WonderCon 2018: A blow-by-blow of pop culture highlights and must-sees

June 7, 2018, 10:00 a.m.

Following up on the WonderCon Anaheim recap, Olivia Popp breaks down her event-by-event WonderCon 2018 experience, covering highlights and new pop culture content eager fans can look out for.

Day 1

The panels at Wondercon started late on Friday — later than the other days — allowing me to wander around the main exhibit hall a bit before heading to my first panel, Gay Geeks and Where to Find Them. This panel featured professionals including Cort Lane (SVP of Marvel Entertainment Animation and Family, who wore a shirt depicting Deadpool riding a unicorn and unabashedly discussed his role as a bear in gay culture) and Renee Jeske (Disney Music Group), who avidly discussed their coming out experiences and how it influences their daily lives. This was a great panel to go to first, as it showed the wide diversity of WonderCon attendees as well as the resounding support that queer fans and creators receive at such fan conventions, where cultures of support, openness and a safe spaces are fostered.

The “Cloak and Dagger” event generated a lot of attention from fans (the newest Marvel series will premiere June 7), and it included a short discussion with stars Olivia Holt (of Disney fame) and Aubrey Joseph along with a screening of the first episode. Jeph Loeb, head of Marvel Television, reminded everyone of the no-media policy with the screening (so no spoilers here, even though the show is about to come out!) — although I will say that while the show was very aesthetically and cinematographically effective, the pacing did feel a bit slow for a first episode (qualms that other critics have also expressed with the show).

The last event that I attended on my first day was the “Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay” panel and screening. The DC Animated Universe has garnered a lot of attention for being unapologetically explicit but also incredibly entertaining, so even though I usually don’t watch these films, I decided to give it a shot, drawn to the film by star Greg Grunberg (of “Heroes” fame). To my delight, the film was both delightfully adult-themed as advertised but also rewarding to see these characters so well-developed and fluidly brought to life in animated form.

Day 2

The second day was the most action-packed for me, jumping from event to event. I started with a panel on “Into the Badlands,” AMC’s hit martial arts TV show starring Hong Kong/American actor Daniel Wu (most recently seen opposite Alicia Vikander in “Tomb Raider) — Wu appeared alongside season three lead Lorraine Toussaint (of “Orange is the New Black” fame).

Next, I went to Sights and Sounds of Animation, CG, and VFX — a panel that highlighted leaders in special effects and CGI. To my slight dismay, the entire panel was filled with white men in these lead roles, but it was nonetheless insightful to see how each crafted a meaningful product (next year I also hope to see more women and artists of color in visual effects!).

I stopped by the “Krypton” panel with stars Cameron Cuffe (a complete Superman uber-fan, to my delight), Georgina Campbell, and Wallis Day — SYFY’s new show is a Superman prequel, following Superman’s grandfather (played by Cuffe). The banter of the young cast was fun to experience, seeing as these roles have the potential to rocket these actors to bigger roles later on.

I also briefly stopped to see the “Making of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’” panel with a number of collaborators including visual effects, prosthetics, makeup and more as well as the “Fear the Walking Dead” panel in the large arena before scrambling for a coveted seat at the Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” panel, also at the arena. Many fans waited through the entire “Walking Dead” panel in order to get a seat for “S.H.I.E.L.D.”, but I was lucky enough to find a seat near the front (reminiscent of the franticness of San Diego Comic-Con). After a brief gag bit from stars Chloe Bennet (who plays Daisy “Skye” Johnson) and Jeff Ward (who plays Deke, a season five character), the entire lead cast minus main star Clark Gregg (who was attending the March for Our Lives but graciously Skyped in to say hello) headed up the panel. Beloved showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen (married and collaborators!) also accompanied Jeph Loeb, who moderated, and Jeff Bell, an executive producer on the show. An ultimate fan-favorite, the cast of the show has some of the most genuine, most engaging audience presences of many shows I’ve seen. The cast wasn’t afraid to crack jokes at each other, creating a humorous conversational environment that looked like they were having just as much fun as the audience was. As a massive “S.H.I.E.L.D.” fan, I was thoroughly entertained and informed by the panel, which concluded with a secret reveal screening of a now-aired season five episode.

After that exciting panel, I ended the day with two other panels highlighting experiences inside the writers’ room and getting into TV writing, featuring writers including Drew Greenberg (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Keto Shimizu (“Legends of Tomorrow”), Spiro Skentzos (“Arrow”), and Melinda Hsu Taylor (“The Gifted”). All emphasized the importance of having a good writing sample, getting yourself out there and constantly talking with others, working to spread your name and work around the business.

Lastly on Saturday, I attended a convention tradition: the 14th Annual WonderCon Masquerade (caution: nerd level high). A true symbol of personal expression, the masquerade featured costumes and cosplay performances from a wide range of skill levels and ages, ranging from handmade robot suits and anime outfits to (two!) group costumes of the Sanderson sisters from “Hocus Pocus.” I imagined myself up there — I’d be thoroughly embarrassed. Yet, every performer held their ground proudly, ranging from elementary school students all the way through older adult cosplayers (not in the performance, but I even gleefully spotted the Cosplay parents at WonderCon earlier that day!). Awards and prizes were given to select participants, and the audience cheered loudly for each one, again expressing this foundation of support and communal love for the shared fandoms we have.

Day 3

On the last day, I attended three shorter panels, starting with “Behind Hollywood’s Hottest Heroes with TV and Film’s Top Creatives,” featuring Ruth Carter (costume designer of “Black Panther”), Jeff Russo (composer on “Star Trek: Discovery” and “Legion”), Sarit Klein (makeup designer on “The Defenders” and “Daredevil”), Sean Callery (composer on “Jessica Jones” and “24”), Stephanie Maslansky (costume designer on “Luke Cafe” and “The Defenders”) and Siddhartha Khosla (composer on “Runaways” and “This is Us”). This was one of my favorite creative panels — being able to see the processes behind the design aspects of TV was extremely insightful, seeing a whole new side to the craft (and seeing just how excited they were to work on these shows!). A highlight of the panel (and the entire convention) was when Callery played the “Jessica Jones” theme on his melodica, which his father had given to him, stating that he composed the entire theme on the bizarre little instrument (if you listen to the theme, it makes total sense, and I now want one for myself). The panel was moderated by Ariela Barer (star of “Runaways”) and Emily Coutts (“Star Trek: Discovery”), whom I had the pleasure of interviewing later along with many of the other creatives.

The last couple panels of the day and the convention featured artists that dealt with pyrotechnics and firearms as well as women in the entertainment industry. It was fascinating to see the bag of tricks that pyrotechnics experts draw from for concerts, events and films, including some very unique tools as well as simpler, more straightforward explosive devices used for special effects. The women in film production panel also yielded some great insight into breaking into the industry, including women who worked as writers’ assistants and in the art departments of TV shows.

Contact Olivia Popp at oliviapopp ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Olivia Popp was a managing editor of Arts & Life for volumes 251 through 254 and the editor-at-large for The Stanford Daily's board of directors for volumes 254 and 255. She hails from Michigan and enjoys science fiction TV shows, independent film festivals, and the Bay Area theater scene.

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