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August 1, 2016

Festivals Extra: I Went To Wizard World Last Weekend

I attended Wizard World Columbus last weekend. I hadn't been to a Wizard show since attending the first Chicago show right after they purchased it: their first show. That move saved the Chicago/Rosemont show from extinction, as I recall, and was the basis for Wizard getting into the convention business during the late afternoon of their magazine-collectibles glory years. At one point, Wizard's Chicago effort was a strong #2 US convention and Wizard was circling New York like the city that never sleeps was so much chum in the water. Reed got that show; the magazine collapsed; history set off in a different direction. Wizard's convention business has since those days become essentially a traveling show heavy on the pop-culture celebrities and lighter and lighter it seems on name comics-makers. The company is a totally different entity underneath it; the convention business is all that remains. I wondered out loud several times over the weekend if the only people at both the first show and this one were myself and Nichelle Nichols.

imageDanny Fingeroth was nice enough to gift Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC) a table as part of his wider mandate to throw a spotlight on local events and comics-makers about which and whom he feels the Wizard audience should know. He also gave us a panel where I could talk about Columbus as a comics destination -- a speech I've been dying to try out in public. Jared Gardner from OSU was supposed to join me but could not make it. We had about 12-15 people, which I figure is pretty good for a show with such devoted fannish interests. I stepped in for Gardner on a later panel about Harvey Pekar and no one showed. They missed Fingeroth and I up at the podium slinging industry gossip like old pros, and not talking much about Pekar at all. Fingeroth does have a great story about Pekar being accidentally booked into a youth hostel near the end of his career that's worth asking him to tell if you see him.

I don't know what to make of the show. It's basically paying money to shop, and then more money if you want a moment -- recorded by a photo or an autograph -- with one of the name celebrities. I find that sad, but I don't really get to vote on what people want to do with their money or what they value and to what degree. As far as the celebrities in question, Kevin Sorbo was supposedly there, in addition to a few wrestlers too young for me to know and a few supporting actors on TV shows I didn't watch at the time. Some of the attendees I met were genuinely excited to be there, including a much higher percentage of people in costume than at San Diego now. (The best one was someone playing this guy.) Some had driven hours. A lot of older comics fans were there, I suspect from years of having gone to Mid-Ohio Con, which Wizard took over and turned into this one. Mid-Ohio Con was once a successful, comics-focused show that was arguably a top five or six US show at one time. I'm not sure why I'm obsessed with arbitrary rankings for this article. Must be the Wizard influence.

There was a lot of gaming things there. There were maybe about a half-dozen collectible comics people, including one with an impressive array of Eros Comix. The show had an artist's alley that included James O'Barr, Fingeroth, Columbus publisher Legacy Rising and Darryl Banks. One of our booth crew, Neil Cameron, found discounted Brian Bendis trades and a cheap run of Larry Stroman-era X-Factor comics. A CXC board member that helped out was able to check out what her cosplaying daughters were up to. Raina, Sergio and Jeff Smith were popular guests to mention in conversation. People were impressed that our festival was free. I think we put it into some heads, who knows?

You learn something at every show. I really liked the trashcans.

One bit of news at the show was that it being scheduled the weekend between San Diego Con and Wizard's Chicago show, and the Wizard tour's interest in Cleveland, together marked what might be the last show for the Columbus area from this group. Wizard spokesman Jerry Milani told CR yesterday when asked, "We are reviewing available potential dates for 2017 and will update on our web site when resolved." In PR speak that's basically a denial with wiggle room to go back in the direction of the rumor if necessary, which I suppose is the best that can be expected maybe ever in these convention-crowded times. It's year to year for most of us now.

If this is it for Wizard, I think someone would find a willing audience if they put on an Emerald City/HeroesCon type event here in Columbus, perhaps under the old name. The crowds were miserable on Friday and only okay on Sunday, but that Saturday crowd was genuinely bustling, even if there wasn't a whole lot right on hand to get them excited after purchases were made -- at least not to my old-con eyes; I'm sure others would disagree.

Wizard World is the kind of show with multiple weapon-makers, a booth that sold "mystery boxes," I believe not one but two recruiting stations and at least one just straight-up jeweler. It felt like the old Shipshewana outdoor flea market I used to attend in the 1970s, just inside, no Amish and booths instead of winnebagos. It did make me stop and reflect how excited my geek friends and I used to get visiting a Holiday Inn comics show with no programming, maybe eight back-issue dealers in a room the size of a standard living room where we might be able to put together a run of "Panther's Rage" or whatever. This was more than that, and somehow felt less. That's nostalgia talking, and it's a wonder we heard its voice at all over the low murmur of baseline commerce.

Also, at my first mainstream show behind a table since San Diego '95, I don't know what the heck anyone did at shows before phones with screens. I really don't. Thank you, Mother Box. Long may you reign.
posted 11:25 pm PST | Permalink

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