The Cons of Wonder
I’ve always been an avid consumer of pop culture and other renowned media such as Star Wars and DC Comics, to name a few. I grew up with many of these well known franchises as a child, so it came as no surprise that I along with two other friends of mine would attend a Sunday convention known as Wonder Con. This convention is hosted by the same people who host the more well known Comic Con in San Diego and is a place where geeks, influencers, and cosplayers all gather to celebrate American pop culture, but mostly properties that are comic book related, I’ll admit. Nonetheless, we saw it as an opportunity to dress up like the nerds we are and make more pleasant memories while the weather was still cool. There were three of us, consisting of my close friends Evan, Anthony, and then of course yours truly. It seemed like a great idea, at first. Later that day, however, we would only be left with a large convention without the ‘vention,’ so to speak. This was quite likely our first and last time attending Wondercon. But hey, at least the tickets were only a measly $40 for a day so it wasn’t a devastating loss on any of our part.
It was a sunny day in Anaheim after all the excessive rain that has run rampant throughout the county, not a rain cloud in sight. All went well, with the boys and I anticipating a long, productive day filled with numerous events and fun banter. Being only a 15 minute drive from my home, it wasn’t long before we were parked and arrived at the front entrance of the convention center. It was certainly a bit more barren than we anticipated, with roughly only half of the main hall being used for the numerous booths and kiosks while the other was reserved for attendees’ badge pick ups. The Anaheim Convention Center was clean enough and quite expansive but was a far cry from the one in Los Angeles, which is known for having the capacity to host some of the state’s larger conventions. Evan dressed up as V, the main character from the Cyberpunk 2077 video game, I dressed as a character from an older Star Wars game called Knights of the Old Republic 2 who is known as Darth Nihilus, and Anthony wore his street clothes, consisting of a Romanian Gorka suit and a gas mask, respectively; just another casual Sunday for him. The beginning of the day wasn’t particularly eventful for us, with most of our time spent walking around, getting photos taken with some of the attendees and other cosplayers, and exploring the main hall where the stands resided. Because this was the very last day of the convention, there was not as much to do given all the honorary guests, voice actors, and influencers have more or less left as they were scheduled for only the first two days out of the three. We didn’t care much for these guests or celebrity figures as they were not the reason why we ended up attending, in the first place. Our reasons were far more mundane than that: we just wanted to dress up, explore the convention, look at the other people’s costumes, and browse through the many booths and stands located in the main hall.
The stands in question sold a variety of products, ranging from generic comic books to figures, clothing, posters, and more– all primarily superhero themed, of course. Most conventions we attended in the past tended to be less niche in what they offered, so we ended up not taking much time to peruse. It was admittedly disappointing for us, not that the convention itself was a drag, per say. I suppose this was due to the fact we were not avid comic book fans to begin with, even though ironically it would seem most of the other attendees weren’t either– they just saw that there was a convention in town. There was one particular booth that caught our eye, however. This booth sold a variety of prints of characters from many different franchises such as Metal Gear Solid, numerous anime, and so on. It was a stark contrast to what most of the other vendors were selling, but we ultimately decided to refrain from buying anything they had on offer, mostly because the prices they were charging were admittedly outrageous. Seriously, $40 for a 2D poster? We were better off stopping by Main Place Mall in Santa Ana if we truly wanted to buy posters of our favorite fictional characters. Speaking of which, a fairly substantial number of the attendees at Wondercon were individuals who seemed to have little to no understanding of the concept of personal hygiene, and I mean that in the most polite way possible. To put in perspective, there are those who may shower once a day, others maybe every other day, but these people smelled as though they have not showered since the beginning of the pandemic, and that may be a conservative estimate. For all we knew, it may have been decades since they last touched a bar of soap, but I digress. I was wearing a mask along with Anthony who wore a tightly sealed gas mask, keep in mind, and we still caught strong whiffs of something that may have possibly died, decayed, and then proceeded to die again. God have mercy on Evan who unfortunately fell victim to a full on onslaught of reprehensible odors that people only thoroughly describe in tall tales and myths. I suppose it shouldn’t have been unexpected to see your friendly neighborhood noxious man making a surprise appearance at a social gathering for the first time in years.
Part of the appeal of cosplaying is having people ask to take photos with you if they like your outfit. It is much like Halloween in a sense but off season and the costumes are oftentimes far more expensive, to boot. My Star Wars get up cost me at least $600 before additional fees and upgrades over the past few years, but some people’s outfits can easily reach over $1000 or more. such as this Mandalorian cosplayer we saw who had a custom made outfit complete with the iconic helmet and battle-worn armor. My costume consisted of black robes, gloves, a belt, a hood, and a white mask that serves as the outfit’s most defining feature. The weather was fair, so I did not suffer terribly wearing what was essentially 3 layers of black clothing wrapped over one another, being held together by a tightly secure belt on my waist. It’s a shame that the Star Wars franchise has fallen harder than the jedi order during Revenge of the Sith, but at least the older films and games still contain enough content to keep someone such as myself satisfied until Disney makes the brilliant decision of destroying a once beloved property so that those who genuinely love the franchise can pick up the pieces and rebuild anew, but that is a topic for another time.
There was no shortage of interesting cosplays at the con, with so many characters that I could not possibly list them all here. Although, to name a few, we saw(and shot a few photos with) someone dressed as Darth Vader, Obi Wan, Boba Fett, Kratos from God of War, Goku from Dragon Ball Z, Captain America, Batman, Superman, and countless more. It was like a scene from Where’s Waldo, where you’re constantly on the move trying to spot all of your favorite characters in the vast crowds that were present in nearly every corner of the convention center. This was also a part of the fun for us, as these events are given life by the passionate individuals who attend them.
By now, it was already noon and we had more or less trekked across the entire convention center, probably looping around at least twice. There was little else to really see, so at this point we decided to rest up somewhere and finally eat something after hours behind a matte black mask that is underneath–you guessed it– another mask. Sandwiches were on the menu with a few bags of chips, a personal favorite among a trio of stingy college students so I’ve been told. We sat outside in the shade near an ornate water fountain that oversaw lines of food trucks just outside one of the convention center’s side entrances. Taking off our masks was a literal breath of fresh air, with Anthony and I covered in a layer of sweat that would soon be dried thanks to the constant cool breeze that was ever so present at the time. After some time, we discussed what else we should do next. Evan suggested we walk around a bit more while Anthony thought we should attempt taking more photos with other cosplayers, as they were in abundance at this point. The fountain and the surrounding area was filled with people doing photo shoots with one another, all cosplaying as characters from numerous franchises such as Marvel, DC, God of War, Cyberpunk, and yes, Star Wars. I agreed with Anthony’s proposal, but also added that we should all get a photo taken together as a memento.
Finding a willing participant to take our photo was a tad more tedious than we expected, with the first person we asked taking a hastily captured photo of us which as one would have guessed was subpar. Finally, we found a kind middle-aged gentleman who agreed to snap our photo and the end result was terrific, if I do say so myself. We continued participating in some shoots around the fountain until the early afternoon. By this point, we all unanimously agreed it was time to head home. One would think this would be the end to a lackluster convention, but there would be one more surprise event that would cement Wondercon as one of the most notorious events we have ever attended in recent memory.
On our way out, we were stopped by two eager looking fellows who desperately wanted to take our photos. We obliged, setting our bags down behind us, not thinking anything of it. There was nothing out of the ordinary, at first, with the photographer wanting to take different shots with different poses and angles. This went on for a few minutes, our backs turned the entire time, completely disregarding everyone around us. Eventually, the two gentlemen went their separate ways after we exchanged our social media accounts with one another only to discover one of our bags was missing! Fortunately, my backpack and Anthony’s satchel were untouched, but Evan’s gym bag was nowhere to be seen. At first we assumed that perhaps he misplaced it, but Evan insisted that wasn’t the case. Someone had snagged Evan’s bag from right under our noses. What’s worse, his phone, wallet, sunglasses, and extra pair of gloves were all in there. The gym bag was light gray with red accents adorning the zippers and other compartments, with numerous stains after years of frequent use. It goes without saying that Evan was livid while Anthony and I were beyond perplexed. We ran straight to security to inform them what had happened, being asked numerous questions such as if we noticed any odd characters that were out and about before we noticed the bag was missing. Nothing.
We ended up spending almost two hours searching the convention center, scanning every individual but would end up disappointed when we ended up empty handed. Usually this is the part where the towel is thrown and we assume that the gym bag and its contents were lost. As a last resort, I called Evan’s cell to see if anyone at all would pick up. After almost a minute of ringing, someone answers the phone. At first I assumed it to be the thief, but it ended up being a member of the convention center’s staff, who claims the phone and the bag it was found in was left outside by the fountain and brought to the lost and found after a good samaritan ended up turning it in. Ecstatic at the news, Evan makes a quick dash to the lost and found section and ends up recovering his belongings. It seemed as though Evan simply forgot to grab his gym bag earlier after posing for photos at the fountain. We then made our way towards my car, exhausted but relieved that a crisis had been averted. Just as we were about to enter, Evan tells us something is wrong.
I’ll never forget the moment when I heard “Guys… I think I’ve been duped,” Evan says in an incredibly despondent voice.
Someone had stolen his sunglasses, gloves, and all the cash in his wallet from his bag before turning it into the lost and found. His phone or anything else from his wallet was stolen, however. Strange. Even now, we wonder as to why anyone would steal those items of all things. Needless to say, that was the first and last time we planned on attending Wondercon, but at least the staff and most of the attendees were nice enough. The superhero/comic book theme of the event just wasn’t to our liking, but that does not mean we didn’t have a fairly decent time.