This year’s WonderCon, held March 25-27 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, featured a splashy rollout for DC Comics’s Rebirth, a new publishing initiative starting in June aimed at shoring up the publisher’s faltering sales. But the other big story was the location of the show itself; after four years in Anaheim, WonderCon moved to downtown Los Angeles, an area long considered a challenging venue for a successful pop culture event.
WonderCon, which is organized by Comic-Con International, drew about as many people as the previous year in Anaheim according to Comic-Con International’s director of marketing and public relations David Glanzer. While final attendance numbers weren’t available, he estimated attendance was around 60,000, the same as at 2015’s WonderCon in Anaheim.
“Exhibitors had a successful show and everyone seemed to be having a good time,” he told PW. Even L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti was on board, welcoming the show at a ceremony on Friday.
On Saturday morning DC’s editors and creators rolled out of bed before 6 a.m. to prep for Rebirth, a live-streamed event that was the comic book equivalent of an Apple Keynote speech. DC Co-Publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio and CCO Geoff Johns announced the creative teams for “Rebirth,” promising a more character-driven DC superhero universe, with books shipping twice monthly at a lower price of $2.99 (most comics periodical sell for $3.99).
Among the more notable announcements, National Book Award nominee Gene Luen Yang (Boxers and Saints) will write a new series called New Super-Man about a 17-year-old from Shanghai named Kenji Kong who gains some of Superman’s powers. Hope Larson (A Wrinkle in Time) also joined DC to write for Batgirl, and the character will go off on a year of travel to find herself. Acclaimed Batman writer Scott Snyder—whose Batman collections have been among DC’s best sellers in both bookstores and comics shops—is writing All-Star Batman, a new prestige-sized comic with art by such notables as Afua Richardson, Paul Pope, and Tula Lotay with stories that focus on Batman’s extensive rogues gallery.
In a press conference, Lee, Johns, and DiDio all stressed their need to get back to the core of what makes the characters tick. This is the latest revamp of the DC publishing program. While 2011’s The New 52 reboot was a huge success, DiDio says that they knew they had lost their way with the less focused DCYou line that came out last year.
“We learn from our mistakes and we learn from our successes,” he said. “This is a real amalgam of different approaches.” Johns, who is working closely with the writers to define the various worlds, stressed that they are taking the time to set up where the characters are going longer term – something that was not done with New 52. “We're having these huge creative meetings and discussions like writers room for TV,” said Johns. “We want to offer a place to go where our comics have their own universe that’s complex and in depth.”
While news of the creative side of Rebirth seemed to get cautious approval from the retail community, the pricing and marketing is even more of a lure: the $2.99 price point is very consumer friendly and an extensive returnability program makes ordering titles much less risky. The first three months of double shipping titles and the first six months of single shipping titles will be fully returnable for comics shops, an unusual feature in the comics shop market, where wholesale ordering by retailers is generally nonreturnable.
Other publishers were more low key; Image Comics is prepping for its own Image Expo, an elaborate single-publisher press event focused on new Image titles, in a couple of weeks, and Marvel was only represented by a few panels. IDW had a glitzy premiere for the pilot episode of Wynonna Earp, a new SyFy TV show based on a comic by Beau Smith about a paranormal bounty hunter who is a descendent of Wyatt Earp. For those publishers who did show up, sales and enthusiasm seemed strong. Artist Alley was busy with good if not record breaking sales.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing—there were many small vendor complaints about logistics—but if nothing else the L.A. Convention center proved capable of handling thousands of attendees, many of them in spectacular costumes.
Downtown Los Angeles has long been considered a problematic for large scale comic cons due to a lack of hotel rooms and transportation, and the presence of a large homeless population nearby. Although Anime Expo is now held at the L.A. Convention Center, as is Comikaze, a more cosplay and autograph centered event, nothing has really taken off at the venue. But WonderCon’s fanbase and downtown L.A.’s general revitalization combined for a comfortable and lively event. “There’s lot of room in the public access areas, and there were always places to find a seat,” said Glanzer.
Running a successful fan event is significant because the L.A. Convention Center is frequently mentioned as potential home for the much larger San Diego Comic-Con International should it ever need to leave San Diego. The L.A. Tourism Board has been wooing CCI for a decade. With San Diego’s convention center expansion plan mostly likely scuttled, having a viable back-up location will give San Diego’s Comic-Con more bargaining leverage for the existing space and hotels in San Diego.
WonderCon will return to Anaheim for 2017 and there is no direct plan for a return to L.A., however Glanzer indicated that the success of the event means “L.A. is not out of the picture. If we could get dates far enough out, I could see doing a show here and a WonderCon in the Bay Area [where it originated]. The fall is kind of open for us.”