Life among the nerdlebrities: Wizard World NYC

I had no idea what to expect as I approached the Wizard World Comic Con NYC Experience last Friday evening. First off it was located a new venue—Basketball City—in a part of Manhattan that I had never been to except on an FDR Drive flyover: a mysterious realm east of Chinatown, north of the Seaport and south of the Williamsburg Bridge. In local speak we call it “no mans land”: the moody banks of the East River.
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It was a cloudy overcast evening, and the approach was sinister. But upon getting closer I spied the familiar sights of a Batmobile and people carrying Wizard World plastic bags. I was in familiar territory after all.

According to Wizard’s main PR guy, the always helpful Jerry Milani, Basketball City is a newish space mostly used for…basketball and corporate events. This was its first consumer event. Inside it was spacious and clean, with high ceilings and working bathrooms. I have to give the Wizard folks props for a set-up that played to the comfort of the fans. With no food vendors inside, a food truck court had been set up outside with Crif Dog and Kimchi Tacos (YUM) among others. An outside tent held the big nerdlebrity talks, and an upstairs mezzanine held the smaller panels. Ingress and egress were clear and well marked.

However, once inside I was reminded of some of the problems familiar to putting on any kind of show in New York. It has to be accessible, people have to park, blah blah blah. I would say there was a lively crowd for an after work Friday night. There were huge lines for CM Punk, and great excitement whenever Michael Rooker or Norman Reedus did anything. Stan Lee caused a buzz, of course. The Artist Alley was moderately sized, and I dunno if this was a huge money making show for people selling comics. The big event on Friday was the cruise, and there was a good sized line to get in. I toyed with the idea of going as a friend had a pass, but decided being on a boat with a lot of Walking Dead fans wasn’t my ideal Friday night. From the tweets it was a good time, however.

Hannah has a fine report and I don’t really disagree with anything in it. She hits on what was probably the biggest selling point of the con: the fact that the room wasn’t that big meant that all the nerdlebrities were near at hand, and that did cause a buzz when the Power Rangers guy went to the bathroom or something. By now all these people are used to seeing one another on the Wizard Tour, so when CM Punk and Michael Rooker share a laugh it gives the fans in attendance a sense of being somewhere cool and exciting. I myself was thrilled to catch sight of my hero Pam Grier, although being a little bit afraid of her, I didn’t go up to say hi. Henry Winkler was wandering around and being friendly, as was Wil Wheaton.

It was a fun, well run show, but for my taste, it was a bit expensive—to get in and get one autograph would cost you nearly $100, so you had to be ready to spend a lot of dough.

Also, as I’ve noted before, there is something about the “comics” part of a “comic-con” that is a key part of the equation. Autograph shows are common and doubtless profitable, but there is an innate sadness to people who used to be on TV asking you to pay to get them to sign an 8×10 that comic book artists sitting and sketching on their drawing boards don’t project. Artist Alley gives a sense of the here and now and doing stuff that former child stars don’t. It livens up the joint.

I dunno, maybe it’s me.

To be clear, the traveling Wizard World show presents an array of working TV stars, and certainly while I was there, the celebs were smiling and laughing. Stan Lee always brings a sense of energy with him. Beat Pal Joe Harris said that at one point Stan came by his fellow Bullpenner Ken Bald’s table and the two sang old Merry Marvel marching songs. Who wouldn’t want to see that?

I did wander around and take some of my bad hipstamatic photos.

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The con floor in Walking Dead colors.
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It was pointed out to me that these big standees with posters are ubiquitous now in Artist Alley. Time was you just needed one of those standees, but the exhibits are getting more impressive and easy to transport.
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Mile High Comics’ Chuck Rozanski—star of Comic-Con the Movie—chatting with the CBLDF’s Alex Cox. Chuck had a camera crew following him around but was NDA’d as to its purpose. He did allow that since he was seen in one reality movie, other reality shows have approached him. Chuck is a star in any medium. The three of us had some discussion about the rise of comic cons and how putting them on is not child’s play given the size of the crowds that show up. Anyone who is planning to put one on, I would recommend checking out Mike Scigliano’s series here at the Beat, Comi-CONversations for the basics of show running.

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The X-Files Joe Harris and Steve Vrattos of Fanfare/Ponent Mon. (Fanfare was not set up at the show.)
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Rodney Ramos, most recently of The Tower Chronicles. As you can see from Rodney’s Mets t-shirt, we share a very special pain and a very special bond.
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Gentleman JG Jones. JG is one of the nicest people in comics, and also one of the most talented. The show was slowing down so I had a rare chance to catch up with him and talk Game of Thrones, etc. Since finishing up The Comedian, he’s been doing covers but has some interesting projects in the works.
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Closing time at Nerdlebrity Alley.
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As the show ended, I walked out with Alex and JG. It had been raining, resulting in glorious moody Gotham City nightscapes. This wasn’t my kind of show, exactly, but I can see why people enjoy going, and it was very well run and tried to give fans what they came for. Alex and I left JG and Henry Winkler trying to catch a shuttle to their hotel in the smoky dampness on the East River as Wil Wheaton, king of the nerdlebrities, looked on and found it good.

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