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WonderCon Anaheim Wrap-Up: The Team’s Favorite Moments of 2014

As a team, it was The San Diego Comic-Con Unofficial Blog’s first trip to WonderCon Anaheim. We asked everyone who took part in the convention last weekend to share their thoughts with our readers.

jamesJames: It looks like I’m one of the WonderCon veterans of the group here as this was the 10th WonderCon I’ve attended. I know there are many who feel that WonderCon should still be in San Francisco, but until it goes back I’m going to be happy with the Anaheim version.

This show has grown so much in the few years it’s been in SoCal. Yes, it’s the small SDCC and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I spent Saturday in the Arena for most of the day. Catching all the big Hollywood panels is always fun. In addition to seeing the exclusive footage it’s always challenging to get photos of the guests that show some emotion or catch a special moment. When most of the time they are either listening to questions or other panelists answers, it proves to be a bigger challenge than expected. Luckily we were treated to some excellent guests this year. From Jay Baruchel’s seemingly rubber face to Gareth Edwards’ constant grin to Gary Oldman’s often wide eyed fascination with all that was going on around him, it was a joy to photograph and see the panels.

If I had to pick out one thing as my favorite moment of the day it was the Godzilla footage. I was blown away by how epic and awesome it all looked while still feeling like a 50’s monster movie. Unfortunately I was coming off of pneumonia just a few days before so we headed out early to rest and be able to survive Sunday.

As for Sunday, I definitely survived. I spent the first couple hours after I arrived just wandering the floor getting photos. I enjoy taking time to get photos of the various statues and toys the companies bring to display. The 75 years of Batman display featured a ton of cool figures from across the years. So many in fact that it was a bit overwhelming and I didn’t even try to capture them all. As I wandered the floor I also stopped a few cosplayers for photos. Once I was done on the floor I wandered out front  near the fountain and found some other photographers I know. We basically spent the rest of the con just hanging out and taking photos of cosplayers as they came through the area.

Summing up WonderCon for me is pretty easy. Relaxing. Lines are shorter, crowds are less, and people are less stressed. It definitely is the SDCC of 10 years ago. Honestly, I hope it stays that way and never catches up to how SDCC is now. I’d like to have at least one con that’s manageable without months of planning.

Jeremy Rutz, Editor-in-chiefJeremy: Being this was my first WonderCon, I had a lot to take in, both as a fan and as someone who covers such events for the blog. My points of reference had previously only been my years of attending San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC), New York Comic-Con and the assorted Wizard convention in my city. But with WonderCon’s rise in popularity over the years, and it being SDCC’s sister show, I had high expectations for the programming and exhibit floor – and reservations about the growing number of attendees.Happily, I was not disappointed.

At first glance, the panel schedule would seem to be a bit underwhelming aside from Saturday’s big Hollywood presence, but that simply forced me to look elsewhere, and I found the sort of programming I love – niche, quirky panels that might be “underdog” or “dark horse” panels, and usually my backup to a backup to a backup panels, at SDCC. And I was able to enjoy them without the pressure of what I might be missing elsewhere. The pleasantries continued in the Exhibit Hall, where I was able to walk the floor without squeezing between crowds or getting bumped from every direction like a bumper car. And the lines for the booths were manageable as well, only taking a few minutes out of my day before I could move on to the next one. You can get a sense of the crowds from this video I shot of the show floor, on the morning of WonderCon Day 1:

What I liked best about WonderCon is that I could afford to stop and talk to a reader or friend, or go from the exhibit floor to the fountain to the ballroom at a more accommodating pace – my own pace – and not feel like I missed out on something important. It truly was a vacation compared to the intensity that is SDCC.

kerryprofileKerry: This was also my first year to attend WonderCon, though thanks to several helpful guides from the rest of our writers on the blog, I felt pretty prepared going into the convention. My motto at San Diego Comic-Con is always to be really excited for only two or three things, and let everything else just fall where it may (which cuts down on disappointment and often leads to some pleasant surprises). So I treated WonderCon the same way, and really only had two absolute must-do’s on my list: The Maze Runner and, of course, the food trucks. I’m a big Teen Wolf fan, so I was very excited when we learned actor Dylan O’Brien and the upcoming film The Maze Runner would be part of 20th Century Fox’s programming. I managed to score front row seats for the first time in my con career in the Arena on Saturday, WonderCon’s much-more relaxed version of Hall H.

I was blown away that any time doors opened, unlike at Comic-Con, there was no mad dash to scramble for seats, and that even through what was probably the most popular panel of the weekend, X-Men: Days of Future Past, attendees could still walk right in two minutes before to grab a spot. The entire day was full of great programming, and I enjoyed most of the panels on Saturday a lot more than I expected to (the highlights being Godzilla, How To Train Your Dragon 2 or the Secret Service sneak peak we unexpectedly got to see, though there wasn’t a bad movie in the bunch). And yes, I got to see Dylan O’Brien, so that was definitely a highlight.

The second thing that I was really excited about was the food trucks. Comic-Con International had organized for ten local food trucks to spend the entire convention in front of the convention center, feeding hungry attendees. Convention food is usually some of the worst food you’ll find around the country, and there are only so many salty pretzels you can eat. So it was a welcome surprise to find so many different varieties of food right outside the front doors. While San Diego Comic-Con brings food trucks every year to the area as well, they’re not nearly as accessible, and I imagine the lines are also much worse. I managed to try four of the ten: Burger Monster, Garlic Scapes, Mustache Mike’s Italian Ice, and Barcelona On the Go. Burger Monster was my favorite, but I’ll have to make it a priority in the future to try even more.

This was a much more laid-back convention than San Diego Comic-Con, and it allowed me to socialize more and there wasn’t a lot of overlap in the schedule for things I was interested in, which meant no hair-pulling on my part when trying to figure out my schedule.

kimKim: As a Bay Area native, WonderCon was the first big convention that I ever attended, ten years ago during its San Francisco incarnation. While I hope to see it return to NorCal soon, its Anaheim reboot is certainly a lot easier for me to get to and allows for us to get a little taste of the SDCC atmosphere before the big show in July.

This year, I did WonderCon a little differently and only attended on Saturday, driving up and back from San Diego. Since I know I will possibly never get in to Hall H again, I spent much of Saturday in the arena, at the big movie studio panels from Warner Brothers and 20th Century. We saw many great guests (Bill Paxton! Richard Armitage!) and several exclusive clips and trailers. I was already excited for Godzilla and X-Men: Days of Future Past, and the extended clips we were shownmade me even more ready for those films. One unexpected movie was Fox’s Secret Service with Colin Firth, a movie that I had not heard of before. Based on a comic book, and with a November release date, we will likely see more of that film at Comic-Con this year… and the clip we saw of Colin Firth fighting to James Bond music was pretty kick-ass!

My highlight of the day came with, naturally, an offsite event: At the end of the How to Train Your Dragon 2 panel it was announced that the first half of the movie — which doesn’t come out until June — would be shown at the AMC theater in Downtown Disney later that evening, and that the Dreamworks Animation Twitter feed would be announcing the locations of the pass giveaways. I couldn’t resist the SDCC-like “treasure hunt,” and successfully located the Viking team handing out passes. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about only seeing half of a movie, but we were treated to a beautiful film with awesome storytelling, that made me much more excited to see the film then I ever would thought I would be. The writer/director of the movie, Dean DeBlois, and the voice of Hiccup, Jay Baruchel, came in to say a few words before the show and Dean was signing posters for movie-goers afterwards. It was a very special treat to see even half of the film early, and I can’t wait to see the rest in June!

Shawn Marshall, Writer and ContributorShawn: Being Comic-Con International’s (CCI) “other big show,” people have come to expect progressively more from each year’s WonderCon. Frequently referred to as “what Comic-Con used to be,” attendees come to WonderCon expecting all of the fun of SDCC without the same level of stress. To provide the taste of glitz and glamor that so many fans want without the all out craziness is a delicate balance and one that CCI has become very good at. The thousands of fans that descended on the Anaheim Convention Center April 18 through the 20 were treated to three solid days filled with programming, exhibitor booths, food and cosplay. While at the same time that all this entertainment was supplied, the crowds seldom felt overwhelming. The show sold out all three days, yet the large aisle ways, and increased good offerings by trucks outside, helped to make it so that attendees were able to consistently enjoy the energy of the show without feeling suffocated.

Going into the weekend, we knew panels would impress but we weren’t sure which ones and to what degree. Having a wide array of offerings in the vein of SDCC, WonderCon allowed the more expansive magical moments in the arena to couple with smaller, but equally entertaining, moments on the smaller stages. The first full view of Godzilla wowed the packed arena and become an instant classic moment of 2014. The extended battle scene in X-Men: Days of Future Past that was revealed to WonderCon attendees awarded fans in a major way and created a stir that was palpable. Batman’s 75th anniversary gave loyal followers of the cowl a major kick-off to a Batman birthday party that is bound to keep building momentum on the way to SDCC. The debut of Son of Batman brought a Damian to the screen that delighted action fans of all ages. James Robinson revealing the opening page to his take on Airboy (Image Comics) with himself drawn into the story on a toilet provided a look into the meta-contextual way he’s approaching the book and had the room laughing to tears. Superstar artist Jim Lee focused on the importance of passion during the DC Entertainment panel and this Friday message on art serves as a larger commentary on the show where it was apparent that the panel schedule that fed every attendees wide-array of passions in some way.

Away from the panel rooms, the floor was consistently busy. Outside of a sleepy start to Sunday, the floor was brimming up until the last minutes of the show. In speaking to three toy vendors, the comment was consistent that this was one of their most profitable shows and that Captain America merchandise led the way. Larger scale clothing companies seemed to fair equally well with much of their merchandise selling out by late Sunday. The artists we spoke to said commission work was consistent and that the set up of Artist Alley where some of the bigger DC/Marvel names were coupled together helped greatly in keeping their booths from being obscured by neighboring artists’ lines. We spoke to four comic vendors and they said sales were good, but not amazing with seemingly higher focus on movie-based characters in their sales. The minimal fire sales across the exhibit hall on Sunday spoke to a healthy weekend for many of the exhibitors. And while there were few freebies to be had, there remains optimism in this department for 2015 as the more successful the show is, the more likely for the big boys to open up the wallets to appease the masses.

Cosplay took on a life of its own over the weekend and in many ways became the most popular off-site activity with cosplayers posing to all the edges of the convention and hotel properties. They were out hours before the show opened and stayed hours after it closed. The summation of the importance of cosplay at the show could be felt best after the show closed Sunday where fans gathered for more than an hour in front of the convention center and kept enjoying the weekend together. A cosplayer passing by was heard saying “we just don’t want the con to be over.” And that really summed up what seemed to be the feeling of most about WonderCon 2014; we just didn’t want it to end.

That being said, as Star Trek: The Next Generation taught us (or maybe it was something else), all good things must come to an end. So, now we start the homestretch to SDCC with even more excitement and fervor than before (is that possible?).

What did you think of WonderCon 2014? What did we miss and what are your highlights? Let us know in the comments below.

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