ANAHEIM, Calif. — For Patricio Ginelsa, WonderCon helped validate his work.
A long-time and at times struggling filmmaker, Ginelsa, a Los Angeles-based Filipino American indie filmmaker, has always believed his films and music videos could go beyond his core audience of Filipino and Asian Americans.
Last year’s WonderCon proved it, he said.
Ginelsa and his team were invited to showcase their crowdfunded movie, "Lumpia with a Vengeance," the follow-up to his cult 2003 superhero movie, "Lumpia," at WonderCon. The crowd's reaction took them by surprise.
"They exploded," he said.
He hopes to continue that momentum this year with a new comic book chapter to his movie franchise.
This year, he’s introducing the “Lumpia” movie franchise’s “Deep Fried Universe,” as he calls it, to the fans. Though comic books usually inspire films, Ginelsa said his film is inspiring the comic book.
“This year, we are coming back to continue our comic book grinding of our film,” said Ginelsa. “It’s a little bit low-key this year compared to last year, where we had a panel, signing and movie screening. But we have a lot of announcements regarding the expansion of the movie and comic book, and it’s sort of like the calm before the storm.”
Comic-Con International’s WonderCon returns to Anaheim at the Anaheim Convention Center this weekend.
The annual comic convention has long been considered a local and smaller version of Comic-Con International’s much larger San Diego Comic-Con.
Still, the three-day WonderCon will pack tens of thousands of visitors and nearly 1,000 exhibitors to geek out on the latest pop culture, science fiction, zombie toys, merchandise, television shows, movies and comic books from independent artists and filmmakers to big-budget Hollywood productions.
There’ll also be plenty of cosplayers roaming around dressed up as superheroes and villains, and other characters.
Tickets ranging from $18 to $55 are still available for purchase online and on-site.
“We’re excited to be back in Anaheim,” David Glanzer, a spokesperson for WonderCon, said to Spectrum News. “WonderCon is a very friendly show. There has always been a very relaxed and friendly vibe in Anaheim.”
Some programming at this year’s WonderCon is panel presentations on “Doctor Who” science and history, whether “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie, and HBO Max’s teaser and filmmaker Q&A on “Clone High.”
While many see WonderCon as going mainstream over the years with HBO, Marvel and other Hollywood big names participating, at its heart, the comic convention provides budding and career artists like Ginelsa and others an opportunity to showcase their work, Glanzer said.
Glanzer said Comic-Con International, as a nonprofit, aims to promote comics, related arts and artists of all backgrounds. Having a diverse group of companies and people show off their work is essential to Comic-Con’s mission.
“Diversity has always been important to us and reflective of what we want to do,” he said. “In all honesty, art is created by diverse groups of people who bring their experiences to the forefront, and WonderCon allows us to highlight that.”
It’s also a business, he said.
“That’s not a negative. It’s a positive,” said Glanzer. “Having them here allows them to have a bigger presence, a bigger voice, and the benefit of that in the end is they get exposed to an audience who may not be aware of them.
That’s what happened with Ginelsa.
Ginelsa created a sequel to his 2003 no-budget cult film, “Lumpia” in 2013 called “Lumpia with a Vengeance.” Ginelsa raised about $53,000 in a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign.
Lumpia is a fried spring roll, a delicacy in the Philippines. But Ginelsa’s latest movie turned it into a comic book-like comedy action franchise following a crime-fighting superhero armed with a lumpia.
During the pandemic, he began to show it off in the film festival circuit.
The film, starring former mixed-martial arts fighter Mark Munoz, premiered at the Hawai’i International Film Festival in November 2020, and it won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature.
The comic book film caught the attention of Comic-Con International organizers. The group invited Ginelsa to screen his work at the smaller and intimate Comic-Con Special Edition in San Diego the following year.
“I think it helped that a lot of [Hollywood] studios couldn’t make it because of the pandemic, so we got top billing, and it blew the door off,” said Ginelsa. “We had to turn away like 500 people.”
Comic-Con organizers invited Ginelsa and his team to screen the movie again at WonderCon in Anaheim last year. The organizers rolled out the red carpet, giving the filmmaker and his team an exhibit booth, a panel, and a screening.
“They gave us a bigger room, and we filled that up,” he said, adding that the crowd was people of all different races. “It was our most diverse crowd. Our core audience wasn’t Filipino and Asian Americans. It was hardcore nerds starving for a non-traditional hero.”
The organizers invited them to the much bigger San Diego Comic-Con a few months later, “the cream of the crop,” as Ginelsa said, and the film received the same positive reaction.
“That momentum led to our theatrical release,” he said. According to IMDB, the movie played in more than 50 theaters in a six-week span, generating about $80,000.
Still, the experience was overwhelming, he said, and not bad given that it was self-distributed. The hype at Comic-Con gives them hope they can land a distributor this year, he said.
He’s said he’s thankful to have the opportunity to showcase his work at WonderCon.
“As a creator, it allowed us to promote to a wider audience,” said Ginelsa. “Obviously, our hardcore fans, the Filipino American and Asian American fans, and people of color audience are there supporting us but being on venues like this allows us to get exposure and expand our base. And that’s what happened to us at WonderCon and [later] San Diego Comic-Con. It validated the kind of stuff I create.”
Ginelsa said as a Filipino American filmmaker, he’s always wanting to prove that his content could go beyond his usual core audience of Filipino and Asian Americans.
“That it’s something that can cross over,” he said.
His “Lumpia” movies proved it.
“WonderCon and Comic Con validated it for us that we are able to cross over to a mainstream audience,” he said. “They gave us a shot that no one else gave us.”
CORRECTION: The story has been updated to mention "Lumpia with a Vengeance" played in more than 50 theaters in a six-week span. (March 22, 2023)