From Burnout to Brainstorm at WonderCon 2023

Mai Gibson

On March 25, I drove down to the Anaheim Convention Center for WonderCon. WonderCon is an annual comic book, science fiction and animation convention that featured over 900 exhibitors this year. I chose to be a volunteer, which meant I got free admission for each day I chose to come in and help out. Throughout the day, I was able to meet other independent artists and creatives, as well as see firsthand some of their truly imaginative and inspiring projects.

I was most interested in the diverse lineup of panels that the convention hosted. My personal favorite was “From Brainstorm to Burnout” which featured Amanda Meadows (senior editor, Oni Press/Lion Forge, she/her); Annie and Emmy Award–winning animator and illustrator Sandra Equihua (“El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera,” “Maya and the Three,” she/her); and Emmy and Peabody Award–winning animator Elizabeth Ito (“City of Ghosts,” “Adventure Time,” she/her).

A lot about this program, industry and city can feel overwhelming, especially when not many of the industry guest speakers we are meeting resemble me and/or my family. This was the first time all semester that I had the opportunity to see an entire panel of industry professionals and creatives that was made up of women of color. In their discussion, they spoke on the real life mental and professional struggles they have faced as members of underrepresented identities. Meadows, Equihua, Ito and the moderator, Christine Pasalo Norland, didn’t sugarcoat how difficult it was and is to get into the industry as a marginalized person, much less be able to tell stories about marginalized people. However, while the panel could have been a downer, it was actually my saving grace.

Up on the stage were four women, not pretending that the inequalities they face weren’t there, but acknowledging them head on and giving real advice on how to navigate similar obstacles. Each of them might not be household names, but they’re still out there, writing and working on the kinds of stories I truly believe more kids need to grow up with. I had reached a bit of a burnout moment myself, but getting to see and hear the passion, drive and stories from the panelists and all the other independent creators was an incredibly uplifting and enlightening experience. I came in burnt out and left ready to start brainstorming again.

Mai Gibson is a senior in the television, radio and film program at the Newhouse School.