Wondercon and the Phenomenon of Popular Arts Conventions

Have you ever wondered what goes on at the big pop culture conventions? I look forward to these events like a kid going to Disneyland. Over the last 15 years, I have attended 25 conventions, large and small, including Wondercon Anaheim (WCA), San Diego Comic-Con International (CCI or SDCC), Blizzcon, San Diego Comic-Fest, Gaslamp Gathering, CondorCon, and more.

Pop arts conventions are many things to many people. At their core, they are an admixture of corporate and private vendors, of creators and makers, and of audience participators and fans. I go to learn from educational panels, to gawk at TV and movie studio sneak peaks, to see author and actor celebrities in person, to experience hard-to-find indie videos, and to immerse myself in art, books, and toys. So I enjoy pretty much all of it.

The Challenge

Having attended so many, some offerings get a bit repetitious. Sometimes I even wonder why I keep going, especially to the most highly attended (a.k.a. most crowded) venues, where I am squeezed shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other fans, confounded by a deluge of sights and sounds, and dwarfed by comic book and t-shirt kiosks that reach toward the sky.

Every Year a New Surprise

Then I talk to an author who just published her first comic-book or I slip into a darkened ballroom dancing with images from creative indie films, or I stand transfixed in front of a complex sculpture in an art show, and I remember why. I keep coming to learn and to be inspired. So I’ve brought together seven of the things I keep re-learning at Wondercon and its sister conventions.

What I Learned

1. The spark of creativity is one of humanity’s finest traits

Our imagination defines us. To see the thousands of people creating and sharing their joy gives me hope for our species. People are making and writing and painting. No one is fighting. Some make important statements about social issues. Others rollick in silliness for the pure joy of it. Everywhere they demonstrate our shared love of spoken and visual art.

2. We get to create our own purpose

In the exhibit halls, indie film festivals, and art shows, I see hundreds of people manufacturing dreams out of sheer imagination. Life can be pretty hard sometimes. It can derail us from our goals and make our dreams seem impossible. But these events remind me there is always another goal. When life feels pointless I need only look at all of these wonderful, brave creators making their own points in a thousand funny, silly, scary, dramatic, colorful ways to know the real joy is in creating our own purpose.

3. Inspiration is contagious.

There is nothing so inspiring as a person pursuing their dream. I love to talk at length with artists and writers at their booths to find out what drives them, where they got their ideas, what they want to accomplish. Their feeling of excitement crosses the gap between us and connects us to each other. I always admire their drive, and I come away from every con energized and motivated to find ways through, over, or around any obstacle to my own projects.

4. Creativity comes in all sizes

From the million dollar investment by a major motion picture studio with hundreds of project participants to the smallest mom & pop booth selling stapled-together comics and hand-felted figurines, the creative spark is the same. Someone selling Steampunk miniatures or life-size zombie dolls all share in the fire of imagination.

5. Everyone can create

It’s been said that there is nothing new under the heavens. It’s also been said there are only 3 story lines (more or fewer depending on who you ask). Yet people keep creating mysteries and space operas and picture books and romances and stuffed toys and robot ninjas. Each one has their own unique stamp of individuality, no matter how derivative. Occasionally, someone surprises us with a blazingly new concept, but in the end, it doesn’t matter if there are already a dozen spin-offs of “Alice in Wonderland.” Each new approach adds a fresh perspective. Each rehash allows us to appreciate anew what we loved about the original

6. Mimicry is the most sincere form of flattery

I couldn’t leave out a nod to all the cosplayers who strive to reproduce the look and the attitude of their favorite characters from movies, games, TV, and books. For a majority of these events, cosplay, that is, costuming as a favorite or created character, has been a major source of my enjoyment. People have asked why I cosplay, and it’s really a chance at performance art, plus the challenge of putting together a believable costume.

Some costumes are instantly recognizable because they come from popular blockbusters. Others are so obscure only another niche follower will know who they are. Whether tossed together the night before the con or the result of months of painstaking, sartorial struggle, they are all a labor of love and pay homage to the creators and characters they admire. You don’t have to be original to be creative, and copying is a great form of self-expression.

7. Be Yourself

Small Dealer or artist, author or cosplayer, nowhere in present day society is it more okay to express yourself with complete abandon. Page through the portfolio of many illustrators and you’ll find not only renditions of popular superheroes but landscapes and portraiture to rival the masters. Waitresses, programmers, and accountants sit behind booths that reveal their darkest and most whimsical selves in words and art. Stroll the sidewalks and see introverts and recluses transformed into warriors and magicians with an attitude that proclaims, “I fear nothing.” When young and old dare to be true to themselves in a world that elsewhere enforces conformity, it brings tears and smiles to my face.


So I’ll keep going as long as I can get tickets to massive venues like Wondercon, Comic-Con, and to cozier conventions in between. Big or small, I know I’ll always come away inspired and more at ease in my own skin.

Wondercon Photo Gallery

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