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WonderCon 2008

I survived my eighth WonderCon, and actually had myself a pretty good time despite the overbooking and overworking that goes into this thing every year. I'll be doing a big write-up for Animation World Network in the very near future, and I'll post about that here when the time comes, but here are my quick impressions of the show:

*My new nickname for WonderCon is "Comic-Con Jr." There's lots of Hollywood programming to be found, sure, but it doesn't overwhelm everything else the way it does in San Diego. Unlike its big brother, the Artist's Alley area at WonderCon is a major destination for a high percentage of the attendees, and it still feels like there's a really big focus on comics at WonderCon, which is great.

*Another big advantage over Comic-Con? It's a 15-minute trip from my apartment to the convention. If I completely burn out and want to go home mid-afternoon, I can do it. If I find out that one of my favorite artists is appearing at the con unexpectedly and I want to get a particular book signed, I can go home and pull it off the shelf and have it the next day. If I want to get someone to sign a 10-pound hardcover on Friday morning, I don't have to haul it around with me everywhere for the next three days. And best of all, if I'm out late, I can go home and sleep in my own bed at night.

*FRIDAY HIGHLIGHTS: Got to see Jason Thompson's "History of Manga in the U.S." panel, caught up with Keith Knight and his lovely wife Kerstin, Batton Lash, Jackie Estrada, Phil Foglio, Kurt Busiek, Joey Manley, Steve Lieber, Ron Lim, Sergio Aragones, Charles Brownstein and the 10-20 other artists that I see at pretty much every single convention that I ever go to. I've mentioned before that I see Herbert "Boomer" Jefferson more often than I see my own family, and sure enough, I've already seen more of him in 2008 than my own flesh and blood.

A big highlight on Friday was meeting Herb Trimpe, THE Incredible Hulk artist, and artist of a great many G.I. Joe comics, and hero to just about any kid who read Marvel Comics in the 1980s (or 1970s, for that matter). Herb's a really nice guy, and I hope that he adds WonderCon to his regular convention circuit.

The Cartoon Art Museum's big fundraising party took place on Friday night, and we managed to get a pretty good turnout and put on a good party without overexerting ourselves, which is always a good thing. The first...oh, six or so WonderCon parties that the Museum put on during my tenure involved a ridiculous amount of effort on the part of our tiny, tiny staff, and last year we finally hit upon the winning formula of just setting up a bar, buying a few snack trays, and charging five bucks a person for entry (which suitably lowers everyone's expectations, just about guaranteeing they'll have a fun time, or at least five bucks' worth of fun). Gahan Wilson and filmmaker Steve-Charles Jaffe turned up fresh from a screening of the new documentary Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird, and I got to chat with them, along with quite a few other friends who turned up at the party.

*SATURDAY HIGHLIGHTS: Saturday's a big blur, really. I started out at the Cartoon Art Museum's booth (where I'd spent about three hours the previous day), making sure that things went smoothly with our extra-special guest artist Dan Piraro of Bizarro fame. Dan's a very funny, very cool guy, and it's always a lot of fun to see him.

My big activity for the day was the two panels that I moderated: The Art and Flair of Mary Blair at 11:30am and a local cartoonists' spotlight at 2:00pm, with a quick pit-stop to watch some clips from the upcoming Pixar feature Wall*E in between. Both panels went well, the first thanks to the great insights and observations of Karl Cohen and Ralph Eggleston, the second thanks to Michael Jantze, Debbie Huey, Lloyd Dangle, MariNaomi, Fred Noland and Justin Hall (whose names you can google if you want, since I'm suddenly too tired to find links to all of their work online).

Immediately after the 90-minute local cartoonists spotlight panel (the time went by quickly, but it's a really, really big chunk of time in the midst of a really, really long day), I switched gears from moderator-guy to Ace Reporter-guy, and interviewed just about everyone in the world who had any involvement with the about-to-be-released Justice League: The New Frontier direct-to-video animated movie. My interview subjects were New Frontier comic creator Darwyn Cooke, Executive Producer Bruce Timm, Voice Director Andrea Romano, Script Writer Stan Berkowitz, Director David Bullock and voice talent Vicki Lewis (voice of Iris West in the cartoon, best known as Beth from NewsRadio) and Phil Morris (voice of King Faraday in the cartoon, best known as attorney Jackie Chiles in Seinfeld).

Immediately after that, I took part in a roundtable interview with Iron Man director Jon Favreau. I'll be transcribing all of this stuff off of my Radio Shack tape recorder over the next couple of days, and I'll be sure to let everyone know when I post these interview on AWN.com.

After that, I rushed off to dinner with Shaenon, Joey Manley, Alan G. (Joey's new business parter), Lisa Jonte, Karen Luk, Chuck Whelon, Jason Thompson, Lark Pien, Gene Yang, Leigh Dragoon and her husband (and a friend of Leigh's whose name I didn't catch). Lots of interesting and intelligent conversation to be had, and best of all, the meal went on an Alan's expense account, which is always a plus (it was only a Chevy's dinner, though, so that balances the scales a bit). Before passing out, I managed to watch my preview copy of New Frontier, and I'm pretty sure that I really enjoyed it--again, check AWN.com soon for a full review.

SUNDAY HIGHLIGHTS: Shaenon woke up with a case of WonderCon flu, so I went off to the con solo this morning. I used my mostly responsibility-free day to roam the floor, catching up with friends who were exhibiting, chatting up an editor or two, scoring autographs from J. Scott Campbell and Mike Mignola, and finally meeting Spider-Man/New Warriors/Thunderbolts artist Mark Bagley, whose work was featured in the Spider-Man exhibition that I curated for the Cartoon Art Museum back in 2002.

At 3:00, I conducted my final panel for the convention, a spotlight on Creig Flessel, the 96 year-old Golden Age comic book artist who's the subject of an exhibition that I recently curated for the Cartoon Art Museum. This was the second time I've interviewed Creig in the past few months, and he's remarkably sharp and clever for someone his age (or my age, for that matter). The audience was on the small side, but everyone in the room seemed to really enjoy the discussion, and most importantly, Creig had a great time holding court and regaling the crowd with his stories. I told him to mark his calendar for the 2012 WonderCon so that we can do this all over again, next time with a nice birthday cake, too.

Following that, I made a mad dash back to the floor to try and finally buy some comics in the final hour before the con closed its doors. For the record, I scored a copy of New Warriors #18 (drawn by the aforementioned Mark Bagley, and rounding out my collection of the first three years' worth of that series), The Best of the Spirit (by Will Eisner), Superman in the 80s, Superman vs. the Revenge Squad and V for Vendetta, all for a grand total of $26. I've had quite a few years at WonderCon where I've managed to not spend a dime on anything other than food, but it's hard to pass up 50%-off graphic novels.

On my way out the door, I ran into Charles Brownstein and Tales from the Beanworld/former Image bigwig Larry Marder, and we chatted a bit before I felt the call of my bed and the Academy Awards calling me home.

All in all, it was probably the most work I've put into a convention weekend, but the knowledge that I'm passing on attending the San Diego Comic-Con this summer (and knowing that APE's not until the fall this year) made this a lot more bearable--fun, even--than in years past. I'm actually looking forward to WonderCon 2009, at least a little bit, and that's really saying something.