Whither Wizard World?

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201309200407 Whither Wizard World?

As we reported the other day, the Wizard World convention experience is expanding dramatically in 2014, adding seven shows in comics market ranging from huge—Atlanta—to kind of off the beaten path—Sacramento, Tulsa.

Given past show scheduling conflicts, a few people have scrutinized the list for potential regional conflicts. Given the hectic nature of the current comics convention schedule it’s pretty much impossible not to be before or after another show that’s just a day-trip away. A few close calls do seem to exist. The new Atlanta show is three weeks ahead of Heroes Con—Atlanta is a four hour drive or so away, so this could kind of be construed as a regional thing. On the other hand, the Richmond, VA show is the week after Baltimore Comic Con, and I didn’t catch the SPX dates for 2014, but it’s right about the weekend it usually falls. That’s probably three regional shows in two or three weeks. But Baltimore and SPX don’t seem to conflict, so I doubt a Wizard show will really impact either of them.

A bigger question is just how many shows can the comics economy really absorb? (I suppose first you have to ask if Wizard shows are really comics shows, since celebrity appearances are their bread and butter.) As anyone who has been reading The Beat the last few years knows, it’s pretty hard to throw any kind of reasonably planned show and have it fail nowadays. The massive call-the-fire marshal success of the Denver and Salt Lake City cons this year show that in a new territory people are kind of starved for the glitz and glamour of their own Comic Con.

A story that didn’t get too much discussion around the blogosphere was the change in ownership at Fan Expo Canada, North America’s third largest show, which was purchased by Informa, which bills itself as “the largest publicly-owned organiser of exhibitions, events and training in the world with around 7,000 employees working in over 150 offices across more than 40 countries.” The purchase included Fan Expo Vancouver, and I’m told they are looking to launch or acquire more Canadian pop culture events. So more coming there. People want to get in on this business.

While thinking about all this, the thing that popped into my mind was Creation Con, a name which will be familiar to old timers, but whose current existence I had to verify on Google. Creation was one of the original comic con companies, putting on the big Thanksgiving show in New York City from the early 70s until the 80s. Somewhere along the way they morphed into more of a “nerdlebrity autograph” kind of company, putting on shows themed to Star Trek, and (back in the day) Stargate, Hercules and Xena. Discussing this with some industry pals, I surmised that they would be throwing Vampire Diaries shows now, and whaddaya know, when I checked their website, they are indeed putting on a Vampire Diaries show in Orlando in December. They also produce shows based on Supernatural, which I should have guessed. Gotta stay on the game. Their upcoming events calendar shows 20 events in the next year, not one of which I have ever heard anyone in my circle talk about going to.

But, business is business. William Shatner and Ian Somerhalder have to do something with their time, especially if you can charge $119 for a photo op. I did go to a Creation show over a decade ago to meet Bruce Campbell, back when that was a rare event. It wasn’t really my kind of thing—a teeny dealers area, and mostly celebrity panel after celebrity autograph session. Not much of a fest. I see they have costume contests and movie contests now. If you’ve been to one of these events and want to report in the comments, I’d be grateful. (I did check out the “fan testimonial” page where someone noted they had a good dinner, so that’s a start then.)

Still, you can pick out the flow of natural evolution here, and with their ambitious expansion plans, Wizard World could be going down the Creation path if they aren’t careful. Putting on a full service “comic con” with artist alley and publishers and curated panels and all that takes a lot of effort. (Check back to The Beat’s own series on putting on a con is you don’t believe us.) And each and every comics person thinks they are the star of the show and expect a certain amount of care and handling, which can be very, very time consuming. As the “comic con” whittles down its focus to a bunch of actors or a single show, it all becomes much easier to deal with—actors all have agents who set these thing up and the whole process becomes streamlined as to costs and events. A comics show has to be a labor of love at some point, whereas an autograph show is more of a business. And as I’ve noted before, the activity and creativity of actual comics artists create a buzz and liveliness that just autographs don’t.

On some level, I do understand the need to meet Ian Somerhalder—I trekked off to meet my man Bruce after all. All of these events are fulfilling some kind of need in the fan base, so there isn’t really a right or wrong as long as no one gets hurt. If people want to pay $359 to get a front row seat at a celebrity panel, I can’t really stop them. I hope they are getting their hearts desire.

Comments

  1. Gary Dunaier says:

    At this year’s New York Comic Con, Sylvester Stallone is charging $395 for an autograph and $445 for a photo op.

    http://celebrityauthenticstickets.com/

  2. Love the headline, Heidi. Reminds me of my days in Toronto, where every second newspaper headline was “Whither (add word here)?”
    So learned, so elite :)

  3. Transmute Jun says:

    We are big Star Trek fans, so we go to Creation Cons about once a year. This year we attended their ‘huge’ one in Las Vegas, which is 4 days plus a ‘preview night’, same as Comic Con. There’s definitely a lot going on, and you’re not going to be bored or wishing there was something to do. We did not buy any autographs or photo ops, yet we were still entertained. They have 2 large panel rooms (a Hall H and Ballroom 20, if you will) and there is something going on in these rooms all of the time. It is literally panel after panel after panel (okay, with a few money-grabbing auctions in the B room) of great stuff. They had panels with major actors from every incarnation of Star Trek, including the JJ Abrams movies, as well as makeup demonstrations (a makeup artist changed an actress into a Klingon woman – an actual supporting actress from ST:TNG – in front of a huge audience) a costume contest and a successful attempt to break the Guinness record for most costumes in one room. The dealer’s room, while not huge, has a fair amount of merchandise, including representatives from current ‘indie’ Star Trek projects (like Star Trek: Renegades) and merchandise distributors (such as Rodenberry.com). There was live broadcasting all day from Trek Radio, and the ST:TNG Bridge set was present and available for pictures, including more pieces than had been shown at SDCC. It was a fun event and we would definitely do it again…although not next year, because it falls too close to SDCC.

    The pros of an event like this are high quality panels and guests, and reserved seating (so no lining up for hours to get into a panel room). The con is the cost: the tickets are more expensive (and can be really expensive, if you want to sit close) than at other cons, and you will pay a mint for autographs and photos. The other big negative, of course, is that you’re hyper-focused on one property the entire con. If you’re not a fan of Star Trek, you’re not going to have a good time. To be fair though, we thought we might be weary of the whole thing after 4 days, but it was just right. They had enough variation in guests and ‘source material’ that it was still a fun event.

    So yes, they’re for profit, but that’s no reason to put Creation down. If you enjoy the property for which they are having a convention, you will likely enjoy the convention.

  4. Heidi MacDonald says:

    Transmun thanks for the fair and balanced report. Sounds like you had a good time. It is not for everyone, for sure, but if it is your kind of thing you will enjoy it.

  5. >>A bigger question is just how many shows can the comics economy really absorb? <<

    Probably more markets can absorb a successful convention than there are creators and industry professionals to attend them. (The measure of success I'm using is the organizer's – enough booth and ticket sales to warrant the costs of putting the show on).

    The hunger for comics and related material is immense right now, and conventions provide a place to get that stuff. Particularly in areas where Borders was the prime outlet and/or there isn't an LCS to fill the need.

    Probably the real question here isn't how many shows can the comics economy absorb, but how many markets are being under-served and what can the industry do to encourage stores to open in those areas?

  6. Torsten Adair says:

    I escaped NYC in 2004 when the Republican Convention came to town (and Labor Day afterwards). I retreated to small town Iowa for recharging. One day, I drove 30 minutes to the local small city (10,000) to check out the library and bookstores. Two stores: a christian bookstore and hobby/bookstore. The hobby store (half collectibles, including NASCAR; half genre books) owner told be about customers who would drive two miles to Omaha to spend the day at the local Barnes & Noble.

    So, yeah, there’s a huge fandom in the hinterlands.

    All one needs to do is map the MSAs.
    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6c/Metropolitan_and_Micropolitan_Statistical_Areas_of_the_United_States_and_Puerto_Rico.gif

    Cross index with universities and colleges.
    Cross index with specialty retailers.
    Contact the local visitor’s bureau for information on the locale and possible sites.

    I’ll promote a big market which is underserved for shows: Omaha.
    #60 on the MSA list. 885,624 (est. 2012)
    1.3 Million people within a 60-minute drive.
    35K college students

    MSA Lincoln (310,342) is an hour away by interstate. (U. of Nebraska)
    MSA Des Moines (588,999) is two hours away.
    MSA Ames (91,140) 2.5 hours, (Iowa State University).
    MSA Sioux City (168,921) 2 hours.
    It’s the middle of nowhere. Kansas City, four hours away. Chicago, St. Louis seven. Denver eight. Minneapolis six. Omaha has a surplus of comics shops, including an online warehouse. There’s a vibrant local arts community, both of and outside comics.

    And… there’s a brand new convention center, with 194K sq.ft. of hall space, plus a rockstar arena. And… a vibrant downtown (NoDo and the Old Market), just like San Diego! (And Omaha ranks second to DC in the number of restaurants per capita! YUM!)

    And… a great community volunteer base! (Three words: College. World. Series.) Don’t think Omaha can handle a mass of fanatical followers? Check out the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting next May! They fill the arena (18.3K seating) every year!

  7. Dave Miller-lad says:

    Creation Con! I won a gribble there in the art contest way back when!

  8. So Wizard World conventions still exist but the company won’t refund subscriptions to their cancelled magazine.

  9. v wiley says:

    Living in Chicago taught me one thing about Wizard World, and that is that it has pretty much turned into a cash grab using fans, retailers, and creators as the cash cow. Their short term strategy will rake in the bucks, but when the stuff hits the fan eventually, those Wizard guys will just move onto the next strategy for separating folks from their money.

  10. To put a slight spin on your take, I’m more wondering how many shows a *local* comic economy can take. Louisville already has two shows–Derby City Comic Con and the more celebrity-driven Fandom Fest. Do we need a third from an outside group coming in? I guess time will tell, but I don’t see this area as some infinite well of comics dollars dying to be spent.

  11. So, this past weekend I went to the Columbus, OH incarnation of WW. I had never been to one and was very skeptical, but it’s a short drive so why not, right?

    I was really surprised. Yes, there were the celebs, but there were plenty of people who wanted to see them. There were comics, maybe not a ton, but more than I thought. They had a really good variety of toy dealers, too. Video games, some zombie blow-up playland (?), and lots of people having fun. I met my cousin and his friends there — they’re in college, into the lifestyle, etc. They can’t go to San Diego (who can??), but they came down to WW, dressed up like assorted Batman villains, and had a great time. One of their group stole one of her Dad’s favorite Marvel comics to get it signed by Stan Lee — as a Christmas present. So that’s pretty cool. The whole experience is probably very overpriced (some of the name artists were charging a ton, which makes me wonder how well they were doing), but I got the sense that people felt like they got their money’s worth.
    Professionally, Wizard was very inviting: they wanted me to do a talk, gave me a great location, and in general were really helpful. The discussion was really good and I sold a lot of books to some great people: teachers, students, fans. For me, it was the spazzy 10-year-old kid (sweating like mad) who kept coming back for free candy and said “I can’t wait for school on Monday!” — that was it; this Con was the best nerd day of this kid’s life. If I had gone to one of these at his age, I would have said the same thing. I will def. go again.

  12. Majorjoe23 says:

    @Torsten: I would happily make the drive from Des Moines to Omaha for a good con. I’ve always been surprised there isn’t one,

  13. Pat Kastner says:

    I attended the Mid-Ohio Comic Con (is it even still called that?) this past weekend. I think it was the fourth straight year I’ve been there, and honestly, I think I’m about done with it. The first year I attended was the last year before Wizard bought it out, and I had by far my best experience that year: tons of comics dealers with a good variety of product, lots of reasonably priced toys, a good sampling of pros, given that we’re talking about Columbus, Ohio, and a couple of celebrities (I think Ray Park and Lou Ferregno were the biggest names that year). I had a great time and left thinking, “why did I wait so long to check this out? I’ll be coming here every year to dig for comics gold.”

    Fast-forward four years to this past weekend: I paid $55 just for admission to the con. Maybe 20 percent of the room was devoted to comic-book dealers. (That’s probably a generous estimate, too.) Of those, more than half were selling the same 50-percent-off TPBs that no one wants. There were quite a few toy/apparel/collectible dealers. But the prices were ridiculous for everything. (I don’t really blame the dealers too much. I know from the guys at my LCS that the tables are really expensive.) Finding an actual comics professional in “artist’s alley” was kind of like searching for Waldo. And the celebrities took up more than half the room. (Maybe I’m just not wired that way, but paying $50 to $200 for someone’s autograph does not sound like a good way to spend my money. I don’t care if it is Captain Kirk, himself.)

    No thanks.

    Wizard has taken my city’s comic book convention hostage. What was once an enjoyable experience for comic-book fans has been hijacked. Now I’m lucky in that I’ve heard that there’s a nice con down in Cincinnati that I will probably try instead next year. But I’m sure a lot of folks don’t have that kind of option. So as far as I’m concerned, the sooner Wizard over-expands into bankruptcy, the better!

  14. New Romantic says:

    It’s interesting you say what you said, Pat, because if you go to the Ohio FB page, they’re getting glowing reviews. I find people like you in many cities who just go for comics. If such is the case, why go on Saturday (the expensive day)? Why not go on Friday, when they got a Groupon deal, and get in for $20?

    Aside from yr 20% comic dealers claim probably being off as well, I don’t suppose you happened to see Mike Zeck, Pat Gleason, Humberto Ramos, Neal Adams, and Derrick Robertson, did you? I think they’re all rather big names in the field, I believe.

    I think the point that I am getting at is that you sound jaded. Which is fair, if that be the case. However, instead of wishing a company into bankruptcy, even though it’s pleasing it’s fans, why don’t you make a local con to please like-minded folks as yourself? That’s where they all start. :)

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