Sunday, February 22, 2009

WonderCon - not this year

I was tempted to make this the second part of my "Comics Rule" series of posts, but somehow that doesn't seem fitting considering it's ultimately about how I won't be attending WonderCon this year. What is WonderCon? It's a comic book convention - you know, those things where a bunch of nerdy people with no lives hang out and discuss nerdy things. If only they had the fulfilling lives of people who sat around the house and watched TV all day.

I went to my first comic book convention shortly after I became a regular reader of comics, which was when I was twelve. It was the very first WonderCon, although that first year it was known as the Wonderful World of Comics convention. My uncle had told me about it, as he was there helping a friend of his who had a booth there. So, my parents let me take BART into Oakland and meet my uncle there. (Don't panic - the convention was at a Hotel that was pretty much right outside the station. I wasn't hanging around Oakland all by myself.)

I didn't really know anything about conventions, so I pretty much just wandered around looking at all the cool stuff that was for sale. I also don't think that I had a whole lot of money to spend either, but I don't seem to recall being bored. Oh, and the highlight of the whole experience was that I got to meet Stan Lee (co-creator of Spider-Man, The X-Men, The Hulk, etcetera).

(Actually, now that I'm thinking of all this, I may be combining the first WonderCon with the second one in my brain. Whatever, the point is that I had a good time at the first one - enough to go to the next one a year later, and I met Stan "The Man" Lee.)

WonderCon became a yearly ritual for me, and I usually had a friend or two come along with me. However, even if I couldn't get somebody to go with me, I was always more than willing to go by myself. The early years, when I was in middle and high schools, were the best. Back then, Marvel Comics had representatives there (for some reason, they stopped and haven't shown up for about a decade now). Their panels were always the best, as not only were a lot of my favorite artists and writers there, but they usually did all sorts of fun things (like a contest where I won a subscription to Daredevil).

I also got to have a lot of conversations with some of my favorite creators. For me, (and this is still true), meeting the guy who writes Batman is as cool as meeting the guy who plays Batman in a movie would be. What's even cooler is that I got to meet some comics artists before they hit the big time. I remember walking right up to Jim Lee and telling him how much I enjoyed his work on Punisher War Journal. The next year, the guy had a line that went all the way around the convention center, and he can still bring in that kind of a crowd.

Another highlight was the movie previews. Keep in mind, this was before the Internet, where you can download pretty much everything. For many of the movies, WonderCon was the first chance to see any footage of them, and it was always fun to tell people who weren't there about what was coming out that summer.

One other cool thing, and this tended to be true if I went on Sunday, was that I could score some really good deals on comics. There was always a huge $1 comic blowout section, where I was able to find all sorts of stuff I wanted. Not only that, but I remember picking up the $15 Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told for a paltry $3.50.

Over the past few years, as WonderCon has moved to San Francisco, it has become a much bigger production. They've had special guests like Tobey McGuire (and I got his autograph on a Spider-Man 2 poster), Christian Bale, Gerard Butler, Jon Favreau, etcetera. Seeing those folks were definitely amongst the many fond memories.

So, why after more than 20 years, am I not going to the latest one? Probably the biggest problem for me is that it's just too damned big now. I generally can't stand being stuck in a large crowd, and last year I was feeling downright claustrophobic. Not only that, but going out to San Francisco is always a pain in the butt, as whether I drive or BART in there, it's always going to cost a big chunk of change just to get there.

I would like to see the presentation for Watchmen, as the director and some of the stars will no doubt be there, but there are so many interviews and making-of features that I can just catch online now. (Shoot, they'll probably put that particular panel online). Also, Ed Brubaker, one of my favorite comics writers right now is scheduled to appear, but with these huge crowds, it's doubtful that I'd get to say more than a few words to him.

What about the great deals? The past few years, I managed to find some cool graphic novels for half off, but what with the internet and's used shops, I can usually find deals that are as good, if not better. And if you factor in the cost of the ticket to get there (along with the cost just to get there and whatever money I'd spend on lunch), I'm not really getting that great of a deal.

Another thing contributing to my apathy is that the convention is becoming less and less about comics (which explains why it's growing, ironically enough). Last year, Steve Carrel and Anne Hathaway were there to talk about Get Smart. It was pretty cool to see them, but what the hell does that have to do with comics? Also, if you walk around the exhibition room, you'll find all sorts of stuff that's not even remotely comics related. Every year, it seems to be more of a media convention than a comic book convention. Yeah, I know, comic book fans can be a nerdy bunch, but they're MY nerdy bunch.

So, despite my obsessive-compulsive desire to keep the tradition alive, I'm going to pass on this year's convention. Honestly though, I'm eying the Super-Con in San Jose (May 16 & 17). While going to San Jose is probably a bigger pain than going to San Francisco, this one seems more like what WonderCon used to be. I had gone to a couple of Super-Cons before, but I stopped going when it seemed to be nothing more than the poor man's WonderCon. Now though, that's pretty much what I'm looking for.


FlyCoJoe said...

Hey Lance---

Now it's my turn to comment on your blog.

You are right. WonderCon has grown since its move to SF. When I was a partner in WonderCon, we had wanted to grow the event past the confines of the Oakland Convention Center, but didn't have the resources to make that happen.

Our sale of WonderCon to Comic-Con was done partly to keep the event viable. If we had had kept the show and kept it in Oakland, the costs were going up so fast that something had to happen.

That probably would have spelled the end of WC. So the Comic-Con organization came in and has grown the show and kept it not only viable, but thriving. Growth is, after all, an essential part of staying in business.

These days at WonderCon, there are more events dealing with movies, video games and TV. While it may seem there's less in the way of comics, it's really a case of the other media growing the show while the comics' portion of it has remained fairly steady.

But one of the primary reasons thee hasn't been huge growth in comics along with the huge growth in the con itself is one of the things you stated--- with cheap deals available online, why spend the effort and $$ to go to a convention?

I'd like to think, too, that the remaining comic specialty shops are doing a better job now of taking care of the comic desires of fans so that the major reasons to buy comics at a convention are to be able to buy more rare comics and to discover new, mostly small press comics that may not yet be available in many stores.

Hope you appreciate this perspective... and thanks for reading my blog at


Lance Christian Johnson said...

Indeed. Thanks for the response!