In last week's paper, I wrote about Rose City Comic-Con, a new comic/pop culture convention by a newcomer to the convention world who is nevertheless hoping to grow the event to the size of our northern neighbor's Emerald City Comic-Con.
I managed to stick my head in on Sunday afternoon, and was pleased to see a full house, with loads of kids in attendance (as was the organizer's goal) and a really friendly, upbeat atmosphere all around.
In my entirely non-expert opinion, these guys should have no problem building this into an even bigger, better event next year. Except maybe one:
On Friday, Wizard Entertainment announced it would be starting a new Wizard World convention in Portland in February 2013.
Wizard Entertainment is an interesting company with a chequered history. It previously published popular comics magazine Wizard and collectible toy magazine ToyFare, but shut them down after 20 and 14 years, respectively, in 2011, before taking the business public. Wizard, which focused on mainstream comics, enjoyed good circulation prior to the rise of digital media, but had its detractors: it was famously called "a bible written by Satan" and "a tree killer [which] regularly poisons our field" by Sin City creator Frank Miller, who reportedly tore a copy to shreds at the 2001 Harvey Awards. When the magazine folded, subscribers were not compensated for the issues they never received.
Wizard got into the comic con business in 1997 by purchasing Chicago Comicon, and has variously acquired, created, cancelled and not-followed-through on many others since then. From what I can garner, the number of actual cons it has run around the country has fluctuated between two and seven over the past 15 years. In 2011, it had some 15 planned, but dropped more than half. Wizard's reputation for announcing and cancelling conventions (sometimes with a full schedule already announced) has become so well established, Comics Beat ran this parody post announcing Wizard World Mars.
But the larger criticisms have come from the company scheduling its conventions to compete against others happening in a particular city. In 2005, it scheduled a new convention in Atlanta for 2006 the same weekend as the local, established HeroesCon. At the time, Portland-based comic writer Matt Fraction wrote a fairly scathing blog post about the incident, comparing Wizard's tactics to Starbucks and Walmart:
This deliberate and calculated monopolization of the convention circuit may not only drive HeroesCon out of business but continues a practice of forcing out independent comic conventions nationwide. Itâs spread can no longer continue unchecked. More than a David and Goliath story, the Starbucking of HeroesCon signals the end of an era and the terrible reward of the industryâs policy of appeasement towards Wizard and WizardWorld. The hope for diversity, for an independent voice, and for shows of, by, and for comics fans are now beneath the boot of Wizardâs abhorrent Wal-Mart-style business practices.... Today Charlotte. Tomorrow Washington, Baltimore, Portland, or Seattle.
Wizard World eventually moved the convention. It did the same thing in 2010, scheduling its recently acquired Big Apple Comic -Con the same weekend as New York Comic Con, before moving the date to a week prior.
In December 2011, Wizard founder and CEO Gareb Shamus was removed as CEO, and the company says it's trying to make amends for past failings and build the company further.
All problems aside, when Wizard World cons do well, they do really well. Chicago brings in over 50,000 attendees and guests like Stan Lee, William Shatner, Bruce Campbell and Neal Adams. And although many criticize its conventions for being more focussed on sci fi celebrity signings than actual comics, they do usually have a big lineup of comic creators as well.
All that has been announced for the Portland convention so far is the cast of Boondock Saints and artists Carlos Pacheco and Greg Horn. Tickets will be $30-$35 for one day, and $50-$60 for the full three days, plus possibly more for autographs and photos with big-name guests.
What this means for little guys like Rose City will remain to be seen. Presumably, vendors and publishers have only so much money they're willing to pump into these conventions, comics creators only so many tour stops they're willing to attend and audiences only so many conventions they're support. Will Portland continue to support the little local guy over the chance to meet WWE stars and Stark Trek actors?
UPDATE: We asked Rose City organizer Ron Brister for a comment:
"I don't think it really has an impact on Rose City Comic-Con since we're at the other end of the convention season. However, their announcement regarding their date is a little bothersome to me as a fan of Emerald City Comic-Con. The last thing I would want is for people to spend themselves out before heading north to the greatest convention in the west coast and cutting into the value for the exhibitors."I wonder if the PDX community by in large will support an event at $50 a ticketâPortlanders are frugal by nature and at those prices the expectations might be more then what WW can deliver on. However, time will tell and we'll be paying close attention to the announcements leading up to the show."