Wizard cons expand potential guest pool

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201101130232 Wizard cons expand potential guest poolThis year’s Wizard World Tour kicks off in a couple of weeks with the Wizard World New Orleans Comic-Con, January 29-30th, but this year’s edition has significantly freshened up the guest list. For instance, a recent press release regarding the New Orleans show touted 12 Eisner award winners or nominees among the guests:

Superstar artists and writers who have won the prestigious Eisner Award who will be on site include Rob Guillory (“Chew”), John Layman (“Chew,” “Puffed”), Kevin Maguire (“Justice League,” “Batman Confidential,” Cameron Stewart (“Batman & Robin,” “Catwoman”), Tony Harris (“Starman,” “Ex Machina”) and Bill Sienkiewicz (“Elektra”).

Eisner nominees scheduled to appear include Kaare Andrews (“Astonishing X-Men,” “Iron Man,” John Dell (“JLA,” “Adventure Comics”), David Mack (“Kabuki”), Ethan Van Sciver (“Green Lantern,” “Superman/Batman”) and Dexter Vines (“Ultimate Thor,” “Superman/Batman”).


These announcements are interspersed among what would be considering more characteristic Wizard announcements such as the participation of TV stars like Bruce Campbell, Chandler Riggs, David Prowse, Walter Koenig, and so on. But this kind of nod to comics of quality is a newish thing for the Wizard brand.

In recent months, Wizard has also been reaching out to pretty much every cartoonist on earth to invite them to be guests at their shows. The basic invite includes a table but no travel or hotel room. Our email has been filled with puzzled veteran ‘tooners wondering whether it’s worth it to accept the invite for a free table. Yesterday there was evidence of Wizard taking it to a whole new level, as indie cartoonists were tweeting about their own Wizard invites:
Dustin Harbin:

Weirdly, bizarrely, I just got an email offering me a comp table at any of the Wizard World shows?? Not even sure how to respond.


Sarah Glidden among them

@dustinharbin Me too. Are those shows any good?


Other indie stars getting the Wizard letter include Gabby Schultz, Lisa Hanawalt and Nathan Schrieber. Not exactly the kind of folks you’d expect to see at a Wizard show. Harbin further tweeted that his invite was particular surprising given past history:

Back when I ran HeroesCon, there was a ton of bad blood between us. They’re dicks. So I was like ??? at the invite. …Well, I don’t bear them super ill will or anything. I’m tempted to email back and ask for a plane ticket/hotel room.

It’s not exactly clear what’s behind this open invitation to the whole world of comics — for years we’ve been saying that Wizard needed to freshen up the guest list beyond artists who were hot when PITT was a best selling title, so it’s a smart move. It could also be that with a big slate of shows to fill, there just aren’t enough of the previous guest list to go around. In addition, we hear, several former guests just don’t want to go to Wizard shows any more.

Another recent press release suggests the convention is still looking to expand:

Coming off its most successful year, featuring eight events across North America, Wizard World, the world’s largest pop culture convention series, today announced an expansion to at least 13 events in the coming year. The 2011 tour gets underway at Wizard World New Orleans Comic Con, January 29-30, at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

“This past year was a landmark one for our brand, with successful expansion into new markets and the addition of a large slate of activation programs, celebrities and special events,” said Gareb Shamus, CEO of Wizard Entertainment. “With our added shows now announced for 2011 we can continue to grow and offer top flight entertainment to pop culture fans and the brands who want to engage them in even more markets cities across North America.”


And indeed, our email is also filled with talk of renewed offers from Wizard to pact with even more local shows in various parts of the country.

The current schedule calls for a show a month, except July:

January 29-30 – New Orleans Comic Con
February 26-27 – Miami Comic Con
March 18-20 – Toronto Comic Con
April 29 – May 1 – Anaheim Comic Con
May 21-22 – Big Apple Comic Con ‘Spring Edition’
June 17-19 – Philadelphia Comic Con
August 11-14 – Chicago Comic Con
September 17-18 – New England Comic Con
September 24-25 – Big Apple Comic Con
October 22-23 – Mid-Ohio Comic Con
October 28-30 – Central Canada Comic Con (C4)
November 11-13 – Austin Comic Con
December 3-4 – Atlanta Comic Con


Still unscheduled: the New Jersey Comic Con, Cincinnati Comic Con, Cleveland Comic Con and the Nashville Comic Con. These shows haven’t been held since it was announced Wizard was taking them over. Holding more than a show a month is hard work.

The flames of Con Wars have mostly died down, and Wizard cons are becoming the kind of celebrity heavy shows with some cartoonists that the Creation Cons of old eventually turned into. as Creation expanded into more and more shows, and even more specialized shows — Trek cons, Xena cons — the comics part of their formula has died out completely. It remains to be seen which way Wizard evolves.

Comments

  1. Drew Hart says:

    As I have to be in the area for work in the next couple of weeks, I’m working on scheduling either staying over a night or arriving a day early so that I can attend the New Orleans show. Looking forward to it!

  2. I’ve been to one Wizard World con (Philly) a couple of years ago and it didn’t have much to recommend it. I spent almost the entire time sitting at my friend’s table hanging out with him.

    It’s a matter of personal taste, sure, but I just wasn’t too interested in a light-up sword or some retired wrestler’s autograph.

    If they do expand the kinds of creators they bring in, I may be more interested in going back. But at this point, that feels pretty unlikely to me.

  3. My general theory: Wizard needs to fill space. Give a free table, space is filled, programming can advertise the comics guest.

    When were the invites sent? If recently, then that might be a symptom of troubles at other Wizard cons.

    Were I in N’Orleans, I’d go. In addition to Wizard, the World of Wheels custom auto show will also be at the Morel Convention Center, in Hall H,I,J.

    http://www.autorama.com/casi/show/spectator/neworleans.php

    (That’s probably why Wizard is advertising so many media vehicles like the Batmobile and KITT, to entice some of those attendees to “cross over”.)

    Wow… talk about a CON WAR! The auto show has The Fonz, “Little Daddy” Roth, Billy the Exterminator, Jennette McCurdy, and Bella Thorne! Plus the World of Wheels Pin-Up Girl Contest! And a student career day!

  4. I still maintain what I said yesterday – if all the indie creators invited picked one convention to go to, there would be a substantial indie comics presence (and maybe even a panel or two) and a reason for fans of alternative comics to go.

    I understand these conventions are outside a typical indie creator’s comfort zone, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be unsuccessful shows; for instance, it’s an audience more used to buying commissions, which is how I make about half my money at cons. Also: the prices of tables at MoCCA and SPX keep going up.

    Publishers are getting more conservative, indie shows are becoming more selective about who exhibits, and webcomics audiences are being overwhelmed by the amount of material on the web. If Wizard World wants to reach out to indie comics, I say more power to em.

  5. And Torsten, my invite was sent in early December, seems like there was another round of invites sent recently.

  6. I got the same invite yesterday. Also wondering if it’s worth it. While I want to expand the scope of the shows I go to, rather than going to the same circuit of indie shows every year, I’ve never been to a Wizard show and don’t know how worth my while it would be. I’ll probably try the Anaheim one since it’s closest to home.

  7. I guess they finally realize that when the small press guys runs to shows like Heroes rather then Philly, then other artist are not that far behind.

  8. I too can confirm that there was a batch of invites sent out yesterday to more of us indie folk yesterday. Wizard shows have a bad reputation for sure, but I’m waiting to hear from some indie folks who’ve actually tabled at one before I make a call on what to do.

    I’d love it if there were a mainstream show with a strong indie presence in a medium-sized, fun, cheap-to-stay-in city like Austin or Cleveland. My best money show every year is for sure Heroes, for the reason mentioned above: folks at mainstream shows tend to have actual money to throw around for high(er) ticket items like original art and commissions.

  9. It will be interesting to see if Wizard tries to break into Arizona following being turned down by buyout offers for the local cons. The Amazing Arizona Comic Con did well last weekend with pretty much a comics only focus (exhibitor hall/artists alley with one track of programming). If Wizard tries to buy them out, they’ll have to relocate since the Mesa Convention Center would not be big enough for what Wizard does (and was why Phoenix ComiCon is now at the Phoenix Convention Center).

  10. I got this email also and to be honest I’ll probably go to the Philly one. I attended last year (it’s free for creators) and was kind of just freaked out at, well, the freak show that it was.

    That said, a free table at con 15 minutes away that has a large attendance of people ready to spend cash? I think I’m gonna do it.

  11. R. Maheras says:

    From the standpoint of a comics fan buying comics, Wizard World Chicago (WWC) is always a worthwhile stop.

    However, from the standpoint of a fan who wants to go comics-related panels, it sucks big-time — especially compared to San Diego. At best, the number of panels at WWC is 5-10 percent that of Comic-Con International (CCI).

    Artists alley and WWC’s related areas (indie tables, et al) is decent, but still substantially smaller than its counterpart at CCI.

    I miss the old Chicago Comicon organizers, and the flavor of their cons. And while, yes, several of them were my friends, they honestly seemed much better attuned to what fans wanted.

  12. Lunchbox says:

    I’m a bit lost here — it’s a bad thing Wizard’s reaching out to up-and-coming talent and offering them a free space to show and sell their work? Maybe it is a desperate move, but it’s the best one they’ve made in the past five years at the very least.

    I agree with R. Maheras’ basic sentiments — you just have to take Wizard shows for what they are nowadays. If you’re willing to pay 30 bucks (which is a bit too much, really) to spend a day flipping through back issues without being mobbed by humanity and/or maybe meeting an artist or two you like, then the show’s probably worth it. If you’re looking for the cast of Thor and a solid day’s worth of sensory overload, I hear they throw a great show out in San Diego every year. I used to go to Chicago every years back in its heyday, and even then it was a fraction of what the big shows are these days. More than anything, it was just a chance to hangout at knuckles and drink with some top notch talent.

    Adding to that, I can think of a lot worse ways to spend a weekend than hanging out with a bunch of comic geeks in a city like New Orleans, Miami or Austin (or Nashville if they ever get that one up and running). It’s not like you have to stay at the show the entire time you’re there, so I can’t imagine an hour or two at a crappy comic con would ruin a weekend in an awesome city. Sure, the airfare/accomodations would be brutal, but again, if someone could swing it, it would probably be fun.

  13. I can’t speak for any Wizard show other than the Chicago show, but I exhibited in Artist Alley in 2010 and had the best show (financially) I’ve ever had in the five years I’ve been doing cons. It was a tremendous con for everyone in my group, everyone in my row and everyone we met who was in AA. I’m exhibiting again at WWC in August and am looking forward to it.

  14. I exhibited at the Wizard World Philly show several years back and was generally happy with my sales. Sometimes it helps when there’s less competition. At a Wizard show you can be one of a handful (for lack of a better description) cartoony/indie artists standing out from the superhero and horror artists at the show. But the key is attendance. If it’s a big show your odds are better that enough people willing to check out new books will make the trip worthwhile. Because even with a free table, hotel costs in major cities are deal breakers.

  15. timothycat says:

    Wizard has bounced back in a huge way against C2E2 in Chicago. The 2011 guest list for C2E2 is VERY sparse. I regret buying a ticket.

  16. What if a bunch of indie artists accepted an invite to the same show in an indie friendly city and essentially staged a ‘con within a con’ via word of mouth and guerilla marketing? I know Austin is a very indie friendly town and it’s a great place to hang out, why not try to get a mass of folks together at a wizard con like that? could be cool.

    I don’t know if the wizard invite comes with any strings like you have to go to more than one show or anything like that.

  17. @Trev – There may be something like that in the works as we speak. There was some discussion on Twitter today of potentially organizing an “indie convergence” at one of these. Don’t know if it will take off, but it’s a great idea…

  18. Becky and I were invited to the Anaheim one. As we’ll be living in Los Angeles, I wanted to try a couple of local shows. So there we are!

  19. michael says:

    Never been to a Wizard convention and I’m not a comics creator so my word is worthless, but reading about all the bad things from the cons and then this, I’d have no hard feelings towards any creator who attended simply trying to make some dough at any convention they were invited to.

  20. Interesting Con Wars! development— IF it does continue.

    With REED’s Pop Group getting cosy in tapping the Big Two for their go-to NYCC/C2E2 Guest lists, it’s only natural for WIZARD to go after the pool of Indie ‘non-affliateds’ in response. Esp. since it’s becoming clear that NYCC/C2E2 aren’t really interested in bringing out the welcome mat to those comic creators? (Indeed, those conventions’ superhero-dominated, Mainstream-focused Guest Lists seem positively Wizard Cons-of-8-10-years ago in flavor.)

    Free table space vs. $500+ plus set-up costs/chair rental fees could be VERY tempting to those comics creators not earning
    Big Two/Next Three paychecks… so what if they’re next to an ex-wrestler or three. Exposure to your work and the opportunity of new sales make it VERY tempting. Score +1 for WIZARD in the Battle of the Coporate Comic Convention Owners?

    (So I suppose the countdown to REED buying up BCGF in response to this has now begun…)

  21. C2E2 had one of the best artists alleys I’ve seen… wide aisles, wide space behind the tables so no one was bumping up against anyone… I hope it continues! (I also hope it gets cloned at NYCC… this year’s layout was abysmal.) The artists alley had a great selection of creators, everyone from Peter David to hopefuls to people who had worked for Marvel in the 80s but now were freelancing.

    C2E2 last year also had a webcomics cluster, as well as a small publisher area right next to that. Plus quite a few educational institutions had booths as well. So the indie spirit was there.

    If a Con has reached capacity (like CCI:SD or NYCC) then Artists Alley will be minimized, or rates will rise as supply is finite, but demand is increasing.

    Of course it will be expensive to exhibit at a large show. Those shows have a large overhead. Perhaps a parallel show should be created in a nearby hotel (as I suggested in the various San Diego Con posts), using the SPX model (one or two ballrooms, a few meeting rooms for panels). People will be coming to the “Big Con” to spend money, so a $5 entry fee is not prohibitive, and they’ll have money to spend and be looking for something different, which the indie crowd specializes in!

    Or the Big Con could offer a discount for first time artists alley renters. Or a “scholarship” where newbie applicants are curated on what they have to offer, and given a booth for free, as well as some promotion by the Con.

    Finally, Big Cons have always been about the headliners, whether it’s Wizard World N’Orleans or NYCC. That’s what attracts attendees (and other exhibitors and vendors). Get those attendees in the building, and they’ll wander around, looking at stuff, and buying.

  22. the wizard formula is what works now, you have to have celebrities, cars, wrestlers, comics artist and everything at a show these days. Only heroes is a comic only show but look at the number of creators he brings in. So you can have a show with 200 guest of all types or a comics only show with 200 artist, makes making that buck a bit harder. Whether you like wizard or not should not be the problem if your an artist, its a chance to see new faces and get your product into new hands, personal feeling do not play a part. Wizard offers a chance to get your product in these peoples hands, and usually its a lot of hands. while sdcc is the best not everyone can afford the ticket if you get one, the flight, hotel, food, so there are other choices like new orlens, chicago, or austin. And yes my show in nashville is one that was bought out by wizard but i also set up at most of the shows in the country. So take the chance if there offering a free table, lots of store owners come out, new faces and you might get lucky and meet new fans, which is what we should all want, is keeping this medium growing, right?

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