While it is still early in 2007, already there have been a handful of notable comic book Conventions to kick off this year’s Convention season. However for myself and a large percentage of West Coast comic aficionados, the real season opener is WonderCon. Celebrating its 21st year, the Con was held at the MosCone Center in San Francisco on March 2-4 and Continued its proud tradition of being a show that is respectable in size, exciting in its variety of events, impressive in its guest pool, yet still accessible by the casual fan. For many this is the Convention that begins the long season that Continues with Ape Con, Super Con, the magnificent San Diego Con, and if possible Baltimore Con. While it would take far too long to go through the myriad of events, panels, and celebrity guests that make WonderCon such a fun event, I will focus on the activities I was able to participate in when I went on Friday and Saturday. These experiences illustrate why WonderCon has become for so many not just an occasional visit but a yearly tradition, a tradition from which I am no exception.
Friday began bright and early with a few friends meeting up at my brother-in-law’s comic book store in Suisun. As we waited outside of Waterfront Comics complaining about our recurring inability to make it to the Con on time, I went through my checklist of necessary items that I needed to bring with me. While some people like to bring entire boxes filled with comics for autographs, I, who am too lazy to carry one of those around all day, pick my items carefully. I brought my Infinite Crisis hardcover for Phil Jimenez and Geoff Johns to sign, I had my Tales from the Crypt Volume 1 for comic book legend Al Feldstein, my sketchbook for Artist’s Alley, and finally Batman Volume 1 in which I get all my favorite Batman creators to sign.
Once we were on the road we received word that a few of our friends had arrived early and were already holding our places at the front of the line. We were all anxious because all the people who had three day passes were eligible for a drawing in which the winners would receive tickets to see 300 at the Metreon. While we were all dying to see this movie, we didn’t let our hopes get too high as there was very little chance that we would be lucky enough to win enough tickets for all of us. And since we were all riding in the same car, if one of us didn’t get a ticket, then none of us would get to go. As we crossed the bridge into San Francisco my cell phone began playing the tune to A-Ha’s “Take on Me”. After an obligatory moment of dancing the robot, I answered the phone. My friend E who worked in the city and had been in line since early morning called to tell us that since he had all our passes he was able to draw for us in the raffle and that he had won six tickets. We were not only going to see 300 a week early for free, but we were going to see it with Director Zack Snyder in attendance; oh, and it was in IMAX too. We hadn’t even arrived and already it was shaping up to be one of the best Cons in memory.
Comic book Conventions have their own unique style and atmosphere; no two are quite the same. WonderCon has a charming friendliness that makes it so special to so many people. Part of this sense of familiarity are the mainstays that give the Con its own personality. One of these is the massive presence of Star Wars fans. Since the Bay Area is George Lucas’ turf, WonderCon is home to thousands of would-be Jedi. Members of the well-known 501st Legion, a collection of fans who dress as Stormtroopers and other Imperial Officers who have dubbed their group “Vader’s Fist”, roam the halls of the Convention center as both guides and security. Armed with replicas blasters these well-recognized sentry’s waive at loitering fanboys and command them to “move along” with such Conviction that one would almost swear they were walking down the streets of Mos Eisley. And while I may occasionally make a few smart-ass remarks about grown men and women dressed like Star Wars characters, I really do not begrudge them for having fun and doing what they love. Moreover, it wouldn’t be the same without them.
Once we finally arrived at the MosCone Center we traveled to the Southern Complex where this year’s Con was being held. We hooked up with our more prompt friends and began to scrutinize the program to see if there were any exciting events or panels that we had missed in our almost daily visits to the website. The one thing that jumped to my friend J’s eye was that there were showing a sneak preview of Simon Pegg’s latest film Hot Fuzz. On Saturday night the movie theater at the Market Street Mall would be playing the new action movie parody by the man who created the hysterical zombie-flick homage Shaun of the Dead and the brilliant TV show Spaced. We agreed that once they opened the doors would immediately make our way to the Rogue Pictures booth in order to secure tickets for ourselves and our compatriots who would be joining us tomorrow.
The growing mass of comic book fandom began to swell with impatience and anime characters as we all waited for the red-jacketed security officials to finally let us in. With nothing left to do we were forced to joke about hypothetical battles between the Star Wars loyalists and the Brownshirts who proudly proclaim that “Josh Whedon is my Master now!” Suddenly there was a crackle emanating from the walkie-talkie held by the guard in front of me. He whispered in it and then listened for a moment. Finally hearing the verbal Confirmation required he nodded and then with thoughtful deliberation lifted the velvet rope that separated us from our destination. We swarmed with the ordered chaos of a Spartan phalanx into the main exhibition and then splintered into hundreds of smaller groups each heading of in different directions. My friends and I located the Rogue Pictures booth, secured our tickets to Hot Fuzz, and then broke up again into even smaller groups.
I immediately charged to my next objectives. I hit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund booth in order to renew my membership to their worthwhile organization and pick up my copy of Dark Tower #1 signed by Peter David. I then walked over to Terry Moore’s booth to pay my respects to one of the greatest independent comic creators in the world and beg him for a sketch. One thing about Terry Moore is that he is one of the nicest and most accessible creators you will ever meet. I then veared 5 degrees south and headed towards the always popular DC booth to see who was hanging out. Once that task was completed, I pulled out my sketch book and charged into the crowded halls of Artist’s Alley.
When I’m at a Con I always plan to go to numerous panels. I highlight the programs, write myself little reminder notes, but by the time I get there I’m always too enthralled by the venders and the booths to make it up to the upper levels where creators and publishers talk about the past, present, and future of the medium. The first day was Consumed with walking through the Convention hall, looking at all the vendors’ tables, and spending way too much money. By the end of the first day I had only made it to one panel (Terry Moore’s, of course) and had to leave the hall a little early to make sure we got in line for 300.
J and I went over to the Metreon about 5:00 to get in line. We were the seCond and third in line, so we were assured excellent seats. Our friends trickled in from the Con and we began cycling people in and out of line for food and shopping. Come 7:00 or so they let us into the theater and we were able to get seats dead center in the seventh row. I couldn’t wait for the film to start. Not only was I huge Frank Miller fan, but as a History major I absolutely loved the Battle of Thermopylae. Throw in the film a week early in IMAX and it was destined to be an incredible experience. The director, Zack Synder, came out an introduced the film and told us that two of the producers were there as well. After a few brief comments the lights dimmed and the movie began. I don’t want to give too much of 300 away, but when the end credits finally rolled several members of the audience gave the director and producers a standing ovation. My friend sitting next to me was even so moved that he had tears in his eyes following the epic final scene.
On Saturday we were able to arrive at the Con a little more on time then the day before. We all caravaned in two cars and were able to get good places in line again. Saturday is movie and TV day. They had people from the new Resident Evil flick, Hillary Swank was promoting her new film, and a myriad of other celebrities were in attendance. Still riding high from last night’s film I decided I had to go to the 300 panel that was being held in the main esplanade. The room was packed with people because in addition to the director, the lead characters Gerard Butler and Lena Headey would be there. I stuck around long enough to watch Frank Miller’s taped introduction, listen to the director speak about the film, and then watch the five minute clip. Once they began the question and answer session I decided it was time to go. In my experience, the Q and A sessions with celebrities are often painful and awkward. 1/5 of the questions are interesting and legitimate questions; 3/5 are silly unnecessary questions like “If your character from movie A got into a battle with your character from movie B, who would win,” or “Will you marry me?”; and the other 1/5 of the questions are mean spirited attacks on the guests by aggressive fans. I understand the need for constructive feedback and critical inquiry, but every Con seems to have its collection of bitter, angry people who use the open forums provided to insult the guests. Sure enough, there were a few such instances that don’t deserve repeating but illustrate why I tend to skip out early once they give the mic to the people.
The rest of Saturday was taken up with shopping and autographs. I was able to meet Derrick Snyder and Michael Chabon, Brian K. Vaughan and Judd Winnick signed my Batman archive, and I was able to add some great artwork to my sketchbook. The coolness of the weekend was completed when me and my friend JC were walking though the hall and suddenly I noticed a man in a black jacket standing a few feet away. I immediately grabbed my friend’s arm and whispered, “Dude, it’s Tom Waits!” Sure enough the legendary singer/songwriter was just walking around the Convention center. I didn’t want to be “That Guy,” but I couldn’t resist the once in a lifetime opportunity to meet the incredible musician. I asked him for an autograph and he signed my program. My friend JC, who is a huge fan, was able to shake his hand and said that if he had had a marker he would have had Waits sign his I-Pod.
Saturday ended fast as my friends and I once again headed to the movie theatre to get our place in line for Hot Fuzz. We got there around five and were once again at the front of the line. We waited five hours in the stifling heat of a stuffy, un-air-conditioned movie theatre hallway before they would finally let us in. Even though the line wrapped down the hallway and out into the main promenade only a fraction of the people were able to cram into the medium sized theater. Once again we were treated to another fantastic film. Pegg’s latest is a funny parody of action films that is witty and silly without being insultingly stupid like most genre spoofs. It pays tribute to films like Point Break and Lethal Weapon while adding that wonderful touch of dry British comedy.
Sadly I was unable to attend the Convention on Sunday as I had other commitments. However, just those two days were enough to make it a wonderful event. That is part of the fun of any comic book convention; there is so much to do and see depending on the varied tastes of the participants that each person walks out with a different experience and different collection of stories to tell. WonderCon, while following the same template as many other Cons, is able to maintain its own unique style that makes it stand out in the memories of many fanboys such as myself. That special emotional attachment coupled with the fact that it is on our home turf is part of the reason why my friends and I don’t ever really call WonderCon by its name, we just call it “Our Con.”