So why go to Wizard World Philadelphia, anyway? This year we went because in years past we’d had a great time there, and we had a few friends to see. Plus, from NYC, it’s a very cheap day trip. Our plan was also to see how the other half lived. The way things play out, we seem to spend a lot more time with indie cartoonists who create comics in a blissful state of creative empowerment. Wizard World Philly, despite the relatively small pro turnout, was a different world, where freelancers complained about being paid…perhaps because, unlike indie cartoonists…they expect to be PAID. It was also a world where staying in the good graces of your editor was your paramount job skill, and those who graduated to the sense of freedom engendered by being able to tell the person signing checks “No,” are in a rarefied stratus.
We were also — to be frank — curious to see just how things were going at a Wizard World show. Most of the talk concerning Wizard these days is who’s been laid off, and the ratio of past to present Wizard employees we saw was four or five to one.
Marvel and DC declined to exhibit — although Dan DiDio was there, as were some Marvel editors, and the usual Marvel and DC news panels. (There was a LOT of programming, on multiple tracks.) The big publisher void left Dynamic Forces, Avatar and Aspen as the only real publishers at the show, and certainly the first two, at least, have outputs that are varied and have consistent enough quality to stand up to the spotlight. (And we’re not saying Aspen sucks, just that they have a more narrow focus.)
Elsewhere, though, the biggest booth was for Tonner Dolls and some T-shirt companies. Half of the front of the show was set up for old wrestlers (including an alarmingly tobacco-colored Jerry Lawler and nerdlebrities like Kristanna Loken and Ted Raimi.) The old wrestlers seemed kind of sad until we realized that at least they were alive and mobile.
Which is sort of the way to view the whole Philly experience.
When we alighted from the $8 bus from Chinatown we were instantly reminded of how much we like the venue for this show — the awesome Reading Terminal market across the street is a one way ticket to fat bastardry, although it will be a lovely trip, with farm fresh cheeses and sausage, gyros, fish tacos, an oyster bar and fresh peach bread pudding. Philly’s Chinatown is next door for cheap, tasty group dinners; one of the con hotels is a historic landmark; there are good clubs and bars a short walk away…it’s a fun place to spend a short weekend.
Given the Wizard organization’s well publicized personnel downsizings, it was a pleasant surprise to see so many attendees at the show on Saturday. (The other two days, traditional ghost towns, upheld that tradition from what we heard.) PR from Wizard pegs attendance as 30,000 — it wasn’t that many, perhaps a third of that, but the crowd was encouragingly diverse. Lots of parents with young kids dressed as their favorite characters, girls and boys. The girls in particular were notably adorable and enthusiastic…oh Marvel and DC, when are you going to figure out that this is an audience that can only grow?
While we saw only a handful of familiar faces from those left at Wizard, a staff of hired help at the press and guests desks were very friendly and helpful, as always. Over-zealous security was guarding the separate entrance and exit lines to the show as if it was the line for Hall H — at one point we were yelled at for going the wrong way when we were already through a completely empty door — but it’s hard to fault organizers for being organized.
It’s unfortunate that the news everyone was talking about was a former Wizard employee set up in Artist Alley being kicked out, ostensibly for representing the rival Long Beach Comic Con. Considering the job attrition in the magazine business that we saw four or five former Wizard employees for every current Wizard employee, it is not surprising that former employees might seek employment with other, related ventures. It’s also worth remembering that while Wizard has been beset by perceived “competition” from the Long Beach show (itself replacing a show that Wizard canceled) and Reed’s C2E2 show in Chicago, it was Wizard who, years ago, began a more aggressive slate of setting Philly against Heroes Con, and moving the Chicago show closer to San Diego. Wizard has never been shy about taking on the competition, but if you dish it out, you have to take it, too.
Despite what several people reading this are thinking, it’s not our intention to bury Wizard World Philly, or the good people still working at Wizard — we have friends who still work there, and we want them to keep their employment. In a troubled business in an already troubled economy, it’s hard to keep the enthusiasm level up. And that sense of cruise control was all over.
Well, don’t take our word for it. Here’s some other voices. Pink Raygun:
Really, Wizard World? $30 for convention hall that’s only half filled? Many of the con-goers on the floor suspect that this will be the last WW Philly and Wizard was trying to take the geeks for all we’re worth.
Local artist Mike Manley has a typically blunt report, but even he can’t call up too much energy to diss the show.
Now I’m sure there were people who were doing great, every show has somebody who did great, I just didn’t see or talk to any of them. Now I know Wizard as a company has been facing hard times, laying off many staffers and I think that might have a lot to do with the poor advertising of the show in the greater Philadelphia area and the feeling of disconnect. The crowd was the smallest this year it has ever been,I’d say 10,000 tops, I’m sure the Heroes Con drew away many pros, the crappy weather kept people at home, it rained like hell on Saturday morning, the economy is also having an effect, but in the end I think Wizard just didn’t do all they could have done and the fact is there are so many shows now, shows are not special any more.
A copy of Lauren Weinstein’s Girl Stories (only 4 bucks!), a copy of Let’s Hit the Road – a roadtrip book by Rich Tommaso I’d never heard of – for only $4, the first two issues of Comic Book Comics at Ryan and Ben’s recommendation for a quarter each and a copy of the newest issue of Twisted Toyfare Theater from my friend, and Toyfare editor, Justin Aclin (Volume 10 is out in July, people!). Also pictured up there is the show’s con program with a pretty little cover by Joe Quesada.
And just so you remember, it’s always somebody’s first time. And there were local artists on the scene, like Christine Larsen, above, being enthusiastic and forward looking.
But you could find empty patches of concrete everywhere. Wizard’s own booth was deserted all day Friday. Saturday it was empty except for a security guard posted in front of the oddly displayed WATCHMEN covers, and girls who found the mostly vacant booth a fine place to sit down, rest and read comics. It was a fitting metaphor for the fortunes of the Wizard empire — an audience they once actively excluded has now taken over squatter’s rights on their abandoned real estate.
Everyone we talked to seemed to think that this would be the last Wizard World Philly, but there’s no evidence we can see for that. Given the attendance and number of exhibitors, it’s unlikely the show tanked, and seems to have enough momentum to keep going. Another rumor of a different convention entity buying the show also made the rounds–Wizard getting out of the convention business entirely seems to be an even more popular notion, although morning’s news that Gareb Shamus has purchased the Paradise Comic-Con in Toronto would indicate that they are very much still in the convention business.
But whether there’s another show in Philly or not, no one’s going to get worked up about it. No one’s really going to care much one way or another. And that should be very worrying for Gareb Shamus and all his future convention plans.