Outside WonderCon 2013 at the Anaheim Convention Center

WonderCon 2013 returned to Anaheim after last year’s experiment, and the event felt more solid this year. As much as I hope they’ll be able to return to San Francisco, they’ve shown that they can put on a really good convention in Anaheim as well.

The Anaheim Venue

Since last year, the Anaheim Convention Center has replaced a long driveway between hotels with an extended pedestrian area, with fountains at either end. This turned out to be fantastic for the convention, because it gave people a place to hang out, visit, hold photo shoots, and more. This was also where five food trucks set up shop to handle the lunch rush, which added not just supply but more variety. Compare to San Diego, where most exits from the convention center make you cross a driveway, a major street, and two sets of railroad tracks, one for freight and one for the trolley, before you get to any sort of open space, and even that has been co-opted by off-site events.

Another difference from San Diego: The sections of the main hall are separated by permanent walls, including the food courts…and as I discovered on Friday, an atrium. That atrium was a bit of a shock the first time I walked into it, because it gave me an overwhelming sense of deja vu, like I’d just walked out of WonderCon 2013 and into WorldCon 1996. I could swear it’s left over from before the major remodeling they did in the late 1990s.

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WonderCon’s first year in Anaheim* was a lot of fun despite the rain and wind. I actually enjoyed it more than the last one I attended in San Francisco (WonderCon 2010). Partly that’s because a lousy trip into SF soured my mood, and partly it’s because I spent all three days at the con this year, but it’s also because this year’s con had everything I’ve come to expect at a WonderCon, with more space, so the crowds never got unbearable.

»Skip to the photos if you’re so inclined.

There was a very strong comic book focus to the con, maybe not so much as at Long Beach, but all the major comics publishers were there, plus many of the minor ones. I was surprised to find webcomics wrapped around the large-press area and not hidden off in a corner. The small press and Artist’s Alley areas were huge (especially when compared to Wizard’s Comic Con in the same hall two years ago). And there were comic book dealers all over the place.

The only real complaint I had about the layout was that it seemed a bit haphazard. Marvel, IDW, and DC were front and center, but Studio Foglio and the Winner Twins were stuck in between IDW and DC. Zenescape was off in a corner rather than being clustered with fellow indies Archaia, Aspen and Avatar. And when I say the comic dealers were all over the place, I mean scattered all over the place.

The rest of the convention center was being used by a girls’ volleyball tournament and a cheerleading competition. I was encouraged by the fact that the players were just as interested as the fans in taking photos of and with the people in costumes, from Captain America and Bucky through Optimus Prime.

*They’d like to return to San Francisco after Moscone Center’s renovations are done, but that’s still up in the air.

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With all the talk of Comic-Con International moving out of San Diego someday, it was pretty much impossible not to consider this weekend’s WonderCon as a test case.

The Anaheim Convention Center definitely has the floor space. WonderCon used about 1/4 of the main floor this weekend (all of Hall D, unlike Wizard in 2010, which only used about half to two-thirds of it), not counting registration downstairs.

Rooms for programming might be a problem. As near as I can tell, WonderCon used all the meeting rooms on level 2, and the large ballroom that takes up most of level 3. The Arena might be a good replacement for San Diego’s Hall H, but for the smaller panels they’d have to spill over into the nearby hotels. Fortunately, those hotels are next to the convention center, not at opposite ends or across a railroad like in San Diego.

Parking was the major breakdown this year, and Comic-Con will need even more. (I’d guess a lot of the people at the volleyball and cheer competitions were staying in hotels from out of town, or bused in from closer schools.) I suspect if they can use the stadium lot all four days and direct people to it clearly (including signs between the freeway and convention center letting people know that the convention lot is full, and accurate directional signs all the way to the stadium lot), it will probably be all right.

Food could be a problem, but it’s easily solved by bringing in food trucks or encouraging people to walk a few minutes. You know…like we do in San Diego. (Though hotel restaurants and a half-empty mall have nothing on the Gaslamp District.)

Hotels, to me, are the biggest open question. Most of the pro-Comic-Con-in-Anaheim articles I’ve seen sort of gloss over the fact that Disneyland is right across the street, or use it to bolster the claim that there are lots of hotels.

But you know, Disneyland visitors are going to be using those hotels, too. Especially during the height of summer.

Update 2017: The convention center is building a whole new wing with 200K more square feet. WonderCon is now using 3/4 of the main floor for the exhibit hall, the remaining section for registration, and programming is spilling over into the Hilton. There are a lot of new hotels in the same block and the next one over. Restaurants are about the same, but they’ve brought in more food trucks every year. Parking’s still a problem, though.

I checked out Wizard World’s new Anaheim Comic Con this past weekend. At only 10-15 minutes away, it seemed like a waste not to go, and with Anaheim courting Comic-Con International, I wanted to get a better sense of the convention center.

So I bought a Saturday ticket, drove out for the afternoon, and had a much better time than I expected.

Photos are at Flickr if you want to jump straight to them.

Arrival

For those not familiar with the area, the Anaheim Convention Center is literally across the street from Disney’s California Adventure. There isn’t much in the way of public parking in the area that isn’t attached to a shopping center, a hotel, or Disneyland, but there was plenty of room in the convention center parking structure. Of course, it took more than 10 minutes to get into the structure — longer than I spent on the freeway!

There were two events at the convention center this weekend: Anaheim Comic Con in Hall D, and a Specialty Coffee event in Halls B, C and E. I was half-tempted to find out whether the coffee event was open to the public!

Main Floor

The first thing I saw when stepping onto the main floor was the Red Mist car from Kick-Ass (which opened this weekend). The second thing was the Suicide Girls booth. The third was a long line of people waiting for an event.

There was the usual mix of collectibles dealers, comics dealers, artists, celebrities, the ever-present giant T-shirt booth, prop & costume exhibits, fan groups, etc. There was a heavy Star Wars fan presence (more about that later). The one that really surprised me was the bar that had been set up next to the food service area!

The weird thing: There was virtually no industry presence. I’m not sure I saw a single comic publisher booth. In the battle between C2E2 and Wizard, the publishers came down solidly on the side of C2E2, not even bothering to send a token delegation to Anaheim. It can be done. Last year, DC did full-up DC Nation panels at both WonderCon (California) and MegaCon (Florida) the same weekend.

Space!

Compared to WonderCon two weeks ago, the main floor seemed bigger, but took less time to explore. Judging by the floor plans, the area actually used looks about the same, but the breakdown was different:

  • Registration was handled at the front of the hall, not in the lobby or another room.
  • The back was blocked off for staging.
  • There were lunch tables at one side near the food service. (This was sorely missing at WonderCon!)
  • Artist’s Alley was quite a bit smaller.
  • The celebrity autograph area was huge.

It was probably comparable to the last Wizard World Los Angeles, except that I remember a lot of empty space at that con, a bigger Artist’s Alley, and a smaller celebrity area. I’d actually guess that the celebrity area at this con took up about 1/4 of the floor space!

One annoying thing: the main floor was at one end of the convention center. The programming rooms were at the opposite end. Because of the coffee con in between, to get to the panels, you had to go outside, then walk along the entire length of the convention center, then go back inside and up to the second level.

Star Wars and Batman

The Star Wars presence was probably a mix of two things: 1. Regional groups aren’t going to Chicago. 2. It’s the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back.

That included groups such as the 501st Legion, the Saber Guild, LA Jedi, and a group that builds working droids.

The Sabre Guild had a prime spot near the T-shirt booth and had set up a ring to perform mock lightsaber battles and demonstrate other skills. Sort of like a mix of fencing and tall flags with lightsabers. They also had music from the movies playing continuously all day, broken up occasionally by the disco version of the Star Wars theme. There were a couple of really good Aayla Secura costumes in that group, and a little girl wearing a Republic Jedi costume who at one point added a Hit-Girl mask and wig and posed in front of the Kick-Ass car.

The other big costume theme was the 1960s Batman TV series — almost certainly because the con had brought together much of the show’s cast, including Adam West, Burt Ward, Julie Newmar, Yvonne Craig and Lee Meriwether, and the Batmobile.

The Sexy

Because of the light industry presence, there weren’t many in the way of booth babes. The Evil Cheerleaders seem to be everywhere these days, plus there were cheerleaders for a energy drink called Bite Me. I was surprised at how many kids were posing with them, actually. Suicide Girls had a big presence, with at least a dozen models, and there was a dance troupe (the Purrfect Angels) who dressed in skimpy versions of super-heroine and sci-fi costumes and danced on a raised stage next to the lunch area.

Then there was the booth placement in the celebrity area, where a pair of 14-year-old girls who had written a science-fiction novel were placed next to a bikini model. Way to send the kids a message, Wizard.

Gollum vs. Uhura

Late in the day, I was walking by where a man dressed (if you can call it that) as Gollum was crawling around, mewling about “My Precious” and showing off a DVD of an independent film with that title. This was at the corner of the celebrity area, where Nichelle Nichols was doing a signing. He crawled into her booth, jumped up on the table, started showing everyone “My Precious,” then turned toward the Star Trek actress. She yelped and started hitting him with a plastic water bottle, at which point he took a dive off the table and tumbled onto the floor, then scurried off.

He did pretty much the same thing with the judges’ table at the costume contest that evening.

Costume Contest

The costume contest was more organized than the one at the last Wizard World LA, though nowhere near as formal as, say the Comic-Con International Masquerade. Most contestants simply walked in one door, past the judges, and out the other. Actually, a lot of them early on hadn’t been told to pause so that the judges could see! A few had prepared simple routines, or at least speeches — including, as I mentioned, Gollum, who made the biggest impression. Some other stand-outs (some for craftsmanship, some for attitude) included Count Chocula, the Angel of Death from Hellboy II, Doctor Octopus, and Silk Spectre.

As I was going through my photos, I found it interesting that I had actually run into a lot of the winners out on the floor: Doctor Octopus, Gollum, Silk Spectre…

Food in Anaheim

Concession stands line the edges between the exhibit halls: coffee, sandwiches, tacos, etc. I only had the coffee, which was decent, though the clerk warned us to use the swizzle sticks and not the spoons, because they might melt! All of the hotels in the convention complex have their own restaurants ranging from casual dining to somewhat more expensive places like Morton’s. The Hilton also has fast food including a Starbucks, Sbarro, Baja Fresh, and a smoothie place.

Across the street you can find standard fast food like Subway. The Ramada has an Indian restaurant with a lunch buffet. If you walk around Disney’s California Adventure to the west, you can get to the Downtown Disney shopping center. If you walk east along Katella, you can get to the Anaheim Garden Walk, which has a few mid-range chain restaurants (California Pizza Kitchen, P.F. Chang’s, etc.) and a food court that’s currently running at half capacity. Unless your name is Barry, Jay, Wally or Bart, figure on about 20 minutes to get there. The blocks are large and the traffic signals are long.

Tip: If you plan to cross the street, go out to Katella along the convention center first, not out to Harbor through the hotels. It’s just as long, but there are trees and shade.

What If…Comic-Con International?

Assuming the other halls are about the same size as this one, I think the full convention center could probably handle something the size of the Comic-Con International exhibit floor. The main hurdle is that only about 1/3 of the wall between each section is actually removable (the middle section is permanent, holding the concession counters). Sure, it would make it easy to divide the main floor up into themes — one section for comics, one for movies and TV, one for games, etc. — but it would also create bottlenecks.

I didn’t get a good sense of the meeting rooms, since the con only used a couple of rooms, and I don’t remember much from the only other convention I’ve attended since the expansion. (It was a WorldCon, and I experienced the whole thing through the combined haze of a summer cold and Day-Quil.)

There is room to spill over into the nearby hotels, though. There are at least four in the same complex, and I know at least two of them have a good supply of meeting rooms and ballrooms. They’re closer to the center than anything in San Diego other than the Marriott, and they don’t require you to cross a busy street or railroad tracks.

Check out my full set of photos on Flickr.

The cold that had been threatening me all last week finally hit on Friday morning, and I’ve spent the last four days in haze induced by a mixture of the cold and DayQuil. I actually went home early on Friday, dropped onto the couch, watched some Netflixed Justice League, and felt like I was staying up late when I went to bed at 9:00 or 9:30.

Out of sheer determination I dragged myself to Worldcon/L.A.con IV on Saturday. Katie stayed home since her main experiences with SF-themed cons were a few post-millennial Loscons, and Loscon was really going downhill at the time. Fortunately, this was more like I remember past Worldcons and earlier Loscons.

Classic Star Trek CostumesMy parents are SF fans, and they regularly took me and my brother with them to conventions. As far back as I can remember, it was a Thanksgiving Weekend tradition to visit family on Thursday, have Friday free, then go to Loscon on Saturday and Sunday. As for Worldcons, I’d been to three before: L.A.Con II in 1984, ConFrancisco(?) in 1993, and L.A.Con III in 1996. (Hey, if Worldcon is on the order of a 10-mile drive, you may as well take advantage of it.)

So I staggered through the dealer’s room, the art show, the exhibit hall with original Star Trek costumes, genre cars like the Batmobile and the DeLorean from Back to the Future, mock-ups of the lunar lander and rovers. I went to some panels on things like “What will future historians get wrong about our time,” the rise of theocracy, fixing things that go wrong in space, and what past sci-fi got wrong about the present.

There was a group (IIRC, from a local college) with a bunch of remote-control robots. As I walked by, there was a college-aged group sitting and eating lunch from In-N-Out, one of whom had placed her hamburger (still mostly wrapped) on a little remote-control car, and was driving it around the floor, dodging obstacles (like feet). Then tragedy struck, and the burger fell off.

While I was in the art show, someone started up music nearby. The song sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place it until it reached the chorus. It was the “Make your own kind of music” song that was used in last year’s Lost season opener! The music turned out to be the accompaniment to a dueling artists bit.

Cardboard box with rocks: Pluto thanks you!Someone had responded to Pluto’s demotion to “dwarf planet” and set up a display labeled Pluto Needs Rocks, all about a campaign to collect rocks and launch them at Pluto to increase its mass so it can clear out its orbit and get its status back as a planet. Yes, there was a collection box beneath the display. And yes, it had rocks in it.

I ended up running into my parents and some family friends, and we set up a time to meet and go to dinner. I figured I had enough time to drive home, pick up Katie, and come back, as long as we met outside the convention. Unfortunately, the freeway was backed up, and I realized there was no way we could have made it back in time. (One of the family friends had something to go to after dinner.) I called to cancel, and by the time I got home, I began to realize I wasn’t really in shape to continue driving. I realized later I’d been running on DayQuil and willpower, and my willpower had just run out for the day. So I ended up collapsing on the couch as soon as I walked in the door.

(Cross-posted from LiveJournal. Copied here & photos added May 2012.)

Current Mood: 🤒sick