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The Philadelphia Experiment

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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.


Chris Mautner had an equally spiritless report. However, Rickey Purdin had a SWELL time:

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.

  1. Was it a convention special, or Heidi just used it because it’s a cool image? I admit ignorance to the shelf dates on the print magazine, forgive me if this is really old news that I’m just catching up on.

  2. Thanks for writing this up Heidi. I long to go to more conventions around the US and plan on figuring out a way to do it in the coming years. I LOVE Comic Con. but really feel the need to get back to comic book roots, and interact with my comic book piers. (SP?) It’s sad to hear that Philly didn’t go over that well, but at the same time I long for the days quieter days, like San Diego’s retailer convention, where you could walk right up to anyone and they had a goodly amount of time to get to know you, as you got to know them. There were in fact a couple of years where my best friend and I got to hang out with people like Mark Millar and Grant Morrison. Now you can’t even get close to them for the mobs. Not that they’d remember us after all these years, but man it was cool to hear how the first four issues of the JLA were going to go down before issue #1 was even out. Now it’s just a blur. I guess it’s feels that way on the internet, too. There’s so many people making noise, and jabbing each other with barbed sticks, so we’re all stirred up like angry hornets. Right now, that’s all I have, but that’s going to change. I need to feel more at ease with myself and my relation to all my friends in comics again. Which conventions are those? Those are the cons I want to go to.

  3. “Man, Ax (he of Demolition fame) has seen better days.”

    He should go back to appearing as the Masked Superstar.

    Demolition worked Chikara’s King of Trios last year and everyone popped huge for them as a nostalgia act. And when Larry Sweeney did the Strut off with their six-man partner The One Man Gang aka Akeem, the place went crazy.

  4. Wizard’s Chicago show leaves me depressed. Whereas any grocery store knows you put the most sought after stock in the back, forcing the customer to walk past stuff they think they don’t need and hoping to prompt an extra purchase or two, Wizard just dumps all the big stuff in front, turning the back end of their shows into a wasteland where few venture and those that do are hoping to see a mainstream artist in Artist Alley, ignoring everything else. Despite being in big cities with large indy comics audiences and many indy creators and shops, Wizard shows ignore that part of the market while focusing more on wrestling and B-movie & 70s TV celebs/has beens. For a while that was good enough but the audience has changed and the market has changed while Wizard clings to the corpse of its long-dead lover hoping for another bit of action. Every Wizard show seems to feature the exact same guest list- is it any wonder people no longer think their shows are must-attend events? When you can read what Joe Q said at a panel 5 minutes after it happened (if it even takes that long) then why would a typical fan boy shell out the big bucks to attend? And when they ignore the indy, web, children and manga crowds those people don’t bother to come either- so what are you left with? About as many fans as Wizard has people on staff, it seems.

  5. It’s nice to see the fawning and love affair with the Obamas isn’t going to go away for awhile. They have done some amazing things to turn the country around, haven’t they? I think Heidi and Spencer (from The Hills) should run for president next, I think that would go over really well. I think they would reach a similar audience, and have just as much success. Wouldn’t they look smashing on the cover of Wizturd magazine? Wait, I just had another thought… how about John & Kate plus 8, I think they would make good presidents too!

  6. Lawler was an illustrator when he broke into wrestling in the 1970s. He would send drawing of the workers into the TV studio in Memphis where the show was filmed. This led him getting into the business and the rest is history.

    If memory serves, he also drew one of Mick Foley’s books that wasn’t drawn by today’s featured BEAT subject Jill Thompson.

  7. The biggest reason that this show has lost energy was the silly, stupid decision to run it opposite the Heroes Con show in Charlotte. If that doesn’t happen next year, this show could return to prominence. But if it doesn’t, I can’t see that this show will survive.

    I had fun. I told Dan Didio on Saturday that “Battle For The Cowl” was one of the worst comics I had ever read, and he replied with a spirited defense. I left with a lot more respect for him. He’s obviously incredibly passionate about the comics he oversees.

    The Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon panel was wonderful, as was the Jimmy Palmiotti/Amanda Conner panel.

    And Lawler’s a class act.

  8. “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?”

    I dunno. I think both companies are doing the right thing in shifting their IPs to video games and movies in order to hit the younger crowd. Comics are more of a niche product for an older crowd, so may as well milk that crowd until they die.

  9. …or DC and Marvel could make their booths more accessible to younger kids, by training their staff to be extra attentive and welcoming to them. They could also gear their free stuff towards them. You know, lay a free comic book on them, or two. Have artists show them how to draw simple versions of the heroes in the books, and then send them away with a free drawing pad, and pencil, with a DC or Marvel cover on it. I could make a list of things we could do to bring more kids in, but someone’s going to have to pay me. :)

  10. I just happened to be in Philly for business that weekend in a hotel about a block away. I was going to check out the con on Sunday–my day off–but the ridiculous $35 admission fee disuaded me from such foolishness. I could have easily seen myself spending a couple of hours wandering through the hall and pickingu p some GNs from exhibitors, but I wasn’t going to spend $35 for the opportunity.

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