On Easter Sunday, the crowd at the Los Angeles Convention Center worshipped a man with amazing abs who rose from the dead. That man was Superman, obviously. The Man of Steel, along with the Hulk, Sailor Moon, Pikachu and the rest of the geek-chic pantheon were the focus of this year's WonderCon, the annual comic book/sci-fi expo and little brother of San Diego's iconic Comic-Con. For the first year ever, the event was moved to L.A. from the Anaheim Convention Center, its home since 2012, due to construction.
"Los Angeles has welcomed us with open arms and we're very excited about that," said David Glanzer, a spokesman for Comic-Con International, the organization behind Comic-Con and WonderCon. "WonderCon has always had a reputation for a relaxed fan base, and that seems to have carried over to Los Angeles."
Re-establishing WonderCon in a different city is nothing new for the convention. Founded in Oakland in 1987, it hopped the bay to San Francisco in 2003 before settling in Anaheim. While this year's venue change was pragmatic, it also helped feed into the longtime rumor that Los Angeles is trying to court WonderCon's more visible sibling, Comic-Con, away from its birthplace, and that this past weekend's event was an audition of sorts. (Comic-Con will remain in San Diego at least through 2018.) While Glanzer didn't confirm this speculation, he didn't exactly deny it, either.
"I think Los Angeles recognized that by having Comic-Con organizers utilize their convention center for WonderCon, it would be a good way for us to see how things work," Glanzer said. "This is obviously true. But we are so focused on producing the event that we won't be able to really have a good debrief until sometime after the show. We'll know then how things worked, and how things might work were we to bring another event to the facility."
L.A.'s 720,000-square-foot convention center is more than ample to accommodate the 167,000 people who attended Comic-Con last summer. But even though L.A. can provide a home for Comic-Con, should it? Mel Caylo, marketing manager for Boom! Studios, doesn't think so.
"I love Los Angeles; I’ve been living here eight years. Not to disparage it, but I do love Comic-Con being in San Diego," said Caylo, manning the comic book publisher's booth. "I love the Gaslamp District, I love the nightlife scene and how little mini-parties pop up in hotel bars. In L.A., everything is so spread out, and there’s so much going on, there’s not a good nightlife scene within the surrounding area. It seems after the show closes, everyone goes everywhere: the Valley, Hollywood, West Hollywood. There’s a lot to choose from, so there’s not a concentrated area with a captive audience where everyone mingles.”
Comic-Con may not be the only member of the nerd-convention family that's been rumored to have interest in making a move to L.A. While WonderCon is set to return to Anaheim next year, after that its location has yet to be confirmed, arguably making Los Angeles as valid an option as Orange County. While Caylo is resistant to L.A. absorbing Comic-Con, he's much more amenable to it snatching up WonderCon.
“Fine by me, I live in Hollywood," Caylo said with a laugh. "It would be great for L.A. Tickets were sold out today, so there’s a demand for a show like this in Los Angeles.”
Apparently, the demand for shows like WonderCon extends beyond the city limits. That's why Comic-Con International has launched Comic-Con HQ, a multiplatform channel that broadcasts live events like conventions and the Eisner Comic Industry Awards across the United States.
"We’re putting [the conventions] on screens big and small so that all the people who want to be a part of that experience can now experience it all over the country," said Joe LeFavi, head of marketing for Comic-Con HQ. "It cannot be contained within the walls of a convention center anymore. It's the natural evolution of what Comic-Con has become.”
LeFavi has firsthand knowledge of WonderCon's evolution. An attendee of the convention since 2006, he witnessed its infancy, when the event was founded as a more intimate and focused alternative to Comic-Con. For LeFavi, the primary difference between the S.F. and L.A. iterations of WonderCon lies in each city's artistic scene, evidenced in the event's Artists' Alley, the space at comic book conventions where visual artists display their work and interact with fans.
“There’s a different eye on the arts community," LeFavi said. "Right here you go to Artists’ Alley and there are so many artists that come from classic comics, from manga, from video games and concept design. It seems like more of a diverse community that comes from all forms of media, who love pop culture and love to share it. San Francisco, back in the day, is much more of an indie arts community. It's more, ‘We love pop culture, so here’s our spin on it.’”
While WonderCon L.A. may have established a unique flavor that distinguishes it from its previous incarnations, its noticeably larger magnitude puts it on par with Comic-Con. So, if the two events can no longer be differentiated by size, what's their primary contrast? LeFavi prefers to see the two conventions as harmonizing instead of competing.
“I see them as two extensions of one whole," LeFavi said. "Comic-Con and WonderCon share the same communal love for pop culture. When you go, it's because you want to immerse yourself in a pop cultural experience to find more people like you who love what you love, to express who you really are.”
This sort of self-expression was embodied by cosplayer Alicia Marie, whose character oeuvre includes Tigra, Ms. Marvel, Princess Leia and Diva Plavalaguna from The Fifth Element. This weekend, though, the author and fitness expert opted to invoke iconic X-Men diva Storm.
“I’ve always been a comic book nerd," admitted Marie, as she stood on the balcony above L.A. Convention Center's South Hall, graciously posing for photos at the request of passing attendees. The lobby below her was a churning sea of sapphic Jack Frosts, gender-reversed mutants and Archer sidekicks. " I remember opening a comic book in fourth grade and saw how women were drawn and thinking, ‘People look like this?’ Then I saw a fitness model in sixth grade, Gabrielle Reece, and realized people could look like this. So I started working out in seventh grade, because I wanted to be a superhero.”
As an L.A. local, Marie would warmly welcome Comic-Con to Los Angeles.
"The biggest problem with San Diego isn’t getting tickets, it's getting a hotel room,” Marie says.
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Cosplay wasn't the only nerd niche represented at this year's WonderCon. Comic book scribe Josh Trujillo is a veteran of the panel circuit, where creators and artists of various mediums engage in focused discussions with the public. This weekend, he participated in LGBT comic organization Prism's panel "X-Over: The Cross Section of Gay and Geek Cultures," hosted by this reporter. Trujillo, whose works include Death Saves, Anything That Loves and the upcoming colorized collection of his anthology series Love Machines, was joined by fellow writers Tara Madison Avery, Sina Grace and Jim McCann, as well as USC lecturer/video game industry leader Gordon Bellamy, television exec Ted Biaselli and actor-producer Mike C. Manning to discuss the increasing overlap between the LGBT and geek communities. As a resident of West Hollywood, Trujillo echoes Marie's sentiments about Comic-Con's hypothetical move to L.A.
"It's hard to imagine San Diego Comic-Con being held anywhere else, but I think that Los Angeles is the only city that could do as well, if not better, at hosting such an important pop culture event," said Trujillo. "I'm not sure it will make getting a badge any easier, but at least I can sleep in my own bed."