Science Fiction conventions are the lifeblood of science fiction and fantasy authors. We go there to sell our books, meet the readers of our genre, sign a few autographs and participate in panels. Not to mention have a great time soaking in the creative atmosphere of people that “get” us and our crazy love for our genre. The science fiction community is tight knit, they support creatives with passion.
I’ve been a dealer and participant at various science fiction conventions on the West Coast of the United States for over twenty years. I began as an artisan jeweler, selling handmade sterling silver items featuring semi-precious stones and art glass. I was both in the dealer room and in the convention art show, depending on the venue.
In 2014, I published my first novel and began the shift toward less time in the dealer room and more time in programming. I began participating in panels, giving workshops on building a social media platform both as an author or an artist and I shifted my wares in the art shows, not only bringing in my handmade jewelry but also selling a series of art prints based upon my illustrated scifaiku poetry.
WonderCon is one of the newer incarnations of Comic Con International, put on by the people that organize the huge convention in San Diego. Although I’ve been exhibiting my work at the San Diego Comic Con for almost twenty years, I had never so much as walked the floor at Anaheim’s WonderCon. When Broad Universe, a feminist science fiction writing guild, opened a table at the convention. I decided to attend.
I was assigned five hours at the Broad Universe table to sell and autographic my books. I appreciate everyone who purchased a book from me. It is my readers that keep me going. This year I brought my Regency Historical “The Curate’s Brother” and copies of “Murder They Wrote”, a horror anthology in which my short story “We Can Rebuild Him” is published.
After my autograph time was over, I left the table and went out to see what WonderCon was all about. My goal was to make a solid determination if this was a venue that I might return to or not as an author. I will outline my personal impressions of the convention below.
The table I was assigned to during my autograph session was in Small Press. This is where all the authors were located. The section is on the far left side of the convention, the furthest area away from parking and furthest from programming. Many of the authors had paired up at the tables and fully half of them were promoting graphic novels. There were plenty of dead times in Small Press when foot traffic disappeared, but the authors were stoic and kept a smile on their faces.
I noticed that the major Indy bookstore in our area, Mysterious Galaxy, was relegated to the rear back corner of Small Press next to the area set aside for the authors of programming to do their autographs. Normally, Mysterious Galaxy has a prime location at the science fiction conventions I attend, so it was odd to see them in this low traffic location. Of all the areas in the convention, this was the slowest and least attended place at WonderCon.
The Exhibition area was the largest of the convention. The vendors had full 10×10 spaces or larger. The majority of the vendors were from media, software, gaming, or popular artists. I counted three extra large booths that sold artist supplies at discounted prices. Being a sketch artist, I drooled over the selections of fine paper notebooks, pens, and inks. If you are a painter or sketch artist, this is a great place to stock up on art supplies for the year. Curiously, I did not see booksellers in the Exhibition area. If they were there at all, they were tucked away from the main areas and I did not encounter them during my four or five passes through the place.
The Exhibition area was packed with people at all times. It is located under the location where programming takes place on the second or third floors so it would be easy for attendees to pop in between panels and do a bit of shopping. I personally did not find anything to purchase beyond the art supplies, but I imagine if you were into software games, science fiction films/TV or collected Disney pins or bobbleheads, you would find something to please you.
This was one of the larger artist alleys that I’ve ever encountered. It rivals the one at the San Diego Comic Con. The artists were all top notch. Most were sketch artists whose work would be comfortable gracing a comic book, but all styles were represented in the science fiction genre. There were plenty of graphic novel authors there as well. I spent some time chatting with various artists to get a feel of how they felt about the convention. Most were delighted with the attendance and traffic to their tablespace. Artist Alley was the place to be at WonderCon.
There is no art show at WonderCon. I find this surprising since almost every science fiction convention offers one. An art show is a boutique showing art from artists from all over the country. They mail in their art or drop it off in person and the art show handles the sales. Afterward, the unsold art is mailed back and the artist receives a check for their sales minus a small commission to the art show and any sales taxes owed to the state the show takes place in. It is an inexpensive way for an artist to gain exposure for their work without having to attend the convention. For a venue that seems to support artists in all other ways, this is a glaring exception.
Personally, I was disappointed by the panel selection at WonderCon. As an author, I did not find panels about writing except for one or two late on Sunday. As a sketch artist, I discovered many art-related panels. The panelists offered good basic information for budding sketch artists or digital art creators. While the panels were all of good quality, they were clearly designed to be of benefit to artists, gamers, or filmmakers. Writing books was not a focus of the main panel topics, it was more of an afterthought. However, the one or two writing panels that I saw were well attended and offered quality information.
The costumes were in full force at WonderCon. The majority were wearing comic book themed characters. The cosplay participants wandered the halls of the convention, but many clustered outside in the courtyard near the food trucks. There was a bevy of professional photographers taking pictures. I asked about the media attention and discovered that the photographers were not connected with the convention officially, but had been brought in by the cosplay people. Although they had access to the professionals, I found that the people in costume were happy to pose for regular people such as myself. You should make a point to politely ask first. This is part of the collection of photos I gathered to enjoy after the convention.
Why WonderCon is more for Artists than Authors
In the end, I am forced to conclude that WonderCon is not a good venue for authors. Most science fiction conventions have full writing tracks, rather like a mini writing conference, to give beginning science fiction authors genre-specific information. They also allow published authors time to hold readings and autograph sessions in the more traffic intensive areas of the convention. WonderCon did not offer this. As an author, I felt shunted aside.
However, WonderCon seems to be a great place for artists to be seen and network. While there were fewer professional tutors to review your work and give career advice as San Diego Comic Con offers to new artists, there was still more than enough panels and exposure for an up and coming artist to find value. If you are a science fiction themed artist, WonderCon should be on your list of consideration for an artist alley table. I don’t believe that you would be disappointed, even if you need to travel to attend. I spoke with many contented artists during the weekend, many of whom have been returning to WonderCon for years to showcase their graphic novels, art books, prints or imprinted 3D items.
I hope this review of WonderCon is helpful to you, either as an artist or an author. As always, if you can attend a convention to “walk the floor” in person before purchasing a table, that is always the best policy to follow.