The biggest surprise of this past weekend's WonderCon wasn't a shocking announcement from a comics publisher, TV network or movie studio -- it was the news that broke late Sunday afternoon about the convention itself. At the show's annual "Talk Back" panel, John Rogers, president of Comic-Con International's board of directors, revealed that WonderCon would move about 30 miles north in 2016, from Anaheim to the Los Angeles Convention Center in downtown LA.
This is the second big move for WonderCon, a smaller but still sizable sibling of Comic-Con International in San Diego, in recent years. The show started in 1987 in the Bay Area (first Oakland, then San Francisco), before moving to Anaheim for the 2012 show. The deal is only for one year in LA, but it looks like folks in the nation's second-largest city are hoping it's a long-term relationship: In the press release confirming the move, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is quoted, "We look forward to establishing a long-term partnership with Comic-Con International." While that is in reference to WonderCon specifically, it's been speculated for years that Comic-Con itself may one day move to LA, given ongoing issues surrounding delayed expansion of the San Diego Convention Center.
CBR News spoke to David Glanzer, Comic-Con International's Director of Marketing and Publication, for an in-depth chat about the details behind WonderCon's move -- whether it may end up as a long-term deal, what it could mean for the show's film and television content and whether or not any consideration was given to move it back to the Bay Area, where the show resided for its first 24 years.
CBR News: David, was moving WonderCon away from Anaheim in 2016 precipitated by anything other than availability? Or was it simply a scheduling issue?
David Glanzer: It really was a scheduling and space issue. I know there are some who are speculating that making the move is a way to try out the Los Angeles facility should Comic-Con need to move, but that isn't the case. It's potentially a very expensive endeavor to move a show. It's a new city, new facility everything about it is pretty new. It's like creating a first-time show. It's going to be a great deal of work but Los Angeles has been very helpful in trying to make it as smooth as possible.
How did Comic-Con land on Los Angeles as the 2016 location for WonderCon? Was a move back to the Bay Area considered?
Yes, the Bay Area is always at the top of our list. Unfortunately we're not often given enough lead-time on dates. Even dates a year out can be problematic for planning purposes as you can imagine. Alerting potential exhibitors, guests, attendees and even volunteers necessitate as much time as possible. Anything less than a year's notice is worse still.
It's been reported that it's a one-year commitment to LA, but the press release from the convention center and quote from LA mayor Eric Garcetti certainly sound like it's being viewed on that end as a long-term prospect. Is Comic-Con planning on LA as WonderCon's new long-term home?
The contact is only for one year. Anaheim has been a great friend to WonderCon and those in the Orange County area have certainly embraced us. I will say, however, that the Los Angeles Convention Center and the Mayor himself are very vocal in making the 2016 WonderCon experience as pleasurable for us and attendees as possible. It is clear that they want to make it a great experience. But yes, we have only a one-year contract.
In what ways does Comic-Con see LA as the right place to grow WonderCon? Were there any reservations about downtown LA hosting a show the size of WonderCon?
That's a great question but the decision to move WonderCon from Anaheim to Los Angeles wasn't based upon the possibility of growth. In fact it's very possible the show may suffer a bit in attendance as any first time show does. We saw an initial decrease in attendance when we moved from San Francisco to Anaheim and it is conceivable that we can see a decrease in our move from Anaheim to Los Angeles. For this reason it was really a very difficult decision to make. But the option was to not have WonderCon for a year and we felt that wasn't the best option.
Given LA's obvious proximity to the film and television industries, is there thought that moving the show to LA may further increase the presence of movie and TV content at WonderCon?
I honestly can't remember that ever coming up as a topic of discussion. We are very lucky and grateful to have a wonderful relationship with movie studios and television networks among the other companies with which we do business. They know we are fans who try to create the type of conventions we want to attend and have a long successful history creating popular events. I think the studios and networks take that into account when they plan out their yearly schedules. In fact, studios and networks have joined us in San Diego, San Francisco, Anaheim and now we hope Los Angeles.
There have been multiple comic and pop culture conventions held at the LA convention center in recent years -- how does WonderCon differentiate itself from past LA shows, in what it can offer the market?
I can only describe what we do, how and why we do it. We are a non-profit organization that has a mission statement to bring comics and popular art to a wider audience. We do this through an amazing and unique exhibit floor that features exhibitors that cater specifically to fans of pop culture. And while we always welcome new attendees to our show we also target those who have an interest or love in popular art. Additionally we have programming that (like our floor) is diverse in its content and offers a unique glimpse on the history of comics and other forms of popular art. Our guest lists for both shows are always pretty spectacular and we are lucky that so many of our attendees return to the conventions we produce.
Given that WonderCon has switched venues multiple times now in the past five years -- from the Bay Area to Anaheim to now LA -- do you feel that it's hurt the show's sense of identity?
Oddly enough I don't think so. WonderCon (even at 60,000 people last year) has had this great mellow attitude. We were wondering if that would transfer with our move to Southern California and it seems to have. It was wonderful on the final day of WonderCon this year to see hundreds of people outside in the courtyard area once the event was over still hanging around, singing, dancing and just not wanting the weekend to end. I stood around for a while too and while I would cause people to run in horror were I to have sang or danced, I felt like a kid again and enjoyed the energy and the camaraderie that is so evident at our shows. WonderCon 2015 really was one for the books.