“I think the WonderCon is better than San Diego Comic-Con because I have the experience from remembering the old days,” said Anastasia Hunter, “the San Diego show is not fun anymore.”
Hunter, 44, drove up with a few of her friends to the annual WonderCon Anaheim show on March 23-25 — to promote their Gaslight Expo steampunk gathering.
The show was at the Anaheim Convention Center and is about 90 miles north from Hunter’s home by City Heights.
“I would guess that 25-30 percent of attendees here are from San Diego,” she said, “I know the staff and they are all from San Diego.”
Hunter attended her first Comic-Con International: San Diego show in 1992, during her freshman year at San Diego State University.
“I went to get my badges with the old electric typewriter, and they would just type them up on the white paper labels,” she said.
“Nowadays we have the tap-in tap-out badges, where you touch your RFID on a plastic portal to your right side,” Dwayne said.
Dwayne, a Bay Park resident, has been buying-selling-trading at both comic shows, since the 1980s.
“While walking the semi-sparse halls on Friday,” Dwayne said, “it reminded us of the San Diego show about 15-20 years ago. I like talking to the artists, and hearing their perspectives, techniques and seeing the finished pieces,” he said, “and at times, I give them a magnetic Frankenstein charm as a reward.”
I remember meeting Dwayne in 1994 when I sold comics with my parents at the San Diego show. I swapped some of my 1960s comic books for Dwayne’s 1980s cereal premiums. The year after, I rolled with my buddy and his father to sell at WonderCon, when it was still in Oakland. Back in the 90s, the biz of geekdom at conventions and our stores was different, because we didn’t have to compete selling against large companies with their exclusive merchandise — where many customers now wait in lines for hours — rather than schmooze, browse and shop at our mom-and-pops vendor booths.
“They (the two conventions) seem very similar but with breathing space at WonderCon,” said Diana, “I didn’t get stuck in a mid-aisle traffic jam once at WonderCon and it’s a regular occurrence on Saturday at San Diego while trying to get from point A to point B.”
Diana, also from City Heights, is a children’s book author. She attended her first San Diego Comic-Con in 2003 and remembers buying a Lara Croft statue, comic books and a Firefly t-shirt for her wife. Here at the WonderCon, 15 years later, she purchased Mysterious Galaxy children’s books, stickers, and art prints.
“Both conventions have an artists’ alley and small dealers tables with creativity oozing from every display,” she said. “The creative passion for projects is palpable everywhere, however, most of the big, Hollywood cinema players are missing from WonderCon, as are many of the large toy companies. That makes sense. From their global sales point of view — both are SoCal. Why cover it twice? On the other hand, I heard that the big studios were no longer building aisle-spanning displays at the 2018 San Diego show either.”
Many of the attendees that drove up from San Diego this weekend haven’t been able to enter the San Diego Comic-Con in the last few years, because “San Diego Comic-Con tickets sell out (only available online) in seconds,” said Billy Khang, “plus, it’s a lottery system, not a first -come-first-serve system.”
Khang, 29, originally from Linda Vista, is a multi-media journalist for a news station in Yuma. He’s been attending both conventions since 2012. “WonderCon is at a smaller venue and less busy,” he said, “you can walk here, and it doesn’t feel like an apocalyptic ending.”
While attending the Power Rangers panel on Saturday, he noticed that four of the attendees that asked questions were fellow San Diegans.
“The big difference between both shows is the outside of the venues,” he said. “If you can’t get inside San Diego, you can enjoy the convention outside (and around downtown); however here Disneyland is across the street.”
“We’ve tried that clicking ‘refresh-refresh-refresh’ on our computers and haven’t been able to get tickets,” said John, a Chula Vista resident who photographed the cosplayers outside of the venue. “My friends said the same thing — thanks goodness for WonderCon.”
According to the WonderCon’s Facebook page, they still had tickets available on Saturday.
“I believe a 3-day pass is $75 for the WonderCon,” Hunter said, “and at San Diego, including preview night which is a Wednesday, and Thursday through Sunday, it’s $276 for this year.”
Prices for junior attendees, who are between 13 to 17-year-old, are roughly half the adult prices, and attendees 12 and under are free with a paying adult.
“The change at Comic Con happened at around 2002-2004; it was like the year they brought in Arnold Schwarzenegger and then they brought the hobbits from the Lord of the Rings,” Hunter said. “This was also about the same year that Variety published an article about the San Diego Comic Con and let the other studios know that “Hey, there’s this huge demographic of people who love these type of movies.” And now, you have that media fan which is so much more frenzied and wanting to be in the same room with the talent — now people are spending the night outside and that’s not a comic-con experience.”
“I don’t want to come to San Diego this year because i have PTSD,” said Kasia Celeste Posey, “and the crowd is just too much. It’s hot and its not about comics anymore.”
Posey is a 30-year-old transgender cosplayer that is stationed at one of the naval bases in San Diego. Today, she cosplayed as the late Chyna, WWE wrestler. “In my group of San Diego friends, there’s at least 60 of us here.” she said.
One of her super-tall friends played the Undertaker (another wrestler) by carrying a boombox and dressed in a black trench-coat. Her other sidekick was dressed in a robe, short-shorts and a professional wrestling championship belt — cosplaying as Ric Flair.
“Now it’s more about money,” she said, “it’s more about bringing in the YouTubers (with high follower numbers) and movie people that have nothing to do with comics.”
Dwayne recognized many of the same attendees and dealers at the WonderCon. Besides looking for 1960s horror-genre comics, he promoted his own Sixth Annual San Diego Comic Fest show, that will held at the Town and Country in Mission Valley in April. “I agree with Hunter,” he said, “there are about a third of San Diegans here.”
Hunter also brought her brother, nephew, niece and their two friends to the show. “The WonderCon reminds me of those good old days before the San Diego show got too big,” she said, “and if you love your children and love your family, bring them here.”
According to the Wikipedia site, when Hunter first attended the San Diego Comic Con in 1992, the attendance was 22,000 — and in 2017, it was over 130,000. Hunter said that the WonderCon attendance this weekend was about 70,000.