Friday, June 26, 2009

Wizard World Philadelphia: The belated con report

Yes, Bill, I'm posting it now.


I can be hard on my friend Bill, a cataloguer in Technical Processing, the department across the hall from mine. When I agreed to go with him to this year's Wizard World Philadelphia I had actually broken precedent by agreeing almost immediately, without hemming and hawing for weeks while he nagged and cajoled me, as I had done in previous years.

By affirming that this year I was in almost as soon as the subject was brought up, I had, in essence, taken all of the fun out of it.

Sorry, Bill.

After I ruined everything by being so goddamn cooperative, our preparation for the convention mainly consisted of me checking in at his workstation to take a quick inventory of the guest list. We checked to see who had been added and who had been dropped almost every day. I personally kept an eye on Artist Alley, scanning it for names I recognized and doing a quick calculation of how much I'd be willing to pay for a sketch balanced against my budget for the day.

Thus were the days passed until...

The Day of the Con:

Bill picked me up and we headed down to the train station in Bryn Mawr to catch the R5. Despite just having had breakfast, my stomach felt like it was going to eat itself, so I went into the station and ordered a toasted bagel from the snack bar. The proprietor was a nice, sociable fellow, who even sat down with Bill and me to chat while we waited for the train.

Great bagel, too.

The R5 came and went with us on it, and we headed toward Center City with great feelings of anticipation.

Once we reached the con we checked in quickly and headed toward the main floor. The Convention Center staff kept the lines moving, though each and every one of them looked like they had been forced to eat a bug after clocking in.

The first thing I usually notice upon entering a convention is the costumes. This time was no exception. Harley Quinn and Emma Frost arrived together and posed for pictures (no doubt fueling many a fevered fanboy fantasy). There was a striking Black Manta costume, in the helmet of which the maker had installed a voice changer, making him sound much like the way the villain did on the old Super Friends show. Fan anticipation for the upcoming GI Joe movie was evidenced by the clusters around Snake-Eyes and The Baroness. And movie quality renditions of Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and an entire platoon of Imperial Stormtroopers were an inescapable presence.

Bill and I tooled around the floor a bit before separating to pursue our parallel lines of fandom. He headed for Autograph Alley while I started scouting out the bargain bins for trade paperbacks. I kept my focus on series that I had already started to collect instead of trying to break new ground. I was rewarded with a copy of Grendel: Devil's Reign, which rounds out my Grendel reprints from the original Comico run. Other books were had, but Reign is the day's crown jewel from the bins, as far as I'm concerned.

From there I went to Artist's Alley, where I found the booth of my favorite cartoonist, Evil, Inc.'s Brad Guigar.

By a weird little bit of serendipity, I was actually standing by, waiting my turn, while this video was being shot:

Meeting Brad Guigar from Rafael Irizarry on Vimeo.

I love meeting Brad Guigar. He's a great guy, and gracious to his fans, even refraining from telling them outright that the gag they thought of for his strip was too awful to use (cough-cough). I make a point to seek him out whenever I'm at Wizard World and this year his book was the only one for which I paid cover price. For each book purchased he added a quick head sketch on the flyleaf for free. Like I said, a great guy.

I was a bit boggled to find only one vendor - Krypton Comics - actually selling comic art supplies. I mean, it's a no-brainer that artists and artist wannabes like myself are drawn (heh) to these events. You'd think more vendors would have twigged to that. Still, that one did was enough for me, even if they had run out of non-photo blue leads for automatic pencils, thus forcing me to buy the old-fashioned variety (grrr...).

On the downside, scarcity seemed to be an unintended underlying theme to the convention. There were hardly any freebies to speak of, mainly due to the absence of the companies in the best position to hand them out. DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, none of the major publishers had a booth there and pickings were slim. I attributed it at the time to the economy, but that wasn't the whole story.

More on that later.

Well, Bill and I fulfilled our various personally-assigned missions and headed home. We were generally satisfied with the day, having both gotten what we'd came for.


After plowing through the adventures of the Ultimates, John Constantine, and the Justice Society, and beginning to savor the story of the rise of the Grendel-Khan, I got to wondering about the absence of the major publishers. And not just in comics, either. When I had last gone to Wizard World there were a couple of game companies taking up a lot of space that dealers and artists were then noticeably spread out to fill.

With the high of the trip having worn off, I thought about some of the rumblings I'd heard from the fans and vendors. I was hardly the only one to notice the big companies' absence. One or two gone might be attributed to economic forces, but all of them?

Something was up.

I'm sure this is old news to fans who follow the politics of the convention scene, but I'm an occasional con goer, and my eye was completely off of this ball. Happily, I wasn't the only one disturbed by the omens and portents.

My go-to guy for the day after turned out to be the same as it was the day of: Brad Guigar. You can just hear the scribbling of signatures on restraining orders right now, can't you?

The fans had, indeed, noticed the absence of DC, Marvel, et al., from what was supposed to be a major East Coast convention. It boded ill for the future. Fans had even gone so far as wearing "WWP-RIP" t-shirts on Sunday, the con's final day.

Apparently Wizard had tried out its 800-pound gorilla status in the comics industry and came up about 500 pounds short, scheduling the Philadelphia con on the same weekend as the venerable HeroesCon in Charlotte, North Carolina. It blew up in their faces as DC, Marvel, and more took their toys down south, deciding that the Charlotte con was a better use of their resources.

This led to some bloodletting on the Wizard payroll, as the people responsible for the fiasco were sacked and their replacements were left to try to salvage the mess left with only a few short weeks to go.

So the egg on Wizard's face was unavoidable by that point. In retrospect, it was clear that this year's Wizard World Philadelphia was a holding action. That notion was reinforced by the fact that Wizard couldn't even staff its own booth, leaving only the merest fraction of a display in place (never has the original cover art for Watchmen looked so lonely...).

The day after the convention, damage control was already underway. The Wizard World site put up next year's dates as June 11-13, a full week earlier than HeroesCon's traditional Father's Day weekend dates. So it's a first step in a walk back from previous mistakes.

Time will tell if the show redeems itself in the eyes of the fans.

No comments: