Marc Alan Fishman: Hey Wizard – You’re Running Outta Magic!
This past weekend Unshaven Comics attended our fifth Wizard World Chicago Comic Convention … as creators. As fans, we’ve been going to this every year since 2000. It is, for all intents and purposes, our home show. We sell the most books, meet the most fans, and generally enjoy an amazing time. Some, if not all of this is derived by selling the most books, but don’t quote me on that. I am quite proud to report that we hustled and bustled our way to our “soft goal” of a 10% increase in sales over the year past. 333 books left our table, and into the eager hands of friends, fans, and passersby who were lured by the pitch of Kung-Fu Monkeys and Zombie Cyborg Space Pirates. For that? We’re elated creators.
That being said, this was easily the worst Wizard World we’ve ever been a part of –be we just fantastic fans or curmudgeonly creators.
Where to begin: how about show length. As I recall this show used to be over a Saturday and Sunday. Then they added Friday. Then they added “preview night.” This year? They made it a full four days. Hey if it works in San Diego, right? Wrong. When the two largest booths on the convention floor are Chevy and “Smell Like An Avenger” and your panel listings fit on a black and white 11 x 17 photocopy? You don’t have four days worth of con. You have a weekend con stretched to the absolute limit.
Next? The floor plan. There’s a saying, I’m not sure if Wizard is familiar, that goes: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s a great saying. Since Wizard obviously hasn’t heard it (and they most certainly are reading this) let me make it clear as the Invisible Woman. For 20 years the show floor has followed a very simple layout. Enter into the exhibitor zone with small press booths behind them, move to the dealer zone, and then the Artist Alley. Autographs and appearances? Wrapped right into the exhibitor booths. This year? They littered exhibitors with dealers all over the floor, put the autograph area smack dab in the middle of the convention hall, and then shoehorned the Artist Alley in the back third of the hall, split by a few jutting walls and the ATM.
And just to stick it to artists on the far end, they placed the photo op zone right at the end of the hall, ensuring a lengthy queue that stretched into the alley at all times during the convention. Nothing better for book sales and fan interaction like a line in front of your table that only cares about snagging that shot with Lou Ferigno, right? Wrong.
Far too many of my friends extended smiles coldly bookended with sighs of exasperation. Our neighbor from Mid-Ohio Con, the always amazing Eliza Frye, was forced to move her table three times. Three times! Which meant this show, which she flew in for, was a wash at best. Our close personal friend and arch nemesis, Dan “Beardo Comics” Dougherty, was one of the unlucky ones shoehorned near the photo op booth. He “made table” (as we in-the-know like to say) but didn’t quite reach his personal goal. Given that he makes comics for a living? This means less living for Dan. On one hand, I’m glad my arch nemesis failed. On the other hand? He’s an awesome creator who got the shaft by Wizard.
Concerning our Unshaven table… life was somewhat better. Our neighbors, both very awesome in their own ways, out-flanked our paltry table decorations with elaborate PVC and metal shelving installations. Our roll-up sign, and clear plastic tabletop book holder certainly didn’t impress. So much so that we heard from several fans after the show that they simply didn’t find us. It didn’t help that we were table “3113,” but there were no markings on the show floor (or provided program map with font size only Hank Pym could read) that would have assisted people in finding us. It also begs to note that prior to the show, Wizard e-mailed all the artists asking who we might want to sit next to. We listed six friends, all similar in fame and similar in style. We sat nowhere near them. While traffic on the floor itself was steady, it was always apparent how weary the fans were. Suffice to say (and it’d been said before) four days for a two day show does not make for an energetic crowd. Had it not been for our fevered pitching, I doubt we could have even topped the prior years’ sales.
Ultimately the show was just okay. Most creators saw enough sales to warrant their appearance. Most dealers left pissed at their spotty placement. I’m sure all the celebrities enjoyed being the star attraction of the show, in addition to getting to charge anywhere from $20 to $50 for signing their name.
There was a time when Wizard World Chicago was the crown jewel of a Chicago comic geek’s summer. Nowadays? It’s a second rate flea market peppered by those of us fighting in the trenches to earn one fan at a time. Will we be there next year? In order to be successful, we have to be. Will be bitch about it then, too? You better believe it. Wizard has a whole year to improve upon the car wreck they displayed a weekend ago.
In the simplest terms: Put the show floor back the way it was, attract more comic creators and publishers to return, make panels that celebrate the medium that spawned the creation of the show itself; You’re not San Diego, and you’ll never get close. It’s time to own that, Wizard. Excelsior.
Footnote: Post show, we received an e-mail from Wizard asking all creators to “put a good word in” for them to respective fan bases and with other creators. Nothing like owning up to shared feelings of failure, right?
SATURDAY: John Ostrander