I’ve gone to a lot of conventions in my day, but few are as exciting as DesignerCon. Originally founded in 2006, and known as the Vinyl Toy Network back then, DesignerCon is a three-day art and toy convention held annually at the Anaheim Convention Center. Although this was the first event since 2019 due to that moment in time we’d all like to forget, it was clear that the spirit of DesignerCon is thriving, with over 800 vendors displaying 550 artists across this year’s showroom floor.
Featuring everything from vinyl toys to hand-made customs, and fine art prints to originals, Dcon is honestly a creative’s Valhalla. The entire hall is covered with art, and almost everyone notable in today’s landscape is represented, if not there themselves. For example, I’m not sure Kaws showed up, but that doesn’t mean there was any shortage of his work.
I’ve known of this event for a few years, and while I’ve always been interested, given my typically hectic schedule, this was the first one I was actually able to attend. Now that I know exactly what goes on here, I’m pretty sure I won’t miss another. I know my wallet won’t be happy about it, but my soul will be smiling. Here’s how it went for me.
In case you’ve never been to the area, the Anaheim Convention Center is, like, across the street from Disneyland, so I was expecting security to be TIGHT. After a rough experience at ComplexCon the week before, I was frankly pretty on edge. I had joints hidden EVERYWHERE.
However, I’m very pleased to report that besides making sure you were properly vaccinated or proved COVID-negative, security was not concerned whatsoever about whatever consumables you may have had on you. Although I was asked not to smoke “hard tobacco” so close to the convention center on my initial approach, there were plenty of smoking areas adjacent to the hall to pop out and puff in, and there were far more joints being roasted there than cigarettes, from what I saw.
Once inside, it was actually a much smoother operation than I was expecting. Having experienced the madness from CES to Comic-Con, the seemingly tranquil ingest process was a breeze, and though it was clear that there were a LOT of people there, everyone was moving in the same direction. Even better, although traffic flowed, there was plenty of space to pop off to the side and see whatever art you wanted without causing a massive jam.
On the Floor
I know I called it Valhalla earlier, but there really is something so magic about the floor of this show that it feels entirely accurate. While my personal arrested development still has my obsession with toys at an all time high, there truly was something for everyone here, and every booth was worth stopping and checking out—even if just to get out of your own aesthetic preferences for a moment to see something new.
I do this at weed shows, but there are very, very few other events I make sure to check out absolutely everything at, and this was one of those. I was fortunate to be rolling with a few gents who appreciate the arts as much as I do (shout out to Ted from Alien Labs and Curtis from the Yellow Brick Group), so the mission was clear from the jump—we WERE going to see everything dope there. Let me just say, this is a MUCH more difficult task than I imagined—the dope list is never-ending, and it’s easy to get sucked down a rabbit hole.
Finding the Heat
From the first steps you take into the space, it’s clear that the titans of industry were all present at this event, and that this wasn’t some throwaway experience for them—they were showing out. Booths like Medicom, the makers of the ever-popular Be@rbricks, sported a line around their entire, massive set-up for basically the whole event, while others created much more personal and approachable experiences.
My personal favorites, the Mighty Jaxx gang, made an excellent display around their footprint that looked as if their entire collection was tucked away inside a vault. Although much of it is still waiting to enter the country due to the global shipping issues right now, I was able to secure one of Jason Freeny’s new Melting Bomb piece, which I’ve had my eye on forever. Another booth of note, which should come as no surprise to our frequent readers, was, of course, Talking Terps’ Cottage, which was making its second public debut.
Some brands stood out with just their stores, while others utilized massive installation pieces to draw a crowd. Newcomers like RRAR developed a giant version of “Always Somewhere Else,” which is now accepting preorders for it’s 12-inch release in Q1 ‘22, to make their debut on the scene. Artists like Robert Burden, for example, used their space to show off the expanse of their work, with larger-than-life canvases that featured a seemingly never-ending collection of pop-culture references.
Exclusives to Bootlegs
One of the best parts of DesignerCon is all the exclusive releases that happen special for the event. From unique colorways of already popular pieces, to brand-new creations released there for the first time, there were far too many items I simply couldn’t say ‘no’ to. Tristan Eaton’s “Let’s Bang” sculpt in Black, which was released in partnership with 3D Retro, was a prime example of this.
Another was Fett Up Toys Boba Fett / Skeletor mash, which I’ve become obsessed with. The hand-made, bootleg game was especially popular this year, with every possible play of Mickey Mouse imaginable on display at one booth or another. While some certainly lacked creativity, others absolutely took things to the next level, whether it was through combining traits, mashing colorways or just straight up destroying cultural icons, and I was there for it.
One of the more interesting developments at this event was the way NFTs have begun to invade this space. Obviously given the rarity and collectible aspect of many projects, NFTs seem prime for adoption by this audience, but what Veve is doing is really interesting. Leveraging artists with real-world fame (and cult-like followings) like Luke Chueh, Sket One and Camille Rose Garcia, and the IP of powerhouses like Marvel and James Bond.
They’ve managed to make carbon-neutral NFTs that allow these fandoms to tap into this burgeoning, new technology without any of the negative ecological costs. I’m not sure if they’ll take off, but they sold out many of their projects in seconds, so it’ll be worth keeping an eye on.
Hit or Quit
Overall I’ve got to say this was one of the most fun events I’ve been to in a LONG time. Sure it was like, exactly in the pocket of things I love, and I spent far, far more than anticipated, but I was on cloud 9 the entire event—I floated through the convention hall snatching up unique figures and prints, both beautifying my apartment (by some standards) and satisfying my obsession with the weird. I said it above so it should come as no surprise, but this is now a must attend on my yearly calendar, and while I may go broke in the process, at least I’ll die with the most cool shit to pass on.
Finally, shout out to Dole whip, man. I knew they had it at Disney, but thankfully, the Convention Center also has the plug, and few things hit like a nice frosty pineapple jawn after walking around smashed all day. I don’t know why more places don’t have it—seems like the kind of thing McDonald’s or someone should capitalize on, but if you’ve never tried it, and you ever see a stand offering some in the future, TRUST… you’re going to enjoy yourself.