Con Report Part 4: Seven reasons why I'm glad I went to WonderCon

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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.


Is that the last word? Well, no it wasn’t all roses and relaxa-beds. Always honest Matt Maxwell, author of Strangeways, had a shit location and didn’t so well at the show:

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.

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Comments

  1. As a bay area resident I have attended the show since the 1990s and it has seen ups and downs but Heidi is correct in that you can get almost anything done when you want it and the artists and creators are very accessible. But it’s not a small show clocking in at 30K+ so the crowd mix is just right, not too hot, not too cold. How much longer will it remain so? Who knows, but I enjoy it for what it’s worth. Plus, The Masconi Center still has room to expand so more crowds aren’t the end of the world.

  2. I’m glad you had a good time at Wondercon, Heidi and hope you come back to the Bay Area next year. Thanks for mentioning the Cartoon Art Museum! I feel like very few people realize that it exists; and it’s awesome. I’ve been going to the Wondercon since 1989 and think that while it definitely changed when the CCI people took it over, it’s still pretty darned cool. There is still plenty of room for growthbefore it gets “behemoth” like. Having had a small press table there last year and hanging around there this year, I have to agree with the quotes you have in the column today. The small press tables stink at Wondercon. I’m not sure what or if anything can be done about it. I was even two tables over from the illustrious Honky-Tonk Man last year and we barely had anyone stop by (there were plenty of times that H-T looked kinda bored too.)

  3. Great report, Heidi – too bad you don’t have time to do more longer pieces like this. My WonderCon highlight was seeing Joe Kubert, buying one of his sketchbooks, and actually getting to talk to him a bit about his Vietnam hardcover coming out from DC next month (getting to actually talk to Joe Kubert – one can’t do that at the San Diego con!).

  4. In regard to the small press tables, I have to side with Matt Maxwell. In fact, we spoke briefly at the con just before the doors opened. We both agreed that there’s a reason the MILK is in the rear of the grocery store. It’ll move traffic through all the aisles instead of turning people away after they’ve seen the favored artists in the middle. Granted, *nobody* wants to be on the back wall, whether you have traffic or not.

    I admit, I don’t have a magic cure, but I will say it’s something that should be addressed.

  5. Artist Alley was nowhere near as busy as elsewhere…but I did well even though I forgot my banner.

    For the record…my name for the area that hold Honky Tonk Man et al is “RED SHIRT ALLEY.”(babbled while getting out of a cab very late after an encounter with the 3 legged cat)

  6. I think we’ll be skipping our first ‘Diego Con in 20-something years. We can’t get a room.

    Which makes our visit to SF all the better. It IS like SDCC of yore. Plus we got to visit our old haunts and visit our old friends from when we lived there.

    I’m bummed that I didn’t get to see ALL our friends (like YOU Jimmie!), but it was well worth the visit.

    BTW, parking is still outrageous. If you fly in, don’t rent a car, it’ll just suck money outta your pocket. Our taxi ride to the hotel was cheaper than a day’s parking in downtown.

  7. David T.G. Riches says:

    Any idea you can tell us what the fabled wallet you bought looks like?

  8. Suise speaks wise. If there is one negative for WonderCon (the same for San Diego) it is the parking. Just forget it. You could park illegally get a traffic ticket and still pay almost the same in fees. I used the public transit system (BART & bus), but I live in the area so that doesn’t count for folks from out of town. Likewise, this is out of the hands of the convention organizers, so it’s not their fault.

    Thinking more on it now… you have to give San Diego Comic Con props for their chartered hotel bus route. Stepping out your hotel to a direct line bus to the front of the convention center is something I very much appreciate (especially in hot humid weather)

  9. Kate Fitzsimons says:

    For better or worse “comic-con” is now an activity, like miniature golf, that people look to for a certain amount of entertainment value.

    For better or worse? If you’re not there to make money, what other reason *is* there to go to a con? Do people go just to worship at the cultural temple or something?

  10. Army of Dorkness says:

    I had a great time at Wondercon a few years back. My girlfriend was kinda bored due to lack of interesting programming like in San Diego. We usually have 30-40 panels of interest in San Diego and only make it to about 10-15, but at Wondercon it was a lot less. It really sucks that so much of the cool stuff happens only at SDCC.

  11. When I attended one of the first APEs in San Jose (Hi, Jimmie!), I rented a car and stayed at the Sanborn Park hostel near Saratoga.

    The Monday after, I drove the very scenic I-280 to the first BART station (Daly City), parked the car at the station just as the free parking kicked in, and then took BART to Berkeley. (Comics before sight-seeing!)

    There’s also Cal Train.

    I suspect that station parking is rather empty during the weekend.

  12. Mark Coale says:

    “For better or worse? If you’re not there to make money, what other reason *is* there to go to a con? Do people go just to worship at the cultural temple or something?”

    To buy comics?

  13. TonyJazz says:

    Thanks for your positive review of Wondercon…. I’ve been attending since the first ones in Oakland, and it seems to get better most years.

    This year’s costumes were as good as ever. What a treat for the eyes!

    And the comic vendors seemed to have fairly good selections, though I am tired of the 50% discount on the same trades year after year. Either discount them further, or bring a better selection…

    Again, thanks for the positive stuff (as I live in SF).

  14. Jim Caldwell says:

    Do people go just to worship at the cultural temple or something?

    I do. I don’t work in comics.

  15. briguyx says:

    I don’t know if Wondercon will ever be as big as San Diego because as an L.A. resident, San Diego is a mere hour and a half/two hour jaunt while going to San Francisco is like a trip to another state. All the L.A. residents I know are more likely to drive to Vegas than to go to San Francisco for the weekend. It just doesn’t happen. So while there’s a huge L.A. presence among the fans at CCI, there will never be one at Wondercon…

  16. Good to hear you had a great time in your return to WonderCon, Heidi— but too bad the better weather postponed itself till AFTER the Con. (Though there is something about the Bay Area in a misty Spring that has to be experienced.)

    I’ve always seen this younger brother/sister/cousin [depending on the reporter; family relations are sooo complicated?] to the SDCC as “SDCC, Jr.”— even 10-15 years ago! I suppose the original founders of WC wanted to replicate the SoCAL experience of SDCC in the Bay Area all those years ago [a business plan itself later copied by WIZARD, then REED]… and then succeeded to the point that SDCC decided to swallow the potential competitor instead!

    Hope you’ll continue to attend WonderCon from this point on— if just to provide your reports to compare/contrast it with it’s own April Con “comptition” of C2E2…

  17. I bought a Gama-go wallet during christmas when I was suppose to be shopping for my girl. Very similar.

    http://secure.hostdeziners.com/www_lostmarbles_ca/store/images/product_images/18259.jpg

  18. OMG — Doreen Green Cosplay! I’m having a nerdgasm! I love, love LOVE your costume — even if your teeth are two sizes too small. ;-) (That is you, right?) And please give Tippy-Two a hug for me.

  19. michael says:

    Squirrel-Girl!!! :D

    but yes, nice report and interested in everything you and others are saying about this, in the SDCC-family con.

  20. Tom Galloway says:

    I’ve been semi-joking for a year or so that if Vegas is being considered for CCI, they should also consider San Francisco, which is pretty much the same travel time from Hollywood by air.

    I did actually broach this to a CCI person, and was told it wouldn’t happen for two reasons; 1) Moscone doesn’t have a Hall H size program area for the monster items. 2) Unfortunately, Moscone’s broken up into multiple buildings, and it’s felt that if they used all of Moscone, whatever ended up in Moscone West would be considered the stepchild relative to the rest of the con. Not sure how that meshes with the idea of having some programming at San Diego in the hotels rather than the Convention Center.

    So there is a perceived ceiling for how big Wondercon can get that’s significantly below what the current CCI is. On the other hand, based on Saturday’s crowds, I wouldn’t mind if they expanded the dealers’ area into the unused part of the registration area in order to widen the aisles a bit.

  21. Kate Fitzsimons says:

    To clarify, I meant, if you’re not there to make money, what reason other than entertainment is there to go to a con?

    Buying comics seems like an odd reason to me… Given how much it costs to get into a con, you might as well just buy your comics online.

  22. ikaras says:

    Where did you get a great $10 manicure? One thing I would have loved was a so you’re in S.F. for WonderCon what is just around the corner guide. I suppose we’ll have to wait for WonderCon to get a little bit bigger for that. Thank you to the Marriott Marquis concierge who couldn’t think of a single restaurant to go to other than the bar or Annabelles across the street. Anyway, I thought the con was very good, though yes, a lot smaller than comic-con. But you’re in S.F., you can just go do something else very easily (if its not raining like it was). I thought it was charming I could write my name on my badge just like the first time I went to comic-con S.D. The vendor area was packed on Saturday which surprised me. Yes, I would have liked more star wattage, but I figure that will come as the con gets bigger. It was my first WonderCon and I am definitely considering it being my yearly out of town comic book convention experience. I’m tired of actually being in San Diego but not making it into panels.

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