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WonderCon Steps Out of San Diego Comic-Con’s Shadow

Temporary Anaheim home helps WonderCon grow attendance and Hollywood's involvement.

With tickets and hotel rooms sold out for San Diego Comic-Con this summer, a closer alternative — produced by the same organizers of SDCC — is taking place in Anaheim today through Sunday.

WonderCon is essentially what Comic-Con was in 2006: A fanboy fest just on the cusp of exploding in popularity, but still accessible to the public. You can still make the last minute decision to join your friend’s “Adventure Time” cosplay team for the Masquerade, or find a hotel room within a 10-mile radius (in this case, in the shadows of Disneyland).

However, the honeymoon period will not last long. While WonderCon is temporarily in Anaheim due to scheduling conflicts with its usual base at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, where the convention has made its home since 2003, there is no telling what the future might hold for the event.

That’s because, just like SDCC, WonderCon’s profile is changing fairly rapidly as attendance levels rise and Hollywood becomes more involved, looking for another promotional platform to push films and TV shows to key demos of influential audiences.

SDCC’s smaller brother looks like it’s about to turn the corner as bigger players begin booking time at the confab. As with Comic-Con, studios have begun to salivate at the chance to connect with the crowds that show up to admire the scantily clad Wonder Women in search of limited edition Hasbro figures. They are an advertisers’ dream.

This year, the WonderCon metamorphosis continues as Sony sets up shop on Friday with sneak peaks at “Evil Dead,” “Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” and “This is the End.”

On Saturday, Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures bring “Pacific Rim” with director Guillermo del Toro and “The Conjuring” with director James Wan.

And on Sunday, the King of the Con, Joss Whedon, brings his take on the Bard with “Much Ado About Nothing.”

On the TV front, Warner Bros. continues its attack on TV’s most wanted demographic by offering screenings of  “Revolution,” “Arrow” “The Following” and “Teen Titans Go!” Netflix is using the confab to screen Eli Roth’s “Hemlock Grove,” while the BBC will piggyback “Orphan Black” with its “Doctor Who” presentation.

From its origins in Oakland, Calif., in 1987, where it was then known as the Wonderful World of Comics Convention, WonderCon first began to make waves when co-founders Joe Field and Mike Friedrich inked a deal with SDCC making it part of Comic-Con Intl. This gave it access to a larger audience through previews of studio tentpoles, such as “Spider-Man 2,” “Batman Begins,” “The Fantastic Four,” “Superman Returns,” “300,” “Watchmen” and “Kick-Ass.”

The temporary move to Anaheim last year boosted attendance by 30%. And that’s expected to grow given its vicinity to Los Angeles.

Event sold 34,000 tickets in 2009, 39,000 in 2010, and 45,500 in 2011. Last year, that rose closer to 50,000. That still pales in comparison to the 130,000 that make the trek to San Diego.

There was once a time when your ability to get into SDCC wasn’t based on your lightning-fast reflexes at the keyboard to buy tickets, your industry connections or your how long you were physically able to wait in a line. There was once a time when hotel rooms were aplenty, parking was under $10 and the crowds were thick enough to garner attention for your homemade Tick outfit, but thin enough to not actually warrant any danger when Stan Lee hit the floor.

This was back in 1998, when Comic-Con just started to grab the attention of studios. While comicbook movies were nothing new, the tides of change shifted for SDCC, as a reorganized Marvel swept over the confab, setting forth the type of big marketing push you see today.

Marvel Studios forever changed the nature of the confab, making it the colossal media-hyped confab it is now. Since then, every major studio casts an eye toward San Diego every July as publicists, PR companies and advertisers target the nerd herd wandering the streets of the Gaslamp District.

However, despite growing in popularity, the stigma of nerdiness still applies to the younger, geekier confab today. Just ask around. While one might be the envy of peers to score a pass to Comic-Con, mention WonderCon, and one might get confused looks.

This weekend will once again prove that this stigma won’t last long.

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