The unofficial kickoff to all things geek every year, Anaheim, California’s WonderCon isn’t just the little sibling of San Diego’s Comic-Con International. It’s become a destination for those who don’t want the bustle of the big show, but are looking for a genuinely unique, fun and inclusive experience.
If you foolishly overlooked WonderCon 2017, read on and despair at your mistake! Here are the top 13 things that made it stand out from the rest.
13. Some of the Most Creative Cosplay Around
You’d be hard-pressed to find another convention with human-sized Lego people, the Dayman from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Multiple Man with an actual dupe. Okay, sure, you got your standard Deadpool, too — but he was carrying a lightsaber and wearing a WWE championship title.
12. The Best Booths
And hey, if you didn’t bring your own costume, you could probably build one from all the amazing booths on the show floor. You could buy a sword, a kilt and a fez all within the same area, and there was even a real creature make-up artist doing people up like extras in Narnia. Walk a little farther down the aisle, and you could’ve gotten a caricature of your new get-up drawn in real-time.
11. Robert A. Heinlein Memorial Blood Drive
Legendary science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein was a philanthropist, in more ways than one. Having a rare blood type, he made it a point to donate frequently, and set up a general blood drive at San Diego Comic-Con in 1977. It’s been a staple there ever since, and it came to WonderCon in 2007, where you can give a little while consuming a little. It’s good to have balance.
10. Children’s Film Festival
Proving that it’s not just about adult geeks, WonderCon 2017 promoted screenings of several movies from the Los Angeles International Children’s Film Festival, including Yoon-Ah Jung’s Living Water and other works from Australia, Iran, Slovakia and elsewhere around the world. Many of the animators and filmmakers were on hand to help advise others on how to make their own children’s films.
9. No Tow Trucks Beyond Mars Panel
Science overtook science fiction and fantasy when the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s David Rosing, Shonte J. Tucker and Todd J. Barber took the stage to discuss their most harrowing moments in creating actual spacecraft. From Tucker finding engineers who goofed in the fetal position, to Barber’s ill-timed impression of visiting governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the very human engineers were there to remind everyone that most victories are preceded by a lot of little defeats. And to to check your damn units.
Like a lot of shows, WonderCon had tournaments for popular tabletop games Pokémon, Magic: The Gathering and Munchkin. But if you didn’t want to invest all that time and effort, you could also sit for a spell, play a few rounds with friends and maybe discover a new game from the small publishers that were giving demos.
Or if you wanted the experience without missing panels, there were even NIGHT TIME sessions at the nearby Anaheim Hilton.
7. Hotel Proximity
And I do mean nearby. The Hilton was just one of eight hotels within easy walking distance of the Anaheim Convention Center, WonderCon’s home. Beats the hell of out staying in Jersey for New York Comic Con! And if the location wasn’t alluring enough, WonderCon arranged for reduced room prices if you booked through them.
6. Betsy Gomez and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
Founded in 1986 to protect the First Amendment rights of comics professionals, the CBLDF financially and legally aids those creators that have their work targeted by censorship from libraries and even government officials. Editorial director Betsy Gomez was at WonderCon 2017 to discuss ongoing cases and others that the Fund actually helped triumph in, including one you might not expect, when neurologist and science advocate Steven Novella was sued by a quack medical practitioner for calling him out on his bullshit.
5. Food Trucks!
Yes, it’s California, and yes you will get delicious, off-beat culinary creations — right in front of the Convention Center! And if you were interested in the Filipino fusion of White Rabbit or the down-home barbecue of MeatUp, there were more than a dozen others to choose from. Almost worth the price of tickets alone.
4. The Comics Arts Conference
WonderCon doesn’t just celebrate pop culture — it thinks about it. The Comics Arts Conference was first brought to San Diego Comic-Con 25 years ago by Peter Coogan Randy Duncan, and the “academic track” of programming, where university professors and others gather to examine comics more critically, appears in Anaheim, too. Panels this year included a skeptical look at Marvel’s character diversity by Jonathan Flowers of Southern Illinois University, and a discussion on whether genre definitions limit storytelling.
3. WonderCon Talk Back
Every year, at the end of the weekend, WonderCon attendees get to speak directly to the convention’s organizers to let them know what worked and what didn’t. If it weren’t already obvious, they really are the con that listens. Though maybe they shouldn’t heed that suggestion to publicize the location of the cheap Chinese buffet.
2. Rob Liefeld
Hey, don’t laugh. The much-maligned 90s comic superstar, partially responsible for the creation of Deadpool and X-Force, and the obfuscation of countless feet, still packs ’em in. Liefeld had an entire panel devoted to him, as he promoted his new Deadpool: Bad Blood original graphic novel, drawn and co-written by the man himself. It was one of the few panels all weekend that actually had to be capped for attendance.
1. It Was Just Plain Pleasant
You read that right — for the most part, you didn’t have to worry about being shut out of your favorite panel at WonderCon 2017. And there was glorious elbow room throughout the Anaheim Convention Center, yet you could still cover all the ground in a relatively short period of time. Add in great Wi-Fi, plenty of handicapped-accessible seating and tons of outlets and bathrooms, and you get one of the most people-friendly conventions in the world. You could actually enjoy your enjoyment!