Monday, March 19, 2012

Convention Report – Wondercon 2012

Wondercon 2012
Anaheim Convention Center
March 16-18, 2012

I have been attending conventions since 2004 with my first major convention being Anime Expo. Since then I have continued to attend Anime Expo while branching out into smaller anime conventions and comic conventions. Due to my prominent position in Anime Expo and my high profile in the convention world, I have slowly become associated with Anime Expo. It may surprise some people that I was a huge fan of comic books as much as I was a fan of anime and manga. Wondercon is one of the largest comic book conventions in the United States, and when it moved to Southern California, I had to go to this convention to see what all the buzz is about. Due to the scheduling of the convention on the same weekend as another beloved smaller anime convention, I had to split my time between the two conventions. Here is my convention report for Wondercon 2012 at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Before I talk about my personal anecdotes about Wondercon, I will give a little background as to why Wondercon is such an important convention. Wondercon was founded in 1987 to be a comic, science fiction, and motion picture convention. In 2001, it was bought by Comic-Con International and became part of the Comic-Con’s convention family. Using the connections of Comic-Con International, Wondercon was able to have advance screenings and trailers for major comic and sci-fi movies. With this buzz, the convention continued to grow and grow until it became one of the largest comic conventions in the United States. In 2010, the convention had a unique attendance of 39,000 people. The Moscone Convention Center where Wondercon was traditionally held was being renovated, so they had to move to a location that could hold such a large convention. Comic-con International shocked the world when they announced that Wondercon was moving to Southern California’s own Anaheim Convention Center temporarily, a large convention center that used to hold Anime Expo, and it currently holds Blizzcon and the OC Auto Show.

My adventures in Wondercon started and ended on Friday March 16. I woke up early and headed to the Anaheim Convention Center. As we headed to the Convention Center, I noticed signs on the freeway pointed us to park in the parking for Angel’s Stadium. Arriving at the parking spot, I looked around and it was very empty. There was a bus next to some signs that drove the attendees to the convention site. As I arrived at the convention center, I saw a very lengthy line around the convention center to pick up badges. We were let in to pick up badges at around 10:30am in the hall below the main exhibit hall. The badge pick up system was quick and painless. Years of convention running experience was on display from Comic-Con International since such a large line was processed very quickly. After I picked up my badge, I rode the shuttle back to the parking lot and the number of cars parked for Wondercon increased markedly over the sparse parking when I arrived.

The Exhibit Hall was nice; it was sectioned off between the vendors who sold wares and the artist’s alley that sold amazing art. I saw several vendors selling a good selection of anime wares. They also had representation from video game companies like Capcom and Nintendo. The busiest booth was a booth that sold great t-shirts with videogame and TV art. They had a My Little Pony bag that was insanely popular. My friend Tony was asked around 40 times where he got that bag as we walked around and did cosplay pictures. Naturally, as a comic convention they had lots of booths that sold comic books and everything related to it, from the comic books themselves to cosplay and various outfits. I was also very happy to see the steampunk fandom greatly represented by interesting booths that sold intricately detailed steampunk wares. The exhibit hall in Wondercon was very comfortable to walk around because they had carpeting that made it easy to move around. They also organized the hall in a manner that made it interesting to move around and see what is around the corner.

As a cosplay photographer, one of my focuses is none other than cosplay. As expected, the proportion of cosplay relative to the number of attendees is much smaller than an anime convention. When attending a convention like Anime Expo or Anime Los Angeles, I estimate that the percentage of cosplayers in the convention is between 40-55%, while the percentage of cosplayers in Wondercon is probably 10% at best. With that said what cosplay I saw in Wondercon I did like. The outfits done by many of the cosplayers were very well crafted and many of the cosplayers put effort into trying to look the part of the character they were trying to convey. The huge glass windows of the Anaheim Convention Center let in lots of light so I was able to take many great pictures of cosplayers even in a very cloudy sky. The venue also had lots of green that made for some amazing backgrounds for cosplay photography. As a comic convention, there were many cosplayers from comic books, but there were a decent number of cosplayers from Japanese anime, manga, and video games. There was something for everyone since a majority of the fandoms had some representation in the convention.

In a convention, people migrate together in a general meeting area. In Wondercon, the main area to socialize and to meet other people is in the exhibit hall. In fact, the exhibit hall was so popular that the second and third floors were relatively sparse. I was in the same convention, but the busy exhibit hall is a stark contrast to the relatively peaceful panel areas. This may be because I went on a Friday, not on a busy day like Saturday. Whatever the case is, the contrast in energy in locations did stick out to me. I think that partly the reason why is because Wondercon only took a small part of the Anaheim Convention Center halls, there was actually a volleyball tournament in the hall next to Wondercon. Another event combined with the escalators made it feel very disjointed to move from the first floor to the other floors. The exhibit hall was so popular that once it closed, the convention pretty much ended for most people, save for a couple of panels. The convention center was quite empty when I headed off at 9pm at night.

Overall, I enjoyed my Wondercon experience and if they decide to stay in Southern California, I could see myself being a regular attendee for a very long time. The parking shuttle worked remarkably well and it arrived and left the main convention parking at a nice interval. Registration was a breeze and it was impressive to see how fast they were able to process such a massive line. The exhibit hall was a strong highlight, with a great variety of vendors that represented different industries. Cosplay, while not as plentiful as an anime convention did have some really amazing outfits. The exhibit hall was such a big draw for people that once it closed the convention center cleared out fast. I was hoping to have a couple more hours to do cosplay photos, but it was not the case since most cosplayers left. Wondercon was a great experience and I hope that Comic-Con International decides to have a comic convention permanently in the Anaheim Convention Center, whether it is Wondercon or a brand new fourth convention. I just ask that next time they don’t schedule their event on a weekend that is next to a wonderful anime con in San Diego.

Kris Zoleta started working in Anime Expo as a staffer in Manga Library. He worked in Staff Service in Anime Expo 2006 and became the manager of Manga Lounge from Anime Expo 2007-2010. He is currently serving on the Board of Directors for the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, the 501(c)(6) non-profit behind Anime Expo and is one of the most recognized cosplay photographers in the West Coast.

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