Home Conventions Gareb Shamus on Wizard convention plan

Gareb Shamus on Wizard convention plan


Matthew J. Brady over at Indie Pulp actually bagged Wizard owner Gareb Shamus for an interview and asked all the questions a lot of us have been wondering about, like why is it called a Comic-Con when it’s really a media stars con? Shamus has a lot of answers for everything, but doesn’t even seem to be saying that comics are a focus of the Wizard shows any more:

“When you look at how comicbooks or the characters pervaded the media, they’ve become celebrities themselves. They’ve become movie stars; they’ve become television stars; they’ve become video game stars or toy stars. So when you look at people, and how they’ve come to know Spider-Man, or Batman, or Star Wars, ten years ago, fifteen years ago, twenty years ago, they may have only known Spider-Man through a comicbook or maybe an animated show or something like that. But today, hundreds of millions of people know Spider-Man through the movies, not by reading a comicbook. So what we’ve been able to do is create a really amazing pop culture focus to the show, so that no matter how you enjoy these characters, this is a place to come together to find them.”

When asked about the absence of comics publishers, Shamus states that “we invite the comics industry. You can ask them why they may or may not go to shows, but at the end of the day, we bring the fans.”

Over at Bleeding Cool, Rich Johnston argues that the media-focused brand of “comic-con” is actually an area of potential growth for comics publishers:

Wizard have taken lessons from San Diego but have clearly tried not to emulate that beast. They are going on their own way, creating a large national chain of comic conventions that’s servicing a local population that can’t make it to the bigger shows – but also injecting them with stars of stage and screen to bring in a new audience. I firmly believe that it is up to publishers to realise this, and find ways to attend more of these shows. Because that’s what Wizard World is doing, finding new audiences and creating potential comic book readers and bringing them to the shows. And it’s an audience that publishers can and should be on hand to woo.

I used to be a real comic convention snob. It took the MCM London Expos to knock that out of me, and I’m starting to realise that my expectations and experiences are not shared by the vast majority of the population and that an increased numbers of Wizard World style conventions will increase the acceptability and appeal of comics to a population, even if that population is only on hand to see Xander and Spike. It is evangelistic, it is social engineering, it is marketing. Wizard World Chicago is not a show I’d recommend to international visitors, or people trying to break into comics. But for locals, coming for one, maybe even two days, it should be a blast. And, hey, comics!

I’d argue that the focus on celebrities past and present at Wizard/Creation shows is not driving attention to the comics publishers who do exhibit at these shows, so without some kind of support — even Shamus says that the reason there was such minimal comics programming is because attendees weren’t interested in it — it might not be a cost-effective marketing push.

Back in the day, Creation Cons were the big national chain of comic book shows. But then they evolved into media-only shows, with special brands or horror, or Star Trek or Twilight or Xena and so on — these days, Creation has NOTHING to do with the comic-con business.

My own thought is that I have no beef with Wizard evolving their shows any way they want to make money. But I think their use of the word “comic-con” is hijacking its original meaning.

What do YOU think? Are media cons good exposure for comics?


  1. “What do YOU think? Are media cons good exposure for comics?”

    Ask how many twilighters even glanced at a comic at San Diego last year. I have friends who have NO interest in comics planning their SDCC trips because they want to see celebrities, get the free/exclusive swag, and be part of the hype. I doubt they’ll even wonder through artist alley or BUY a comic.

  2. Rich Johnson does have a point. While Wizard Cons may be off putting to comic readers, well because its Wizard and Shamus, they are gearing the shows more towards pop culture and bringing in an entirely new audience.

    The industry is always seeking new readers ass demonstrated all year long with all their publicity/media stunts so it stands to reason that this audience would be exactly what publishers are looking for.

    The other side of this is that there already ‘are’ comic dealers at the show and the dealers claim very low sales. So, even with minimalist exposure, this new audience doesn’t seem to be interested.

    What it boils down to is quality of product: the industry is losing their already built in audience due to low quality product. And if your loyal customers aren’t tolerating low quality product, chances are, new readers aren’t going to be interested either.

  3. Rich says “Because that’s what Wizard World is doing, finding new audiences and creating potential comic book readers and bringing them to the shows. And it’s an audience that publishers can and should be on hand to woo.”

    I think the premise for his argument is quite faulty. The audiences coming to these has-been-media-“stars” shows are not interested in comics, and no amount of wooing by publishers will change that. They are there to meet that one chick who played a Jedi in that one Star Wars prequel, or the Soup Nazi, or whoever. They couldn’t care less about the theory of good storytelling, or how to create digital artwork for a webcomic, or the history of comics censorship.

    It’s like throwing a giant beach party with live music and dancing girls, and then saying “you know who should setup a booth here? Construction companies! because sometimes they use sand and these people are all here obviously because they love sand.”

  4. The idea is that people are going to go in order to meet Gil Gerrard and will suddenly fall in love with comics? It’s a pretty weak premise.

    I think, rather, that you’ll see smaller artist alley’s with mostly regional artists and more and more “celebrities” and non-comic dealers.

    Remember, Wizard doesn’t care about advancing comics as a medium and, yah, I think that using “comic-con is absurd.

    I went to Wizard Toronto and “comics” had a very very small presence when compared to the celebs, skanks and wrestlers.

  5. I love going to conventions, signing books, talking to people, doing sketches, and selling artwork. . .but the original impetus behind comic conventions has become somewhat outmoded.

    You don’t have to get a plane ticket, hotel, laminated badge and then stand in line to be in contact with the people who make the stuff you like. . .the internet makes it totally possible.

    There’s still an imaginary velvet curtain around celebrities, though–why in the world anyone would pay for the momentary pleasure of shaking Margot Kidder’s hand and getting a photo taken is beyond me (and I really like Margot Kidder, by the way–I think she’s great in the first Superman movie and never gets any credit for how vulnerable and believable she was).

  6. “We invite the comics industry. You can ask them why they may or may not go to shows.”

    We already know the answer. Publishers got tired of the way they were being treated by Wizard, especially during the days that Shamus was trying to promote his fight group. Publishers pulled out because WIZARD was moving the show away from comics, not the attendees. Or what about the inflating of Artist Alley table costs? Wizard used to give tables away for free or at a discount. Then they changed tactics and began charging anywhere from 300 to 400 depending on the city or who you were.

    “but also injecting them with stars of stage and screen to bring in a new audience. I firmly believe that it is up to publishers to realise this, and find ways to attend more of these shows. Because that’s what Wizard World is doing, finding new audiences and creating potential comic book readers and bringing them to the shows. And it’s an audience that publishers can and should be on hand to woo.”

    Ok – I usually defend Rich when people say he does more harm than good or when they say he’s correct only 20% of the time. But that above paragraph is complete bull. What “new audience” gives one flying fig about has-been actors? Your lead “attraction” hasn’t been in his role for over thirty years. And then you back it up with an alleged political crook that gets booed when his name is announced? A parent might bring their child to meet Adam West or Brent Spiner, but that in NO WAY translates into “potential comic reader”. Come on Rich. Pick up your Wizard shill card. It fell out of your pocket three paragraphs back.

    Come on Beat – get in the mix. You say you have all these connections – get DC and Marvel to talk – get a real answer why they won’t attend Wizard. Which will never happen because no one wants to be perceived as the bad guy. Not bloggers, not publishers, and not creators.

    So in the end Gareb wins. And we’re all worse off for it.

  7. I’m seeing a whole lot of people that don’t want to admit a bunch of science fiction fans are willing to wander through artist’s alley and maybe buy a couple things.

    Seriously. I think that’s what happened.

  8. I’ve been around long enough to see the Black and White comics boom and bust, the Image and Valiant boom and bust, and the rise and fall of pogs.

    I’ve also seen the dot com boom and bust, and the real estate bubble.

    This convention boom going on right now is just another crazy fad, like those mentioned above. It will keep getting bigger ’till it pops. It’s not a question of IF, but WHEN.

  9. I see Rich’s point about bringing in new blood and that publishers and artists might be missing an opportunity to reach out to a new audience. Yet at the same time it’s also up to the convention, not just the crowd, if the comics side gets a fair share of attention. I’m not sure one way or another if Wizard’s cons have done that for comics. Then again I am suspicious they have not after their whole turning their magazine into a men’s mag for a short time. Though I gave up on the rag long before that.

    I attended the first and last Wizard World Boston. I thought it was pretty good as a comic fan. Then again it was maybe my first more comic con. Boston Comic Con proper has grown nicely. Okay maybe a bit too fast as most of my friends couldn’t get into the damn thing, but growing pains are expected. I’m tempted to give Wizard World New Engald in Boston a shot depending on who they get and even moreso if friends want to go. Plus I like the Hynes site better than the waterfront location Boston Comic Con was at.

  10. The *theory* is sound on the surface, but it generally doesn’t execute that way.

    Conventions charge for people to get in. People who pay to attend are already die hard fans who know what they want. Nobody pays money to be preached at about stuff they aren’t already interested in.

    Now if publishers were there handing out free comics to those people while they stand in lines, then it might be an effective outreach. Especially if it brings people back to their booth were they could buy something. Also helping would be having the comic book shop locator service URL in with the books.

  11. You can put comics content in your pop-culture convention, but that doesn’t mean any of the comic content will make an impression. Or stick. Or be noticed.

    If other people can get traction, more power to them, but there’s no way on earth that another Wizard show will be worth the time/expense/etc on my end, at least in terms of getting an alley table and setting up there.

  12. Those stories about vendors not doing well? Chalk it up to unappealing merchandise from those particular dealers. Because the guy who runs my LCS had a $400 sale from one customer in the first five minutes of the show, and another dealer I know sold 12 longboxes of books to someone else. People were buying — if you had what they wanted.

  13. Calling a pop culture convention a “comic con” is like calling a music festival a “jazz fest.” Every year there’s a big jazz fest by the river here in Red Bank. I walked over once, and heard some R&B, a cover of a Peter Gabriel tune, and some reggae, but no actual jazz. Seems jazz fests around the country are similar. I noticed a few years ago in the NY Times a story about Neil Young playing Jazz Fest in New Orleans; I couldn’t help thinking Neil could play anywhere in the world and draw a good sized crowd — why did he feel the need to play rock at an event so clearly labeled “jazz?” And what of those who went to the show expecting to hear jazz — aren’t they increasingly disappointed as less and less jazz is offered at something called a jazz fest?

    Maybe that’s where we’re at with “comic” cons. Maybe we don’t know what to call these events that once catered to comics fans, but have grown beyond the niche market of comic fans. Maybe we should call them Nerd Con or Douche Fest. Have you seen the photos from Comic Con over the past few years? Sure looks like it could be called the San Diego Douche Fest to me.

    I first exhibited at San Diego in the old building in 89. I really don’t recall any dorks wearing costumes. The event was small, friendly, manageable, accessible, and reasonably priced. Today, I doubt I could get a booth without being on a waiting list for several years. And for what? To be overshadowed by huge media companies? Why are comic creators even participating in these shows?

    Perhaps smaller comic conventions or comic gatherings will emerge. Splinter groups arise in most scenes, and comics is due for a major change in it’s get-togethers. Maybe comics fading at the cons in a purely Darwinian process — supplanted by other forms of entertainment media that are more appealing than comics. Maybe it’s just a culture shift, maybe it’s because kids don’t read comics and we’ve now run out kids who’ve grown into adults who are nostalgic for comics. Perhaps it’s just impermanence; that all things have a life, a cycle, and eventually disappears.

  14. Here’s teh thing. There were hundreds of comic creators showing and selling their work at the show. Including J Scott Campbell, Ethan Van Sciver, Bill Sienkiewicz, Joe Mad, Mike Grell, Greg Horn, Brian Azzarello, Jill Thompson, etc etc etc. It had a bigger Artists Alley than San Diego. That’s a comic convention, whatever else is going on. The abscence of the exclusive Diamond publishers does not change that.

  15. “A parent might bring their child to meet Adam West or Brent Spiner, but that in NO WAY translates into “potential comic reader”.”

    Balls. You just have to have something on hand that might appeal to them when they walk past.

    MCM London Expo is a great example of this. Publishers here are changing the comics they offer to appeal to this new audience.

  16. As far as content goes, how is Wizard World any different than the San Diego Comic-Con? Both cons have a massive amount of non-comics programing.

    The only real difference that I can see is that SDCC is set up as a non-profit, tax-free entity that exists for the purpose of educating the public about comic books, raking in millions of dollars in tax-free profits in the process.

    WW isn’t a non-profit. WW isn’t a tax-free entity. It pays taxes on the profits it makes, assuming of course it makes a profit.

  17. 1) Maggie Thompson found lots of cheap comics she remembered from her childhood, had to run back to her hotel room for more cash, and ended spending $250 at Wizard World Chicago Comic-Con.

    2) Online, I’ve heard that some people did quite well in Artists Alley. I think that’s the most important comics aspect of any local show. The “innocents” come to meet celebrities, see the Batmobile, and when they’ve done everything else, they wander along the dealers and artists tables.

    It’s at the artists tables where ordinary people can meet the people making comics, and be “seduced” by talking with professionals. Maybe a kid (like me) sees Spider-Man on TV, discovers a writer or artist who was also a Spider-Man fan as a kid making comics, who is now living the dream. That inspiration is important for the future of the art form.

    3) When I was a kid, circa 1978, the local TV station ran the old Batman show. So the annual auto show that year brought in the Batmobile and Adam West. I wasn’t a fan of comics back then, it was just another part of childhood. I still have that autographed photo somewhere…

    This is just another variation on the auto/boat/home/garden/craft shows that tour the country. Some are local, some are national. They bring in the general populace looking for something to do on the weekend, something different, which doesn’t require a two-hour drive or a lot of money.

    4) Growing up in Omaha, reading comics religiously in 1984, I YEARNED to attend one of those Creation Cons I saw advertised in the Marvel Mart! Occasionally a local mall would have a collectibles dealer show, or the local SF con would bring in a comics GoH. If a show as bare-bones as Wizard had arrived in the late 80s, I would have been camping out!

    5) As easy as it is to find stuff online, there’s something about going to a show, and finding some a cheap $2 Treasure Chest or Gold Key issue with a crazy story or cool art inside. The joy of serendipity, fueled with the realization that you might never find it again, makes for a great show.

    There’s no “book of the con” because if you ask a handful of fans, they’ll each have a different book.

    6) Even though I had attended numerous Big Apple shows (including the first Church Con, and the one Evan Dorkin lacerated), last year’s BIG Apple Comic-Con was disappointing. The one day ticket was too expensive, the ticket booth was in a building detached from the show floor (during a cold rainy October day) and the space was not adequately heated. I did find some cool stuff, but this year I’ll save that money for NYCC the week after.

    Good luck to Wizard World.
    I hope they succeed.

  18. As much as I’ve ragged on Wizard World, Johnston does have a good point. More publishers and creators should be looking at ways to use this show as a resource. They”d have to change their marketing strategy. Usually they are dealing with a comic book audience, not memorabilia fans.

    Of possible consideration- At the Wizard Philly show this year I noticed a lot of folks in the Artists Alley were doing well selling original prints of established characters. What with silk screening being the hip trend du jour, the print market is growing it seems.

  19. Rick: >>>As far as content goes, how is Wizard World any different than the San Diego Comic-Con? Both cons have a massive amount of non-comics programing.

    SDCC has a MASSIVE amount of comics programming. WWCCC does not.

  20. What types of comics programming would be suited for people who aren’t comics fans, or at least familiar with the comics format? I’d think that tutorials on how to read comics books or on the basics of superhero mythology would be better suited for a classroom than for a convention panel.


  21. Regarding the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (which started in 1970, the same year as San Diego Comic-Con): It is an event with multiple stages with different themes, all with musical acts playing all day, over two consecutive weekends. Stages are devoted to traditional jazz, modern jazz, cajun/zydeco, country/bluegrass, gospel music, blues, world music, etc. There are two big stages that feature well-known national acts, for those attendees who want to see the “big names” like a Neil Young, but most of the other stages feature Louisiana and other regional acts. Oh, and there is also a crafts fair and a food festival and educational sessions, and people can buy CDs. Attendees come from all over the world. So, no. it’s not just “jazz,” but jazz is the centerpiece (just like comics are the centerpiece of Comic-Con).

  22. I know for certain that I sold comics to Star Trek fans who were wandering through AA to see what it was about, and who liked the pitch I was giving about my books. In several cases, they were buying books for the kids with them.

  23. My brother, who is a comics fan, goes to WWCCC because it’s “in his neighborhood.” He’s been going for 10 years now, and has always had a good time. He says he avoids most of the celebrity stuff, definitely avoids the non-comicss stuff, and spends a lot of time in Artist Alley. This may not be the best kind of comic con around, but it has its appeal.

  24. If you are a real comic book fan, C2E2 blew this away. Unfortunately, so many people living around Chicago are afraid of the city and didn’t show up.

    While there were some comic creators, as I walked up and down the aisle in Artist Alley, I kept on saying to myself, “Who are these people?” While I’m sure some are up-and-coming and in the next few years their names will be recognizable, for now, I didn’t really see many big names.

    More surprising is that there were several artists who come every year that weren’t there.

    It was a great show for celebrity autographs and a bad show for comic creators.

  25. “Balls. You just have to have something on hand that might appeal to them when they walk past.”

    You’re assuming way too much here.

    First, you’re assuming the parent even READS comics in the first place. Second, you’re assuming that “something on hand” is easy to find among porn alley, among the people selling shirts, swords and tacky art frames, among the artists that only do cheesecake (or worse), etc. etc. And third, you’re assuming that, when you actually reach the comics, that the parent or non-comic book reader will even want to approach the hungry-eyed artist/creator desperately trying to make back their table money with a project no one would recognize in the first place.

    Let’s not kid ourselves here. You can whitewash the guest list with Van Sciver, McKone, Calafiore, etc all you want. They are at EVERY Wizard show. Big deal. There is no middle ground. After “the guests”, it’s all local creators who are trying their best but aren’t going to convert non-readers to suddenly by hundreds, even tens, of dollars each week at a local comic shop.

    These shows are flea markets for shoppers and petting zoos for people wanting to see has-been celebrities. Nothing more, nothing less.

  26. Well, I think many of us have a pre-conceived notion of what a great comic book show it was in the past. I’ve been going for more than a decade but I don’t think it’s ever been better than the early years of the decade, it’s just… different now. Differently focused… I think most people are upset that the different focus is at the expense of the comics elements. That’s the feedback I got on the floor.

    It is completely conceivable to have a major multi-genre, multi-media show and keep the focus on different genres equal and strong. I go to San Diego and I generally ignore the non-comics stuff and have a great time. I was at Chicago Comic-Con last weekend and spent most of my time visiting retailers and seeing some of the guests I knew.

    I agree, Rich, while there was a huge artist alley, there were a relatively small number of recognizable pro guests. 90% self-published creators and craft makers in Chicago vs. 90% established professionals in San Diego is an unorthodox comparison — that’s bums in seats vs. whose butts are in the seats. The smaller number gave more attention to the ones that were there, but I think because it was smaller than previous years it was a bit of a let down.

    Anyway, I’ve got to get back to work on my comics focused area with a giant multi-genre, multi-media show that is happening this weekend… Fan Expo Canada. I think we pull it off – we have plenty of comics programming and publisher support. But I’ll be interested to read the reports next week.

  27. RCheli and Mikael: Although the exhibitors in Artist Alley may not have been to your tastes, they were to many, many people. I know at least four relatively unknown creators (myself included) who sold at least 100 copies of their books to fans who were happy to buy them. They might not know our names as quickly as Miller, Bendis or Eisner, but hopefully they’ll dig our work when they get home.

  28. Russell, I think it is great that the show worked out well for you. But, correct me if I’m wrong, this was the first convention where there wasn’t a lot of comic book content in the programming. If that is the case, I think you might have benefited from a bunch of people in attendance that wouldn’t have bought tickets if they realized how bereft of comic book programming the show would be. I’d hazard a guess that next year could potentially see less success for those in artist alley.

    I think retailers have already reported much less success this year than last, but I could be wrong. If they stop attending in such force, too, then it would either drop the number of comic-book-focused attendees and hurt you or keep more money in the pockets of those attendees to be spent at your table. I’d put money on the former, rather than the latter.

  29. Kevin:

    Thank you, and great question.

    Last year there was minimal panel activity, too. And I think the year before was even scaled back when compared to years past.

    My thought on the show was this: Without Marvel/DC booths up front that would’ve captivated fans all weekend, those fans wandered back to AA and spent some money.

  30. My husband and I attended the CCC this year. It was his 6th WW con and my 5th. We’ve gone to Anaheim, Philly, and Chicago. This year we spent a lot more money on art work and comics than ever before. I don’t think that was because we weren’t interested in the media guests (I’m a HUGE Star Trek fan, so Philly & Chicago were awesome for me this year), but rather because over the course of our adventures to the cons, we’ve become more interested in the “unknowns.”

    We started a tradition of walking AA first thing as soon as we get there on Day 1 (we go the whole weekend). We look at each artist’s displays, sometimes making a 2nd round if it seems like several of them aren’t in that early. After we’ve found an artist with a style we like, we go in for the kill and request a commission. Only once have we been declined and that was because the guy admitted he wasn’t that great at sketching because he’s a colorist.

    Another piece to that is checking out the original stories from some of the comic book creators that aren’t affiliated with the Big Boys. My husband is currently getting his degree in game design & development, and plans to start his own studio. We look for stories that seem like they might have game play value. It’s been so awesome talking with the creators about how they developed their stories and worked their way through the process of getting their book put together and on the table for us to buy. Some day, these creators will be called with a business proposition to turn their stories into a game.

    I once heard someone say if you’re only going to a comic book convention to see the celebrities, then you have no business being there. I don’t necessarily agree with that completely (to an extent, but not completely). I’ve read a lot of reviews that talk about how some of the celebs were sitting bored at their booths, almost with looks of desperation on their faces. Let the folks that was to meet them come on in! At least then they won’t feel/look so lonely. So let’s say someone wants to come and see a “has-been,” and say that someone has kids (big or small) that come along for the ride. Right there you’ve just doubled the exposure. We’ve always taken our kids to the cons and this year they were so excited that we bought them their very own comics to read.

    Another of the great elements we experienced was perusing for back issues. It was fantastic! I will say though that we would have spent A LOT more money than we did if a few more of the retailers would have accepted credit cards. One guy alone lost a sale that probably would’ve been around $150.

    I’ve totally enjoyed my experience with WW and it actually makes me a little sad that some folks out there haven’t. We’ve gotten to know a few of the top dogs for the show and they’re really nice folks. They work hard. You try making thousands of people happy all at the same time and tell me how that works out for you. There will always be people that have to complain about some thing or another. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read all your comments and can see what you’re saying and why you’re saying it. The biggest issue I’ve noticed though is that most of the people that aren’t happy with where the “comic con” trend is going are the people that are upset because it’s changing. Everything changes. Everything. Period. You can’t expect something to stay the same over the course of a decade or two or three. Life changes, technology changes, clothing style changes, trends change, music changes (look at all the auto tune being used these days!). It’s not fair to the cons to expect them to stay behind with you. Accept the change, or stop going and please don’t whine about it while the rest of us enjoy our time and money spent at the next WW con.

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