I remember the very first time I went to Wizard World, back then Chicago’s only major comic book convention. I was a bespectacled, brace-faced, Harry Potter-looking bag of awkward and, as I was only 15, I had to go with my dad. How long ago was this? Let me just say that Todd McFarlane was the guest of honor and it was a pretty big deal. It was geek heaven, giant booths dedicated to Marvel and DC, rows and rows of retailers with comics, toys, games, action figures, L-List celebrities like the guy who played Superboy, sitting in their booths, alone, sad. This, I thought to myself, was a comic convention. Fast forward 13 years and this past weekend’s Wizard World. Something happened.
Heave Goddess Amy and myself attended Chicago’s now second convention of the year after C2E2 in the spring and, while my geekery has evolved to video games, we were both pretty excited to be there. At least until we walked in the doors. People were ushered into a side entrance where we were welcomed into the hall by a makeshift bar with overpriced drinks and the start of the dealer booths. I shouldn’t really call it the start, since the entire hall was dealer booths. There was no giant Marvel booth touting the success of The Avengers or DC booth pushing New 52 in our faces. It was all shopping, all the time. Consumerism for the win, both in the form of random items and packaged “moments” with celebrities. Where was the sense of wonder, where was the feeling of being with my people? Vanished. Why? Because Wizard wanted to go all pop culture on us.
I’m going to come right out and say it. Comic books are not mainstream. Yeah, The Avengers made a billion dollars, people will debate the merits of Dark Knight Rises, and Arrow looks to be the kick-assiest show of the fall, but those aren’t comic books. They’re comic-inspired media. Actual comic books are still small potatoes and the decline of print media is doing them no favors. This is why we need an actual comic book convention. A place that celebrated the medium, not the offshoots of the medium. When I go to a comic convention I want to be under piles of old comics, new comics, graphic novels, manga, small press, large press. I want to go into complete comic overload. We already have conventions dedicated to specific media properties. Why can’t Wizard World be dedicated to just comics? Money, my dear reader. Money.
The abundance of “celebrities” at the event is something of a contentious issue with myself. On the one hand I’m impressed they scored talent from existing television shows like Walking Dead, but on the other hand I think the focus on drawing in pop culture celebrities is more a business decision than in keeping with the roots of the show. Bigger celebs draw bigger crowds, I get that. But just bringing in celebs based on name alone doesn’t make the appropriate for the show. Case in point, Holly Marie Combs from Charmed. I love her because she’s now on Pretty Little Liars. Guess how many PLL fans were at the convention? Yeah, just me. Where was the big deal made for current professionals in the industry. Why the hell wasn’t Scott Snyder there? Rather than stroke the ego of television/movie/wrestling/Playboy stars, treat comic book talent as the stars they are.
Easily my biggest gripe was the layout of Artist Alley. What was once an escape at the convention, a place where you could peruse established and undiscovered talent without feeling that 50 people were waiting to push by you was gone this year. The Alley itself snaked around the perimeter of the dealer stalls so that on one side was super awesome Craig Cermak II drawing me Nightwing and right across from him was a dealer selling medieval bondage gear. Not to mention the line for food that spilled into the alleyway. Nothing gets my heart racing more than the fear of nacho cheese dripping onto artwork!
Panels were a complete bust, with a focus on the aforementioned celebrities answering questions, the return of geek speed dating (we all know how well that worked out), and very little about the actual industry. Why not a panel on publishing comics in the online era or on how comics need to change to thrive? Hell, even a reveal of a new cross-over event would be something for fans actually looking for comic-related programming. It was disheartening to see me beloved hobby be reduced to a footnote at it’s own convention.
Don’t think I’m blind to the competition the convention organizers have to contend with. Chicago is not a go-to destination for celebs and the coasts are home to the major publishers. I applaud efforts to draw an audience, but if we forget the purpose of the convention, a gathering of comic book lovers, both readers and creators, we put another nail in the industry’s coffin. If non-comic book fans are at these conventions, take that opportunity to draw them in. Win them over to our side rather than allowing our side to languish for a chance to sit at the cool table. We’re never going to be at the cool table.