Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

When Is a Comic Con Not a Comic Con?

Posted by Don MacPherson on February 8th, 2010

So Gareb Shamus has announced his latest comic-convention acquisition with the addition of Cleveland Comic Con to his roster of Wizard World events, bringing it to a total of 11. Shamus continued his strategy of scooping up a smaller convention from the owner/s and keeping him/them on as a consultant or show-runner. This time around, he bought the North Coast Comic Con from Roger Priebe, who will advise Shamus’s people and consult on the convention.

In the official news release, Priebe said, “This partnership is a win-win for everyone; the fans, the industry and the locals. I see nothing but good things ahead.”

Well, he’s not looking hard enough. I see a number of problems with Shamus’s strong push with these Wizard World Comic Cons, both on a local basis for some venues and in the bigger picture. First of all, he’s now got two unscheduled comics conventions being staged in the same state, only about a four-hour drive apart. Also consider it’s less than a five-hour drive between Cleveland and Toronto. It looks as though he may be drawing upon the same regional pool of customers for several shows.

Gareb ShamusThe more obvious problem with this expanded lineup of 11 shows is that Shamus has already diluted a brand he’s trying to rejuvenate. If there are 11 Wizard World cons, which one is the big one, the most important show? Furthermore, why is Shamus clinging to the Wizard brand at all with what appears to be a new business venture with these comic conventions? Wizard’s a damaged label. The publishing and product-sales divisions have been shrinking and stumbling. Once a powerhouse in the industry, Wizard magazine is really more a symbol of the excesses of comics in the 1990s. It’s like a C-list media guest at one of Shamus’s conventions, smiling awkwardly as it hopes people remember it fondly as they pass by. Oh, and let’s not forget that the Shamus definitely got off on the wrong foot in the industry by scheduling a couple of his new cons at the same time as other respected events, earning the ire of many potential guests and customers.

Also of interest in the recent Cleveland Comic Con Wizard World Convention (say that five times fast) news release is this boilerplate phrase: “Wizard’s Comic Con Tour will bring the strong caliber of stars and exhibitors that fans across the nation have come to expect.”

Well, let’s look at this “strong caliber of stars” expected at the next of these Wizard World cons, namely the Toronto Comic Con, slated for March 26-28. Among the comic creators listed as guests for this event on the official Wizard World website are Marvel artists Adi Granov and Phil Jimenez, DC writer Gail Simone and DC artist Cameron Stewart. Of all the comic-book talents (who’ve been lumped in with toy creators, for some reason), I only recognized about 14 names all told, including those mentioned above. I’m sure the others are talented people, but they’re certainly not draws to the con (and neither are some among the 14 names I knew).

The Iron Sheik of wrestling fameNow, turn your attention to the list of “sports guests” scheduled to appear at this Toronto con (and by “sports guests,” Wizard World means “wrestlers”). The number: 14 (there are 13 listings, but one’s for a tag team, bringing the total to 14). And that number doesn’t even include the media guests. About 15 actors from various sci-fi or genre shows are scheduled to appear, including such notable names as Eliza Dushku and former Ghostbuster Ernie Hudson.

Explain to me again how this is a “comic con”?

Shamus bought his Toronto Comic Con from Paradise Conventions, and I attended that con once a few years ago. What was truly appealing about it was that it was a comic convention. The focus was on comics, creators and the people who love the medium. Wizard’s Toronto Comic Con looks more like one of HobbyStar’s conventions, only with B- and C-list media guests than A-listers.

The Toronto Comic Con is set to take place in about six weeks, give or take a few days. The site lists no exhibitors and no programming, and while it promises convention exclusives, there’s no information listed on what those might be.

Wizard World reportedly held a successful show in New York City last year, but in one of the most densely populated cities in North America that also serves as the home to two giants in comics publishing, how hard could it be, really, to get guests and customers alike to come out? No, it’ll be smaller cons such as Shamus’s more recent acquisitions and the upcoming Toronto show that will decide if this new business venture soar or hit the floor.

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12 Responses to “When Is a Comic Con Not a Comic Con?”

  1. ThatNickGuy Says:

    I think the idea that it’s a “comic con” is much in the same way that the San Diego con is becoming less about comics specifically and more for general geeky media. Screenings are showcased, trailers are introduced for the first time, shows and movies are announced, etc. It’s becoming a diving board for movie announcements and such.

    Although, I’m in fully agreement on the name value of some of the people involved and would be equally lucky to recognize even 14. To be honest, wrestlers have been appearing at cons (well, Wizard Worlds) for awhile. And to be honest, it’s usually the same crew. Virgil usually sits alone at his booth and is apparently a pretty big jerk. Iron Shiek is a legimate nutbag and Honky Tonk isn’t as big as he’s convinced himself.

    I might be going this year and it’s disappointing that other Canadian writers or artists couldn’t make it. This includes Darwyn Cooke and my personal favourite, Stuart Immonen. I’ve always wanted to meet him, if only to thank him for Superman: Secret Identity.

    But really, it might not be a “comic” con, but it’s still a very geeky con. Wrestling and comics tend to go hand-in-hand with their cartoonish men in spandex. And comic geeks also love things like Ghostbusters and Battlestar Galactica.

  2. Thoughts on the Latest Addition to Wizard’s Family of Comic Cons | Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic Book Resources Says:

    […] MacPherson has an interesting editorial up about the news that Wizard has purchased another convention to add to the 10 cons they already had […]

  3. Dwight Williams Says:

    The thing is…before the Wizard acquisition? It was a comics convention.

  4. Comics A.M. | The comics Internet in two minutes | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment Says:

    […] Shamus’s conventions, smiling awkwardly as it hopes people remember it fondly as they pass by." [Eye on Comics] The Complete Peanuts: […]

  5. Joe Shmoe Says:

    You said it all, Donny! The Paradise Con in Toronto WAS a real comic book convention in the past; but it certainly won’t be now! And all the real comic book readers/collectors like me will certainly NOT be paying Gareb’s ridiculous admission prices to look at a bunch of professional wrestlers and other so-called “celebrities.” If I was interested in crap like that, I’d just go to Hobbystar’s rip-off Fan Expo geek show.

  6. Don MacPherson Says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Joe.

    But God, I hate being called “Donny.”


  7. Joe Shmoe Says:

    Sorry about that.

    I don’t mind being called “God” (LOL).

  8. Kevin Boyd Says:

    I’m sorry to read that people are unhappy with the state of the Hobbystar Toronto ComiCONs as well as the comic elements at the Fan Expo. I left the Paradise show back in 2007 for reasons documented elsewhere and went to work with the HSM team to help improve the comic book component of the four comics related shows HSM does per year and the general feedback that we’ve been receiving is that comic fans like the changes that we have been making. We’ve got a great low-admission ($5) 90 table one day show coming up on Sunday, Feb. 28th with guests Guy Davis, Cameron Stewart, Francis Manapul, Marcus To and more.

    Fan Expo had two wrestlers last year, and they were brought in by a local promoter and signed at his booth. The show generally has avoided sports guests – keeping guests to the specific media that the show spotlights – comics, anime, sci-fi, horror and gaming. Fan Expo Canada has also been very successful in bringing in some of the biggest names in comics – international and Canadian (like Darwyn Cooke and Stuart Immonen). We’ve now got great publisher support as well, with representation at the Expo from Marvel, DC, Boom!, Udon, Aspen and many others.

  9. Gabriel Mckee Says:

    Wizard World absolutely *murdered* the Big Apple Con by taking it over. Big Apple was the only regular, affordable dealer room show in NYC– for a $5 or $10 door charge you could get a bunch of good comics. Shamus comes in and immediately jacks the door price to $25, which is a full half of my budget for going to a comic show. It instantly made the show not worth it. I didn’t go and never will until the price is brought back down– though I’d much rather somebody set up a good ol’ fashioned cheap dealer room show.

  10. Gary Says:

    @ Gabriel — actually, the last time I went to a Big Apple Con it was $20 to get in (as a matter of fact, when was it ever under $20 in recent years?), and — as Evan Dorkin documented — was arguably one of the most depressing, dank, what-outsiders-think-comic-cons-are-like conventions i’d ever attended. even for someone like me who loves small shows to raid quarter bins, it was miserable and i walked out with barely anything.

  11. fanbla72 Says:

    Been reading comics for over 30 years. Never been to a “con.”

    I’m sure the industry will survive without them.

  12. Don MacPherson Says:

    Fanbla72 wrote:
    I’m sure the industry will survive without them.

    I don’t think anyone’s saying the comic/pop-culture convention industry is going to disappear. I simply suggested that Shamus’ machinations with these Wizard World conventions and acquisitions specifically might not pan out.