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March 15, 2012

The Never-Ending, Four-Color Festival: Cons, Shows, Events—Special Interview With David Glanzer


This weekend is WonderCon, the traditional start to the convention-going year. In 2012, WonderCon is an intriguing show for several reasons. First, there have never been more vital, legitimate North American comics conventions as there are right now, so any arguable start to a year of such shows is worth noting as well as any longtime, established shows. Second, this year marks a move from the traditional Bay Area locale of the show to Anaheim. There's no guarantee the show will go back to San Francisco or stay in Anaheim, which means how this show does is going to be closely watched for some clue as to the stakes that might be involved with its future. In addition, the Anaheim area is a compelling story for comics conventions in and of itself -- that there isn't already a regular show of this size settled in at Anaheim's massive convention facility is to my eye almost as noteworthy as this particular show settling in there for 2012.

With plenty of news to be made, I asked Comic-Con's David Glanzer a few questions about WonderCon and the other shows on their 2012 con slate. I appreciate his time in responding.


imageTOM SPURGEON: David, instead of making some sort of guess at it myself, I was wondering if you could maybe share from the con's perspective what you guys identified as unique challenges to this Anaheim show? You guys have been doing this a while, so I'm sure you were able to point out what you were facing... what were some of the things that leaped out at you once the decision was made to move the show to Anaheim?

DAVID GLANZER: Probably the most obvious was being in a totally new city and a totally new venue. Even though Anaheim is just a matter of a couple of hours north of San Diego, it's a very different market. We had to figure out how to alert everyone that we were moving, why we were moving and to see if we could energize locals to come to the show. Also, what challenges would we have with exhibitors/volunteers/staffing. Really, it's kind of like mounting a first time show.

SPURGEON: If there's one thing we've learned with all the very good, newer cons out there, it's the benefits of momentum, of establishing a show over a few years' time. How do you make this show operate as something other than a brand-new show? How is it beneficial to you to have WonderCon in Anaheim as opposed to skipping a year with WonderCon and having the AnaCon or something like that in this slot?

GLANZER: I honestly don't know that having the show is more beneficial to us than not having the show. There are a lot of added expenses to mounting a show in a new market. I do believe, however, that having the show can be more beneficial to the industry. It's nice to keep the show on the circuit for exhibitors, professionals and fans. And it does meet our mission statement, especially if we can introduce new people to the industry. We have a pretty exciting line up of guests so in that respect I think it's a good thing. The momentum question is a good one. While we have made it a point to let people know that WonderCon in Anaheim is put on by the same people who put on WonderCon in SF and Comic-Con in San Diego, it really is like a totally new show. We hope that our experience in producing successful shows will translate well in Anaheim and that everyone will have a great time. We are certainly working diligently to see that this happens. But, in the end, only time will tell if we were successful. I have my fingers crossed.

SPURGEON: Here's a question that a lot of casual convention-goers have asked me. Why do you think there isn't a major-major show in the Los Angeles or Anaheim communities? That seems like an ideal pair of communities for a comics show, and while there are some admirable shows that have taken place there, there's nothing as established as in other cities.

GLANZER: That's a great question and one for which I don't really have an answer. I will say, however, that oftentimes I see shows try to start out bigger than I personally think they need to be. Some think Comic-Con started out as a huge four day event. It didn't. Long time attendees remember how small we were. We have always been most successful in answering the demand; basically not putting the cart before the horse. If one day got too crowded then, out of necessity almost, we would add an additional day. So, again, I don't really have an answer.

imageSPURGEON: Tell me about the space that you're getting to use. Is it a standard convention space? One thing I liked about the Moscone Center as a home base for WonderCon is that it seemed to have some architectural quirks, like those raised sitting areas behind the registration booths. How important is a space generally when you plan for a show like that one?

GLANZER: Space is always very important. Not only exhibit space, but meeting space and hotel space. Anaheim offered several things that other centers didn't. For one they had dates that were available and close to the calendar for typical WonderCon dates. They also had the exhibit space and meeting space and a hotel right across the plaza.

We actually sold out our original exhibit space early on and the center was able to accommodate a move to a larger hall. While there are two other conventions being held at the same time, we have enough meeting space to have a great selection of programming and with our host hotel across the plaza it's very convenient. And even though our room block has sold out, Anaheim has a variety of lodging choices in different price ranges so finding a room shouldn't pose a problem.

SPURGEON: I've been trying to figure out something to ask about your programming... I guess one thing I'm curious about is whether or not the point you are in the calendar year determines what works and what doesn't. Do you get panels from people looking to promote specifically for the summer of 2012? Is there anything more generally that distinguishes WC programming from CCI programming, or are there strengths in kind of making a lot of the programming synergistic?

GLANZER: This is going to sound silly, but programming first and foremost is based on what we would like to see. Guests are usually invited many, many months in advance of the show. And those guests are favorites for any number of reasons. It's great when they have new and interesting books out or coming out that we can then build programming around.

In terms of Hollywood, it really depends upon the studio or network. We have a long history of delivering audiences. Sometimes studios will promote projects that are a year off to build grassroots interest. Or even to gauge audience reaction. Sometimes, and this is rare but it does happen, studios will bring in talent for a film that opens within a week or so or sometimes even that weekend.

SPURGEON: Am I right in thinking that response from exhibitors was strong? Because when you and I talked early on after your announcement, I remember joking in your direction that the response would probably be, "I really miss San Francisco... but you know, Anaheim would be pretty convenient to do..." From where are you seeing a spike in interest?

GLANZER: Actually yes. As we discussed we were able to fill our first hall very quickly. Anaheim was great in moving us to an expanded hall and now that is sold out as well. So we are pretty grateful for that.

SPURGEON: How does advanced sales on people attending the show look in comparison to past years?

GLANZER: We are actually ahead of last year's numbers a bit. Hopefully that will continue with at-door sales, too.

SPURGEON: I know you probably can't answer this in any detail, but can you sketch out what your decision-making, planning and announcement process is going to be like for the decision you need to make about next year's WonderCon? When should we know what you'll have planned?

GLANZER: Well so much of it really rests on San Francisco. Currently it's been challenging as we can't secure dates with a longer lead time than six months. As any exhibitor knows, six months isn't really convenient to planning your year. We hope to get dates with a longer lead time, and when that happens I think you'll hear the announcement very quickly. So, basically, once we know, we'll let everyone know.

SPURGEON: How do you guys grade out the CCI badge-selling weekend just past?

GLANZER: I would love to have been able to say great. And while we did go through our allotment in record time (1h22m) the truth is there was, yet again, another glitch.

While our website could handle the traffic and the registration site could handle the traffic, the link we provided in our email to those with Member IDs (the only way you could participate) had an analytics that became overwhelmed a little after one minute and continued to be overwhelmed until some minutes later. So if you cut and pasted the link, if you had bookmarked the link in advance or if you went through the Comic-Con website you were fine. But the instruction we gave to simply click the link ended up not working as well as we had hoped.

SPURGEON: The one thing I'm not totally sure of with the badge-selling is that I don't know why the system seems to change every year when you have had attendance capped for a few years now. What are you improving? Is something like the Member ID system there to make the process go more smoothly, or is that to put a system into place that is more secure...? What does your ideal badge system do? Are you close to locking into place how the show is going to operate moving forward?

GLANZER: We receive a great many comments and suggestions every year. And we try to improve upon our system based on those comments. The Member ID system is a way we hope to streamline the process and, hopefully, cut out a majority of those who just buy badges to resell them. While there was that horrible issue with the email link, the Member ID system allowed us to reduce the time it took to purchase a badge. Remember last year it took nearly seven hours or so before we were able to process available badges. This year it was less than an hour and a half.

imageSPURGEON: I wondered if you could answer a couple of complaints that have been out there about CCI more generally, that seem to come up when some folks have a frustrating weekend like some folks surely did with the badge sales. First, do you feel like you've priced the event too low not to have a better control on demand?

GLANZER: We have received complaints that the prices are too high. I don't know that there is a happy medium. We've always priced the event at what we hope is a fair price. When i first attended the show I was a teenager. I didn't have a lot of money then and I would imagine teenagers don't have a lot of money now. I would hate to think raising prices to allow only those who could afford to attend would be the best solution.

SPURGEON: Second, are you at all sympathetic to the idea that you're basically leaving a ton of attendance "on the table" by keeping the show the size it is?

GLANZER: Oh, absolutely. We made this decision back in the mid 2000s. We knew that the proposed expansion, if it happened, wouldn't even begin to be addressed until 2011 or later and any build out wouldn't occur until at least 2015. We received a huge volume of feedback from our attendees saying they wanted us to stay in San Diego. They realized the space considerations but it seemed more important to keep the event in its hometown. And I certainly see their point.

So while we have limited space at the center, we have moved some programming to area hotels and even placed some events outside the venue. We were able to accommodate an additional 4000 people last year which is obviously a drop in the bucket, but space is a contestant in each decision we make.

SPURGEON: Third, was there any thought at all to have professional and press registration before the regular badge sales, and are you worried at all that people might be left out that would have liked to have had a shot at a buying a badge?

GLANZER: The truth is there are people who would like to attend the show who will not be able to. Any organizer, I don't care who they are, would feel this is one of the worst scenarios with which to be confronted. While some business people joke they'd like to have our problem, in reality I don't think they would. It creates a big level of negative backlash. With regard to Press and Pros, we've had to limit those numbers of late in an effort to make more badges available to the public.

We didn't open pro or press early because there was still a lot of testing that needed to be done on the infrastructure as well as the entire Member ID system.


SPURGEON: You've announced a pretty impressive early guest list for APE; is there anything you do differently when you have a show opposite a show, like this year with APE and NYCC taking place on the same weekend?

GLANZER: No one ever wants to run into that type of situation. Luckily for us these two shows are very different. As I've said before, we try to put on the type of show we would like to attend. I am sure that is true for any show we are opposite. But hopefully APE will be another well attended show. It's honestly one of my favorites. The key is hopefully letting the audience for APE know how unique of a show it is and hopefully it will be another successful event.

SPURGEON: David, if you didn't have any responsibilities for the upcoming WonderCon, where would we find you? On a beach far away? The dealers room? In costume getting your photo taken? I have money on this, so no pressure.

GLANZER: Tom, honestly, and I do mean this honestly. I think if I retired and had no responsibilities with the show, you would see me in the exhibit hall spending more money than I probably should and taking in panels of guests I hardly ever get to see. And I would do it all in costume. Yes, I would. In fact, I still have two costumes from way back in the day... both of which seem to have shrunk terribly in the intervening years.

Beach time is great time, but the beach is always there; WonderCon happens only once a year.


* WonderCon starts tomorrow in Anaheim. Comic-Con International is in July; APE is held in October.

posted 7:10 am PST | Permalink

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