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August 9, 2006


WWC Announces 58,000; Fans Jeer

This isn't exactly comics, but the convention business is worn into the fabric of comics at this point, so I'll plunge ahead: Wizard Entertainment has announced 58,000 attendance at this year's Wizard World: Chicago, taking place over last weekend. According to a note from Newsarama at the end of the press release, Wizard doesn't answer questions as to how they get this number, whether each day's attendance is counted as an attendee or whether Gareb Shamus stands in an MMA ring and holds his thumb up and takes a guess or what. The reaction from Newsarama readers to the press release proves that at least one selection of comics fans doesn't believe this to be an accurate number, any way you want to count it. If nothing else, overwhelming on-the-ground rhetorical evidence indicates that this year's show was a step back from previous years, and the 58k figure would be a new record over last year's 56k.

This is important in two ways. One, softer or at least stagnant attendance is a bad sign for the WW series of shows, and as other shows are having banner years and making announcements that people actually believe, this may indicate that Wizard's model isn't as appealing as some. 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. I think this is important because conventions no longer function the way they used to, as places to find tons of stuff that you can't find elsewhere and to immerse yourself in a hobby in a social way that's not available to you any other time of the year -- the Internet provides both of those things for a lot of people now. Conventions these days need to be appealing events as well as provide the fundamentals of geek commerce. If you're gross, and skippable, fewer people both pro and fan will want to go.

Only a very small number will complain about the Chicago show's proximity to San Diego -- two weeks -- if the Chicago show improves to provide its own unique and worthwhile experience. And the good news for Wizard is that there seems to be a ton of room for basic improvement: pre-show press coverage was extremely light, particularly in mainstream news sources (when the paper in Munster, Indiana provides your big preview article, it's time to get on the phones); the panels sounded uninspired and Wizard's ability to work with companies to get announcements with fan heat out of them was mostly MIA; there are guests of honor with greater star wattage than Jeph Loeb that should be available for future cons; they won't be competing with Otakon in '07 and can pursue a greater manga presence; they could easily offer someone like Chicago Comics or Top Shelf extra space to have signings and programming with non-Wizard type artists reporters might want to cover even if the bulk of fans won't, and so on. They could also choose to stop bullshitting people with these weird claims for record-setting numbers that everyone sees coming and no one believes -- but one step at a time.
 
posted 9:34 am PST | Permalink
 

 
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