Last weekend was the 25th annual WonderCon, the Bay Area’s comic book convention held at San Francisco’s Moscone Center and “one of the nation’s largest comics conventions”, according to the con’s program book. But if you think WonderCon is just for the hardcore comic book geeks, this year’s convention proved to transcend that niche more than those of past years.
A WonderCon 2011 program book contributor anticipated, “Besides the fact that every major comics publisher will be at WonderCon this year, programming will feature some of the most diverse professionals and experts in all areas of comics and popular art.” Friday, opening day, already started fulfilling those words. Besides panels and other events focusing on the comic book industry, such as a panel about DC Comics’ upcoming productions and the first few sessions of the Comic Arts Conference series which ran through the weekend, Friday kicked off with panels concerning other areas of speculative fiction and culture. Some of these were panels on video games including “Nerds! The Secret Origins of Game Designers” and “The MMORPG Industry” which focused on multiplayer online role-playing games, a workshop on mixing colors in art, and even a panel about other cons particularly of the science fiction genre—“Back to Space-Con: The Story of the 1970s Sci-Fi Conventions”.
Saturday included panels that interviewed guests such as novelist Paul Wilson who refers to himself as a “genre-hopper” and so who’s stories span such speculative genres as science fiction, horror, mystery and medical thriller and even non-speculative genres such as romance all more or less within a single story! This has been especially so with his latest series of novels, Repair Man Jack. In the latter half of the afternoon, a world premiere teaser trailer of Tarsem Singh’s Immortals, due for release in theaters this November, thundered from a state of the art sound system in the Esplanade Ball Room quaking the floor. It was as if the very deities themselves were providing these special audio effects for this cinematic retelling of an ancient Greek myth! A question-and-answer discussion immediately followed. The discussion included Singh and starring actors Henry Cavill who plays the main hero, Theseus (and who is to star in the upcoming Super Man film) and Isabel Lucas who plays the goddess Athena.
The exhibit hall–consisting of vendors’ booths, artists’ displays, and celebrity signing stalls–was as diverse as much as it was overwhelmingly immense in contents. Three days of the con was hardly enough time to visit all the booths and displays. Not only were there comic book vendors, big name comic publishers such as Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse and indie publishers but there were also movie and game producers. Yours truly even had the pleasure of catching Sacramento native Mr. Lobo, TV horror movie host and producer of nationally syndicated Cinema Insomnia. He was actually on his way out to return to Virginia to continue filming the remake of Ed Wood’s 1950s B-rated Plan Nine from Outer Space. Mr. Lobo had been promoting the film at the con in his Amazing Criswell attire, Criswell being a character Lobo plays in the movie.
That evening’s focal point was the masquerade which had a line of people waiting to be let in, a line that one would think was even longer than any for a Star Wars premiere! The event started with a pre-masquerade activity: a series of trailers of current and upcoming movies and TV series. These not only included adaptations of super hero comic book epics such as Captain America, Thor and the upcoming X-Men prequel, X-Men First Class, but also the conspiracy science fiction thriller Source Code (now playing), and producers Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams’ new film, Super 8, involving some kids’ encounter with a mysterious and destructive force. There was also some surprise footage of the soon-to-come zombie movie, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night.
The masquerade costume judging itself was introduced by steampunk novelists Phil and Kaja Foglio. The contestants included those impersonating comic book characters (such as a team of junior Batman villains) as well as those impersonating non-comic book characters (such as a team of Raving Rabbids video game characters). The downside of the show was that several contestants did not show up.
One of the best events of Sunday was the panel on Asian-American pop culture. This panel included discussions on Asian-Americans’ work in the anime, film, rock music as well as comic book industries and the struggle for Asian-Americans to play significant and pronounced roles in them. The height of the discussion was the movie adaptation of the manga series and anime film Akira and the debate over whether using Asian-American actors over non-Asian ones would be more politically and culturally correct.
The exhibit hall on Sunday seemed as packed as it was on Saturday, Saturday being a day that traditionally brings the largest crowds to any pop cultural convention. Perhaps this was due to last minute collectibles shoppers, celebrity signature collectors and original art collectors? Whatever the reason, the hall was nearly packed wall to wall all the way to the close of the con when everyone filed out in a continuous mass. As hard as such crowd volume makes it to get around a con, there is one significantly good thing about it: the evidence that no geek is alone in the world, and WonderCon–like any other geeky pop cultural con whether it caters to comic books, science fiction, fantasy or gaming–is an event where fans of speculative culture can gather and share common interests.
“WonderCon Program Book and Schedule”; 2011