I still feel that Wondercon was one of the most fun conventions I’ve been to in years, but now that I’ve had some time to relax and reflect on it, there are a few things they could have done better. The overwhelming majority of issues have to do with this being their first, and sadly only year in this location. There was such potential for a major comics/sci-fi convention in that location, it’s sad that they were only here for a year because their home convention center was being renovated.
1. Lack of signing
Comparing Wondercon to Comicon, Comicon does a much better job at this. Why? Because they’ve been in the same location for so long, they just show up every year and hang up the same signs in the same place. Wondercon just didn’t have that. Nobody knew where to go for registration, for example, because the only signing they had was a little 8×10 sign on a stand that said EXHIBITOR REGISTRATION. No mention of attendee or professional registration. It took us about 10 minutes of wandering around before we went downstairs and got our badges. Again, this is a new location, but the signing really sucked.
2. Lack of organization
This can also be chalked up to first year blues, I’m sure that most of the organizers and staff from San Francisco didn’t follow the con to Anaheim, therefore you had a lot of first-timers working the show. That said though, their organization left a lot to be desired. From bus line-up, where they changed their minds which way the line went every couple of hours and had hundreds of people changing direction, to no real rules in place in crowded event rooms regarding seat-saving. We got into one panel where the people at the door were adamant that the room was full and nobody could save any seats, only to get in and find that half the seats in the hall were being saved by people already in the room. They need a hard and fast rule, announced in every room at the beginning of every panel and enforced all the time.
3. Bad busses
The busses, as nice as the physical busses were, sucked. I have no idea who negotiated this contract, but they ought to be strung up. The drivers were slow and rude, they left people standing in torrential rains while they sat in their nice warm busses taking a break, they couldn’t make up their minds where they wanted to pull up to the convention center, forcing lines of people to chase the busses from one end to the other, etc. There would be long lines of people in the parking lot waiting to board a bus, we could see 3-4 busses just sitting there on the other end of the lot, not moving. Then, once in a while, one would come over and get a group of people and we’d go back to waiting. It was obnoxious. While not directly related to the bus problems, I wanted to relate this story about the Anaheim Stadium personnel where they had parking and where the busses were picking up. On Friday, since they had no signing (see above), we pulled into the Stadium through a back entrance. The gates were wide open and we drove right in and parked. Never paid a thing. I walked up to the regular gates and offered to pay for parking and the lady in the booth said “why are you doing that? You’re already in!” I’m honest, sue me. So she sits there and tells me what an idiot I am for not getting away with it and I’m thinking “hey bitch, the only reason you have a job is because you’re collecting money from people like me!” What a moron.
4. Could be bigger!
Seriously, this is not a complaint, more of a regret. The convention center shared space this weekend with a cheerleading competition. Had they had the entire space, they could have doubled the size of their dealer’s room and still had lots of space left over. The meeting spaces at the convention center are excellently laid out, the ballroom for large events is huge and for most panels I saw, half the rooms were empty because they had them maxed out in size. They could have subdivided the rooms, still had plenty of space and doubled the number of panels they had. There are very few panels that I saw that were filled to capacity. While I think the dealer’s room was fine, it was small enough that you could walk the entire thing, looking at every table, in 3-4 hours. Since conventions have a lot of down-time and wandering the dealer’s room is a big part of filling up that time, you quickly ran out of interesting things to see, especially since so many of the dealers seemed to be steampunk cosplay-centric. Comicon has the opposite problem, their dealer’s room is so massive that in order to see the whole thing, even if it weren’t for the absurd crowds, it takes 2-3 days. Somewhere in the middle would be nice.
5. Things were “missing”.
There are some things that you just expect at a convention, things that either were entirely missing from Wondercon or which were so small that I missed them entirely. They aren’t even things that I would really go see, necessarily, but that I’m used to being present. Wondercon did not have an art show or art auction of any kind. Granted, the one at SDCC is usually pretty pathetic and I can’t tell you the last time I put a bid on any art there, but it’s still nice to walk through. There also didn’t seem to be a film room or anime room, certainly I didn’t see any signs as we wandered the halls (see bad signing above). They could have had them. I just didn’t see them. Both are nice for those times when you just have to get off your feet for a while, you can sit down and watch a movie. They did, theoretically, have a con suite, but it was off in another hotel and not convenient. I didn’t notice a pro lounge either, which was always a fun place to go at SDCC because you could hang out with your favorite actors and authors. There weren’t a lot of either at Wondercon, being non-media-heavy, but there were still tons of pros around and seemingly nowhere for them to go.
6. Too short!
Perhaps my biggest complaint, especially if the above are done, is the convention is just too short. It ran from noon on Friday to 5pm on Sunday and while we didn’t hang out there the entire time, had there been more to do, we certainly would have. With distant conventions like SDCC, we rent a hotel and spend just about every minute the convention is open on the convention floor. Here, since we were close enough to drive in every day, we did that and that meant we were more free to come and go as we pleased. I really like a convention where it feels like your days are packed full of interesting things to do, which easily could have been done with the above.
I don’t want you to think I’m complaining about the convention because I’m not, but I guess that after years of being on convention staffs and in management, I’m naturally trained to look for ways to improve things. It’s in my nature. A lot of these things seem pretty straightforward and, had I been in charge, would have been done as a matter of course, but I guess that’s just me and I rarely ever see conventions that I think are done exactly right, they all have elements where they could improve and Wondercon 2012 was no exception. Still, great weekend, would heartily recommend it to anyone who wants to make the trek to San Francisco next year, as we probably will. Maybe back on their home turf, these things have already been addressed?