After a week of folks piling on with all their stored-up grievances against Wizard, things took a darker turn last week, as Wizard fired Stewart Morales and Gabe Fieramosco, the two folks most responsible for putting on conventions. Morales and Fieramosco took over the logistics of the shows after Brenda Cook moved to a different part of the company. Although Wizard told Newsarama, â?Itâs normal business cycle stuff. Nothing to do what happened in Chicago and we had a great show there,” that sound byte would seem to have about as much credibility at this point as Wizard’s ever spiraling attendance figures.
Tim Leong’s video post mortem of WIZARD was only the culmination of a very bad week for Wizard, as everyone but them seemed to think the Chicago show had been slower than usual.
With that kind of schedule, it was no wonder that exhibitors from multiple categories were road-weary and cranky. And maybe that’s why we heard from exhibitors and dealers that Wizard World Chicago seemed generally down this year, with both floor traffic and sales on the floor less than 2005’s.
The space on the floor seemed somewhat smaller, although more compact, with everything in the main hall this year; so the general view of down attendance wasn’t a matter of more exhibitors splitting up the available attendees into thinner portions.
In the TalkBack section, retailer John Stangeland of Atlas Comics on Wizard World Chicago was even more brutally frank, calling the show “stagnant and torpid” and suggesting major changes:
As it is now, no one in their right mind who was confronted with a choice of destinations between Rosemont and San Diego would decide to come to the Midwest. San Diego has a wonderful mix of restaurants and watering holes within easy walking distance. It has a beautiful setting on the harbor, and access to most of the amenities of a fine city. The convention center is well managed, clean and modern. On the other hand, Wizard World is held in a glorified barn, and has no outside appeal aside from a few hotel bars and some cheap restaurants.
At the Comics Journal Message Board Russ Maheras was baffled at the utter lack of caring that would improve the show at NO EXTRA COST WHATSOEVER :
I find the apparent apathy of WWC organizers for panels nothing short of irritating. For example, I pitched some panel ideas to WWC last year — panels that I would have organized and made the talent arrangements for — and they did not even bother responding with a simple, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Next year, for example, I’d like to organize a Steve Canyon 60th anniversary panel at WWC. But when I send out my pitch in a few months, I fully expect to hear the crickets chirping all over again.
The Spurge could see the very large and cranky writing on the bathroom wall:
Proclaiming new records for every show doesn’t exactly encourage tinkering. Two, putting out press releases that even mainstream comics fans give the finger to can’t be good for the company’s general relationship with the comics fan and comics pro that are still the heart of such shows. After an LA show that performed under expectations, a Philadelphia show that also released numbers that people who were on the floor did spit takes upon hearing, and last year’s shifty debacle of a proposed Atlanta show to compete with Heroes Con, Wizard is a much less appealing dance partner than at any time in their recent past.
And so the folks
responsible supposedly “responsible” for this stagnant and torpid show have been let go. Morales was an industry vet who has been at Harris Comics before a lengthy stint at Wizard. In fact, if he hadn’t been canned, he would be the first person to write in and give us Wizard’s side of the story. Opinionated and not shy, Morales was a fierce spokesman for Wizard policies, publicly and privately. We didn’t know Fieramosco, but most exhibitors spoke highly of him for his hard work.
Of course, that’s besides the point when, according to Wizard VP Rob Felton, their being let go had nothing to do with what happened in Chicago. And what DID happen in Chicago?
Aside from all the reactions above, sales on the floor were down significantly for many exhibitors. the show floor was smaller, as well — no matter what anyone tells you, last year hall B was full of Artist Alley tables — this year it was unused. And the IFL ring — which must have been free or a tradeout since it’s also co-owned by Gareb Shamus — took up significant amounts of space.
More puzzlingly, DC was moved from its traditional spot by the front door, replaced by SPIKE-TV’s multi level booth promoting boy-oriented activities like fighting and blood sucking. DC couldn’t have been too happy about this, especially considering that they pay for their booth, unlike several other exhibitors.
This year’s Wizard shows were clearly in decline. Just going by the buzz, San Diego, WonderCon and the New York Comi-Con were all shut down — nothing even vaguely like that happened at a Wizard show. Even Heroes Con, Which Wizard stupidl;y tried to take on, had its biggest most buzz-wrthy year ever.
But with Chicago now acting as theugly, bleary-eyed hangover to San Diego’s big night out, New York and WonderCon are vying for the #2 spot on the convention schedule. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with putting on a series of shows like Creation and Fangoria — a similar line-up of guests and exhibitors who tour the country — that’s not how the shows are being billed to comics exhibitors. Wizard shows are currently like comics versions of Star Trek cons, with the same seven guests being wheeled out year after year. Even hardcore message boarders were complaining about hearing the same Kevin Smith stories over and over again. Torpid and stagnant.
The irony is that the comics industry and its outlying fiefdoms is anything BUT torpid and stagnant — the Wizard malaise sticks out like a sore thumb in an industry that is on the move. Wizard has had a long and successful run putting out magazines and putting on shows. Even the most successful business needs to freshen things up now and then. Whatever is wrong in Congers, firing two staffers isn’t going to do anything to fix things until they start acknowledging there’s a problem.