WonderCon 2012 Single Day Report
I attended WonderCon 2012 in Anaheim for just one day this year, Friday 3/16. These are my general observations.
I went with two coworkers and we made good time to Orange County, making it from my house to the parking lot at Garden Walk (just a couple blocks down from the Anaheim Convention Center) in 1 hour and 15 minutes. My personal land-speed record from San Diego to Disneyland is 1 hour flat, but that was in a race-prepped BMW. It’s typically 1.5 hours, up to 2 with traffic, so 1.25 is very good.
We arrived around 11:30, traffic was a non-issue, and we rolled right into the parking garage, promptly finding space. It was a quick walk to the Convention Center, and we found a Girls Volleyball Competition next to the WonderCon hall, along with a Cheerleading Competition down at the other end. It made for a pretty interesting mix of people, stormtroopers, a nice cosplay rendition of Khal Drogo and his Khaleesi Dany, and zombies comingling with parents from Iowa wondering what the hell was going on in SoCal. We then met up with a friend of mine from the SF Bay Area.
I think the entry process could have been managed a lot better. There was no signage directing people to the main hall entrance or to the badge pick-up area. We asked some staff and they were incredibly dopey. We had luck just kind of following the crowd, but we also came in through an unsecured door, were not challenged by staff, and inadvertantly cut in line in front of about 300 people. Oh well. As a security guy, and one who is a big fan of efficient process, this was kind of a mess. Not a hassle, actually quite easy, but not very clear and not very secure. Badge pick-up probably took 3 minutes, and I found it interesting you didn’t have to show ID. Just scan your barcode and you’re in. Not a very secure process. Badges also don’t come with pre-printed names, so there’s nothing to stop you from swapping, scalping, etc. Not a very secure process. Sensing a theme? For all the noise I hear about cracking down on this at San Diego Comic-Con, the company made no effort to prevent it at WonderCon.
In general, I like the location of WonderCon. It’s an area of Orange County I know extremely well, so it made navigating easy. You’re blocks from Disneyland and if you know how to avoid the tourist traps and just go slightly off the beaten path, there are plenty of interesting restaurants, bars, etc. for after hours cavorting. I hear conflicting reports that this was a “test” for a permanent move for WonderCon from SF to OC, or for Comic-Con from SD to OC, so I hope it was a success. It’s easier for me to get to than SF WonderCon, and much less hassle than the spectacle San Diego has become. Generally speaking, I’d put WonderCon somewhere in between Comic-Con and the APE in San Francisco, which is basically right in my wheelhouse as a fan and critic, so fine with me.
In terms of basic size, I’d say the WonderCon main floor was 1/4th to 1/3rd the size of San Diego. My party made two thorough passes of the entire hall, taking time out for one panel, in the course of a 7-hour single day, and still probably had an hour to spare to make targeted runs back to specific areas. Keep in mind this was also taking into account cruising around with 3 other people whose interests varied widely and were darting around erratically all over the place.
The most notable thing for me was that there was a real lack of what I’d call second tier publishers representing. Most notably, there was no Oni Press (who usually occupy the corner of a main thoroughfare at SDCC, which I kind of make “home base” for the show), and no Image Comics, who are having such a fucking great year creatively, I think they could have killed at this show. I had several retailers pimping books like Glory, Prophet, The Manhattan Projects, etc. to me. Candidly, I thought the DC booth was a joke. They had plenty of statues and video games and blah-bitty-blah, but not a single fucking comic to be found. That’s incredibly lame.
The second tier publishers that did attend represented very well. IDW had the simplest, boldest, best banner drop, which made for an easy landmark to coordinate junkets with our party from. Slave Labor Graphics had a surprisingly enticing little corner. Archaia goes a little over the top with their tarted up marketing aesthetic and booth staff who sometimes don’t know their own product, BUT they certainly had the best sales proposition of the con. It was essentially a Graphic Novel Extravaganza: Buy 1, Get 1 Free. Or, Buy 2, Get 3 Free. Kind of ridiculous when you think about getting 5 books for the price of 2, that’s like 60% off or something, if my math isn’t failing me. Unfortunately, only older merchandise was eligible in this promotion, and I’ve read everything that was eligible. There were a few new books that piqued my interest, but I wasn’t in the mood to pay full price for something without further sales incentive.
CBLDF was just around the corner and they had a terrific selection of donation worthy items. One of my party picked up The Blot from Tom Neely on a recommendation from me. I typically donate about $100 per year on average to CBLDF, but I’ve actually never been a member. I decided to fix that and just become a member. Got two free signed comics, and a nifty CBLDF button with a detail of the image that Cliff Chiang did for the membership card. Was proud to sport the button on my badge considering the recent win in that Canadian Customs debacle.
Across the exhibit hall, there was the same general mix of comic and non-comic related stuff. We tended to steer clear of the Silver Age/CGC dealers, the vinyl toy junk booths, the posters, the clothes, the anime, and the merchandise folks, though I’ll admit I was soooo tempted to pick up a Stark or Targaryen patch. Heh. We also encountered con stalwarts like Lou Ferrigno, Richard Hatch, and the guy who played “Boomer” in the original Battlestar Galactica. Shit, we even saw “Soup Nazi”(!) with autographed soup ladles. I’m so not a sucker for merch, but I was cracking up at this. Frickin’ Soup Nazi. I think my favorite part of strolling across the floor, was that you could do just that, stroll leisurely. What a nice change to not be bumped and jostled incessantly every 5 seconds by 100,000 of your fellow sardines, or not have the idiot stop right in the middle of the aisle in front of you to take a picture of Elvis Tusken Raider or ogle the booth babe wearing dental floss. Nice change of pace.
When we weren’t at the small press areas listed above, we spent at least a couple hours combing the numerous 50% trade/GN bins. There was actually some really good stuff in there. Members of my party were scoring whole runs of, for example, The Walking Dead trades and/or hardcovers for 50% off, one person was amassing the Starman Omnibus Editions for 50% off, there was just all kinds of good reading in nice condition for 50% off. $14.99 trades become $7, $30 hardcovers are now $15, it really felt like substantial savings, and I was happy to see so many 50% booths. For me, I either own, or have read, the majority of what I saw, but I did score a few gems, which I’ll recount in a minute.
I attended only one panel, for sort of a friend of a friend, Ryan Sook, who is also from San Jose, and hung out with a loose conglomeration of friends I was a part of for over a decade. Ryan is insanely talented, and I love how his style has transitioned from being heavily influenced by Mike Mignola, to one that is cleaner, with less heavy line weight, something more akin to John Cassaday. Ryan turned his panel into an informal and intimate Q&A session, and I found him to be so humble and informative about his evolving style, his approach to visual composition, and even some dirt about behind-the-scenes business processes at DC Comics.
Strolling through the self-publishing/artists alley area was not as interesting as I thought it would be. I caught up with a couple old friends, met some people in person that I’d only had relationships online with previously, but for the most part I didn’t really find anything that interesting! It was a little disconcerting to find that several hours into it, probably 25-30% of the people supposedly tabling in this area were not set up and nowhere to be found, just a ghost town. Maybe they’re going to be there Saturday or Sunday, but I won’t be, so… oh well. I did find a couple interesting books written by Patrick Kindlon from Ashcan Press, which I’m anxious to read and review. He and his art partner were enthusiastic, had fun pitching me on their books, and were genuinely excited about having their wares reviewed. I like this dynamic. Probably my favorite WonderCon “moment” was strolling up an aisle to find Rebekah Isaacs and Fiona Staples (who were tabling across the aisle from each other) totally admiring each other’s work. They were laughing and bantering back and forth as Isaacs appeared to be geeking out over Staples work on the recent Saga #1 with BKV. Now, I like the work of both of these women, and I wouldn’t have minded chatting with them, but I wasn’t about to interrupt, and decided to just let them have their moment. It was cool to see these two women standing in solidarity, not in competition, excited for the other, and enjoying the mutual work for sheer love of the game.
At the end of the day, I spent around $80 total (and that includes my CBLDF membership), so my total take away wasn’t all that much. I actually spent around $100 on dinner and drinks, which I always use as an interesting barometer. I was home by about 10:45pm, roughly a 14 hour day, also making it back from OC to SD in 1 hour and 15 minutes, despite some light drizzle around San Onofre. Anyway, here’s what I did pick up;
CBLDF Membership: $25, received free signed copies of Glory #23 and CBLDF Liberty Annual 2011, both of which I already bought, so I’ll pass them along.
The Urn #1 of 4 (Ashcan Press): Paid full price, $4
Menu (Ashcan Press): Paid full price, $4
The Finder Library: Volume 2 (Dark Horse): 50% off, paid $12
Like A Dog by Zak Sally (Fantagraphics): 50% off, paid $11
Neonomicon (Avatar Press): 50% off, paid $10
Freak Angels: Volume 5 (Avatar Press): 50% off, paid $10
Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes #1 (DC): 50% off, paid $3
WonderCon 2012: Grade B+.