I have something really fun for you today, as I’ve just returned with some interesting stories from Comic-Con International’s WonderCon at the Anaheim Convention Center.   I’ve been attending WonderCon since the mid-2000s and have seen many changes since then, including ownership and location.  Here’s a little history courtesy of Wikipedia.

Retailer Joe Field (of Flying Colors Comics and Other Cool Stuff) and his partner Mike Friedrich owned and operated the convention for fifteen years. In 2001, they brokered a deal with the management team that runs the San Diego Comic-Con International to make it part of the Comic-Con International convention family. This gave the San Francisco show a wider audience and has made it a venue for previews and early screenings of major motion pictures, in particular ones based on comic books. These have included Spider-Man 2 in 2004, Batman Begins and Fantastic Four in 2005, Superman Returns in 2006, 300 in 2007, Watchmen in 2009, and Kick-Ass in 2010. All of these events featured the stars of the films fielding questions from the audience.

WonderCon had 34,000 attendees in 2009, 39,000 in 2010, and 49,500 in 2011.

The show temporarily moved to Anaheim in 2012 because the Moscone Center was being remodeled. The location for the 2013 show has been confirmed to be back in Anaheim March 29–31 due to scheduling conflicts with the Moscone Center.

Now, what Wikipedia doesn’t tell you about is the ongoing chess game Comic-Con International, who owns both WonderCon and San Diego Comic-Con, is playing with its conventions and locations.

San Diego Comic-Con, the most attended pop culture convention in the United States, is outgrowing its San Diego Convention Center home at a rapid pace.  Every year, the convention spreads out more and more into downtown San Diego businesses and the surrounding hotels.  First, exhibitors started to rent out businesses to promote their goods, such as the SyFy channel turning a local restaurant into the SyFy’s Café Diem for several years in a row.  Then, exhibitors started renting out floor space in empty storefronts to use for their official “booths” for the show.  For example, in 2010, to promote “The Green Hornet” movie release, “Britt Reid’s Garage” was set up in downtown to display multiple versions of the Black Beauty (his superhero car) in addition to other cars and props.  Now, San Diego Comic-Con is placing official programming panels and events inside surrounding hotels as there is simply no more room inside the convention center to accommodate the ever-growing list of brands and properties who want to offer programming to the captive audiences.  In addition, many of the big swag giveaways are now occurring in the downtown district as opposed to the show floor due to not being able to control the huge crowds that assemble every time a giveaway begins.   The Oswald ear hats that were so popular at the E3 video game convention to promote “Epic Mickey 2,” were also given away at San Diego Comic-Con in 2012.  But instead of giving them away at a panel or on the floor, you had to follow the official twitter account and find the hat giveaway somewhere in the downtown district.

In addition to the show outgrowing the convention center, obtaining tickets and hotel rooms becomes more and more of a headache every year.  Tickets sell out within a matter of minutes, there aren’t enough free professional and press badges to go around, and there are not enough hotels in the downtown district to accommodate everyone who wants to stay in walking distance of the convention.  Comic -Con has attempted to address the hotel concerns in the past by increasing the amount of hotels the official convention shuttles go to and then, increasing the shuttles operating hours.  They have already announced for 2013 that the shuttles will be running 24 hours a day.

Because of these logistic headaches, every time Comic-Con International’s multi-year contract with the San Diego Convention Center is up for renewal, the rumors of Comic-Con leaving San Diego resurface.  There are three convention centers in the US that have been at the center of the industry rumors:  Las Vegas, Anaheim and Los Angeles.

What the heck does any of this have to do with WonderCon?  Quite a lot, actually.

You see, when Disney bought Marvel, this brought the speculation about moving Comic-Con to Anaheim to the forefront.  Between Disney, ABC and Marvel, they could have the largest presence at any convention they chose to exhibit and program at.  The influence Disney could exercise could be very persuasive to Comic-Con International.  In turn, the rumors about a third gate based on Marvel at the Disneyland Resort also climbed the rumor mill.  A one-two punch of bigger capacity (convention center AND more hotel rooms) and a comic book theme park seems like it would be a no brainer as to what would be the best home for Comic-Con.  And of course, the later purchase of Lucasfilm intensified speculation.

So, when it was announced that in 2012, WonderCon, Comic-Con’s smaller sibling, was heading to Anaheim due to the Moscone Center in San Francisco being remodeled, it seemed like this might be Comic-Con International’s way of checking out a new location without having to commit to moving Comic-Con with a multi-year contract.   Well, they must have been pleased with the experience as the 2013 WonderCon was once again held in Anaheim.  As Wikipedia reported above, Comic-Con International said that this decision was due to “scheduling conflicts” with the Moscone Center.  The 2013 WonderCon was a huge success, numbers wise, with Saturday selling out of attendee badges.  I ran into many attendees who said they chose to attend WonderCon because they couldn’t obtain tickets to Comic-Con.

So the question becomes, where will WonderCon be in the future and how will this affect the rumors about Comic-Con moving to Anaheim?  According to my sources, in 2014, they plan on having WonderCon in both San Francisco AND Anaheim.   It’s a move that most fans won’t see coming, although makes perfect sense if they can make a profit in both locations.  Regarding San Diego, one can connect the dots and assume that if WonderCon is to remain in Anaheim, the odds of Comic-Con moving to Anaheim as well are extremely unlikely.  If they can use Anaheim WonderCon as the consolation prize for those who are unable to attend San Diego Comic-Con, there is no reason WonderCon can’t flourish and continue to grow and improve.

One last detail further complicating speculation is the fact that Disney, Marvel and Lucasfilm had virtually no presence at the 2013 WonderCon.  There was no programming, exhibits or booths sponsored by Disney, Marvel or Lucasfilm.  ABC had one bit of programming presence with a panel called “The Disney/ABC’s of TV Writing:  Through the Looking Glass of the TV Writer’s Room” presented by Disney/ABC’s Writing Program which grooms writers for the company.  “Disney Pins: A Collector’s Dream” was also offered, but was not moderated or sponsored by Disney.  Regarding Lucasfilm, Disney’s newest pop culture acquisition, there were a couple of panels regarding costuming, droid building and a Star Wars vs. Star Trek panel, but all presented by fans.

Oddly, this” Monster’s University” photo op was in the lobby of the Hilton Anaheim, right next to the convention center.  How’d THAT come to fruition?  Is it even related to WonderCon in any way?  Or was it simply a Disney promotion in a Disneyland Resort Good Neighbor hotel?

I also saw this odd little setup in the badge pick-up/registration hall.  No line or any other signage around.  Does anybody know what this was about?

Was this massive omission Disney’s way of playing hard ball with Comic-Con International?  Was it a statement that they wanted Comic-Con, the biggest show, or nothing?  Or is this simply Disney trying to beef up the profile of their own D23 conventions by not exhibiting or programming anywhere else?  Honestly, I can see it going either way.  Or it could be both.  Marvel has a well-known history of not exhibiting at WonderCon.  But it seems odd that in Disneyland’s backyard, nobody in Disney, Marvel or Lucasfilm could throw SOMETHING together, especially if Disney wants to woo Comic-Con to Anaheim.

In their latest contract renewal, Comic-Con International has signed until 2016, during which the convention center will undergo an extensive expansion to increase capacity.  (The previous contract was until 2015, which makes this latest contract only for a year.)  According to the San Diego Convention Center’s website, this should increase the size of the venue by 33%.  Even if Anaheim is out of the question for Comic-Con, there’s still Los Angeles and Las Vegas.  And in the past, Los Angeles, as well as Anaheim, had put in pitches to host Comic-Con.  Both cities have much to offer, most notably, Las Vegas’ cheaper and more plentiful hotel rooms.

And is Anaheim really out of the picture?  If Comic-Con International does indeed offer two WonderCon’s next year, and keeps its reservation and good graces with Anaheim and San Francisco, there’s no reason that, when they are ready, they couldn’t turn Anaheim Wondercon into Comic-Con and turn San Francisco back into the sole WonderCon.  Although, why reduce the number of shows if they’re all making a profit?

Well, enough history, rumor and speculation!  You want to see the actual convention!  Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of my WonderCon report.  Exhibitors, Personalities and Cosplayers.  Oh my!