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3 ways WonderCon sets itself apart from other fan conventions, plus 3 must-sees

Chris Erkiletian created his giant robot costume for WonderCon 2013.
Chris Erkiletian created his giant robot costume for WonderCon 2013.
Mae Ryan/KPCC

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Starting Friday, thousands will descend upon Southern California dressed in costumes, ready to wait hours to attend panel discussions and with a keen eye for merchandise exclusives.

It's not San Diego Comic-Con we're talking about. That takes place in San Diego in July. This weekend is WonderCon, the sister convention in Anaheim. If it seems relatively new, that's because it is—at least here in Southern California.

1. A brief history of Wonder

As KPCC's Mike Roe explained, WonderCon first came about over 30 years ago, in the Bay area. In 2002, Comic-Con International, the same owners of San Diego Comic-Con, took it over. 

After 24 years of having a home in the Oakland and San Francisco areas, WonderCon moved to the Anaheim convention center due to construction at its San Francisco home, the Moscone Center.

"Now it's become a part of the Southern California fan community," said Roe.

But don't expect it to move to Los Angeles anytime soon.

It actually came to LA for one year a few years ago...they were sort of trying to sell it as a way to win San Diego Comic-Con to L.A. but they moved back to Anaheim after being here for a year and no signs yet that they're coming back. 

2. How is it different from Comic-Con?

The main difference? WonderCon is more accessible.

You don't feel like you're about to get crushed by crowds with every single step. Also, when San Diego comes down they take over the whole city. Well, WonderCon is a little more manageable. It's about, I believe, maybe like...a sixth of the size of Comic-Con.

That still amounts to tens of thousands of people but because it doesn't have the same recognition of its big sister convention, it's easier to navigate through.

3. Always innovating

Two words: Digital lottery. Just another way the convention is stepping into the future.

For the first time, they're doing an online lottery. Used to be you had to wait in these giant lines. It was still a lottery but you never knew if you actually were going to get the chance to get up there and meet someone you like...

This approach is done with the hope that convention attendees will then have more time to enjoy the actual show, instead of just standing in a line.

So what are the highlights of this year's convention? There's too much to list here, but here are three picks from KPCC's Mike Roe:

Warner Bros. Pictures: Ready Player One

Warner Brothers makes waves every year at Comic-Con with a panel full of surprises and announcements about their upcoming film projects. WonderCon gets the smaller, junior version, but they still have what looks to be the biggest panel of the convention.

The panel description promises the chance to meet the film's central group of heroes, the "High Five," along with the author of the book the Steven Spielberg film is based on, Ernest Cline.

DC Action Comics: Celebrating 80 Years of Superman

What's a comic convention without comics? Action Comics #1000 is about to come out, featuring the DC Comics debut of longtime Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis, along with the return of Superman's fabled red tights. To celebrate, DC is holding this panel with a range of writers and artists talkinga bout their favorite Superman moments, what went into this massive anniversary issue and what's coming next for the Man of Steel.

WonderCon's first offsite: AMC's The Terror

One of the things that makes San Diego Comic-Con such an overwhelming experience is that it takes over not just the convention center, but much of the city, with a wide variety of offsite experiences sprinkled throughout San Diego's Gaslamp District.

Now WonderCon's getting in on the fun, with an offsite promoting the new AMC show, "The Terror," based on the true story of a British Royal Navy expedition to find the fabled Northwest Passage. Visitors to this offsite are promised to get a look at the ship's tragic trip through far northern waters — and a chance to experience the fear and despair of the ship's crew.

You don't even need a WonderCon badge to go see it — it's open to the public on the Anaheim Convention Center's Grand Plaza, starting at 11:30 a.m. Friday morning.

Mike Roe will be tweeting from WonderCon all weekend, you can find his Twitter (@MikeRoe) here. And you can find more information on WonderCon here.