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!

  • Internitty

    Great insights, thank you. It would make sense for Comic con to move to a larger venue, we can only wait and watch. It does seem like a slap in the face to completely ignore Wonder con in Disney’s own backyard though, even if they want to raise the profile of D23 one would think having a presence at all these events could only help. My hope is they’re preparing something so cool they will blow everyone’s socks off, I live in hope but think I know better. Thanks again I’m looking forward to part 2 tomorrow 🙂

    • Gwendolyn Dreyer

      “I live in hope but think I know better.”

      Don’t we all? 🙂 Thanks for reading.

  • hyphen1

    Good to hear from a long time wondercon attendee.

    Sdcc would be impossible in Anaheim and La because of the current installations in the surrounding area. It wouldn’t be the sdcc that you describe. Plus attendees would be pretty confined even in la to the convention area and for la, the la live area. They’ll have to close off the area like they do for the x games.

    Vegas has the outdoor capacity but shuttles are utilized for off site activities. The proximity of gaslamps businesses makes it ideal.

    Marvel was at wondercon last year but there’s no positioning going on. It’s economics. Every 2 years a shortage will happen because of D 23. There’s not enough resources to do 3 major outreach in a row. With free outdoor activities and the allure of comic-con, that would take away biz from the park.

    Oh and the temp set up got way more attention than it deserved. It was to assist the panelists with their badges. It was extremely invaluable.

    • Gwendolyn Dreyer

      To be fair, Comic-Con hasn’t been Comic-Con as we know it for many years now. What it is today is not what it was ten, even five years ago. The question is really what does Comic-Con want to be in the future? Yes, the after hours culture in the Gaslamp is what defines Comic-Con currently. But if Comic-Con decides that capacity and making more money is more important, they will move wherever makes that possible.

      I was not aware at all of Marvel’s presence last year. What did you see? I’ve never seen Marvel at WonderCon.

      Regarding the resources, I call BS. DC, a company just as big, does MANY conventions a year, many more then 2. They have a booth and multiple panels and signings. Whatever the reason may be, I don’t buy “resources”. Disney/Marvel/ABC/ESPN/Lucasfilm is one of the biggest entertainment companies in the world!

      Thanks for the insight on the Disney/ABC table. I wonder why WonderCon would do that while making all the rest of the panelists wait in one big line, especially when they had virtually no presence. Hmmmm.

      Thanks for reading!

      • hyphen1

        Hi Gwen,

        I actually “commandeered” the space for my panelists to get their badges. (that is my friend helping in the photo)
        No one said we couldn’t, and CCI employees didn’t say they minded. We joked around with them while there. There’s no CCI appeasing Disney or what have you. I knew Easter weekend traffic would be difficult, and the people I brought in had no idea what a Con was and what to expect. So I planned ahead–some of my panelists barely made it.

        I think the CCI employee/volunteer appreciated that I took care of the badges instead of them doling them out one by one and figuring who had guest badges and who didn’t.

        Marvel actually had a good sized pavilion last year, comparable to last year’s DC booth which I believe it across from. They had some sort of photo op but I really can’t remember what. They were one of the bigger installations last year–which is all relative.

        So I’m an outside person working with one dept. If I were an event planner, I would want my own event to be the best and perhaps whet the appetite at others’ parties. I think that’s the thinking at Events coordination. I can understand that but certainly as a fan, I would want more presence at all of them. I was shocked at no Marvel presence as well. I revealed in my GizmoPorn blog company comments that D23 will be different and much bigger. I really do think it’s a cost-benefit decision. And that it’s so big and diversified, there are a lot more entities to satisfy. But as I said, I don’t speak for them and there’s more than a small disappointment for me as well. Cuz I want me some Marvel swag!!

        I appreciate the mention of the panel!!!!

        Ken Choy

      • bfdf55

        Disney missed an opportunity to provide a tease for the D23 Expo. I’ve been concerned that this year’s expo will be light on content, especially for Parks & Resorts. The lapse doesn’t make me feel any more secure.

  • Thank you Gwen. Looking forward to part two tomorrow!

  • flayrah

    For the past five or so years, IAAPA members have been told the only two convention centers in the US large enough to hold the IAAPA conference are Orlando and Las Vegas. I know Anaheim couldn’t come close to the square feet needed for the conference; there’s probably enough room in LA but logistics would be very tough. So if any large conventions have outgrown San Diego or the other major cities, remaining choices are very limited.

    • Gwendolyn Dreyer

      Interesting. For YEARS, the buzz at Comic-Con is that Anaheim, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas are the only options due to size. It makes me wonder if the way that IAAPA utilizes the space is different then the way Comic-Con uses it. Hence the discrepency.

      Thanks for reading!

  • Timon

    “There are only three convention centers in the US that are, as of 2012, bigger then San Diego’s: Las Vegas, Anaheim and Los Angeles.”

    What? LA? San Diego barely made top 10, LA isn’t even listed.

    Vegas and Orlando are huge with lots of nearby rooms. Chicago is big too, but very $$$expensive$$$

    Top Convention Centers in USA –
    1 Orange County Convention Center, Orlando
    2 McCormick Place, Chicago
    3 Las Vegas Convention Center
    4 Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington D.C.
    5 Dallas Convention Center
    6 Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta
    7 Phoenix Convention Center
    8 Moscone Center, San Francisco
    9 Anaheim Convention Center
    10 San Diego Convention Center


    • Gwendolyn Dreyer

      Huh. That list you posted is an independent ranking of the best in the nation, not the biggest.

      Regardless, I’m going to see if Dusty or Fishbulb can edit my article. I got my statistics from my source and, without going to each convention center and measuring the space, I can’t say with 100% certainty of my own volition. This has been the three that are constantly being rumored about, and has been for several years now. Maybe construction projects changed the stats, who knows. What I do know is that this has been hot button with most people disagreeing. I’d rather just alter the article then have it be the focus of attention.

      With all that being said, sincerely, thanks for reading!

  • Marko50

    I’ve read that the reason Comic Con is still in San Diego is that the people behind CCI don’t want to leave San Diego. And, I might (proudly) add, with good reason. Strangely enough, it wasn’t on the internet; it was in print. So it must be true, because they can’t put it in a newspaper unless it’s true.

    Or was that the other way around?

    • Gwendolyn Dreyer

      🙂 Well, entertainment industry professionals have NEVER lied to the press before, EVER. 😉

      All due seriousness, as I said at the end, almost all of the buzz regarding Comic-Con’s location is rumor, speculation, and educated guesses based on the facts and history. As I am not employed by Comic-Con International, I can’t guarantee anything. I can just tell you the industry/pro buzz and what my sources at Comic-Con are willing to give me. Until there are formal announcements, like ANYTHING in the entertainment industry, we can only speculate.

      Thanks for reading!

  • Lucille

    Isn’t McCormick Place in Chicago the largest convention center in the US?

  • flayrah

    Lucille, I believe you’re right, McCormick place may be the largest in the US ‘technically’, but it’s laid out very oddly with lots smaller and hard to utilize space. For wide-open area, Orlando and Las Vegas can dedicate more completely open space.

    • Gwendolyn Dreyer

      Hmmm. It seems like “biggest” is something that’s open to interpretation.

      Regardless, the only convention centers I’ve heard of putting up formal bids for Comic-Con are Anaheim and Los Angeles. Las Vegas is always a part of the rumor due to it’s size.

      I am pretty sure, based on the rumors and facts that have blown my way, that Comic-Con has no desire to leave the west coast. Perhaps that’s why no Mid-West or East Coast convention centers, regardless of size, have ever been in the rumor mill.

      Thanks for reading you two!

  • brianpinsky

    If they move Comic-Con to Anaheim I could see Disney doing 24 hour days. Poor CM

    • Gwendolyn Dreyer

      Oh my gosh. The CRAZINESS that would be in the parks that week…

      I would LOVE to see how Disney would try to enforce their no adults in costumes rule. It would almost be a pointless war.

  • GuardianDragon_Mushu

    I really wish they’d just bring Wondercon back to SF. It was the only good convention we had in these parts. :c

    • Gwendolyn Dreyer

      That’s a bummer. I feel for you.