Last weekend (April 1-3), I attended WonderCon 2022 at the Anaheim Convention Center. This was the first time the show has been held since 2019, and truth be told, at that point in time I was gainfully employed by San Diego Comic Convention, better known as Comic-Con International, the same company who puts on WonderCon, so I was working that show back then. This is my first major convention during pandemic times and my first as a “civilian,” i.e. not employed by Comic-Con as I had been for more than 20 years from 2000-2021.
I loved WonderCon. It had the feel of a real comic convention, unlike Comic-Con’s attempt to do a “Special Edition’ event last Thanksgiving, which felt like a half-assed flea market with too much junk on the floor, kind of a Comic-Con from an alternate dimension. WonderCon seemed like old times from the second I walked in the door.
I had thought that my first time at a major convention run by Comic-Con would make me feel like I should be working, but that thought never entered my head last weekend. Maybe it was too much water under the bridge (I retired over a year ago), or maybe it was just too much adrenalin from being at an actual con again, but the most I felt was slightly bewildered. “How do I do this?” I wondered, as I entered the Exhibit Hall. I’m normally very organized in my con-going, walking up and down aisles in an orderly fashion, making notes on my want list on possible books to buy. But that first day I was wandering aimlessly from aisle to aisle, having my attention diverted like an over-excited puppy in a park filled with squirrels. I had very little sleep the night before, worrying about train travel, etc., so I was burned out by the time I got on the floor around 3:00 PM, after a nice lunch with a friend from the UK. (In fact, I had a number of nice meals with friends while I was there, including that lunch and also one with my former boss, and two dinners with friends. Out of five meals at WonderCon, I only paid for one: my lunch on Sunday before I caught the train home.)
WonderCon was missing the bigger comic publisher booths it normally had, like DC, BOOM! Studios, and IDW. I think the only hope for DC Comics doing a major booth at a comic convention again is if their new corporate parents sell off the company. There were rumors years ago of a conglomerate of major (rich) comic book fans who were trying to put together an offer to buy DC from Warner Media. I sincerely doubt any iteration of WB would sell off such incredibly valuable intellectual property, unless it’s an epic deal like the one that Disney made for Marvel and Lucasfilm. Some comic publishers like AfterShock and Aspen were present, and Funko had a giant—and incredibly noisy and busy—booth, all lending some sense of normalcy to con-going.
But there were plenty of comic dealers, and that’s where I spent the bulk of my time—when I wasn’t enjoying free meals—blissfully digging through back issue boxes, mining for gold (well, more like silver, if you know your comic eras). I found quite a few books to scratch that nostalgic itch that occupies most of my comics lust these days, including an almost complete (and reasonably priced) run of DC’s 1960s short-lived Western series, Bat Lash, with gorgeous art by Nick Cardy. I picked up issues 1 through 7, the complete run, just minus the official Showcase appearance, which I still need. I also found a nice copy of the Marvel/Fireside Books 1970s compilation Bring on the Bad Guys, volume 3 in that series, which kind of cements Stan Lee’s assertions that he was the creator of all the Marvel Comics characters, at least in Stan the Man’s mind.
WonderCon attendance seemed light on Friday, crazy busy on Saturday, and light on Sunday (but not as light as Friday). It’s pretty much the pattern of all the WonderCons I ever experienced as an employee of the event, from Oakland to San Francisco to Anaheim to Los Angeles and back to Anaheim. Programming was good, just minus the big-ticket movie items that often used WonderCon in the past, and the bigger TV shows that did appear (Superman and Lois, Naomi, Fear the Walking Dead) were held in a large room in the new Anaheim North building, rather than the Arena, which was utilized in the past.
I think it’s going to take a while for people to get used to going to conventions again. Everyone—attendees, exhibitors, professionals, cosplayers, and the volunteers that WonderCon relies on—are rusty, having sat out the past two years. It’s all muscle memory though and comes back quickly. By Saturday morning, I was feeling fine and organized and spent a really nice day roaming the Exhibit Hall and sticking my head into program rooms to see if anyone I knew was there, either on the dais or behind the scenes.
All in all, WonderCon was a great experience for me, with a true con feeling and a return to some kind of normalcy, albeit one that still required wearing a mask. Both Anaheim and the weather were pleasant, and all-in-all, I walked almost 22 miles, which was a great way to start April and my monthly goal of 120 miles. It was the ideal weekend for me to grasp what being a non-working civilian at a comic convention is like after more than 20 years behind the scenes. And it felt really, really good. Now bring on Comic-Con!