By Kevin M. Brettauer
The thing about WonderCon, the thing that really makes it special, is not its size; there are conventions of bigger and smaller scale. It’s not the location; Anaheim, home to Disneyland and therefore inherently connected to Marvel Comics itself; it’s not even the venue, which is one of the great West Coast convention calls.
No, the thing about WonderCon that makes it so special is its total embrace of the so-called “geek subculture”; it feels like it’s the only place in the world where con-goers, cosplayers and comic book fans are more than expected in the neighboring area; they’re encouraged. No one looks down on them, “normal” people engage them in conversation, and a sort of universal bond is created between people both within and without the subculture, even if it’s something as simple as a shared enjoyment of the cinematic adaptations of The Lord of the Rings or an asthestic appreciation for a Fantastic Four cosplay group’s attention to detail.
There’s a certain warmth, too, among the attendees at WonderCon that just isn’t found at other conventions; it’s something that’s lacking at the shows in Philadelphia, New York, Chicago and the like. It feels almost as if it’s not just a Mecca for the world’s greatest intellectual subculture, those who embrace film, comics, television, costuming and the like; it goes beyond that, and feels like a cathartic release from the stresses of the real world, an almost religious excitation creating joy in all the attendees.
Pros and creators will rub elbows with fans as if it’s no big deal, an everyday occurrence. People who you think wouldn’t give you the time of day if they saw you on the street will smile at you in panels or on the convention floor because they know you’re “like them”. Maybe it’s the Harley Quinn cosplay; maybe it’s the signed Battlestar Galactica poster, or maybe it’s just the feeling that you’re home, in a place where you won’t be judged for being different from your peers, because everyone is your peer.
In a way, it’s a microcosm of what makes Los Angeles County so different from the aforementioned cities. It’s more inclusive, more warm. It’s long been an axiom of mine that if New York is, tonally or emotionally, GoodFellas or Taxi Driver, a harsh, cold, violent world of aggression, than Los Angeles is The Big Lebowski, a laid-back, familiar place where “aggression will not stand, man.” Perhaps that’s why the face of The Dude adorns parody merchandise and actual Coen Brothers memorabilia at WonderCon with a pervasiveness that you wouldn’t see at other conventions.
WonderCon just feels relaxed, loving, like a warm hug at the end of a long day. You can shake hands with Richard Hatch and Kate Vernon, tip your hat to Lou Ferrigno, run into people you haven’t seen in months (or even years!) just by fate, and maybe even walk away from it just feeling that much better about yourself for having gone.
WonderCon is not an escape from the world.
The world is an escape from WonderCon, and we’re lucky that this kind of joy has been allowed to exist in this world, if only for three days a year.
But then again, it is right near Disneyland, the Happiest Place on Earth.
Coincidence or conspiracy?
Nah. I vote magic.