Will WonderCon lose its wonder by relocating?

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It’s that time of year again. Many will come out of their homes to witness the coming spring sun, perhaps take in the beauty of the natural world. Its fragrant flowers, its whimsical wind. Then many will immediately go back inside, remembering that there’s a show on Netflix they must feverishly catch up on, or a cosplay costume that needs some vital touch-ups before this season continues. Did you think I was talking about spring? Nope, it’s the most wonderful time of the year — convention season.

Starting off the season during Easter weekend and across from Anaheim’s happiest place on earth, WonderCon opened its doors to attendees, casually dressed or donned in armor. The four-day convention offered a vibrant and diverse atmosphere with numerous independent vendors of media goods on the exhibition floor, artists possibly doodling fanart at Artist Alley, and discussions held by small and big media celebrities. With no outrageous crowds or lines for attendees, WonderCon feels like an experience crafted for them to be connected with others and their fandoms.

Specifically, college students can especially enjoy the environment, since many are tuned in with pop and media culture. I know many of us have some sort of media outlet we go to when we just want to relax, whether it is on Netflix or a game console. UCR clubs like Cosplay Brigade, Gamespawn and Sci-fi and Fantasy Club demonstrate not only students’ media interests, but their passion to come together as a community to celebrate them. WonderCon covers an array of interests by offering not only space for such interests to be displayed, but also the space to easily come together to be immersed in their favorites of media culture. Yet this individualized experience may change next year with WonderCon 2016 changing its location from Anaheim to Los Angeles, which could transform it into a carbon copy of its sister convention, Comic-Con.

For years, Los Angeles has been trying to enter “a long-term partnership with Comic-Con International … and help them establish a home base in L.A.,” as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti stated upon announcing WonderCon 2016’s new stomping grounds. Ideally, Los Angeles wants to enjoy the same perks San Diego has enjoyed for years as the center of Comic-Con, yet the City of Angels will have to settle with WonderCon to “set the precedent for future successful Comic-Con events in L.A.”

While is it reasonable to move WonderCon to Los Angeles with the city’s convention center more easily accessible from downtown’s train stations to the crowded traffic, the smaller con may shift to be too inclusive of large corporations like Comic-Con due to Los Angeles’ wish for an awe-inspiring convention and its close proximity to Hollywood.

As someone who has gone to Comic-Con since 2004, I have to say the con is becoming more and more overwhelming, with studios, companies and networks bidding for spots on the exhibition floor or panel halls. However, it is not the presence of larger corporations that is overwhelming, but their marketing practices. Every year, corporations attempt to do what Steve Weintraub calls “win Comic-Con,” or become the talk of the town. By giving out free items like posters or keychains, the convention has morphed into a free-for-all spree of free merch. Not only are there lines for autograph signings, I remember there are, at times, even longer lines to receive the year’s iconic Warner Brothers big bag to stuff free merch in — the bag is literally as tall as a preteen.

The exhibition floor is the equivalent of southern Orange County traffic, which is just a phenomenal experience itself, but rather cumbersome when one is trying to rush off to another event. Any interaction that I could have with other attendees would rarely be on the exhibition floor, but sitting on the floor while waiting in line for a panel discussion that would consist of even more waiting in the panel room itself. Yet don’t get me wrong. Waiting is part of the experience of any con with the inevitable increasing popularity of media culture. I will always treasure the silly antics my friends and I have done in a four-hour line to see the season premiere of “The Legend of Korra” — months before it aired on television.

However, the lines that the increased presence of media corporations have created aren’t the true hinderance. Corporations are taking up more space in Comic-Con International conventions due to having more funds to purchase space, thus pushing out private and smaller vendors. According to last year’s applications, to apply for a standard 10-by-10 foot booth at San Diego Comic-Con, the applicant must pay $2,600 in comparison to paying $1,500 at WonderCon. Not everyone can afford those space prices, especially smaller vendors. At times, companies even branch out to parts of San Diego’s downtown to increase their space, such as how Cartoon Network rented space for a pizzeria or Nintendo reserved a whole room in the Marriott Hotel for game demos in 2011.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s awesome that fans get an early chance to play “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword” or to eat a sick slice with a gorgeous man dressed as Jack from “Adventure Time”; however I feel a growing distance from the reason why people originally started Comic-Con and these conventions — the fandoms. At WonderCon, many smaller vendors are closer to the many fandoms and can interact with them on a more intimate basis. Also, some vendors are artists from all sorts of backgrounds, from years of experience to merely trying out, so it’s not as intimidating to talk to other artists.

At Comic-Con, I felt treated as someone merely part of the crowd instead of a fan wanting to interact with others, because many people are rushing off to a specific event in the branched-off areas of San Diego. Everything that Comic-Con was originally created for seems to be lost in the crowd of humanoid Pikachu cosplayers and plastic weaponry.

With Los Angeles’ eagerness to have its very own version of Comic-Con, WonderCon may be on its way to evolve into its big sister convention. Relocating will provide more room for WonderCon to expand, but hopefully not as a smorgasbord of free stuff. For now, WonderCon has maintained its individuality. Will it in the future? We’ll see.

 

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