March 23, 2018
CR Newsmaker Interview: David Glanzer
gets underway today in Anaheim, California. This is Comic-Con International
's show that is not the more iconic San Diego convention
. It's still a major show by any measure and one of the key events for the year.
I became interested in something that WonderCon's PR department put out there a couple of weeks ago, that the convention is now the size of Comic-Con in 2002. It seemed a good time to rope in spokesperson David Glanzer and have a short talk about where WonderCon is from their perspective and where it might be going.
CCI is a long-time advertiser with The Comics Reporter
, although I've never been restricted in coverage and all questions are my own. I tweaked structure, not content, for flow. -- Tom Spurgeon
TOM SPURGEON: David, thank for talking; I know you're slammed. Your advance person [Sam Smith] noted that WonderCon is now the same size as San Diego Con was in 2002. This is interesting to me because I personally think of 2002 as the year before the movies took off at that show. I distinctly remember stepping in to tie my shoes in the back of a movies panel [for Open Water]. I haven't seen five seconds of a movie panel since!
Having experienced both periods of growth, are there ways this show's growth is different?
: That's a great question and I don't know that I have a good answer, to be honest.
I've often said that we are fans ourselves so we try to put on the type of convention we would want to attend. However, WonderCon started in the Bay Area and has always had a more relaxed vibe. I think that is still true today. The growth has been consistent but also more relaxed.
For a long time we've had television and movie panels -- in fact, the cast of the Star Trek reboot
made WonderCon their only convention attendance a few years back -- but I think there's been less frenzy surrounding it.
Now, your mention of 2002 as the year Comic-Con kind of "took off" as far as movies are concerned makes me wonder if we'll begin to see more movie or television interest in WonderCon moving forward. So I guess, to answer your question more directly, yes, I see a difference and it seems to be a more mellow growth and less frenzied.
SPURGEON: Is there a demographic figure you can if not share than characterize that really stands out for WonderCon vis-a-vis CCI? I know anecdotally that a lot of families with young kids that I know go because they feel it may be slightly less overwhelming and Disney is nearby. But what do the numbers tell us?
: It's interesting because Comic-Con has kept its demographic pretty consistently throughout the years. So we see young kids, and older people -- and by older I mean people my age and older -- and then the key demo is still 17-35.
WonderCon is similar. Though there seems to be more cosplayers at WonderCon. [Spurgeon laughs] I don't know if this is a fact or just that, because of the crowds in costume, they seem to be a larger percentage of attendance. But the demographic is similar.
SPURGEON: One way that WonderCon gets described -- I just did it myself! -- is in terms of its size relative to the CCI. But for you, David, and others you talk to, what's a distinguishing characteristic or two of WC that isn't about its size or size contrast?
: Really, that relaxed vibe. I mean there really is a perceptive friendliness at WonderCon that is noticeable. That's not to say people don't get excited, because they do. And I don't mean to imply that Comic-Con isn't friendly. But it's amazing to watch the crowds exit on Sunday after WonderCon because they typically congregate around the plaza area and near the fountain. And they stay there for at least an hour or more. I think they just don't want it to end. There's something very moving about being involved in an event that people just don't want to leave.
SPURGEON: An obvious historical factor for WonderCon is that it's been held in a few cities, not just one. How does a show retain its identity across multiple cities? Would a longtime WC fan but only Bay Area attendee know this year's show intimately, or would there be things that Anaheim and even Los Angeles brought in that would be new for her to discover? Heck, I haven't been since San Francisco! What do
I need to see?
: I think a person like yourself who hasn't been since the Bay Area days might find it more similar than different. In fact some of the old signage we used in San Francisco is still being used in Anaheim. We're phasing some of them out, but they can still be found. [Spurgeon laughs]
Of course size is probably one thing you might notice. And the amount of people in costume. Also, I think the increase in comics and general programming would also be noticeable. When the show is smaller, it can limit what we would like to do. And what we can actually
do. But as it grows it allows us to increase our guest list, the programming schedule, and the diversity and size of the exhibit floor.
SPURGEON: Can you tell me a secret virtue of Anaheim as a convention city? What Anaheim does well seems pretty openly discoverable -- the hotel infrastructure, the ease of parking, the capacity to manage large crowds, a destination economy... how might Anaheim surprise someone?
: Well, we work very hard to negotiate discounted room rates at our host hotels. Those are typically close to the convention center. But there are hotels farther out with inexpensive rates as well. Some are small, or even tiny, hotels.
SPURGEON: It's remarkable the rewards that can come from by paying attention to certain lodging options now.
With regard to food options, there are several eating establishments within walking distance of the convention center. From Morton's The Steakhouse
to fast food. So there are several options, near and far, at wide price ranges.
SPURGEON: You have a really interesting guest list, with this core of recognized Comic-Con people and a lot of younger creators with just a few books or titles under their belt. I have no idea how your process works -- is that a committee? Is that a programming specialist? Is there an animating philosophy to that part of your show?
: Yes, it's a committee. And it's comprised of members who have a wide variety of interests. The Programming department also has a hand in this, as do others. Everyone can chime in. The list is put forth, discussed, and then the entire committee votes upon it.
SPURGEON: It seems like you've done particularly well at your shows with prose authors and creators that may not be straight-up comics creators but illustrators or show creators. That makes you creator focused at a time when some shows are kind of focusing on the general business of a comic-con, the pageantry of it, actors over authors. Do you want to brag a bit on your show's fealty to creators? How has that shaped recent development?
: First of all, thank you! It really does come back to putting on the type of show we want to attend. We're so lucky in that we can invite people we think would be cool or fascinating without having to worry about whether a guest will generate ticket sales. Now, I don't want to freak out our president by implying that we don't have to worry about the bottom line, because clearly we do. Or that the guests we invite may not generate interest because I think they do as well.
But oftentimes our guest list is really based upon their contribution to comics and related popular art, and less about their fame or how popular they may be. And this is true from our inception.
SPURGEON: Give me an example of your international growth; I'm interested that that was part of your reach-out and interested in how you measure that.
: We have noticed that we are attracting more people from across the country and even across the world. This year we have representatives from a significant number of countries, and interestingly enough we have press and media from at least eight countries.
WonderCon really is a national show. Maybe even an international show. I think this is one of the reasons that television and movie studios bring content to our fans. Their return on investment is pretty impressive because they can reach a variety of audiences at WonderCon. And like Comic-Con back in the day, our marketing reach isn't just for bodies through the turnstile, but for people who have an interest in comics and popular art.
It's more important that our guests, and our exhibitors have an audience that has a fundamental interest in what they have to say or display. It might be cool to say you had 100,000 people at your convention, but if your program rooms weren't full and the exhibitors didn't do 100,000 people's worth of sales, you really just end up with people who want to see what the whole fascination with comics conventions is. And there is nothing really wrong with that. But for us, we have an obligation to our guests, the pros who sit on panels, and our exhibitors to try to bring people with an interest in what they have.
SPURGEON: David, when I see you at Comic-Con it's usually you and me in our sportscoats, mid-bustle, and we have a brief word or two about CCI's perception of something I believe is a story -- you may or may not agree. I once saw you at a WonderCon and you seemed much more relaxed, kind of hosting the coverage that came to you. I'd never see you sit down beefore.
Is it a different experience for what you do than CCI? Does the relaxing part of that show extend to its on-its-feet execution?
: It's funny you mention the sportscoats. It's true, I'm usually in a jacket and tie at both shows. But this year I am thinking about the jacket and no tie. [Spurgeon laughs]
It really is a more relaxed atmosphere and, yes, it does seem different. Maybe because Comic-Con is so huge, both in terms of the event's size and its position in the comics and pop culture industries, that oftentimes the focus is very intense. I think the reporting at WonderCon is no less professional and informative, but a little less formal. So for me, I think there is a difference. It's easier to have a conversation, as opposed to just a straight hard interview. I don't know if that makes sense, but it's the feeling I get. Maybe it's hard to convey what I mean, but yes, I do notice a difference.
SPURGEON: Is there a particular thing you look forward to at WC, or even something you've noted for this year's show.
I don't know that I have anything specific each year I look forward to with the exception of the show itself. Comic-Con is stressful and the mornings are early -- before the sun rises -- and the nights late. At WonderCon things begin a little later so many of us get to have a little more sleep. And that's always a good thing.
If there is something particularly interesting this year it's the use of the expanded convention center. Anaheim finished their expansion and now we get to take advantage of it. With the VR lounge and, for the first time, an eSports event. I'm excited to see how that all goes.
SPURGEON: Here's where I slip in a couple of broader questions. Are you interested in ever acquiring more shows?
: I don't think we're opposed to it. But there has to be a good reason to do so. When we acquired WonderCon there were few shows on the circuit and the organizers were thinking of either shuttering it or handing it off to someone. After a lot of consideration we thought it would be good to keep the show going so we jumped in.
With regard to acquiring more shows, I will never say never, and there is an exciting element to the possibility. But right now I don't know that I see anything on the horizon.
SPURGEON: How would you characterize this period after you won the Comic-Con name injunction? Has that been fruitful for you, working with the various other shows affected? I was pleased that you won, as I feel strongly that while the word's a word, there were companies frequently using the word or encouraging use of the word as a shorthand for what you guys do, not as a generic descriptive. Is CCI prepared to see this battle out through appeals and public disagreement? When is the next milepost on this journey?
: Thank you! It was a very difficult situation. The odd thing is we're not actually done yet. There are a bunch of post trial motions that were filed by both sides which, as I understand it, is fairly routine. So that means we really can't comment until those have run their course. I expect that will happen toward the end of May so I hope you'll allow me to take a rain check on this one.
SPURGEON: Rain check issued.
David, you recently did a San Diego media interview about your space in Balboa Park, pointing out that the permanancy of those offices didn't necessarily mean you were committing your summer show to San Diego in perpetuity. Do you ever feel your shows will all the way settle, or do your needs change in a way that other cities may always be an option?
: The problem with permanency is that things change. If we could sign a contract with every hotel and other sites and venues that would keep their prices and access the same for the next 50 years that might be something we could entertain. But things do change, rates change, spaces change. We typically sign three-year contracts. And that means negotiating space, prices, and access begins almost as soon as the previous contract is signed. We want to stay in San Diego but we have to take care of our attendees as best we can. We have been grateful to the hotel community and the City for making it all work. But there are negotiations that take place and that's as it should be. And because of that we have to keep our options open.
SPURGEON: I've done this to you a couple of times, but give me an insider tip for WonderCon. You mentioned a few new things, but is there a particularly strong part of programming, a private space off the floor you like, a restaurant? Don't ruin it for yourself!
: That's always a tough one. This question made me realize one big difference between WonderCon and Comic-Con and that is the ability to spend time with friends. At San Diego it really is just non-stop from early morning to late at night. And while there is that element at WonderCon, I do have the opportunity to grab a drink or dinner with friends at least one night during the week. Typically at one of the hotel bars or restaurants. Though after the show closes, my team and I usually find a restaurant -- I think it's been California Pizza Kitchen
for the last couple of years -- to grab a meal and just unwind.
As for programming... look at our guest list. I'm very excited by that. I don't know if I'll be able to, but I hope I can sneak in to at least one program featuring any one of our guests. That would be a treat!
* WC logo
* photo of David that since it's on linkedin we're guessing is his publicity photo; my apologies if it's not and I'll yank it down
* cosplayers from 2017
* one of the many hotels that can be brought into service for WC
* a national player, for sure
* back issues, baby
* people reluctant to go home (below)
posted 7:00 am PST
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