Above All, Attendees Discovered Pleasure at WonderCon 2023

Above All, Attendees Found Joy at WonderCon 2023

Practically all the things at Wondercon, the annual celebration of all issues popular culture held on the Anaheim  Conference Heart final weekend, was a commodity to be purchased and offered, from the Funko Pops to the actors and creators of the TV reveals and movies invited as particular visitors, plugging their varied properties.

Even the cosplayers who gown up and play may be considered as a sort of oblique advertising and marketing designed to promote the entire Wondercon expertise.

However after the 2019 and 2020 conventions have been canceled as a result of pandemic and final years befell with a compulsory masks requirement at this years Wondercon a special form of commodity was at play, one which cant be quantified economically however is simply as precious and valuable, one which isnt exchanged as a lot as shared.


Whether or not attendees have been dressed as Chewbacca in drag, Disney princesses, or carrying skin-tight spandex that tells no bodily lies; whether or not they have been exhibitors hawking toys to T-shirts; or whether or not they have been conventionally attired and there to buy, attend a panel or simply to absorb the spectacle, it appeared to veteran attendees that WonderCon was lastly again for actual.  

Final yr, it was OK however nothing like this yr, mentioned Andy Alvarez, who lives in Brea and attended Saturday along with his spouse and son for the second time. We needed to put on the masks, which I didnt thoughts as a result of I’ve bronchial asthma, however you may simply really feel how so many individuals wished to tear them off. It felt constrained. This yr the vibe looks as if much more individuals who simply need to have time and celebration with out the booze, after all.

For a first-time WonderCon goer, and somebody who has additionally by no means been to its larger profile sibling to the south, San Diegos Comedian-Con, I may see that good time on nearly each face even those obscured by masks that this yr have been chosen, optional.  I heard it within the voices of these carrying the exquisitely detailed costumes pulled from movie and TV properties previous, current and, based mostly on the variety of characters unrecognizable to those non-pop-culture-saturated eyes, one other dimension; the skilled and beginner photographers capturing their pictures; and the youngsters, dad and mom and grandparents staring slack-jawed at a spectacle the place nothing, oddly, felt unconventional even when all the things was out-of-this world unconventional.

However whereas the nice time had by all was self-evident and no self-respecting reporter on task to cowl WonderCon may look previous it, I had another excuse for being at WonderCon. I used to be looking for whales. Not the oceanic variety, however the human variety, the time period utilized in playing circles for a high-roller outfitted with a fats roll of money and never reticent about dropping a number of hundreds in a heartbeat. However the whale I wanted wasnt sitting at a poker desk; it may solely be discovered, I believed, among the many warren of comedian guide sellers housed within the northwest nook of the conference flooring.

I used to be searching for a big-time comedian guide collector, somebody on the high of the comedian amassing meals chain with a purpose to take a look at out a speculation fashioned after a dialog I had with Cal Burke, the proprietor of McFlys Comics in Huntington Seashore just a few days earlier than the conference began. 

Burke is old-school comics. He freely admits that he is aware of little about what has occurred of their pages the final 20 years. His specialty is classic comics, notably ones from earlier than the Eighties. He estimates he owns round 100,000. And although hes solely had his store for six years, hes been concerned in comics for 53 years as a collector and conference vendor. He is aware of comics.

So hes had a front-row seat on the curler coaster of the comedian guide market, from the busts just like the early Nineties when hypothesis and distributor points almost destroyed it, to the peaks in early 2021, when stimulus cash was flowing, individuals have been caught at residence and the market spiked, with many books valued at 3 times their pre-pandemic costs, and a legion of individuals jumped on board considering it might by no means cease. Burke took all of it with just a few pillars of salt. He knew the market would self-correct, because it has, and the individuals who jumped in scorching would bolt. However extra importantly, he knew those who would keep.

You see these individuals who get caught up in all of the hype, they purchase books when the market is scorching or as a result of they suppose a personality goes to be in a film they usually go all-in on their first look (in comics). They purchase in the present day hoping to flip tomorrow. I name them taking pictures stars. However then the film flops or a personality dies and it doesnt pan out. As soon as they go stomach up theyre left with nothing and theyre gone. It occurs over and over.

Then Burke drops the dime.

Taking pictures stars get scorching and burn out simply as quick. However comedian guys, actual comedian guys, have been in it for all times.

Comedian guide sellers are a foundational a part of Wondercon. Of the roughly 30 cubicles at this yr’s WonderCon, solely three have been from OC: McFly’s Comedian Store in Huntington Seashore, Comedian Ebook Hideout in Fullerton, and Torpedo Comics, in Orange. CREDIT: Joel Beers/Voice of OC

After I heard that, I felt what I think about somebody who has lengthy harbored some bizarre obsession with, oh I dont know, say Star Trek, Star Wars or any of the fandoms that flow into round WonderCon should really feel like once they uncover others share the same curiosity: I wasnt alone. I learn comedian books voraciously as a child, principally Marvel, all superhero, from the age of 9 as much as eleventh grade. However then I believed I used to be achieved they usually sat in packing containers, bagged however unboarded, for greater than 30 years. Till the pandemic. Possibly it was as a result of I had all this newfound free time, or perhaps I used to be subconsciously searching for some consolation in fairly uncomfortable occasions, however after revisiting them significantly for the primary time in many years, I used to be hooked once more. 

Three years later, I personal greater than I started with.  However Im only a minnow within the amassing pond, my 4,000 comics price perhaps 3 times that. However I felt I used to be a lifer; what a couple of big-time collector? Somebody who, not like me, when a seller positioned a replica of Improbable 4 No. 1 with a quarter-million price ticket in entrance of them then rotated to assist an actual buyer, didnt consider grabbing it and working like hell, however significantly thought of shopping for it? Had been additionally they lifers, those that had some form of bond with comics that by no means really went away, or was it simply one other funding, albeit a pricey one? 

Sure, this reporting task entailed protecting WonderCon. However I additionally actually wished to go to a conference with comics and discover that whale. Its not like the 2 have been mutually unique.

Comedian books and conventions like WonderCon and ComicCon are inextricably linked by historical past. Each have been created by comedian guide retailers as locations for individuals who offered comics and purchased comics to collect beneath the identical roof. San Diegos started in 1970 and has stayed there ever since. WonderCon started in Oakland in 1987, moved to San Francisco in 2003 after which to Anaheim in 2012. Each are owned by the identical nonprofit company and every has lengthy outgrown the comedian books that created them within the first place.

This yr, fandom of all stripes, from Star Wars to Strolling Useless lovers, seamlessly interacted with households and the extra profit-oriented, reminiscent of these there to choose up unique toys and different swag they might flip round for a revenue on eBay. Outdoors was dominated by cosplayers, inside commerce reigned supreme on the bottom flooring, whereas upstairs the assembly rooms featured a wide selection of panels starting from the Historical past of Sci-Fi Costumes, Illustration in Horror Comics, The 5 Secrets and techniques of Cosplay Leathercraft and the Way forward for Dr. Who. 

with scores of distributors promoting all the things from coasters and attire to toys, video games and motion figures. And atop the throne, at the least at this years conference, was a 4-inch vinyl king named Funko Pops! At the very least 20 cubicles offered the collectible figurines, that are form of like a cartoon Bobblehead, however the dominant watering gap was the huge Funko Enjoyable Home, a carnival-themed attraction beneath a circus massive high that includes video games, unique Funko Pops! and many boisterous cheering. It was packed all through the three days even when it was accessible solely by reserving forward of time and standing in a really lengthy line.

Beth Carnesi, who lives in South Orange County, mentioned she waited in line for 3 hours together with her two nephews. I didnt must ask if the wait was price it. The reply was everywhere in the beaming faces of the 2 youngsters after I requested what was inside the huge oversize paper baggage given to anybody who bought one thing contained in the tent. (I didnt acknowledge the characters, however every had three).

Fanatics of all issues Funko Pop! stood in line for as much as two hours to enter the Funko Enjoyable Home at WonderCon 2023 on the Anaheim Conference Heart. CREDIT: Joel Beers/Voice of OC

OC Headcount

An attention-grabbing factor about WonderCon is that whereas its been in Orange County since 2012, it was surprisingly troublesome discovering individuals from Orange County. Possibly it was the luck of the draw, however I should have requested 75 individuals the place they lived and perhaps two out of 10 mentioned they have been OC residents. 

WonderCon doesnt maintain monitor of figures like that, so I needed to lean on arduous scientific knowledge for the reply. It was close to the top of one of many panels I dropped in on, a highlight on Marv Wolfman, a comic book guide author whose activate The Tomb of Dracula for Marvel within the Seventies is taken into account one of many high-water marks from that interval and whose work for DC within the Eighties on The New Teen Titans  almost matched the recognition of  Marvels  X-Males titles for just a few years. It was the biggest crowd of any of the panels I noticed; I counted 205 heads. I sat within the again and casually talked about to the volunteer monitoring that room for the day that I used to be protecting the conference and wished I knew how many individuals have been from OC. Proper because the panel concluded, he stood up and bellowed:


A couple of third of the individuals raised their palms, so thats what Im going with: a couple of third of WonderCon attendees have been from OC. (I do know its not essentially the most scientific knowledge assortment, however we cant all be Reed Richards).

Lily and Andre Bhattacharyya have been two of them. Dressed as characters from Dora the Explorer, the Trabuco Canyon residents have been there with their mom, who echoed feedback I heard from a number of individuals which may provide an reason so many from Los Angeles or San Diego counties have been in Anaheim: the lack to attain tickets for San Diegos present, which sells out almost instantly after tickets go on sale.

Weve been making an attempt for years and at last received them this yr, Lily mentioned.

Lily and Andre Bhattacharyya of Trabuco Canyon, kneeling, got here as characters from “Dora the Explorer.” They’re WonderCon veterans who will discover San Diego Comedian-Con this summer season for the primary time since they lastly scored tickets. CREDIT: Joel Beers/Voice of OC

However not one of the attendees I talked to at WonderCon really feel like its a comfort prize in comparison with San Diego; many want the extra laid-back ambiance.

Mehrda Modjtahedi, an actor who lives in Placentia, attended his first Comedian-Con in 1999 and was captivated immediately. As a fan of video video games, animation, comics and popular culture on the whole, he mentioned, It scratches each inch you may have and even creates ones you didnt know.

He attended most years as much as 2013, however when WonderCon moved to Anaheim in 2012 he was prepared.

ComicCon had turn into too massive for its britches, he mentioned. It was packed to the gills, parking was at the least $100. The price of rooms in every single place skyrocketed. I imply, its an incredible occasion, they even provided free baby care nevertheless it was an excessive amount of of a problem.

He attended the primary WonderCon in Anaheim in 2012 and almost each one since, together with this yr.

I fell in love with it, he mentioned. It was extra subdued however that was nice as a result of it provided all of the experiences that Comedian-Con used to. The superstar panels have been extra intimate and personable. And though the massive studio presence isnt as prevalent at WonderCon and also you dont get the massive information bulletins, theres sufficient right here that its nonetheless a great way to maintain my finger on the heartbeat of whats happening now and what to anticipate.

 What Concerning the Whale?

I by no means discovered my whale. I requested sellers and dozens of individuals carrying lists with problems with a selected title they wanted to finish a run and rifling by means of the a whole lot of packing containers filled with comics. I eavesdropped on conversations and scoped out the most costly comics on show in the back of every sales space (the best being the aforementioned Improbable 4 No. 1) and requested if there had been any bites.

However nothing. The most costly buy I heard of over the weekend was at Brad Sloans F/VF comics: $8,000. Seems that most individuals who purchase books within the six figures aren’t collectors, theyre buyers who understand these books will all the time be precious and can maintain onto them for a yr after which promote at a small proportion revenue that’s nonetheless sizable contemplating the greenback quantity.

As McFlys Burke says, Theyll purchase 9 to make 10. Or they have already got relationships with sellers and work with them in additional non-public channels. Or theyre sellers shopping for from different sellers.

However I didnt want the heavy hitters. With out fail, these individuals I talked to who have been deliberate whereas going by means of the comedian bins, those cautious about not being too tough and bending the bagged and boarded comics, those who I may inform have been collectors, have been residing proof that comedian guys (and, after all, ladies and non-binary or gender non-conforming people) are in it for all times, whether or not that connection has been a straight line or has had some gaps.

Its by no means stopped for Rick Leon of La Habra, who was promoting at his second  WonderCon. He began studying comics when he was 3 and has amassed sufficient to now promote then with a purpose to assist pay for my pastime. Hes saved the pastime alive even whereas proudly owning three eating places. However essentially the most telling instance of how a lot comics are entwined in his life occurred 20 years in the past, when he was celebrating his one-year anniversary with a girl he was relationship. As a gift, she purchased him a replica of Big Dimension X-Males No. 1, the 1975 comedian that launched what would ultimately turn into Marvels first multiple-film franchise.

Twenty years later, Im married to her, Leon mentioned.

Others, like Kelly, who didnt need his final title used, took a protracted break. He purchased his first comedian guide in 1964, learn them avidly for 3 years after which stopped when he was 9, throwing or giving most of them away.  Forty years later, he attended Comedian-Con simply to scratch it off his bucket listing. However he noticed the comedian seller part, stopped in, and 4 years later has amassed 4,000 books, none of which he has spent greater than $20 on.

Im a reader, he mentioned. I’ve no real interest in hanging them on a wall and reselling them once more. They make me really feel like a child once more and the extra I purchase, the extra I prefer it. 

And a few, like Joseph Melodia, 44, an Orange resident and English instructor at Cypress School, are in it for all times plus some. He began studying comics when he was 10, drifted away barely throughout highschool and faculty however by no means utterly indifferent and in the present day owns 17 lengthy packing containers crammed with comics.

Theres a childhood nostalgia issue for positive, says Melodia, when requested why he collects. Then while you become older you understand they’ve some (financial) worth. However in the end its enjoyable and entertaining, and I like them.

Melodia paused for a second after which continued.

However its additionally a legacy factor. I’ve a son and Id wish to move these on to him. Whether or not he desires to learn and luxuriate in them or he desires to promote them.

So, there you may have it. Discovering pleasure within the second whether or not by dressing up and taking part in or doing what you like. Rediscovering the form of pleasure that comes naturally to kids however grows ever extra evasive the older we get. Giving another person the possibility to really feel pleasure someday down the street. WonderCon, and the attachment and connection that some must a budget, fragile paper comedian books that impressed, conceived and nourished it, brings all of them collectively. And if that isn’t a commodity as valuable and precious as gold, what’s?