WonderCon Postponed Amid Coronavirus Frenzy

To the surprise of few, the 2020 edition of WonderCon in Anaheim, Calif., has been postponed as a result of concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

The event had been slated for April 10-12 at the Anaheim Convention Center. The fan gathering is organized by the Comic-Con International group, which also presents the annual San Diego Comic-Con International, an annual mecca for studios and content creators to interact with pop-culture fans, and showcase new movies and TV shows.

While not as large, WonderCon still attracted a sizeable presence from nearby, Hollywood, though studios had begun to withdraw from fan gatherings in recent weeks in an effort to protect their employees from the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

While myriad confabs and sporting events were becoming casualties of the growing fear of the spread of COVID-19, on March 11 CCI affirmed plans to carry on with both WonderCon and San Diego Comic-Con this year.

Later on March 11, however, the California Department of Public Health announced a recommendation that gatherings and events of more than 250 people should either be postponed or cancelled to protect public health and slow the rate of transmission of COVID-19.

WonderCon typically draws about 60,000 attendees, about half of its San Diego counterpart.

The initial announcement of the California guidelines covered events through the end of March, which meant WonderCon technically fell outside the orders’ parameters.

However, by March 12 CCI finally acceded to what most observers had considered an eventuality.

In a statement, CCI announced that it would abide by the recommendation and postpone WonderCon. Those who had purchased badges will receive refunds.

San Diego Comic-Con is still planned for July 23-26.

 

The Rise of the Cons

In a simpler time, a comic book convention was little more than a humble gathering of comic book fans. But in today’s age of franchises and big-budget blockbusters, the largest of these conventions have become a major destination for the Hollywood hype machine.

The modern concept of a fan convention dates back to the late 1930s, with various gatherings of science-fiction fans in Philadelphia and New York, which attracted a few dozen attendees. The 1939 World’s Fair in New York saw the first World Science Fiction Convention, an annual event now known as Worldcon.

Subsequent years saw hundreds of local and regional conventions spring up to celebrate science-fiction and, eventually, related genres. Among them was the West Coast Science Fantasy Conference (Westercon) founded in 1948.

In early September 1966, Gene Roddenberry attended the Tricon World Science Fiction Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, to promote his new series called “Star Trek” a week before its premiere on NBC. Guests were treated to a few early episodes, including the original pilot. By the time “Star Trek” was canceled in 1969, it had built up a loyal fanbase that only grew once the episodes were syndicated. While “Star Trek” had become a presence at various sci-fi conventions, typical sci-fi fans at the time were mostly focused on literature and looked down on TV and movies, which weren’t taken as seriously. As such, a group of “Star Trek” fans believed celebrating their favorite show merited its own event.

Many historians consider the first dedicated “Star Trek” convention to have taken place in March 1969 — a low-key meeting at the Newark Public Library that attracted about 300 attendees, but no one associated with the show. The first major “Star Trek” convention took place in January 1972 at New York’s Statler Hilton, a three-day affair known as “Star Trek Lives!” Guests included Roddenberry and legendary sci-fi author Isaac Asimov. Organizers anticipated about 500 attendees, but more than 3,000 fans showed up. The 1973 event had nearly 10,000 fans register to attend, and up to 14,000 in 1974.

Currently, the largest and most notable “Star Trek” conventions are staged in Las Vegas by Creation Entertainment. The first Creation “Star Trek” convention took place in 2001, and the annual events regularly draw about 15,000 fans.

The show that evolved into what’s now known as San Diego Comic-Con International has its roots in a one-day event known as San Diego’s Golden State Comic-Minicon, held March 21, 1970, in the basement of the U.S. Grant Hotel. About 100 people attended the event, which was organized by a comic book fan group that included Shel Dorf and bookstore owner Ken Kreuger, who was part of the earlier sci-fi fandom. The organizers used the exhibition to raise funds for a three-day event they were planning for later in the year. The first of what was then called San Diego’s Golden State Comic-Con took place Aug. 1-3, 1970, at the U.S. Grant Hotel basement and drew about 300 people to what was primarily a show for comic book and sci-fi/fantasy fans. The second show a year later at the UCSD campus in La Jolla drew 800 attendees, and the third show in 1972 drew more than 900 people to the El Cortez Hotel.

The show changed its name to San Diego Comic-Con for its fourth show in August 1973 at the Harbor Island Sheraton Hotel, which drew more than 1,000 attendees.

In 1974 San Diego Comic-Con returned to the El Cortez, where it stayed for the next five years and again in 1981, as attendance steadily grew, peaking at 5,000 in 1978. The 1974 show featured a film room and hosted a screening of The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.

The first “Star Wars” poster, designed by Howard Chaykin, sold at Comic-Con and other fan shows in 1976.

But it wasn’t until 1976 that the seeds were planted for Comic-Con as a promotional vehicle for major Hollywood productions. That show, held July 21-25 at the El Cortez with an attendance of more than 3,000 fans, featured an early preview of Star Wars nearly a year before the landmark sci-fi film’s May 1977 release. PR guru Charles Lippincott, fresh off an appearance at Westercon in L.A. July 2, showed photos from Star Wars to a crowd of a couple hundred people, promoted the forthcoming comic book adaptation and novelization, and set up a booth to answer fan questions and sell movie posters for $1.75 each (copies of the poster today can be found on eBay listed for more than $7,000). Lippincott’s appearance at Comic-Con and other fan gatherings, such as Worldcon, was part of a concerted effort to build buzz and recognition among the fan community for the then-unknown sci-fi property, which paid off when Star Wars became the highest-grossing film of all time up to that point.

Lippincott’s efforts to promote the original Star Wars touched off a long collaboration between the franchise and San Diego Comic-Con, as previews for The Empire Strikes Back at the 1979 Comic-Con and Return of the Jedi in 1982 would draw huge crowds as well, and the model for building brand awareness at fan conventions would eventually be used to create the Star Wars Celebrations.

For its 10th show in 1979, San Diego Comic-Con moved to a new home at the Convention and Performing Arts Center (CPAC), and attendance would grow from 6,000 to 13,000 by 1990.

The 22nd show in 1991 saw Comic-Con move to its current home at the then-new San Diego Convention Center, attracting 15,000 guests. With the new venue, attendance would quickly grow, hitting 40,000 in 1997.
In 1995, the 26th show became Comic-Con International: San Diego and unveiled the “eye” logo that is still in use today.

The 1990s would see Hollywood expanding its presence at Comic-Con. The 1994 convention hosted screenings for Natural Born Killers and The Mask. The 1996 show featured a celebration of the 30th anniversary of “Star Trek.”

Promotional efforts would increasingly include celebrity appearances at the convention. The 1997 show featured director Paul Verhoeven and Starship Troopers, and Michael Jai White and John Leguizamo promoting the live-action Spawn movie. One of the most popular attractions of the 1998 Comic-Con was the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” panel and signing featuring creator Joss Whedon and most of the cast.

Over the next few years, films such as The Blair Witch Project, The Iron Giant, Terminator 3, Hellboy, Daredevil, the “Lord of the Rings” movies, and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man would take to the stage.

The 2001 convention drew 53,000 attendees, and by 2003, Comic-Con was drawing unprecedented coverage from mainstream press outlets.

As the San Diego Convention Center expanded, Comic-Con expanded with it, moving programming into new exhibit halls and even nearby venues in downtown San Diego. In 2000, Comic-Con added an Anime Showcase programming track, and devoted Sunday to children’s and family entertainment. Major panels were moved to the 4,800-seat Ballroom 20 in 2002, and the 6,500-seat Hall H in 2004.

The 2006 Comic-Con featured the first panel for Marvel Studios, which had just entered an agreement to finance its own films. The panel led by producer Kevin Feige included director Jon Favreau to discuss the upcoming Iron Man, which would be released in 2008. Marvel’s announced slate also included The Incredible Hulk (2008) and Ant-Man (eventually released in 2015). Future movies announced for what would eventually be known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe included Captain America (2011), Thor (2011) and a Nick Fury standalone movie that thus far has yet to happen. Feige also teased the possibility of an “Avengers” movie should the early films perform well enough. In the 13 years since that first panel, Marvel Studios has produced 23 films (including four “Avengers” movies) with a combined worldwide box office of $22 billion.

By 2010, fans would be required to wait in long lines to see the major presentations in Hall H, Ballroom 20 and even some of the mid-size meeting rooms. Fans would even take to camping out in the long Hall H lines the night before major presentations.

Attendance grew from 95,000 in 2004 to 130,000 by 2010, peaking at 167,000 in 2015. Capacity limits have since brought attendance back into the 130,000 range.

The Bay Area of California would get its own annual convention in 1987, the Wonderful World of Comics Convention, now known as WonderCon. The show, typically held a few months prior to Comic-Con, was held at the Oakland Convention Center until 2002, before moving to San Francisco’s Moscone Center in 2003.

In 2001, the Comic-Con International group took control of WonderCon, opening it up to a wider audience and giving it greater exposure to Hollywood studios. With the Moscone Center under renovation in 2012, WonderCon moved to the Anaheim Convention Center, where it has been held every year since, with the exception of the 2016 show taking place at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

With its Southern California presence, WonderCon has taken on the flavor of a “Comic-Con lite,” drawing about 60,000 fans each year.

As scheduling conflicts hampered WonderCon’s return to the Bay Area, the void was filled by the Silicon Valley Comic Con, which began in 2016, co-founded by Apple’s Steve Wozniak.

Amid the newfound massive media attention heaped on Comic-Con, Reed Exhibitions in 2006 staged the first New York Comic Con at the Javits Convention Center. Initially held in February, the annual event moved to October in 2010. The New York event quickly became as important a venue as Comic-Con for promoting movies, TV shows and video games. In 2018, NYCC surpassed San Diego Comic-Con as the largest comic book convention in North America, with attendance passing 250,000.

In 1999, the hype surrounding the release of Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace helped inspire Lucasfilm to organize its own fan event dedicated to “Star Wars.” The first Star Wars Celebration took place from April 30 to May 2, 1999, in Denver, Colo., home of the official “Star Wars” fan club. The second and third Celebration events were held in Indianapolis in 2002, timed for the release of Episode II — Attack of the Clones, and in 2005, to promote Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Subsequent Celebrations would be held semi-regularly to promote major “Star Wars” anniversaries and new films, in locations such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Orlando and Anaheim, and internationally in Japan, Germany and England. With Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012, Star Wars Celebration joined the D23 Expo as one of the studio’s key promotional tools for fan outreach.

The Walt Disney Co. in 2009 started staging its own proprietary fan convention, the D23 Expo, held every two years at the Anaheim Convention Center, across the street from Disneyland. D23 is the official fan club of The Walt Disney Co., founded in March 2009. D23 had its own booth at Comic-Con that year in advance of the first D23 Expo Sept. 10-13. Organized like a typical fan convention, the expo included panels promoting new Disney projects, retrospectives of Disney company history and classic films, an exhibit floor featuring merchandise, and prop displays. Subsequent to Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm, “Star Wars” was added to the roster of promoted brands in 2013. The 2015 Expo featured a major presence from Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar and Disney Studios. By 2017 the D23 Expo was rivaling Comic-Con in terms of attendance, drawing an estimated 100,000 fans.

In 2015, Cinedigm partnered with Wizard World, an organizer of several annual regional conventions, to launch streaming service ConTV (www.ConTV.com), which provides behind-the-scenes access to Wizard World Comic Cons, along with classic films, television series and comics.

Duffy Reflects on ‘Man From Atlantis’

With Aquaman recently making a splash in theaters, the Warner Archive Collection March 30 reminded attendees at WonderCon in Anaheim, Calif., about another hero who once emerged from the ocean deep.

Patrick Duffy was on hand for a panel to discuss his experiences making “Man From Atlantis,” in which he played Mark Harris, an amnesiac with the ability to breathe underwater who agrees to help a government agency that conducts research in Earth’s oceans.

Duffy played the character in four TV movies in 1977 and a subsequent 13-episode series that ran until 1978. Warner Archive recently released the first Man From Atlantis TV movie on Blu-ray. The other telefilms and the complete series were previously released on DVD by Warner Archive.

The actor recalled how the show was filmed in tanks of water with practical visual effects and makeup, not green screens and computer-generated images. The process involved uncomfortable contact lenses to makes his eyes glow underwater, webbing between his fingers, and the need to inhale water into his sinuses to prevent bubbles from appearing while filming underwater scenes.

“Jason Momoa [has] nothing on me,” Duffy said.

Duffy said some of the stunts could be quite dangerous, recounting one that involved lifting him into the air while holding onto a handle attached to a cable.

“I’m really wet. This is really slippery. And I didn’t have a safety harness on because all I had on was my little yellow swimsuit,” Duffy said. “And I thought, this could end really badly.”

Another scene called for Mark to swim through a door before it closes.

“I had to have my lenses in,” Duffy said. “They roll the cameras and I push off and start swimming toward this wall, and I can’t see anything. And my timing was off. The wall closed before I got there. And Mark swims with his hands to his side. So I’m just stroking away trying to get to this opening that isn’t there, and I swim into the wall and I knock myself out underwater. Then I realized that anything could be dangerous.”

As a result, the actor took a more active role in assuring his own safety.

“The stunt coordinator came up to me and he said, you know Patrick, every time you do one of those stunts, you take a job away from one of my boys,” Duffy said. “And I thought, you’re right. Anybody could have done that. And I didn’t need to do it and I don’t need to do the more dangerous ones when I don’t have to because you’re not seeing my face. And these people get paid, they do it better than I do, they know how to be safe for themselves, and it’s their job.”

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Duffy joked about why he kept coming back for more “Man From Atlantis” movies and the TV series, alluding to the line at the end of the first movie that his character would stay with his new human friends because “I haven’t learned enough.”

“When I come back up, there’s a blip in the audio there,” Duffy quipped. “What I actually said was ‘I haven’t earned enough.’”

Duffy went on to play Bobby Ewing on “Dallas” opposite Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing through the 1980s. In the 1990s he starred on the sitcom “Step by Step,” episodes of which are also available on DVD from Warner Archive.

“Any actor who’s working is the luckiest actor in the world,” Duffy said. “And when you have a show for a while you just think, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you. And then ‘Man From Atlantis’ was canceled and then, most actors think they’ll never work again, and a lot of it’s true sometimes, unfortunately. Literally seven days after ‘Man From Atlantis’ was canceled, I signed my ‘Dallas’ contract. And then two weeks after ‘Dallas’ was canceled, I signed my ‘Step by Step’ contract. So I’m one of those rare, very fortunate actors.”

Duffy has since branched off into directing and writing.

In 2016 Duffy wrote a book exploring the culture of Atlantis and continuing the storylines from the show.

(L-R) Warner Archive’s D.W. Ferranti shows off the ‘Man From Atlantis’ book written by Patrick Duffy.

“Any job that’s your first job that leads to the rest of your career life is a memory that you just never let go of gratitude for. That’s one reason I love that character,” Duffy said. “I had the idea for the book from the time we did the pilot. I knew where he came from in my own mind, I knew who his mother and father were. And I knew that he had a love interest. And these are all just things that as I was intending to be this fictional person, it was so intriguing to me who this strange person was. So I figured all this stuff out. And the more I figured it out, once the show was canceled, the more I couldn’t let it go. And it became a series of notes. I wrote four or five pages that took me to the present day, where he would be now, and how could he go home.”

Duffy also reminisced about some of his “Man From Atlantis” co-stars, including the late Victor Buono, the heavy-set actor best known for playing King Tut on the 1960s “Batman” series who also played a villain in the first “Man From Atlantis” movie and on the series.

“Victor was a sweetheart,” Duffy said. “He brilliant, he was wonderful. He was the most intelligent person I think I’ve ever worked with. Sorry Hagman. He was a poet, a raconteur, he was cultured, he was everything, and he was one of the funniest people I’ve ever worked with.”

CBS All Access ‘Twilight Zone’ Producers Discuss Reimagining the Series

Taking on a reboot of the iconic “Twilight Zone” series from Rod Serling was daunting, but executive producer Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us) made it simple.

“Jordon said to me, ‘Dude, “Twilight Zone’s” not broken. The more that we can honor the original, the more that we can be humble about the lessons we learned from Rod Serling in the original series, the better this show will be,’” said executive producer Win Rosenfeld.

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Producers discussed the reimagining of the iconic series March 30 at WonderCon in Anaheim, Calif., and the influence of Peele. The series debuts on CBS All Access April 1.

“He’s just a deeply ethical and moral person who really cares about the world that we live in, and I think the reason he’s become, he’s gotten the accolades and the attention he’s gotten in the last few years, is he also happens to be a master of genre,” Rosenfeld said of Peele on a panel during WonderCon.

Questions from immigration to guns to violence and corruption are ripe for the genre treatment, panelists said.

“What Jordan is great at is realizing the best way to address these things is through science-fiction and fantasy,” Rosenfeld said.

Fellow producer Glen Morgan noted that Serling had always been focused on society’s ills.

“Rod serling was writing dramas on TV and the networks were telling him you can’t talk about that, and that’s why he did ‘The Twilight Zone,’ so he could talk about those things, about bigotry and greed and warnings about upcoming technology,” Morgan said.

“The advantage of genre is actually — and in a way it gets underestimated — is you can slip things under the radar,” added writer Alex Rubens.

Reimagining the score had to include the legendary “Twilight Zone” theme, co-composers noted.

“The first thing we thought was we gotta keep the theme,” said co-composer Marco Beltrami. Co-composer Brandon Roberts commented it would be “musical suicide” to redo or reject the theme music. But they added new and old (including a theremin) influences into the musical score.

But the music isn’t the only thing recalling the old series.

“We’re Easter egg junkies, and there’s certainly a lot of that in there,” said Rosenfeld.

Producers went so far as to borrow a prop from an old “Twilight Zone” episode, the dummy Willie. The nearly century-old dummy (from Vaudeville times) was owned by David Copperfield.

“This thing is worth half a million dollars,” noted Morgan. Copperfield generously lended it to the series for a mention.

“He’s sitting in the green room in an episode,” Morgan said.

Netflix ‘She-Ra’ Cast and Producer Discuss Girl Power at WonderCon

The 1980s TV cartoon character She-Ra is having a renaissance with DreamWorks Animation’s Netflix original series “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.”

The second season of the series, which debuted in November 2018 with 13 episodes, drops (all at once in seven episodes) April 26, and the show runner and voice actors from “She-Ra” converged on WonderCon in Anaheim, Calif., March 30 to discuss the reboot.

Panelists included executive producer Noelle Stevenson, Aimee Carrero (voice of Adora/She-Ra), A.J. Michalka (voice of Catra), Marcus Scribner (voice of Bow), Karen Fukuhara (voice of Glimmer), Lauren Ash (voice of Scorpia) and Merit Leighton (voice of Frosta).

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While the new series may pay homage to the original (and there are some Easter eggs about the original series in season two), it’s definitely a different take, with complex female relationships.

“I think it’s what I’ve been the hungriest for in media,” said Stevenson in an interview after the panel. “You see these male characters who get to have all of these really complex relationships to each other, like even villains and heroes and the richness of those relationships, and it just was something I was really hungry for.”

The relationship between Princess Adora (She-Ra) and Catra is at the center of the show. Leader of the Princess Alliance, Adora in season two is embarking on a quest of self-discovery as She-Ra while fighting her former friend Catra, who is rising in the ranks of the Horde.

“I think it’s been my favorite part of acting in this show because so rarely do you see complex female relationships in a show about young people, and it’s probably one of the things that young people deal with the most, having to say goodbye to a friend that no longer is going in the same direction that they are going in, but still having a lot of love for them but not being around them and making the difficult decision to separate from them,” said Carrero (voice of Adora) in an interview after the panel.

The relationship is a fan focus.

“It’s definitely been talked about between a lot of fans, and Aimee (Carrero) and I, as well, as actors,” said Michalka (voice of Catra) in an interview after the panel. “And I think there is kind of a really deep love between those two characters in the sense that I think maternally Adora has kind of taken care of Catra for years and now Catra is figuring out who she is as an adult. I think a lot of anger is coming out of this character from the fact that Adora is no longer in her life. But these are two best friends and their relationship is beautiful, and I do think there’s something deeper there, and hopefully we will be able to explore that later in the show.”

Scribner (voice of Bow) said in the after-panel interview that he appreciated the new take on the series.

“It’s really exciting to be a part of a remake that’s staying true to the source material, but at the same time is kind of flipping the script and reflecting a more accurate tone or reality and culture that we are in right now,” he said.

When asked about the LGBTQ implications of the series during the panel, Stevenson said she wanted the series to speak for itself.

“If you stick with the show, you’ll find the answers to some of your questions there, but I really want the show to stand on its own and speak for itself,” she said. “It’s always important to us. It’s at the heart of the show, and you will see it on your screen.”

Season two is just seven episodes while the first season was 13. The shorter sequence should help audiences keep engaged, showmakers said.

“All of the seasons were planned as 13-episode arcs, but now they’re being divided so it’s going to be a little bit different experience, and I’m interested to see how it goes,” said Stevenson.

“The good thing is there won’t be a ton of lag time between seasons, which I think is good just in terms of memory and intake because, we’re all used to seeing so much on all these streaming platforms so how do you stay engaged with where a season’s leaving off and when a new one starts,” added Michalka.

During WonderCon, DreamWorks introduced a trailer for the second season:

The Sights of WonderCon 2019

WonderCon 2019 took place March 29-31 at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif. The annual pop culture confab featured a number of projects tailored to the home entertainment market, including the premiere of Warner’s direct-to-video animated movie Justice League vs. The Fatal Five, YouTube previewing season two of “Cobra Kai,” and Paramount promoting the home video release of Bumblebee with a larger-than-life Bumblebee statue.

‘Suicide Squad’ at WonderCon

Filmmakers and cast members of Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay were on hand March 23 to help promote the film at WonderCon 2018 at the Anaheim Convention Center. The latest direct-to-video animated superhero adventure from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment is available now digitally and arrives on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray April 10.