The Mid-Ohio Con was held this weekend — the first one to be run by Wizard since taking over the show last year — and based on reports, it was very well attended. But, in an echo of long ago scars from Con Wars, it was not quite as well attended as its organizers seem to imagine in their own worldview.
To start with, there’s this quote from owner Gareb Shamus in a local Columbus, OH paper:
“It is the third-oldest comic convention,” said Gareb Shamus, CEO of Wizard World, which is taking over the event. “It is near and dear to my heart.” In fact, Shamus said he considers only the San Diego Comic Con and the Chicago Comic Con to be more influential than Columbus’s.
You might notice a show missing from that influencers list — the recent New York Comic-Con which drew some 105,000 people. You’ll also recall that Wizard and ReedPOP have often been at loggerheads ver the years. Although out-and-out hostilities have ceased — scheduling shows for the same day etc — the little zingers still fly through the air.
However, at least one Wizard staffer is aware of NYCC — in fact he claimed that Mid-Oho’s attendance would be greater than NYCC’s, according to Jared Whitaker and Tony Barry of Superfly Comics, a local shop that declined to attend the show this year. In an interview with Panels on Pages, the two explained that this decision — based on the general economics of the show and a rise in booth prices — led to what Barry considered a harassing level of calls and emails from Wizard staffers trying to get them to reconsider, without ever actually offering them a good price. Whitaker recounted the claim made by a staffer:
Jared: The first contact for me was October 5th. We were getting ready to open the store when I got the call. The gentleman did say that he was with Wizard and did notice that we were not going to Mid-Ohio this year. I laid out the reasons that we weren’t going to the show. He then went into the “points”: That Mid-Ohio was under new management and that the show would be run differently this year. He then said the most amazing lie he could have told. He floated the idea that Mid-Ohio this year would “have as many people in attendance as New York Comic Con.” He backed this up by saying that “people in the mid-west area want to go to NYCC, but won’t be about to make it there, so they will end up going to Mid-Ohio.” I was offended because it’s mathematically impossible for Mid-Ohio’s attendance to have those kinds of numbers in one year. Mid-Ohio is a mid-level comic con. It’s bigger than most local and regional shows, but it’s in no way, as big as a NYCC and it’s going to be anytime in the near future, let alone in ONE YEAR of Wizard, or anyone else for that matter, taking control and organizing any show.
After that, it seemed like he was looking for a chink in my armor: “It’s a local show, so you should make it out. He talked up an alternate area for us to set up at, (in which he misinformed me about the price of said area. I didn’t find out about this until after Tony talked to the rep later) everything. He even informed me that they were allowing “booth babes” this year as a selling point. I assumed that he was trying to play on the stereotype that people involved in the comic industry doesn’t get the opportunity to see breasts often. I assured him that I, in fact, have been involved with breasts before and after my involvement in the comics industry.
The interview is quite long–the bottom line is that Barry and Whitaker were annoyed by a series of phone calls despite their explanation of why it didn’t make sense for them to attend. Barry was so incensed he even filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and Whitaker posted a dramatic reading of a letter of complaint on YouTube — surely even a more punitive measure in this day and age.
We don’t know if we’d consider it a complaint-worthy offense, but clearly the Wizard folks weren’t very good at negotiating and should have noticed that no means no.
More than any individual incident, the Superfly folks note that while the Wizard shows are clearly successful and draw good crowds, there is still a lack of enthusiasm in some quarters:
I don’t mean to suggest that I think Wizard shows are completely awful; but I had developed a feeling that they’re a touch overly proud in some unquantifiable way. In my conversations with other vendors who’ve been in the game for much longer than I, I’ve noted a general lack of enthusiasm for the Wizard branding as well as the direction of Wizard shows. When pressed, the most description any of these folks have been able to give me regarding this is the feeling of a ‘general trend downward.’
ON THE OTHER HAND, some people do very very well at Wizard shows. An artist posted in the comments to the above thread:
I’m sorry, guys, but I was in artist’s alley and I had my best show yet. They really did a good job bringing people through the door. The old owners did basically zero marketing. 2x the price is way too high, but it sounds like they were figuring that out. And I really can’t get upset that someone tried to sell you something. You’re in sales. It happens.
An official Wizard rep also passed along this gallery of photos from the show which show many people having a good time.
So…your mileage may vary.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.