEWAYS book comes out to anchor things (that’s a tangled mess of its own right now.)
So you know, YMMV. I thought it was nice that the nerdlebrities like Boomer and Erin Gray were kinda mixed in with the small pressers in the curtained area — maybe extending a must- see like the Honky Tonk Man to the last row would have improved Matt’s foot traffic; I hope so.
Like the Emerald City Comi-con a few weeks earlier, WonderCon is being touted as “San Diego 10 years ago.” I’d say WC is that, while ECCC is San Diego 15 years ago — both are pleasant, well run shows with lots of activities to keep everyone occupied. As I was leaving the show to make my ATM run on Sunday I overheard two late teen boys talking and the conversation went something like this:
Boy 1: So?
Boy 2: If that was a comic-con, I’m definitely going again!
For better or worse “comic-con” is now an activity, like miniature golf, that people look to for a certain amount of entertainment value. The show has gone on the road, and it’s a hit.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.