WonderCon Blues…

This past weekend, WonderCon happened at the Anaheim Convention Center, which is about an hour south of Los Angeles. While I can’t say I was actually looking forward to the convention itself, I was excited to see friends and just check out what the convention center looked like, and basically get back into comics again. I woke up, got some breakfast and got on the road, arriving a bit later than I wanted thanks to the rain and rain-related road chaos, around 12:15 or so into Anaheim.

Then everything fell apart. I made my way to the street the convention center was on, and instantly everything took a turn for the worse. There were some signs about parking that I could barely make out through the pouring rain as I was jockeying my way into the right hand lane where I assumed the parking would be. Then I saw a sign that told me to go straight but I ignored that and turned right because there was nothing down the road that I could see. This lead to me spending about a half an hour crawling up the block through traffic. I finally found out, after talking to a very soggy traffic cop, that there was no more parking at the convention center itself and that we were supposed to drive 5 miles away to Angels Stadium, park there, and then take shuttle buses back to the convention center.  I was not interested in this proposed solution, and tried to look for street parking–why not just walk to the con, it’s only a few blocks away, right?–and realized that Anaheim doesn’t want you parking on its streets; it’s all permit parking, punk, so keep on driving.

So another twenty minutes go by as I make way to the main road and head down to the stadium, where I paid $10 to park in the massive stadium lot.  Then, grabbing my broken umbrella, I started walking to where I assumed the buses would be. This was fairly easy, thanks to the GIANT line of people waiting, cold and wet, for the buses to fill up.  After scouting things out, I realized a few things:

  1. The line was going to take at least 30-45 minutes to get to the buses.
  2. The wind and rain were picking up.
  3. I was not going to go to this convention.
  4. Anaheim was not ready for WonderCon this Saturday afternoon.
  5. I had to find a bathroom.

Now, for the people I talked to who actually got into the show, it sounded like, you know, WonderCon. Fun but kinda mellow, pretty much kind of a warm up for the rest of the convention season. And my experience was pretty specific: I could only go on Saturday, it was raining like crazy, I was by myself, and I just did not feel like standing out in the rain for 45 minutes to go to a convention center filled with more lines and thousands of rain soaked and soggy comic book fans.

At first, it’s tempting to accuse Anaheim of dropping the ball. The weather totally blew—that was really unfortunate—but the parking situation was just kind of jaw-droppingly bad. Okay, so you have the parking lot 5 miles away at a baseball stadium. Great, cool. But to have just one line for the buses made no sense. There should have been multiple lines for the multiple buses that were there, with some semblance of a staff to manage the whole thing. Yes, I know, working in the rain sucks, but paying $10 to wait in line for almost an hour for a bus that will take you to more lines sucks more. My experience this weekend convinced me that there is no way Anaheim could possibly handle something the size of San Diego Comic-Con—indeed, it made me doubly sure that doing it in downtown Los Angeles (as proposed when the contract runs out with San Diego in 2015) would be even worse. As bad as San Diego is, at least you always have the option of parking far away and walking to the convention. With Anaheim, that did not seem to be an option.

But all this got me thinking, and I have come to the conclusion that, as crappy as it was to drive for hours (and hours), and as frustrating as it was to go the convention only to not go to the convention because of the traffic and the weather, at least there was traffic.  There were a lot of people that wanted to go to WonderCon, and I am very curious to find out how the numbers in Anaheim compared to the numbers in San Francisco.

When you take a step back from all of the madness regarding getting SDCC tickets and the general hassle that seems to come with most conventions, one thing is clear: people want to go to these conventions. And this, I think, is a very good and very important thing.

I mean, think about it: everything these days is about making it less and less important that you actually go outside of your home for entertainment. We all debate the pro’s and cons of digital comics, and though we may disagree on many things, one thing that we do agree on is that digital comics delivery will one day impact the comic book shops hard. That one day comic book shops will go the way of other media retailers, the way of record stores and regular book stores: many will close. Many will close and the community those shops helped create will dissipate. I mean, yes, talking about comics on iFanboy.com is fun, but you need both, you know? A big reason I like going to the shop is talking about the books with the owners and other customers.

Comic book conventions are a relic of our pre-digital past. Pretty much everything you see at a convention can be found online…everything, that is, except for everyone. No matter how easy you make it to get your media, most of us will always want to enjoy the media with other people. And while the Internet has made it easier for groups to share their interests, no web page will replace actually hanging out with a bunch of folks in person to discuss characters and stories.

A comic book convention is a funny place. It is very easy for long time convention goers to get jaded, to accept con season instead of getting excited about it.  But as I was driving away from Anaheim, I realized that even though conventions can be really irritating on many levels, I still really like going to them. I like this off-kilter social construct that conventions offer, where people can get their freak on, where, here in the geek-convention-verse, they can be awesome.  And while yes, I usually leave a comic book convention with sore feet and a vicious cold, I also leave with a newfound interest in what’s going in comics and I get excited about what’s coming out in the coming year.

I talked to quite a few people about WonderCon last week, and, without exception, they were really looking forward to a smaller show, one that was close enough to drive to for the day and come back home for, one that only hinted at the mania that defines San Diego. And I admit, I was really not looking forward to it, mostly because I rather liked going to up to San Francisco, where Isotope and iFanboy threw fantastic parties, where we had things like the Tiki tour and glasses with artwork by Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner on them. Depending on what Comic-Con International decides to do with WonderCon, that era might be over. And I am sad to say, I guess I kind of resented Anaheim (though it was hardly Anaheim’s fault, I know, I know), which made me not want to give WonderCon a chance, that “no one was gonna go anyway.”

Well, I was wrong. Big time. Lots of people went. Lots of people waited in the rain, shivering in their costumes under ratty old umbrellas bought long ago, waiting to have a great day at the Con. They wanted their convention, they wanted to see their friends, they wanted WonderCon to be awesome — which is a heck of a way to kick on the con season. I really hope people had a good time and I will definitely make it next year…let’s just hope it doesn’t rain.

Did you make it to Anaheim this year? How did you deal with the weather? What did you see? Where did you eat?


Mike Romo is an actor in Los Angeles. You can reach him through e-mail, visit his Facebook page, connect with him on Google +, and collect his tweets on Twitter.


  1. I did not go to wonderCon, but wanted to say God Bless You. God Bless You for driving in the rain in L.A. The rain driving may be worse than snow driving on the East Coast.

  2. We lucked out: Arrived at 9AM, parked in a nearby mall’s parking structure (Garden Walk), had front row seats for the Scott Snyder panel, checked out a few more panels, walked the floor, saw some great costumes, met some cool people and made it out of there by 5PM. Weather wasn’t much of a factor for us.

  3. “Comic book conventions are a relic of our pre-digital past. Pretty much everything you see at a convention can be found online…everything, that is, except for everyone. No matter how easy you make it to get your media, most of us will always want to enjoy the media with other people.”

    I couldn’t agree more. I don’t know what the future of conventions will look like but I smaller more “grassrootsy” style gatherings would be neat.

    • It’s surprising to me that there aren’t dozens of smaller grassroots cons going on during San Diego. I know there are a couple, but if you look at most music or film festivals there are always tons on unaffiliated but related events. I would love to see more going on in other hotels, comic shops, or even bars.

  4. It was my first con, and I had a great time. Parking wasn’t too bad. There was a lot right near the convention center.

  5. i think that there were very mixed parking experiences. i drove right past a wide open lot without knowing it only to flip a u-turn and spend 30 minutes to see that there was no parking in the actual convention lot. then we ended up going back to the lot that i missed but my buddy noticed. sucky but not as bad as yours. i heard some peoples parking situations were a breeze. they parked in one of the nearby disney lots that they said was close by. i’ve summed it up to just bad organization. that fact that peoples parking experiences varied so greatly to me just means that the traffic direction and signs were terrible. and its been quite a while since i remember the weather being as sucky as it was that day. fortunately the registration line was nearly nonexistent.

  6. must admit i found it very disappointing….this one had a half assed feel to it when compared to the having it in SF….Aneheim felt a little lame

  7. Dang Mike, you should have done some sort of shoutout to iFanbase members in the area. Going alone isn’t all that bad I guess, but lines are a lot eaiser to deal with if you have at least one other person with you. Had I known a member of the iFanboy team was going alone I would have offered to meet up, if you wanted to at least. I had a great time myself, I was looking around for anything iFanboy related, but I didn’t spot anything. I’m local, and my buddy who has a Disneyland pass drove, so parking was a cinch. I had the priviledge of meeting Mike Mignola, which was the highlight of the day for me, he was really cool. I missed out on Scott Snyder, the line was long, and they cut it off pretty quick, But I will hopefully get that done next time. All in all I had a great time; I know now that I’ll have to come with a bunch more cash next time, because there was just way too much awesome shit there.

  8. I got there around that time too, maybe closer to 1 pm actually. The WonderCon website said that the actual convention had very limited parking. The thing is though, Disneyland is across the street from the convention and there is a ton of Disneyland Resort parking. These lots aren’t actually on the Disneyland grounds, they are down the street from the entrance. There were huge parking lots less than a mile from the con. I think the lots were named after Toy Story characters. The problem was that everyone was trying to get into these lots and that was the cause of pretty bad traffic. Parking was $15 for the day. Because of the traffic it took me like 45 mins to actually park my car. I think it was worth it though. Got a sketch from Fiona Staples (the artist on Saga), met the Soup Nazi, and got to go to a screening of Cabin in the Woods with Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard doing a Q/A afterwards.

  9. I arrived around the same time on Saturday and experienced only minor problems. To be clear, the Anaheim Stadium lot is exactly 2.4 miles from the convention center. I Google Mapped it, so saying “5 miles” is more than a bit of an exaggeration, Mike. The line for the shuttle looked long, but they had the shuttles line up and it all went pretty quickly. Would I have preferred to not wait in the rain and cold for ten minutes? Of course, but life offers little speed-bumps and it’s best to remember that. My kids (6 and 7) told me, “Once we get there, it will be all worth it.” Wise words. Once it was all figured out, we were on a shuttle for a five minute drive to the convention center. And once inside, it was a “Wonder”ful con with more than enough to please us fanboys. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

  10. I got up a little after my normal work day wake up and made the drive from Moorpark to Anaheim in record time — evidently just ahead of the hurricane-like storm moving down the coast. I made one of those cross your fingers driving decisions that worked out: I made a big circle around to approach the resort parking from the west, opposite the freeway. Score!

    But as for Anaheim hosting major conventions? People, Disneyland is not moving away anytime soon. There will be traffic.

    The con itself was great. In Artists Alley the creators seemed to do lots of business yet still have time to actually chat. I managed to visit with Mike Mignola when he had no line at all! Also met the brothers Houghton, creators of Reed Gunther, The Bear Riding Cowboy and had a great visit. Bought a book from Humberto Ramos, THE DARE DETECTIVES from Archaia Press and did a signing with the Darkwing Duck/Muppet artists, James Silvani and Amy Mebberson. I wish I had booked a night at a hotel to spend a second day without the drive hassle.

    I kept an eye out for Romo. Didn’t know he had been washed out by the rain.

    • I had the same luck, Tad. Eagle Rock to Anaheim in about 40 minutes? Not bad at all. I got in just before all the traffic hit.

      Artist alley actually seemed pretty BIG, I thought! I was able to chat with a number of different creators. 🙂

  11. I didn’t have any problems until Sunday, when I arrived around 2pm. San Diego (and I’m sure SF) is great for their public transportation.

  12. Sorry I missed ya, Mike!

    I didn’t have too much trouble. I went Friday and the show was VERY mellow. On Saturday, parking was a bigger hassle, but I managed to get into the Disney lot in about 15-20 minutes right around 10am. However, I had someone else arriving about 30 minutes behind me, and it took them over an HOUR to get off the freeway and park. So I consider myself very fortunate.

    I miss SF, but it was a pretty good show overall. Of course, as everyone says, half the draw of Wondercon was the fact that you were in a GREAT city when the show ended. So, i didn’t have that, but… you know — the show itself was fun.

  13. Don’t worry Mike…I’ve never even been to WonderCon (crys).

    But, someday I will…someday.

  14. I did Wondercon last year but didn’t make it this time. It’s a long way from the East Coast. I’m going to Emerald City for the first time, so I’m getting my Con travel miles in.