WonderCon attendees wielding camera phones flocked around Dawn Bright, a video game concept artist from the Inland Empire area who donned a head-turning Queen Amidala costume of her own creation. Her lavishly embellished gown, black feathered headdress and trademark white-and-red painted face stopped “Star Wars” fans in their tracks as they ambled through the lobby of the Anaheim Convention Center on Friday.
“I made the entire dress from scratch,” Bright said, proudly pointing out the spiraled embroidery on her cloak before posing for more photos. “I just finished this costume last night at midnight, and I’ll actually be participating in the masquerade tomorrow.”
A few feet away, more WonderCon-goers (some of whom wore costumes of their own) snapped pictures of Bright’s husband, Daniel, and their 3-year-old daughter, Victoria, dressed as the heroes from Disney’s “Wreck-it-Ralph,” with little Victoria’s stroller decked out like Vanellope von Schweetz’s candy-coated race car.
The Brights were among roughly 40,000 sci-fi, fantasy, horror and comics fans and professionals who descended on Anaheim over Easter weekend for the annual pop culture expo. It’s WonderCon’s second year in Anaheim after renovations and scheduling conflicts at San Francisco’s Moscone Center forced the convention from its Bay Area roots. The convention is in many ways a smaller version of San Diego’s Comic-Con International, offering panel discussions for blockbuster films, popular television shows and comics creators, not to mention portfolio reviews for aspiring professionals, book signings, a cosplay masquerade, video game demonstrations and geek-friendly shopping on the convention floor.
Among this year’s programming highlights were Guillermo del Toro’s panel for his robots-versus-kaiju movie “Pacific Rim,” during which he revealed the Alex Ross cover for the film’s graphic novel prequel; the unveiling of DC Universe’s latest animated movie, “Superman: Unbound”; a freewheeling fan Q&A with “Superior Spider-Man” writer Dan Slott; and a “Much Ado About Nothing” panel that drew Joss Whedon’s devoted fans in force.
Many of the convention’s most memorable moments didn’t take place on stage, however, but rather in overheard conversations and fun genre mashups as thousands of fans of different franchises crossed paths. On the convention floor, a man dressed as Cloud from “Final Fantasy VII” posed in battle against a woman dressed as a scout from “Team Fortress 2,” his sword crossing with her baseball bat. A tanned and muscled Rambo struck a tough-guy pose as Gumby took his picture. And at the R2 Builders’ booth, a woman dressed as Princess Leia, complete with white dress and the cinnamon bun hairdo, knelt in front of a working Wall-E robot, a la Carrie Fisher and R2-D2 in the beginning of “A New Hope.”
More “Star Wars” fans crowded around the Ultra Sabers booth, where a rainbow of glowing lightsabers beckoned Jedi Knight and Sith Lord wannabes. Anne Lamsa and Rachelle Trial, both from San Diego, showed off their purchases.
“This is actually for my anniversary for my husband, who is a nerd as well,” Trial said, brandishing a purple lightsaber. Lamsa’s pink saber was a gift for her roommate, she said.
“I think what really sold us is that these are combat ready, so you can smack them against each other, duel with them and everything, and they don’t break,” Lamsa said.
“We had other lightsabers in the past,” Trial added, “but they were not combat ready, and inevitably, you or a child who’s around wants to fight with them, and they break.”
“Star Trek” fans were also represented throughout the convention, with quite a few Starfleet officers carrying phasers (and a few toting tribbles). Near a booth devoted to the Star Trek Enterprise Bridge Restoration and Sci-Fi Museum, visual effects makeup artist Tim Vittetoe applied Vulcan ears to Dani Sciacca, who is working with the Bridge Restoration group to turn the iconic Enterprise D set from “The Next Generation” into an interactive museum. Vittetoe talked about the enduring devotion the sci-fi series inspires among its fans.
“I think it’s because Gene Roddenberry wanted to create a moral fiber, an infrastructure if you will, an ethical code that people could follow,” he said. “A lot of kids who didn’t have a father figure or who didn’t have that in their lives could actually follow ‘Star Trek’ and learn from it, and if you talk to ‘Star Trek’ fans, you find that that is true for many of them.”
On the other side of the convention floor, dozens of tables were set up for board and card games. There, Bill Salazar, a representative for Wyrd Miniatures, showed a group of four friends how to play the steampunk-meets-Wild-West game Malifaux.
“I really came up here because I’m an aspiring writer, and I’m trying to look for an agent,” chuckled one of the players, National City resident Daniel S. Diaz. “Unfortunately, thanks to this game, it’s probably not going to be happening today, because it’s actually a lot of fun. … It’s simply interaction with other people. With how things have gotten in the past 10 years with the Internet and talking through IMs and texting and all that, they kind of miss the interaction of just sitting and talking face to face, seeing people laugh, the way they react when you do something stupid, or when you say something funny and they fall out of their chair laughing, and they say, ‘Oh, my sides hurt!’ It’s a nice experience.”
Convention-goers got to know each other as they waited in line for free swag from booths such as Capcom and Lion Forge Comics, for merchandise such as Mondo’s T-shirts and posters, for signings by comic writers and artists, and for panel discussions.
Before the panel for “Vikings,” a worker in a black T-shirt emblazoned with the History channel series’ logo was passing out trading cards of characters to fans in the room. One asked if she could have his shirt. “No,” he replied. “You’re the fifth person to ask me that.” Then he cracked: “You’ll see it on EBay in two days.”
And the panels themselves offered plenty of off-script entertainment in addition to the planned promotions and exclusives.
During DC Comics’ New 52 panel, “Detective Comics” writer John Layman described the oversized issue of the book to be released Wednesday.
“It’s an 80-page book, and you feel it,” he said. “It’s thick, and it’s a meaty read. You’re not going to read it on the bus or in the restroom or wherever. You will sit down and spend a lot of time with this book.”
“Superman” writer Scott Lobdell chimed in: “Just so you know, you’re allowed to read any of my comics on the toilet.”
During the Q&A portion of the panel for this week’s “Evil Dead” reboot, a woman came to the microphone and said she was such a big fan of the franchise that she’d waited outside the convention center since 1:30 a.m. to see the panel (though she needn’t have — the 9,000-seat arena accommodated anyone who wanted to see the big studio panels).
“Excuse me for saying this,” producer Bruce Campbell interrupted her, “but you don’t look like an “Evil Dead” fan. You look like a soccer mom.”
“Apparently you don’t know the dark side of the soccer mom,” she quipped.
But perhaps the ultimate display of fandom occurred during the panel for “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones,” the upcoming film adaptation of the supernatural young adult novel series by Cassandra Clare. The panelists, including Clare, Lily Collins (who plays heroine Clary Fray), Kevin Zegers (Alec Lightwood) and Jamie Campbell Bower, who plays handsome shadowhunter Jace Wayland, all cooed as a woman carrying an adorable baby stepped up to the microphone.
“Actually, I don’t have a question,” the woman said. She lifted her baby. “I want to introduce you to my son… Jace.”
It’s unclear whether WonderCon will stay in Anaheim, return to its longtime home in San Francisco or split into two conventions, said spokesman David Glanzer. In its 27th year, the convention has become known for providing a more laidback experience than its San Diego counterpart.
“It’s a very friendly show,” Glanzer said. “It’s a little more relaxed. I think everyone comes in with a very friendly attitude. That was the case in the Bay Area, and we’re happy it’s transferred to Anaheim as well.”
– Noelene Clark, Blake Hennon and Jevon Phillips | @LATHeroComplex
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