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WonderCon Anaheim 2018 recap: Bringing out the wonderful nerd in all of us

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I like to call WonderCon Anaheim the little sibling of San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) partly because it’s run by the same organization, Comic-Con International, and partly because I like to think that I’m getting the full SDCC experience. WonderCon originally was held in Oakland from 1987-1982 and then at the Moscone Center in San Francisco from 2003-2011 before exceeding its capacity in the Bay and moving to the Los Angeles Area. Nevertheless, even though WonderCon 2018 was nowhere near the scale of SDCC, it certainly won over my nerdy little heart.

Held at the Anaheim Convention Center just minutes from Disneyland, WonderCon boasted an incredible series of panels, exclusive screenings, signings and more. Some of this year’s guests included a panel from the cast and showrunners of fan-favorite “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (as a massive “S.H.I.E.LD.” fan, I was delighted to learn that the lines to WonderCon are nowhere near those of SDCC, so I easily got into the event despite the high-profile nature of those involved), the cast of “Timeless” and “The Expanse,” comic creators, preview screenings of upcoming shows and a massive slew of artists selling their art and wares. The convention also boasts something for everyone, including an extensive games area and on-going screenings ranging from children’s television to recent adult animated shows.

WonderCon was the first true convention that I’d attended and was certainly a whole-hearted introduction. I certainly can’t hold anything to the cosplayers that attend the event, but I held my head high as I talked to other attendees enjoying themselves, wearing cosplay getups, discussing fan theories and looking at art. I planned my WonderCon visit quite expeditiously like any other convention-goer, snagging my badge the day before and arriving about a half hour before the convention center was scheduled to open.

I did my research beforehand, learned that the crowds were not as crazy as SDCC, but the center still had the potential to get crowded. Lined with, most likely, almost a hundred panels and approximately 60,000 guests, WonderCon had the feel of a large-scale pop culture convention without the mess of SDCC. I started my first day off by lining up with the attendees for the main exhibit hall, marveling at the sheer size of the place. Artists’ Alley, filled with artists of all kinds, sold their art and products, while the rest of the convention hall was devoted to other types of geeky and nerdy items from fandoms of all kinds. I quickly admitted to myself that my field of interest — television and some comic book fandoms — was only a slice of the total fanbase of WonderCon, ranging from young children who enjoyed cute cartoons to adults who grew up watching anime or older American shows. I found myself needing to rush through the exhibit hall if I wanted to see all the items, lingering on certain booths with particularly intriguing posters and uniquely crafted items.

My meticulously planned schedule served me well (the app, however buggy, still functioned to my delight) as I rushed from panel to panel. I realized that 10 minutes from panel to panel became difficult to manage, even though I snuck into some back-to-back panels if they weren’t as popular (pro-tip: Panels with celebrity guests or those in the larger rooms usually require some waiting time, but smaller rooms you can get into without any trouble). I found that I could also sneak out of a panel without any issue, which helped with timing, but I had to decide whether a panel was worth sneaking out to and ended up sacrificing a number of potentially extremely interesting panels for the sake of time as well as spending more time in the exhibit hall.

WonderCon’s exclusivity isn’t just limited to those who can afford the admission cost, however. This year is WonderCon’s first year of doing a pre-event drawing for who can get signings and photographs with celebrities, which significantly decreased the madness and the scramble that plagued past conventions but also left many disappointed. Although I wasn’t selected, I am of the opinion that this was a smart choice — I’ve heard many horror stories of people waiting all day in a seat at SDCC to only see one panel, let alone being in line all day for signings at SDCC. I thankfully instead had the chance to have some face-to-face interviews with artists in all different fields of the entertainment industry, a press perk that I was glad to obtain (although the more exclusive press interviews went to larger outlets).

I’d recommend that if you’re invested in a fandom of any kind, especially that of science fiction television and film, comic books or many forms of pop culture, you should consider going to WonderCon Anaheim. It’s less of a commitment than SDCC, and you’re still guaranteed to have a great time — there’s something for everyone. I really got to see the sheer devotion and investment of these people who love their fandoms with all their hearts — something about it was just inspirational in a way. Even though fans are usually criticized for living in their own worlds, there’s a culture of support and love for the things that people are passionate about that I could see at WonderCon that I’ve seen nowhere else.

Convention favorites:

  • “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” panel with cast and showrunners
  • Marvel’s “Cloak and Dagger” sneak preview and cast panel
  • SYFY’s “Krypton” panel and preview
  • Inside the Writers’ Room: From Script to Screen
  • Gay Geeks and Where to Find Them
  • Behind Hollywood’s Heroes with TV and Film’s Top Creatives (featuring the costume designer of “Black Panther” and the composers of “Star Trek: Discovery,” “The Defenders,” “Daredevil,” “Runaways,” “Jessica Jones” and “This is Us,” among others)
  • “Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay” advance screening and panel
  • The Art and Science of Film Pyrotechnics and Firearms
  • “Into the Badlands” panel

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Olivia Popp was a managing editor of Arts & Life for volumes 251 through 254 and the editor-at-large for The Stanford Daily's board of directors for volumes 254 and 255. She hails from Michigan and enjoys science fiction TV shows, independent film festivals, and the Bay Area theater scene.