Yesterday’s revelation that the Wizard World LA convention has been postponed — only five weeks away from its original Sept. 24-25 dates — was just the latest strange twist in the last real outpost of Con Wars: the SoCal market of LA, Anaheim and Los Angeles. As detailed in this CBR piece from May, three cons in a three-month period — WWLA in September, the Long Beach Comic-Con in October and the new Comikaze event in November — left an already tough market swamped.
The LA show was originally announced in April , following on the heels of Wizard’s Anaheim Comic-Con. As recently as the end of July, guests were being announced. So the postponement caught everyone by surprise. Con-promoter Shawn Marshall tweeted:
I’ve heard several of the exhibitors signed-up for LA @WizardWorld have still not been informed about the show’s cancellation #frustrating
@JimmySJay Yeah, hate to see cancellations.Also, if @WizardWorld needs to cancel they should do better than just changing show date to TBD
My money’s on @ComikazeExpo & @LongBeach_CC RT @MikeRoe: Wizard World L.A.’s been canceled? Sad. Any big L.A. area cons coming up?
@MikeRoe I have very high hopes for it. Their approach reminds me of @PhoenixComicon & I love what they’ve become #fingerscrossed
@GeekyRockChick Haven’t seen anything more than them changing status to TBD. They’re not answering questions #poorcustomerservice
Artist Ande Parks was also caught by surprise:
So, Wizard pulls the plug on the LA show, just five weeks out, after inviting me and inducing my purchase of a non-refundable room?
An official date for the show hasn’t been announced or alluded to — so perhaps it is all a misunderstanding and the show will go on. However, LA is just a problematic place to throw a comics convention — Wizard itself already pulled out in 2009, while announcing a few attempts at trying again and then calling them off. And you’ll all recall the devastating travesty that was the Reality Rock Expo, a barely attended pseudo-nerdlebrity fest at the LA Convention Center in April. This is a tough facility in a tough market.
The piece by Josie Campbell from CBR we mentioned earlier, has more background on the SoCal gang rumble:
Of course, the elephant in the room is Wizard World’s LA Comic Con. Announced directly on the heels of its April Anaheim Comic Con, the move took everyone by surprise — including Donato and Carpinelli.
“We had everything booked and as far as our knowledge, the only conventions in Los Angeles was us and then the show in Long Beach. It was a shock,” said Carpinelli.
Judging by the April announcement, Wizard has given itself just five months to pull their LA convention together, an ambitious task in light of Wizard’s prior failure hosting a Los Angeles convention. Originating their show in Long Beach, Wizard moved to the LA Convention Center in 2005, only to cancel the event altogether in 2009 (though it was officially listed as “postponed,” not cancelled). Wizard has also been known in the past to schedule their events weeks before or at the same time as their competitors, the most recent example taking place in 2009 when Wizard announced its Big Apple Con as running week prior to New York Comic Con while scheduling their 2010 Big Apple Con on the same weekend as NYCC (eventually Wizard rescheduled and the two avoided further conflict). There have also been persistent rumors that before the LA Comic Con announcement, Wizard tried to book rooms at the Long Beach Convention Center in a move that would have brought them in direct competition with LBCC, though representatives from Long Beach Convention Center stated that they have no bookings for Wizard at this time. But while the timing and place is a surprise, Wizard’s goal to expand into new cities is not groundbreaking news — at least not to Donato.
Donato is a former Wizard employee, and some think that helps account for the fierce competition over the territory.
Despite any grumbling about potential LA shows, the just-concluded Chicago Comic-Con, also thrown by Wizard, was a success as far as crowds and sales go. Retailer/convention promoter Jimmy Jay has a detailed, knowledgable account:
Make no bones about it, what Wizard does best is that they get bodies in the door. It might be argued that this is their driving force above and beyond, at the sacrifice of not satisfying long term clients/exhibitors, or chasing talent in hopes to get them to headline their events. My point is that Chicago was PACKED with fans: a dense Thursday Preview Night to Big Full day Friday, to a MONSTROUS Saturday, and a Motivated Sunday. Their event in Chicago has a high rate of returning attendees as this summer convention has become a tradition, tracing its roots even BEFORE Wizard purchased the Chicago Con in the late 90s. Wizard has also mastered selling the COMIC CON moniker to the masses, a point that i have explored before.
It is definitely becoming more of an autograph show, though:
The vendor area was SLIGHTLY smaller in years past. Not the number of retailers per se, but the amount of booths each took. Example, local power house chain Graham Crackers would take 12 or more booths in previous years, but were down to 4. Another unnamed modern retailer who took 3 booths in previous years, was down to a single corner. Another reason for the shrinking number of booths might be the increased prices Wizard charges to display. On the face value, prices are far more than most regional shows, and its debatable whether the increase in attendance balances this out . Perhaps another contributing factor to the decrease in dealer booths is the close scheduling of Fan Expo in Toronto, and Baltimore Comic Con too, in successive weeks. While fans are not affected by a busy August, vendors are forced to pick and choose where they put their time and resources.
TimeOut Chicago wrapped up the show — it seems that nerdlebrities really go to have a good time and meet their heroes:
One of the day’s most anticipated events was a panel that reunited the five original child stars of 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Peter Ostrum (Charlie Bucket), Paris Themmen (Mike Tee Vee), Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt), Denise Nickerson (Violet Beauregard) and Michael Boellner (Augustus Gloop) recounted their experiences filming the now 40-year-old classic while answering questions from the crowd. The group seemed genuinely taken aback by the interest the film continues to generate even forty years after it’s release. Cole revealed that Billy Corgan (appearing at the convention to promote Resistance Pro Wrestling) had requested a photo with the group, and that in the past the group had rubbed shoulders with the likes of Marilyn Manson and *NSYNC. Other topics touched upon included the edibility of the candy in the movie (just about everything except the snozberry wallpaper) and the actors who portrayed the Oompa Loompas (big partiers). It was also made abundantly clear that none of the original cast seemed to be big fans of Tim Burton’s take on the Wonka tale.
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.