WonderCon 2022 is back in-person at Anaheim, after three years…

WonderCon Returns!

Due to the ongoing COVID pandemic, it’s been three years since the last in-person WonderCon was held at the Anaheim Convention Center (ACC), right across the street from Disneyland. The last two were virtual (i.e. online Zoom panels, prerecorded videos, online buying, etc), but sci-fi/fantasy conventions are one of those things that cannot be adequately conveyed as an online-only experience. The Mardi Gras-meets-Halloween flavor of the event is lost. WonderCon, a smaller offshoot of San Diego Comic Con, typically features live exhibitors, in-person celebrity guests and, best of all, armies of fans in clever and creative cosplays. You just can’t get all of that via at-home Zoom meetings on a 13″ laptop monitor. But now, with some COVID safeguards in place, and slightly fewer attendees (for safety’s sake), WonderCon in Anaheim, California is back.

From the 2nd floor of the Convention Center, looking down at the assembled cosplayers below; live cosplay is one of the many benefits of in-person conventions.

My wife and I arrived to get our badges early on Thursday evening, which greatly reduced our waiting time to get into the convention on Friday, Day One. After a perfunctory (but delicious) pizza dinner, we walked to the ACC’s registration area, which were sparsely populated, since many attendees already got their badges by mail. However, professional registration status meant that we couldn’t do that, so in-person on Thursday night was our best bet. Before we could pick up our badges and programs, we had to pass through COVID-screening, which required either proof of vaccination to get a ‘safe’ water-resilient wristband (to be worn all weekend), or COVID-testing at one of the testing areas surrounding the ACC. Since my wife and I are fully vaccinated, we had no trouble. We used our online vaccination status record, which we had downloaded from myvaccinerecord.cdph.ca.gov. The QR code from the site can be stored on one’s phone/mobile device as a screenshot or in a digital wallet. Personally, as one who is super-leery of catching COVID, I was pleased to see such precaution taken after three long years…

The exterior of the ACC’s unused Arena venue always looked like a landed flying saucer to me.

On the way back to our hotel, we passed by the currently unused “Arena” venue at the ACC; which externally resembles a large, landed flying saucer. The Arena is the largest auditorium space at the ACC, but it was closed for the three day event. The large, somewhat newer North Tower auditoriums, 200A and 200B, took up the slack for most big-ticket panels and gatherings.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not 100% sure if the Arena was closed due to COVID restrictions (seating inside is fairly close-together, especially in the balconies), or remodeling, or some combination of both. The large Arena’s closure for the weekend was the only thing that seemed unusual about this year’s WonderCon, contrasting with past events That, and a curious lack of celebrities signing autographs for the entire weekend; only a handful were listed in the program guide, though I didn’t personally see any of them in the Dealer Hall, which is the single largest area of the ACC.

The Dealer Hall, or, as Yogurt would say, “Merchandising!”

The primary draw within the Dealer Hall, is, of course, “Merchandising!” as so eloquently stated by Mel Brooks’ “Yogurt” from “Spaceballs.” Within its cavernous spaces and seemingly endless rows of wares, there were action figures, clothing, collectibles, comic books, costume pieces, handmade items, jewelry, model kits, toys, t-shirts, and about a million other things. You could buy the latest issue of your favorite comic, or a treasured back issue from years gone by. A brand new Funko Pop vinyl figure, or a vintage 1940s-issue Superman doll (yes, I did see one, but it was priced way out of my league). At my age, I’m starting to feel a bit too old to continue collecting memorabilia; it’s an expensive hobby, and room in our small home is finite. However, for others to whom age, money, and/or available space aren’t pressing issues? There were many treasures to be found at WonderCon…

Top: a cross-view of just one section of the humongous Dealer Hall. Many attendees wore masks (which were required) but some didn’t–defiantly taking them off after entry, and making the event security guards lives miserable.

Below: vintage 1980s lunchboxes of Buck Rogers, Dragon’s Lair, DynoMutt and Transformers, as well as rows of Dino-Rider, Holly Hobbie and Mickey Mouse toys for sale. You could literally rebuy treasured pieces lost from your childhood at such booths. It’s very tempting for nostalgic old coots like myself…
Funko, maker of Funko-Pop vinyl collectible figures, had the single largest display in the Dealer Hall: “Freddy’s Beach Bash at Funko Pop Pier.” It was a helluva thing, with ’60s beach party music playing, and food/collectibles sold within. Although I’ve gotten a couple of Funko figures over the years, I’m not a serious collector, let alone an expert, but with multiple booths selling their figures as well as the Freddy’s Beach Bash area, they were an undeniably huge presence at WonderCon 2022.

Be Kind

In addition to pure commerce, some of the wares sold within the Dealer Hall are for charities, such as children’s hospitals. One cause that is near and dear to my heart is Pop Culture Hero Coalition, a non-profit organization spearheaded by actress Chase Masterson (“Leeta” from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), who began the organization to push back against childhood bullying as well as the venomous bigotry received by discriminated young people of certain races/backgrounds, and/or from within the LGBTQ+ communities.

The volunteers at the Pop Culture Hero Coalition’s “Be Kind” (Be Kind Merch.org) booth…which included an Imperial officer from Star Wars. Hey now, if a merciless Imperial officer can take the time to be kind to others, why can’t we all?

Masterson, along with her VP Raymond Lister (who writes the group’s comic books) and many others, promote the simple, yet ever-relevant message of “Be Kind”, with proceeds from the sale of t-shirts, comics, masks, bags and other items going directly to their outreach work at schools, conventions and other venues. Having met Masterson many times (and interviewing her once) over the years at various events, I can vouch that she has a deep well of compassion, and I’m proud to know her.

“Jane! Stop this crazy thing! Jaaaaane!”

At the booths, there were also many eye-catching items that, while not necessarily for sale, were certainly worthy of a photo-op or two. Some were huge, some were small, and some might even follow you…

A 7 ft/2 meter tall statue of “MechaGodzilla,” the famed Toho monster Godzilla’s legendary nemesis, who’s made appearances as far back as “Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla” (1974) and as recently as “Godzilla vs. Kong” (2021). The mechanical monstrosity’s Japanese name is “Kiryu.” In the Showa-era Mechagodzilla movies (1954-1975), the enormous robot had visible rivets all over its body as well as a rapidly rotating head that could be used a forcefield generator-weapon. The Kiryu seen at WonderCon 2022 is based on that Showa-era design. I’ve nursed a lifelong love of the old Godzilla movies; several of which I’ve been fortunate enough to see theatrically since.
And, of course, no sci-fi/fantasy convention would be worth its Kessel spice if there were no “Star Wars” astromech droids around. The R2 builders of the fan club Astromech.net brought samples of their best work to the convention. Several R2 models, including a classic R2-D2 (far right) and even less well-known expanded universe droids, like the orange-topped, ill-tempered CP-10P, aka “Chopper” (left) from “Star Wars: Rebels,” one of the best series in Star Wars canon. In the background, between the two R2-units, is a simpler “Treadwell” droid, which was featured prominently in deleted scenes set on the Skywalker moisture farm in “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” (1977). These robots were radio-controlled, and would whistle, beep, light up, and even follow attendees around the Dealer Hall for photo ops, if desired. The creations of Astromech.net are indistinguishable from actual props used in the original Star Wars trilogy, and, in fact, some of astromech.net’s works have been used in later Star Wars films.

Stargazing: The Panels of WonderCon…

One of the big draws at conventions is the chance to come face-to-face with the talent behind some of our favorite movies and TV shows. Some of these stars are up-and-comers, while others are virtual legends who’ve been around the business for decades. There weren’t quite as many celebrity signings for the entire weekend of WonderCon (only a handful), but there were some limited event signings between areas B and C of the Dealer Hall. Personally, I wasn’t in the mood to go autograph-chasing this time around; in fact, I was more than happy to sit back and enjoy a few panel discussions, instead of waiting in long, leg-numbing autograph queues. It was a welcome change of pace…

The first panel I attended on Friday, Day One, was “Behind the Scenes of the Making of the Borg Queen.”
The Borg queen has returned to Star Trek lore in the second season of “Star Trek: Picard”, and the panel focused on the creative team that worked together to bring this now iconic Star Trek character back to life. The panel’s moderator was entertainment journalist/personality Scott Mantz (“Access Hollywood Live”), and the guests were Star Trek’s current senior creative designer, Neville Page, makeup designer/department head of prosthetics James McKinnon, and the actress who plays the Borg Queen herself, Annie Wersching. The artists and the actor discussed the incredibly detailed methodology used to recreate and update this now-iconic Star Trek character. Page talked about the design process; which begins in his computer, and goes from sculpts to 3D-printed pieces, which are carefully and seamlessly blended by McKinnon onto actress Wersching, who often came in for makeup calls at 4 am, while other cast and crew arrived at 6 or 7 am for the 12-14 hour shooting days. The Borg Queen makeup required 14 total prosthetic pieces, which initially took 4 hours to apply, but was later whittled down to an hour or so.
Left to Right: Neville Page, Scott Mantz, James McKinnon and Annie Wersching pose for photo ops at the end of the panel.
Page offered tremendous insights into the feature film techniques used in producing modern Star Trek, which strives to respect previous Star Trek lore while updating it as well. Wersching mentioned the secrecy involved in casting her for the part, which was listed as an “Alien Bounty Hunter” (to avoid press leaks). She also humorously described driving around downtown Los Angeles from one studio to another while wearing her Borg bald cap with a small cube stuck on the back of her head as a reference point. Due to COVID-era filming limitations, Wersching was spared the uncomfortable contact lenses worn by her predecessors, and her eye color/look was changed digitally. The actress also discussed her research for the role, which involved watching all Star Trek episodes and movies dealing with the Borg. Her hope was not to simply imitate her predecessors, but rather to get a better sense of the Borg as a species. Based on what I’ve seen in Star Trek: Picard’s second season, it’s clear that she (and the design team) have succeeded. Kudos to all involved.
The panel for the CW’s young adult superhero series “Naomi.”
Moderator Dawn Burkes of the LA Times talks to “Naomi” stars Cranston Johnson (“Zumbado”), Kaci Walfall (as the titular “Naomi”), Alexander Wraith (“Dee”) and the series’ writer/producer Jill Blankenship. I must confess that I don’t watch this series, and I came in only during the last 15 or so minutes of the panel discussion’s Q & A with the audience. However, the young cast seemed very enthusiastic about their series and the great strives it takes towards representation and diversity within its casting. Wishing them all the best!
The panel for CW’s “Superman & Lois”.
Moderator Damien Holbrook (TV Guide) interviews writer/producer Todd Helbing, along with series’ stars Tyler Hoechling (“Superman/Clark Kent”) and Elizabeth “Bitzy” Tulloch (“Lois Lane”). Writer Helbing got his first TV writing credit for an episode of the CW’s “Smallville” (2001-2011), but he strived to put his own stamp on this version of the series, which sees Lois and Clark moving to Smallville with their twin sons, Jon and Jordan. Helbing described his vision for the series as “Friday Night Lights” with superpowers. The writer/producer also talked about his constant striving for balance between the family stories and the superhero action. After Hoechling’s Superman and Tullock’s Lois first appeared on “Supergirl” in that series’ second season, it wasn’t immediately clear if there would be an option for a spinoff.
Tyler Hoechling said that he was only contracted for two episodes when he first appeared in the role; a role he initially auditioned for with 2013’s “Man of Steel” (which eventually went to Henry Cavill at the time). Elizabeth Tulloch mentioned how she and Hoechling clicked during their “chemistry reading” screen-test together–despite her being visibly pregnant. She finally went into production on the series with her then 5-month old child; a situation which certainly aided her playing a mother to twin boys on the series. The two actors talked about their funniest moments on set, and their evolving relationships with their sons, Jon and Jordan. The actors also dropped some tantalizing spoilers for the rest of the season, which resumes April 26th. “Superman & Lois” has quickly become one of my few must-see shows, I have to admit.
After the discussion, the panel was opened up to questions from the audience, and one of the fans was wearing a “Supergirl” cosplay, and–to the actors’ surprise–bore a close resemblance to “Supergirl” star Melissa Benoist (even with her COVID mask, the resemblance was striking). The young woman was enrolled in a writers’ program at USC, and directed her question to producer Helbing. Another fan during the Q & A asked “Superman” Hoechling how he manages to maintain that perfect 5 o’clock shadow for his character, which made the actor laugh. Turns out Tyler Hoechling is considerably younger than the forty-something Clark Kent he plays on the series–more like 33. When clean-shaven, the actor looks like he could be his sons’ brother instead of their dad. So, Hoechling suggested a permanent stubble for added maturity to his face, and it worked.
Z2 Comics presents “Back In Smoke,” 50 Years of Cheech and Chong.
My wife attended this one on Saturday Day 2, as I was really tired after donating blood at the WonderCon Blood Drive earlier that day (and walking some five miles at that point). Fortunately, my wife got some amazing pics as Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong discussed their new graphic novel, “Back in Smoke”, which chronicles their lives in graphic novel format. Both reminisced about their long comedy careers, and Cheech mentioned his “Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Arts,” opening on June 16th, 2022, in Riverside, California. Far out, maaaan…
Z2 Comics’ “Back in Smoke” chronicles the two comedians from birth, their teen years, and into their long loving relationship with cannabis (which is legal in my state). As a kid, I loved Cheech and Chong’s albums, like “Los Cochinos” (“The Pigs”) and “The Big Bamboo.” Shortly after we were married, I got my wife into those lost albums by repurchasing them on CD. I still remember playing their comedy sketches “Pedro and Man,” “Dave’s Not Here,” “Sister Mary Elephant,” and my personal favorite, “The Drive-In.” “The Drive-In” is quite possibly the funniest thing the comedy duo have ever done (find it on YouTube if you can). While I enjoyed their movies (“Up In Smoke,” “The Corsican Brothers”), I still think their albums from the early 1970s featured their best material ever. I would’ve loved to have seen Cheech and Chong in person, but I had faith in my wife’s ability to relate the highlights of the event, and she did. Both of us are also looking forward to visiting the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Arts soon as well.

The Heart & Soul of Sci-fi/Comics/Fantasy/Horror Conventions: Cosplayers!

Of course, my favorite part of any sci-fi/comics/fantasy/horror convention is the cosplay, and the colorful, creative cosplayers were out in force at WonderCon 2022. While you quickly get used to seeing armies of Supermen, Batmen and Wonder Women at these events, it’s the clever and unexpected cosplays that really stay in your memory. There is an explosion of creativity, color, imagination and a certain freedom from one’s self at conventions that you rarely experience elsewhere in the ordinary 9 to 5 world, which is why I find conventions and cosplay so liberating and delightful. I don’t think we ever fully outgrow our childhood desire to play dress up. Perhaps it’s one of the reasons that Halloween remains my favorite holiday, even in my 50s…

“Beetlejuice” cosplayers.
Featuring the dead-and-waiting “Miss Argentina,” the freshly dead “Adam” and the titular “Beetlejuice” crossplayer. Gender doesn’t matter at all when it comes to cosplaying, and I’ve seen all genders try on all kinds of costumes.
Left: A cosplayer dressed as “Montgomery Gator” from Five Nights At Freddy’s. I admit, I had to Google it, but I learned that Montgomery Gator is (apparently) an animatronic “Chuck E Cheese”-like attraction that comes to life and (possibly) commits murder. At any rate, I didn’t care, because the cosplayer’s overall vibe was just hilarious.

Right: A cross-playing Marty McFly checks her watch, while wearing her 1980s-fashionable “life jacket” (I remember those well) and appropriate red-striped Nike sneakers in order to get “Back to the Future.” Both of these cosplays featured fashionable footwear.
Left: A cosplayer dressed as the noble Scottish archer “Merida” from Pixar’s 2012 “Brave.”

Right: One of the ghosts from Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion attraction–my favorite of the entire park, which was, coincidentally, right across the street from the convention. Literal throwing distance.
Top: Marvel and DC Comics Unite! “Captain America” (left), “Wonder Woman” (center right), “Iron Man” (center right) and “Daredevil” (right).

Bottom: from “SpiderMan”; “SpiderWoman,” along with villains “KingPin” and “Dr. Octavius” (aka “Doc Ock”). Yes, you see many versions of those characters at conventions, but exceptionally well-presented (or handcrafted) versions stand out.
Left: From “The X-Men”, we have the ironclad, musclebound “Juggernaut.”

Right: “SpiderMan” Peter Parker’s hard-driving editor/boss Jonah Jameson, played by a near-perfect doppelgänger cosplayer. He even sounded like Oscar-nominated actor J.K. Simmons.
Left: This is cosplayer @MayanGoddess as Wonder Woman in her golden suit of armor. MayanGoddess volunteers to entertain sick children at hospitals for the charity group kidscancosplay.com.

Right: The two stages of “Mothra”; on the left we see the larval stage, and on the right is the fully-mature insect. Mothra is Toho Studios’ giant moth creation that once battled, and later allied herself with Tokyo’s favorite monster, Godzilla. This was one (or two) of my favorite cosplays in the entire convention–more for its novelty and innovation than its technical execution. Clever goes a long way with me.
Top: “Game of Thrones” Daenerys Targaryen cosplayer astride a dragon. Had to get this one as my wife is a huge fan of the series.

Bottom: An amazing body contortionist cosplayer as the twisted pale ghost which emerges from the TV set in the 2002 horror film, “The Ring” (which is based on the original 1998 Japanese thriller “Ringu”). Watching the cosplayer wrench herself into these positions (in a mask, no less) was both horrific and incredible to see.

Spoils of WonderCon

While I didn’t blow a lot of money on autographs or much else at this year’s WonderCon, I did make one big purchase, for which I have no regrets whatsoever. In the Dealer Hall, at the Stuart Ng Books booth, my eagle-eyed wife texted me about a book, “The Art of Ralph McQuarrie Archives”, which includes production art from “Star Wars,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Battlestar Galactica”, “Star Trek” (the failed 1975 Star Trek movie “Planet of the Titans”), “Cocoon” and even a never-completed “Forbidden Planet” remake (c. 1994) among others. Needless to say, I rushed over to the booth, and grabbed a copy.

The Art of Ralph McQuarrie Archives; a book celebrating the art of one of my favorite production artists of all time.

In addition to McQuarrie’s entertainment-based art, there are also sections on his commercial illustrations for Boeing, the Apollo space program, his advertising work, and many other reaches his long career. “The Art of Ralph McQuarrie Archives” is an absolute treasure trove of the late artist’s illustrations (thumbnails and paintings), but it’s also one very heavy book, so right after purchasing it, I waddled back to the hotel room to drop it off. After a day at the convention, I perused it in our hotel room, cover to cover. It was well worth it. I’d advice any fan of McQuarrie’s work to check it out.

Summing It Up.

After three years, in-person WonderCon came back with a vengeance. Wearing masks and following a few necessary COVID protocols wasn’t too much to ask for the return of this mainstay comics/sci-fi/fantasy/horror convention, which has always felt like San Diego Comic Con’s eager kid sibling. In some ways, it’s even more enjoyable for me, in part for its generally smaller crowd sizes and navigational ease. While there was a noticeable reduction in autographing guests over the three-day event, the exciting panels and colorful cosplay were more than compensatory.

All 143 photos of my experience at WonderCon 2022 are in the link below:

WonderCon 2022/Flickr.com

Enjoy!

Be Safe/Stay Strong.

With the recent invasion of Ukraine, here’s hoping the courageous Ukrainian people will see daylight from this nightmare. Wishing the people of Ukraine perseverance, and that their nightmare ends sooner than later.  Meanwhile, the current number of COVID-19 related deaths in the United States is over 1 million (and over six million worldwide) as of this writing. Please use caution and good judgment when it comes to masking and safe distancing, as many states are now easing prior COVID restrictions due to decreasing numbers of infections, though some states are reporting increasing case numbers as a result. 

In these challenging times, be safe and stay strong.

All Photos/collages: Author.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. charlesfwh says:

    Fun read. It’s been interesting seeing how conventions are opening up again on both sides of the Atlantic, following similar safety protocols and such. That book looks really cool 🙂

    1. Not to make anyone jealous, of course, but yeah…that book is REALLY cool (hehe).

      Take care and thanks for reading.

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