Comic-Con International always hears a lot of talk about its convention currently heralded as the comic convention of comic conventions, San Diego Comic-Con. However, there isn't as much buzz as it's second comic book con, WonderCon. Should this convention be talked about in the same revered tones, or is it better left alone. We sent Jeremy and Steve from the Rolling 20's to go down there and find out what the buzz is in Anaheim.
JEREMY - I saw no shuttle system working for WonderCon, and that may have had to do more with the hotels.
Unlike San Jose and the two hotels connected to the convention center, a Marriott hotel and a Hilton Hotel were both adjacent to the Anaheim Convention Center. The only difference was that there was a small road for the Marriott’s parking access creating a bit of extra space for that particular hotel.
Since I stayed at the Hilton last year, I reserved a room at the Anaheim Marriott for this year. It occurred to me during the weekend that I had not stayed here since Anime Expo 1996. Changes were pretty well guaranteed since then.
They seem to have added a lot of ballroom space, but they had renovated the pool area and the rooms. The color scheme here was primarily in soft cremes and whites, except for the lobby, which used more orange and contemporary stylings.
They also updated their elevator system to one of the newer dial-a-floor systems. Instead of the typical up and down buttons, there is a keypad that you can use to select your floor, and the LCD will direct you to the precise elevator that will take you to your chosen floor. It cuts down on the travel time when elevators aren’t creeping from place to place. Also, despite this convention being there, plus Spring Break, plus being a Disneyland hotel, the elevators rarely had us waiting at all.
The rooms were fairly spacious and well decorated. If I had any gripes, they were more about comfort. The TV in the room was older and had trouble interfacing with my PC, and there was no media port on the side of the TV stand or on the desk, which makes things easier at other hotels.
The hotel staff were courteous… almost eerily so. They never seemed to look down on anyone. Actually, in retrospect, even the engineers were often stone-faced. Most employees were often smiling or passively positive.
This is a really good hotel to plan to use for conventions or theme park visits.
STEVE - So, this was my first year at this convention, but not my first in this area. I has been over a decade since I was last here, however. How things have changed!
The Marriott and Hilton are still in the same place, obviously. Both have received new décor and upgrades since I was last here. They took out most of the road leading up to the convention center to make space for a walkway with fountains at either end. Looked very appealing and made travel between the hotels and to the convention a bit easier than I remember. They also provided high-end food carts in this area (pricey!) with a good variety of different food options.
Inside the Marriott itself, they have upgraded their elevator system with a more modern dial-a-floor system. Instead of the typical up and down buttons, there is a keypad that you can use to select your floor, and the LCD will direct you to the precise elevator that will take you to your chosen floor. It cuts down on the travel time when elevators aren’t creeping from place to place. I personally enjoy this set-up, since you know which elevator to stand next to and form a queue if necessary (it wasn't while I was there).
To be honest, I can't really remember the rooms from the last time I stayed here. The room we had was comfortable (extra pillows and comfy mattress, oh yes!). We got a balcony, but the view wasn't very impressive since I looked out at the Hilton. Still good for people watching though, if you weren't too busy at the convention. I did have bit of a problem with the T.V. The channel listing did not match the programming, which made finding things to watch a bit difficult. Also, switching between the inputs for using the laptop we hooked up (also a chore) had to be done manually instead of with the remote. Still, one annoyance didn't ruin the experience!
JEREMY - For last year’s WonderCon, I didn’t show up until Saturday, so I wasn’t sure how the registration would run before the doors open, but Comic-Con International has had astonishingly fast registration in the past. Would that trend hold up?
I shouldn’t have doubted.
We were waiting outside from about 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Then, they filed the waiting people inside to an interior waiting area for registration. One registration actually opened at 10:30, it took only eight minutes to get a badge in hand. There were multiple tables running what seemed to be about 36 scanners to keep people moving, and another 8 people were directing traffic to keep registration running constantly. They never slowed people coming into the registration area after it opened.
Actually, when I waited in line for the Dealer’s Hall on Saturday, what I would describe as a well-organize cadre of people who picked up Saturday badges streamed in so quickly, it looked like several planes had suddenly dropped off people at once in a busy terminal.
Registration is almost universally one of my biggest frustrations at conventions; hours of waiting just to get a badge. It is normally taxing on my patience and exhausting due to sun and heat. Comic-Con International, whether it be Comic-Con or WonderCon, seems to know that you shouldn’t spend time tiring yourself out in registration. Making it quick gives you more time to be fans or spend money in the Dealer’s Hall.
Whomever is looking for a registration model needs to go observe how Comic-Con does this part of conventions.
STEVE - Again, my first year attending, so I can't really comment on previous years or improvements. But who am I kidding? I'm not sure how you could improve on this. I stood in line for approximately an hour (9 am to 10 am) before being let into the convention center itself. We were queued up in well organized rows until 10:30 am when registration officially opened. Then a blur of movement and I was done... or so it seemed. Honestly, I forgot my registration confirmation paperwork. It took the registration personnel all of a minute to direct me back to the Help Desk where they asked for my e-mail and printed me out a badge right there. Even with my forgetful memory, I think it took me maybe five extra minutes to complete my registration. Total time once registration was opened had to be less than 15 minutes, probably closer to 10! Loved it!
JEREMY - In my last report of WonderCon, was amazed what they could do when they weren’t using all of the Anaheim Convention Center. Now, I know what it looks like when they use all of the halls.
This was pretty incredible.
WonderCon used every section of the ACC this year, and more. Fan-run panels were in the Anaheim Marriott. Main events and large panels were in the 9,100 seat arena. The meeting rooms in the second and third floors were in full use. The areas outside the meeting rooms were well patrolled by ACC staff and traffic was kept fairly minimal on these floors. They did help form lines and queues for limited signature sessions, but most panels had open door policies, so you could walk into most things that started and take a seat to listen or wait for the next panel.
Now, there is an expansion to this building beginning in October of 2015 adding more meeting space, meaning it makes more panels possible on their property.
I look forward to what this means for the future of the building.
STEVE - This convention had so much space! It seems they got the entire convention center. All four halls plus the upstairs meeting rooms made for a roomy experience. They didn't even utilize ALL the space in the halls. There was plenty of room in the walkways and even some space set aside for large groups for photos. They also used some of the Marriott's meeting rooms/ballrooms for fan-run panels and after convention hours meet-ups.
JEREMY - The Dealer’s Hall was a great mix of several things:
First, the layout of the hall was brilliant. The entrance from the Dealer’s Hall waiting line led you directly into Artist’s Alley in Hall B first. So, anyone that was waiting to go in walked directly into Artist’s Alley to begin their commerce. This means artists, who tend to have some of the most inexpensive items in an integrated Dealer’s Hall, had first shot at customers. Personally, I thought that was brilliant.
Walking further in the Hall led you to the comic book-related section in Hall C. This was where you could buy primarily new, vintage, and CGC-graded comics and graphic novels of all kinds, a lot of services in trying to procure the same, and products to create comics and art. This was the central meat of the Hall, I would say, and often had the most people wandering through it. There was some minor variation in this section, but I would say there wasn’t a lot.
The third and last section of Dealer’s Hall was the miscellaneous area in Hall D. In this section were booths selling anime-related products, video game demos from Capcom and Splatoon, signed photos and posters, and bevy of other items and memorabilia.
This layout made it easy to guess where you needed to walk to find particular products and items. The most astonishing part, though, was that about 1/3 to 1/2 of Hall D was clear space. It was a good place to go and either people watch or take a breather. But, this empty space said to me that the WonderCon higher-ups are smart enough to grow the convention gradually, rather than just take all available space and risk and uncontrollable explosion of fans or empty vendor tables.
This place is amazing for moderate-to-large sized conventions.
STEVE - The Dealer’s Hall was impressive! Lots of well laid out walkways with plenty of space to move around in. I never felt packed in or rushed or pushed by the people inside. Yet I was still able to easily see both sides for browsing purposes.
The layout of the various halls was well done, as well. Registration was in Hall A, with Artist's Alley in Hall B. This gave the various artists there first shot at your business, which in turn rewards the artist's for coming to the convention. It seems a very rewarding partnership to me. Next was Hall C and D, which were only separated by the food court towards the back of the halls. Hall C primarily housed the comic book related products and services. Various independent and well established comic artists, dealers of new, vintage and CGC-graded comics and graphic novels and services were all here. Hall D started the move away from the comic related products and moved to video games and novels. The area for set aside for board games was in the back of Hall D, as well. I'd say approximately half of Hall D was intentionally left empty – which means there is room for growth next year. Overall, I really appreciated the well laid out organization and extra walking space they provided.
JEREMY - Panels was both a plus and a minus during this year.
There was a mix of professional and fan panels that seemed to have trouble galvanizing the con-goers to feel strongly one way or another about the con. If you were into fan panels, there wasn’t enough of them. If you were into industry panels, they were there, but there wasn’t a terrible amount of bombshell announcements dropped for a Comic-Con convention.
It would be nice to hold a group responsible for that, but in the end, the industry is going to hold as many secrets as possible until they feel the time to show them, and CCI can’t force companies to make announcements.
There isn’t a great fix in this area. In the end, all you can do is shrug and hope next year has more panels of your interest.
STEVE - I'm not much of a panel goer at conventions, but I decided to try one out this time. I attended the panel on Comic censorship put on by the CBLDF (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund), a non-profit that provides education, advise, and legal representation for our 1st amendment rights. I had not previously heard of this organization, but I found the panel informative and galvanizing. There were plenty of both fan run and industry panels at this convention, but they seemed a tad under-attended. While I enjoyed not having to spend time waiting in line for a possible refusal do to space issues, I imagine it is a bit disheartening for the panel givers.
JEREMY - Oh, these are my favorite comic book cosplayers in California. Period.
These people put a lot of work in their costumes to make them look as close to authentic as possible, and their work paid off in droves. I saw Marvel and DC characters that looked like they jumped off the page. I saw independent characters that made my head spin around. I was hired during the weekend by people who refined their cosplays to booth look good and have fun. And, there were people making interesting variations of characters I never considered. (Punk X-Men!)
Individually, the cosplayers are really, REALLY good. However, the groupings were large. Almost too large to function well. I may have to delve further into this since these gatherings are half of the reason a lot of people attend.
However, if cosplay is a hobby of yours, you should really go to WonderCon. There are more than a few talented cosplayers that you could meet and talk to.
STEVE - Lots of Cosplay here! I'd have to say my favorite of the weekend was a well made Wheeljack (Transformers) on stilts. The overall level of creativity and quality really astounded me. If you like checking out cosplay, or like to cosplay yourself, you will find many fellows at this convention!
JEREMY - I need to go to a Dragon-Con, simply because I would like to see if another large convention organization does things as well as Comic-Con International does.
As you read above, we spent only 8 minutes trying to get our badges in the registration line. What I didn’t mention prior was that part of that 8 minutes was in going to the help desk to get Steve’s badge when we couldn’t locate his registration printout.
We spoke to the Press Desk in regards to our press applications. Only a few minutes was needed to turn our regular badges into press badges.
Then, we went to the help desk for another issue, and, again, only minutes was needed to resolve the issue.
The staff of Comic-Con does very well at keeping things efficient on a lot of levels and making you feel important. That is not something I am used to with convention staffings.
And, the event and security at the Anaheim Convention Center acted as if the bevy of energetic costumed fans was just another day. As Steve pointed out, they work adjacent to Disneyland. They have probably seen even more odd things than comic fans could produce. Even the bellhops were smiling, courteous, and fast.
I adore the Anaheim Convention Center area.
STEVE - I have an entirely positive opinion of the staff/organization at this convention. All staff were friendly and courteous. The staff was knowledgeable about locations and events. I witnessed one event in person, where a convention attendee was politely asked to move away from a wall. Unfortunately, the attendee did not handle himself in an appropriate manner and got rude and snippy in return. Despite name-calling and other rude behavior on behalf of the attendee, the staff member maintained a professional attitude and made recommendations for alternative seating or locations the attendee could use. Eventually the attendee (perhaps realizing what an ass he made of himself) moved on, but I give full credit to the staff member for his professionalism and calm in that situation. All staff that I interacted with during the convention were polite and professional. I'm not sure if this is the 'Disney' influence or just good all around training, but I definitely took notice.
JEREMY - The Anaheim area near Disneyland has some good things and bad things here.
Firstly, this is the only convention-center-based event I have visited in the last 12 months where I have not seen homeless people in close proximity to the convention center. That probably has to do with the location of the convention center away from all streets and that there were rails and guards preventing anyone without a badge from approaching the building.
Second, there is a good amount of sun coverage as the convention is going on. Since a lot of the territory of the front deck is between the ACC and the Anaheim Hilton, there is very few times that direct sunlight will be your bane there.
Although, leaving that area and heading for the food trucks and fountains, there is almost zero coverage there, so suntan lotion/sunblock and/or a hat is a good idea.
Third, restaurants are not perfect choices here. There is a Denny’s and an IHOP in short walks from the convention area, but as they are near Disneyland, and they know that their higher-than-normal prices compared to other members of their chains is still lower than those places to eat inside the park. There is a mini-food court in the Hilton, but the lines at these places during conventions can be trying.
Larger groups may have trouble getting prompt seating and food here.
STEVE - The proximity to Disneyland has had an interesting effect on this area, I'm sure. Streets and building are clean and in good repair. Businesses are well managed, with polite and friendly staff. No one seemed to blink at all the Cosplay or crowds. The downside to this has to be the prices, however. Food and other services are notably higher here. I'm willing to pay a bit more for good service in a friendly atmosphere but it is worth noting that you will need to set aside additional funds for food/entertainment in this area.
JEREMY - Disneyland. That’s it.
This area has no clubs as part of its entertainment district.
There was a party arranged at a bowling alley during the second night of WonderCon, but that was a third party event and not part of the convention itself.
STEVE - I suppose Disneyland is a possibility here, though an expensive one if you're just attending at night. The convention itself moved to the Marriott for after-hours events. The Hospitality suite was open Friday and Saturday night from 7 pm to 12 am in the Marquis Northeast Ballroom. There were also a Nighttime Games room and Nighttime Anime room on the lobby level of the Marriott as well.
JEREMY - This convention is as well run as San Diego Comic-Con, but it succeeds where Comic-Con fails. Cosplay gatherings are easier to have and manage in places that the general public can find them quickly. Foot traffic is well handled. The Exhibit Hall is spacious with multiple places to cool your jets, if not sit down and breathe. And, this convention makes both fan and trade interests important without sacrificing fun or economy for either side.
This is a good convention for the young and the old, the collector and the casual, and the new and the experienced. A lot of people should do themselves a favor and get a badge for this.
Now… can this fun vibe survive the throttling atmosphere of the Los Angeles Convention Center in 2016?
STEVE - I'm sure that the overall revenue generated from this convention is less than the San Diego Comic-Con, but I feel that is made up for in convenience and lesser crowding. Prices are notably higher, but the service that comes with them made up for them (at least by me). There is definitely room to grow, and the convention seems to have plans in that regard, if I'm interpreting the unused space in Hall D correctly. Overall, I'm sad to see this convention move to the Los Angeles Convention Center next year, due to the issues I've experienced there previously. However, I am looking forward to seeing how this convention handles itself at an area I've previously experienced hardship. Judging from their track record, I'm looking forward to their success, and indeed, if they do succeed, I'm hoping other conventions can take note. I am planning to attend next year and will recommend this convention to my friends.