We Sent Our Jaded Comic Con Expert to Wizard World Philly…

Philadelphia_Convention_Center Grand Hall…and he had a good time!

I attended my first Wizard World convention when most people did… in 1997, when Wizard had purchased the venerable Chicago Comic Con, and attendance was 5,000.

Later, I checked out the “Con War” edition of Wizard World New York in 2009. I hadn’t been to any others, partly because Wizard World shows had a horrible reputation back then, and partly because they weren’t nearby.

That changed this year, when a friend decided to go to Wizard World Philly and get a room at the local Marriott. Many of my Facebook fans who attended as professionals had posted nice things on their pages, and I figured, at the very least, I’d hang out with my friends, explore the convention center, eat some cheesesteak, maybe buy some comics.


My mileage:

  • The show isn’t worth $100 (admission plus service fee) for four days.
  • The convention center is A-MAZ-ING.
  • I got lost in the neighborhood… even with City Hall and Reading Terminal acting as nearby landmarks.
  • Downtown Philadelphia, especially Jefferson Station, reminded me of a European city, even more than Boston.
  • WaWa is where I’m eating breakfast whenever I’m in Philly.
  • Jim’s South cheesesteak is overrated. (No seasoning on the meat.)
  • If you’re a celebrity charging big bucks for a personal photograph, you shouldn’t dress like some guy in a bar.
  • It was nice staying in a hotel for a change. (The Marriott, sort of connected to, but distant from, the convention center.)
  • Herr’s is the regional brand of potato chips, but didn’t have my fave: ketchup available. The cheddar horseradish was excellent!

Specifics:

Wizard World Philadelphia used the entire second floor exhibit space, Halls A-E (528K sq.ft.). Most of it was not carpeted, and even on Saturday, with a busy crowd, it was easy to move around.

WWP is a dealer show with celebrity guests. (Or is it a celebrity show with retailers?) While there were some prominent comics creators in Artist Alley, the comics programming seemed a bit lacking. (I did attend an informative panel on why 1966 was such an important year for comics!) AA was also a bit sparse, but the spread was good… professionals, poster print artists, fan artists, and sculptors.

The dealers were good overall. I was on a tight budget, so I didn’t go searching for much stuff. Instead, I hung out with my friend who was looking for stuff for himself and relations, and I helped curate a few issues for him. Best deal: Secret Origins Batman Special, $1. Worth it if only for the Neil Gaiman Riddler story! We also found what seemed to be some guy’s personal Carnal Comics collection… almost every issue, many of them signed, $5 each. He also got a copy of Black Kiss 2 signed by Howard Chaykin (found in a 50% bin).

The best thing about WWP: the “placemat” program guide. One side contained the schedule for two days of programming, and the other side displayed the show floor, and directory of exhibitors. Fold it into eighths, stick it in my back pocket, and it was more handy than a program guide or fold-out map.

The convention center is fairly new… build in 1993, with the latest addition built from 2007-2011 at a cost of $700 Million. Slightly smaller than Javits (679K sq.ft exhibit : 840K), it feels very new, and there’s lots of public space so it doesn’t feel too crowded.

WWP used the top Terrace Ballroom for their big events; it seats 4700. It’s a good space, roomy, with good sight lines. If the show ever hits six figures, there’s a Hall F on the ground floor which can seat 9200. (And a Hall G which seats 2200.)

The old Reading Terminal next door was re-purposed for the Center. The street level is the Reading Terminal Market, in existence since 1891. I believe this is the reason the convention center food services were closed except on the show floor: you can spend the same amount of money at the Market, and get much better food. (I had baby back ribs from The Rib Stand: three ribs, side of mac and cheese, string beans, can of soda for $10.)

philadelphia convention center grand hall

Kinda looks like something at Six Flags, huh?

Up above the Market is the train shed of the Reading Railroad, where the tracks were elevated. That space is now occupied by two levels: the connection to the Marriott, where one enters the Grand Hall (featuring what looks like a Cirque du Soleil set); and a ballroom on the Third Level.

As you can see in the above picture, you have to walk three blocks all the way to the back of that hallway to get to the exhibit floor. If you don’t have your badge/wristband, you have to walk another five blocks to get to the box office! If you’ve got a wristband, you can re-enter from one of the side entrances, saving some time. Note: behind the ballroom on the third floor is the food court, with comfortable seating!

Overall, we had fun. The best part for me was the socializing, either on the con floor, or in a hotel room, or on the New Jersey/SEPTA train ride to and from New York. (Easy connections, about two-and-a-half hours, with the station connecting directly to the hotel and most buildings in the area.) My friends got one photo op with Christopher Lloyd and the DeLorean. Me… I’m kinda jaded…working retail in NYC, I’ve seen and helped many celebrities. I treat them like normal people, and I don’t think I’d ever plotz meeting one, let alone spend $100 for a few minutes of facetime. More likely, I’d love to spend a dinner talking with them, like an informal interview.

All four of us were finished by Sunday morning, and took the afternoon train back to the City.

I’d recommend buying a day ticket, do the show, then spend an additional day or two site-seeing. There’s lots of great art museums, history, and culture. It’s an easy city of walk around, and not as gentrified as New York. Lots of good food, as well!

But for me… most of what Wizard World Philadelphia offers, I can get at the East Coast Comic Con in the Meadowlands. Similar dealers, more comics guests, and a quick trip from Manhattan. If you’re in the Philly area, I’d recommend WWP. It’s a solid show, and Wizard seems to have figured it all out so there’s not a lot of confusion or complaints.

Will it ever be a big show? Probably not, as the latest union contract requires that large booths use union labor. (Labor costs were a big reason why the convention center lost a lot of business in the past.)


 

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