Rants and Raves: WonderCon 2012
Bang! Boom! Wow! What Fun!
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Credit: Beth Accomando
I went to WonderCon just to have fun -- no booth to run, no interviews to do, no video to shoot. But I had so much fun that I want to share a few things with you.
WonderCon is run by the same folks who do Comic-Con. Normally it is held in the Bay Area but this year, because of construction to San Francisco's Moscone Center, WonderCon had to find a temporary home at the Anaheim Convention Center. This meant it was easy for San Diegans to make the trek north for a visit to Comic-Con's little sister convention.
Anaheim, which is trying to woo Comic-Con away from San Diego with its larger convention facility, was a pleasant location (except for parking). WonderCon had to share the convention floor with a cheerleading and a women's volleyball competition. This made for some surreal sights in the lobby. Cheerleaders that sometimes looked frighteningly like JonBenet Ramsey and with gigantic sequined bows on top of their heads could be found standing next to Gothic Lolitas and Disney Princesses. Meanwhile, Amazon women volleyball players that enjoyed jumping up and slapping the low-hanging eaves were getting their pictures taken with Power Rangers and Ghostbusters, and giggling about how "weird" the people in costumes were. A few people reported encounters in which cheerleaders, athletes, and parents of both were seen pulling away from the "geeks" in the elevator or lobby. But there were also some cross cultural high fives and hugs. But each morning entering the convention center was a surreal experience.
The facility felt immense. The check in area for press was spacious and deserted. It looked like the zombie apocalypse had hit and hardly anyone was left. I walked right up to the booth and got my badge without waiting. The convention space was stacked vertically rather than spread out in a horizontal sprawl. (When my two friends saw the interior space they both exclaimed that it looked like "Logan's Run" and then turned to each other and said "nerd.") This meant going up and down from the dealer's room to meeting rooms to a ballroom rather than walking a quarter mile across the San Diego Convention floor. It was different and kind of nice.
Plus barely a line anywhere, even when you wanted a soft serve ice cream. It was all quite pleasant and relaxing, like Comic-Con 10 years ago. In a casual survey of attendees, most were elated by the experience. A few said they would skip Comic-Con in the future and instead go to WonderCon, even when it moves back up to San Francisco. Venders I spoke with seemed pleased too. The only complaint I heard was about the convention center parking being closed early on Friday and Saturday. One person who had worked at the convention center before said this was unusual. All in all, though, the facility was great. The largest room, however, held less than 4000 and that's about 2400 smaller than San Diego's Hall H.
For the first time in more than 10 years I actually got a chance to leisurely walk through the dealer's room, small press area, and artists alley. What a delight! I met some talented artists, saw a booth from Chula Vista's High Tech High Graphic Novel Project, bought myself some horns, and bought original art work from San Diego's Batton Lash.
There were also some odd items on sale, like a mousepad with a sexy female anime girl with large 3D boobs so men could rest their wrists between them. They were quite funny.
I also had time to get my photo taken at the "Game of Thrones" booth so that my head could be put on a stake. Not only was that a clever promotional idea (everyone was "liking" their FaceBook page and sharing their photos) but it took less than a half hour. At Comic-Con the line would have been insane. Similarly, I waited a few moments to get on the Marvel stage and bash my teenage son on the head with Thor's Hammer while he tried to deflect the blow with Captain America's Shield. I also saw the tiniest Thor and Captain America ever, and both were in great costumes crafted by their parents. There was also a tiny Batman (that was actually a girl) who seemed to handle the Penguin quite efficiently.
There were some great costumes -- like an awesome Optimus Prime -- and clever ones -- like a Bane offering free "shrugs" instead of hugs. One friend dressed as one of the Dr. Who's and kept getting kidnapped by "Whovians" for various schemes. One of the Doctors looked so much like the actor David Tennant that he could probably be a celebrity double.
I didn't attend a lot of panels but the ones I went to were great. On Saturday morning I attended a How to Build Your Own R2 Unit. What a blast. The panel spoke about the costs (a few thousand is typical and can go up to more than $10,000), time (months to years), and joys of making their own R2 units and other droids. Most build them to then perform charity work like visiting hospitals but some have also had the opportunity to meet George Lucas and use their droids on TV. The group has R2 blueprints they offer to anyone who wants to join the club. They also provide support and access to people who make and sell some of the parts you need. A question from the audience got one builder to think about adding paintballs to his droid's arsenal. This was a celebration of geeky obsession and nerdy technical skill. They also had a booth with multiple droids on display. Their enthusiasm was so infectious I even felt inspired. Perhaps I could make one out of papier-mâché but it probably wouldn't move.
A panel on composers provided insights into the creative process of writing music for TV while a panel on horror in comics prompted a lively discussion about what scares us and why. Panelist Rebekah Isaacs, a penciler/inker best known for "DV8: Gods & Monsters" and "Angel & Faith" pointed out how she would freeze frame scary scenes from movies so she could examine them and soak in the horror but that she could look as long as she liked at a panel from a comic depicting something horrific and fascinating. Other panelists included Joe Hill ("Locke & Key"), Mike Mignola ("Hellboy," "B.P.R.D."), Eric Powell ("The Goon"), and Scott Snyder ("American Vampire") with Mark Waid moderating. One point that came up during the discussion was the need to focus on atmosphere and mood along with developing concern and empathy for the characters in order to build tension effectively in a horror story. If you don't care what happens to the characters, how can you be brought to the edge of your seat in anticipation of what happens next? It was a fascinating panel with a lot good insights into the genre from people who both know and love it.
My favorite panel was Max Brooks' zombie discussion. When he saw the large table for panel guests and was alone at the podium as the sole presenter for the program, he randomly selected people from the audience to come on stage, including one kid. Brooks, like Bruce Campbell, is a master of working the crowd -- balancing real answers with fun banter. As with the panel on horror in comics, Brooks discussed the role fear has played in his series of zombie publications, starting with "The Zombie Survival Guide" and continuing with "World War Z" (due out this year as a film) and the "Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks." Brooks described himself as a history nerd first, and how much of what is in his books is taken from historical events. Zombies may not be real but how one prepares for disaster or fights a plague can be rooted in the real world. Brooks confessed to being terrified by the idea of zombies -- unthinking beings that cannot be reasoned with, or coaxed into submission by threats of annihilation. They are like a plague that simply spreads with single-minded determination to wipe humanity out. Brooks said he was angry that his survival guide was listed as "humor" and filed on the comedy shelf next to "Garfield" and "The Simpsons." He said he researched the book and wanted it to be taken seriously by fellow nerds. Fortunately his second zombie book, "World War Z" was not filed as humor. It's a brilliant genre tale that also serves as sharp social commentary. Brooks' panel was hilarious as well as smart. As my son said, if they put Brooks and Bruce Campbell on a panel together, it might explode with too much awesomeness.
As for the upcoming film of his book, Brooks said he wisely did not partake because he knew he would have no control and have no input so it would only be a source of aggravation. His parents are Mel Brooks and the late Anne Bancroft, so Max said he saw enough of the film industry to learn this lesson.
I didn't attend any of the big studio panels. Fox presented "Prometheus" (really looking forward to Ridley Scott's prequel to "Alien") and "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" (like Timur Bekmambetov as director), while Fox Searchlight decided to highlight a more indie film, "Sound of My Voice," written by and starring Brit Marling (who also wrote the wonderful sci-fi indie film "Another Earth" last year). It was nice to see a small genre film -- perfect for a con audience -- get the spotlight rather than just the big blockbusters that already get a ton of media attention. Fox also ruled the TV panels with "Fringe" and "Alcatraz." But Warners also presented for the upcoming reboot, "The Amazing Spider-Man," and NBC brought its show "Community."
I also got introduced to Joe Hill at the IDW Publishing booth. IDW is a San Diego-based company that publishes Hill's "Locke and Key" an "The Cape." "Locke and Key" just got turned into a game that was being played at the Cryptozoic booth. I got special "key" cards at the booth and got to watch other attendees test out the game . Guest blogger Miguel Rodriguez interviewed Hill and you can check out his article.
WonderCon wrapped up Sunday at 5pm, and it was one of the best Con experiences I've had. I was with fellow geeks and had no commitments besides trying to have fun. So personally, I hope WonderCon returns to Anaheim so I can easily attend each year.
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