This year marks the 25th anniversary of the always must attend convention for fans of comics, cosplay, science fiction, horror and fantasy films. The event is known as “WonderCon” and first entered the collective consciousness of fans in the San Francisco, California area known as “The Bay Area” in 1987. The event was created by “Comics and Comix” founder, John Barrett. Barrett later handed over the reign of operation to “Flying Colors” owner, Joe Field and “Star Reach” publisher Mike Friedrich with whom this hornface.com reporter had the pleasure of being the official convention photographer throughout the 90’s.
The era of the 90’s was a boom and bust period for the world of comic books and comic book retailing. Many of us who were fans in the era enjoyed the rise of auteur writers such as Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, Peter David and Frank Miller. The comic book artist also gained fame comparable to that of a mainstream rock performer. It was also the era of speculator fever that perhaps hit its apex with the release of the much publicized and sought after issue that chronicled the death of Superman. It was in this environment that I had the honor of meeting the professional and kind retailer, Joe Field and his photogenic family. I was the truck driver for the super distribution giant, “Capital City Distribution” and Joe would regularly stop on by to pick up his comics that he had ordered for his store. Field could have just as easily have become an executive for a Fortune 500 company, but he pursued his dream and became the owner of the impressive store, “Flying Colors, Comic and Cards”. He knew of my persistent attempts to break into photography and offered me a position as the official photographer of the WonderCon.
During this period, Field and Friedrich slowly and patiently started soliciting Hollywood hoping that the film industry would begin to take notice of this growing comic movement that was beginning to scratch the surface of the mainstream. They were quite successful and stars such as Michael Jai White, Richard Hatch and Chase Masterson started to add an element of cinematic excitement to this event.
It is a strange and cruel irony that just as Hollywood began to take notice of the rich mine of characters and story material comic books offered, the speculative bubble burst and the comic book business suffered deep losses in the mid-nineties. The speculators left and the business that began to depend on them was ill-prepared for their departure. WonderCon was seemingly unaffected by this and Hollywood continued its march to fully embracing the genre of superheroes and their adventures. WonderCon in the 90’s began to resemble the high profile conventions that could be found in Las Vegas and the artists, writers and actors who were guests throughout this era were treated as the superstars that they were and are.
As the decade came to a close, Mike Friedrich was apparently mulling a decision to let go of the WonderCon convention business and convinced his partner, Joe Field to offer the operation to the owners of the “Comic-Con International“. They sealed the deal at the 2001 convention and this decision also ended my run as the official photographer of the event. It is said that as one door closes another will open. It would be true also for the entity known as WonderCon. The new owners decided to move the convention from the Oakland Convention Center to the immense venue known as the “Moscone Center” in San Francisco. Convention attendance exploded with a variety of new fans entering fandom with the success of mainstream films such as “Spider-Man”, “Batman Begins” and “Fantastic Four”.
This year the WonderCon will illuminate San Francisco once again starting on April Fool’s Day! The line-up is quite impressive with appearances by Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Christian Slater and Paul Bettany to name just a few of the high profile Hollywood talent scheduled to appear. People often forget the comic book angle to this convention and this year’s convention will also host comic book artists and writers such as Bill Sienkiewicz, James Robinson, Judd Winnick and F. Paul Wilson. WonderCon will have several panels throughout the three days of this event which include the costume competition, artists’ portfolio reviews, film screenings and impromptu cosplay gatherings.
At this rate of growth, WonderCon may eventually resemble its big brother to the south, Comic-Con International. Is this inevitable? I suspect it may occur organically and not by design. The comic book film shows no sign of losing popularity. Comic book properties such as “Thor”, “Green Lantern”, “Captain America”, “Iron Man 3”, “The Avengers” and “Superman” are proving to be the norm rather than the exception. This amazing embrace of the genre by the film industry can only continue to add fans to this convention. If you wish to still experience this convention in the large yet intimate setting of the Moscone Center, your last chance might just be this year’s WonderCon. Tomorrow is never guaranteed, enjoy today’s WonderCon while you still can!