I have been an attendee of Anime, Comics and Gaming (ACG) events in Malaysia for about seven years now, and my role as just a regular attendee shifted into a cosplayer four years back. From going to only one event a year to almost attending one every week (whenever they were organized in the Klang Valley), I have had my fair share of anime, manga and game convention experiences. Conventions held in North America, although targeted around a similar love for fandoms and geek culture, do have a very different vibe compared to the ones in Malaysia.
This past March, I had the opportunity to attend Wondercon in Anaheim, California for the second year in a row. Wondercon is organized by the same folks who bring you the famed San Diego Comic-Con (now officially known as Comic-Con International: San Diego). Wondercon, the sister show to Comic Con, was literally the next best thing I could go for since tickets for SDCC were impossible to snag. Better luck next year.
Held over three days, Wondercon included various aspects of popular culture and fandom such as TV, movies, games, animation, comic books and Masquerade (a cosplay showcase and competition). I noticed that comic conventions in the United States tend to have an umbrella of fandoms with almost a stronger emphasis on comic books and television, and being in southern California, the prospects of bringing in big names from the comic book industry and even Hollywood was relatively achievable. Most Malaysian events tend to focus more on anime showings with a large emphasis on the cosplay culture.
When one thinks about Western geek culture, superheroes instantly come to mind – and they’re not wrong. With the recent buzz of Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel superhero cosplays were everywhere during this con. But D.C. superheroes weren’t falling behind either – the Joker, Batman and Harley Quinn cosplays were also frequently seen parading around the halls. I was certainly surprised to see lots of Boku no Hero Academia cosplay groups around. It would seem like the popularity of our heroes from BNHA has seeped into the traditional leagues of comic book superheroes, gathering a wide fan base here as well.
Something that Wondercon places a greater emphasis on as compared to local Malaysian events are panels and special guests in the industry, and this includes television and movie celebrities. While Malaysian organizers don’t have the equal opportunity to be as inclusive with the entertainment industry, most special guests invited to Malaysian events steer towards cosplayers.
Recent events have seen a rise in special guests involved in the Japanese anime, manga and music industry, and I am excited to see our local organizers bringing in more industrial experts, manga creators, Japanese bands, animators and game designers to expand on our local event highlights.
Panels were a highlight throughout the convention. With speakers from different backgrounds and experiences, ranging from comic book artists, Youtubers, Young-Adult novelists to creatives from the Marvel Animation team, there was something for everyone. The topics included art demos, discussions among panelists, tutorials and even guidance on how to start and succeed in the industry you are interested to delve into by people who have been there and done that. There was also a panel room that was specifically catered for anime screenings but it felt isolated among the central highlights that attendees were really going for.
The exhibit hall was reminiscent to local events such as Comic Fiesta. Going from left to right, the hall started with big name industrial exhibitors, then to comic book sellers, plushie booths, costuming pop-up boutiques, lots and lots of merchandise, then finally to artists’ alley. There were also smaller tables set aside for card dealers, games and fan club booths. There was a special signing area between two of the halls with plenty of space for when the crowd gathers in line for special guests. There were lots of lounges for attendees to rest, cafeteria-like food sections at every hall, and plenty of restrooms – something often overlooked but is extremely vital.
Outside of the hall, there was a specific section for attendees to charge their devices, for cosplayers to get ready, a coffee stand for people who need it, and an expansive check-in area. I really appreciated the extensive assistance provided by the WCA organizers for those with special needs. The Deaf and Disabled Services Department did a great job of ensuring the needs of attendees with disabilities and even had American Sign Language Interpreters ready to assist by actively translating in panels. They also provided a rest area for the disabled, the elderly, expectant mothers, and parents with small infants, a valuable resource otherwise difficult to seek out against the sixty thousand attendees within the venue.
It was interesting to note the differences between Malaysian ACG events and an American comic convention, but I do realise that Wondercon is grouped into the side of American conventions that has less of a focus on the Japanese geek culture. The official largest anime convention in North America is Anime Expo (AX) which typically occurs in July, and I am excited to attend this year’s AX to see how similar we may be in terms of bringing the Japanese pop culture to life, and gathering together fans who share similar interests regardless of our backgrounds and nationalities.