Chicago Con Worth It?

At the TwoMorrows blog, some thoughts on Wizard World Chicago.

it was definitely one of the slower Chicago shows of recent years.

Why they feel the need to go up against other cons is beyond me; it just ends up hurting their own show.

The New York Comicon is rapidly becoming the new “must-see” con… I won’t be surprised to see NY blow right past any of Wizard’s shows in popularity, to become the new #2 show.

We’ll be in New York in April ’08, and we’ll be in Charlotte for Heroes Con in June. But at this point, I can’t say for sure we’ll be in Chicago the following week.

I’m in agreement with all of this. Heroes and Baltimore are local-ish shows for me, so I definitely attend those (and I also like the comfortable, friendly atmospheres both have). New York is overwhelming, but worth going to, because so many major exhibitors attend, and it’s still clearly about the BOOKS. (Unsurprising, given the location, since New York is publisher central.)

(San Diego frightens me. I’d love to work the show for someone, but just going? Too overwhelming without a home base.)

Wizard likes to pick fights, feeling that they can easily take out competitors and consolidate their power, but more and more, it looks like they’ve passed their peak and are on a downhill slope. They’re preaching to the ever-shrinking core superhero audience. And they’re cannibalizing themselves, with the same guests at their various shows making all of them seem less special.

Update: Heidi has links to additional reactions, including the interesting observation that fans reacted badly to Joe Quesada plugging the idea of breaking up Spider-Man and Mary Jane, and convention coverage didn’t capture the extent of that rejection.

Todd Allen calls it a “liquidation show”, based on the number of deep discounts available all weekend, and observes that “nobody who didn’t have a free pass or a booth attended more than one day.”


27 Responses to “Chicago Con Worth It?”

  1. Max Says:

    I was stuck in the bastard off-shoot of Artists Alley, which was indeed glacial to say the least, but I heard the rest of the artists in the main section say they did alright with the traffic that was there.

    It was my first time behind the table at Chicago. Hawking my mini. The first moment I thought I may have made a mistake was watching a guy proudly carry his Badrock vs. Wolverine issue around, which I can only assume was signed by Rob Liefeld (he was in attendence).

  2. Lambo Says:

    This was the third year I attended and I pray it was the last. HeroesCon is a ten hour drive but I’m hoping I can convince my friends it’s worth it next year.

  3. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Aug. 17, 2007: Justify my lust Says:

    […] “Wizard likes to pick fights, feeling that they can easily take out competitors and consolidate their power, but more and more, it looks like they’ve passed their peak and are on a downhill slope. They’re preaching to the ever-shrinking core superhero audience. And they’re cannibalizing themselves, with the same guests at their various shows making all of them seem less special.” – Johanna Draper Carlson […]

  4. Johanna Says:

    Lambo, I hope you can, too. With Heroes and Wizard so closely scheduled next year, I hope more people choose the better show, the one in Charlotte.

  5. Alan Coil Says:

    Todd Allen surely exaggerates when he says ‘nobody…attended more than one day’. I was there for 2 days. But that’s okay.

    Chicago has definitely become a dump zone. It’s been getting more and more that way for the last 3-4 years. The 35-50% off dealers usually have overpriced books anyway, so the discount brings the prices down to a reasonable level. (Most comics from the last 20-25 years are readily found in the $1 boxes.)
    =====
    I agree that Wizard has the same guests over and over. DC and Marvel show up to do panels, and the other ‘featured’ publisher the last 2 years was Event (I think; threw my program away already). The celebrity guests included Lou Ferrigno, who is a great guy, but he has been there almost every year since the mid-90s, and Virgil, who does every show across the country every year. Hardly enough attraction to make the trip. Wizard fired a couple guys after the show last year, but there seems to be no difference in quality.

  6. Chris Neseman Says:

    I can see this becoming a “pilling on” topic. I hope it doesn’t turn into that.
    I live in Chicago and my opinion will be slanted because of that, but here it is anyway.
    Chicago and the Chicago convention are very important to comics. It’s the 3rd largest city in the country (until Houston passes us), and it has the largest regional reach of any of the conventions. To say that Chicago isn’t an important con is to tell all the comic readers in the midwest that we don’t matter. Admittedly the scheduling of the show two weeks after San Diego has hurt the guest list and the reduced the meaningful announcements the last few years. So what happens when Wizard moves the show to the end of June? People complain that it’s too close to Heroes. I’m sorry, but there are only so many weekends during con season, and at some point Chicago needs to have a weekend to shine. It seems that Wizard World Chicago is either scheduled so nobody cares, or they’re trying to kill other shows. Chicago is a great comics city and always has been. It deserves a weekend to showcase the best talent in the industry and the fans in the midwest deserve a convention they don’t have to fly to. A lot of people on the coasts think very little of the flat area they fly over, but there are a lot of us here reading, buying and loving comics.

  7. Johanna Says:

    I would love to see the kind of Midwest convention you describe, Chris, but Wizard ain’t it. To be that kind of convention, they’d need to make space and welcome all kinds of comics, not just superheroes, and all kinds of artists, not just those they have a vested interest in speculating on. I would love to see that happen again, but I don’t believe it’s likely until Wizard admits that what they’re doing now isn’t working.

  8. Chris Marshall Says:

    I’m curious Johanna, what do you think the best Mid-West/Great Lakes convention is?
    I can tell you it certainly isn’t Detroit.

  9. Johanna Says:

    I don’t think there is one, currently, but I’m evaluating on a national level, whether it’s worth traveling to from out of the area.

  10. Chris Neseman Says:

    I hear what you’re saying, and I hope that the people at Wizard are listening. This year more than any other I felt like the Wizard PR staff was more aware of what is going on. It’s a slow process, but I think they are at least turned in the right direction. (There wasn’t an IFL ring this year…)
    Artist Alley had a lot of non-cape creators. This is still a superhero dominated medium, and spreading the awareness of other genres isn’t just the job of convention organizers. You do what you can, and we and other podcasts do what we can, but at the end of the day it’s the general buying public that decides what will be a draw at conventions. The promotion of quality books is something that nobody does well in this industry. Why Marvel and DC spend the most time pushing their top selling books at cons instead of bolstering lower selling titles confuses me. Why have another Civil War panel when great books like Blade never had a fighting chance. That’s a topic for another day.

    The biggest problem I have is that Wizard is rescheduling the Chicago show to a date that should make it a major stop on the convetion circuit again, but the bad taste of the Atlanta disaster is still fresh in the mouths of creators and other pros. Moving the show to the end of June is going to be viewed as another attempt to kill Heroes, and I don’t know if that is the case. It makes a lot of sense on multiple levels to move the show, but it comes down to the fact that there are too many convention competing for too few weekends.

  11. Johanna Says:
    This is still a superhero dominated medium

    No, it isn’t. The direct market is dominated by superheroes, and if you’d said “industry” instead of “medium”, I’d agree with that, too, but the medium? No way. There’s a lot more diversity out there, so whether you’re talking sheer numbers, sales, or influence, the superheroes no longer come first. And Chicago had a history of supporting that diversity, before Wizard took them over.

    But manga and alternative books, to name two large areas Wizard ignores, have their own shows now, where they can attract a more interested, focused audience. So maybe Wizard’s just specializing, the same way everyone else is. I’ll keep an eye on SPACE for Midwest convention growth; that’s more suited to my tastes.

    As for your other point, about the particular weekend selected, it may be that folks are looking for an excuse to skip Wizard, and “it’s too close to another convention” is one that doesn’t burn bridges. “Sorry, can’t do both” sits better with the person you’re turning down than “your show sucks these days”.

  12. Alan Coil Says:

    Chris Marshall—agreed that it isn’t Detroit. Detroit is good at what they do, but they don’t appear willing to change what they do.
    —–
    Count me as another person who is glad the wrestling was missing this year.
    —–
    Chicago is definitely the best convention in the midwest…sadly. It used to be a must-do every year, now is just something-to-do.
    —–
    I think their biggest mistake, and I said so at the time, is that they moved it away from the 4th of July weekend. That was an ideal time to hold it. Those people who had to use vacation time to get to the entire convention could use 1 day of vacation and also the 4th to make it a 4-day weekend.

  13. Lyle Says:

    This is still a superhero dominated medium, and spreading the awareness of other genres isn’t just the job of convention organizers.

    I don’t think that’s the point. People aren’t arguing that WW conventions should put less emphasis on superheroes to elevate comics as an artistic medium, but because they’re not so interested in superheroes and the heavy emphasis on superheroes is a major reason why they don’t attend Wizard World.

    I agree that “spreading the awareness of other genres” isn’t (necessarily) the job of convention organizers. However, Wizard World needs to acknowledge other genres and creators not for the sake of the industry, but that’s where the interest of convention-goers, their customers, have gone.

  14. Johanna Says:

    Great way to put it, Lyle, thanks.

  15. David Oakes Says:

    The FallCon put on by the Minnesota Comic Book Association [Free Plug] is very nice. Definitely worth the trip if you live in an adjacent state.

    And though I have never been, I have always heard good things about Mid-Ohio Con. I know people going to it, from AZ, over San Diego.

  16. Chris Marshall Says:

    Johanna- but I’m evaluating on a national level, whether it’s worth traveling to from out of the area.

    Fair enough.
    99% of us don’t fly to other cities just to visit Comics Shows. I’m trying to put it in the context of (like I said above) Midwest/Great Lakes/Big Ten Country). Not to do so, then shows like SD and NY will win hands down. But what’s next?
    I know it’s very hard to compare. Attendance, companies and creators (artist and writer – indy and mainstream) all play into what makes a good show.
    Nationwide shows like Heroes, Emerald City and Wonder Con are fast becoming good shows to attend. But isn’t sad that no Midwest shows are getting any pub. Sure there is Chicago, Pitt and Mid-Ohio and even Motor-City Con, but again that’s not nearly enough. And personally I don’t think it’s true.
    Is Wizard Chicago getting a bad rap because of the magazine everyone loves to hate? I hope not. Wizard is making strides to improve — as are all the shows. It’s a dog-eat-dog schedule. Changes must be made in order to succeed. Am I coming across as a Wizard lover, no? I’m coming across as a Chicago supporter, without discounting other shows, especially Heroes. But business it s business and it’s damn competitive.
    I truly think that with all the Cons lumped together in what seems to be a three month period, some will win and some will lose.
    But mostly it’s us, the fans who will lose. It’s a full year, shame to waste it all on three months.

  17. David Oakes Says:

    “Sure there is Chicago, Pitt and Mid-Ohio and even Motor-City Con, but again that’s not nearly enough.”

    Fours cons of national renown is “not enough”? The Southwest has the struggling (dead?) Wizard World Texas, the small (but growing – FREE PLUG!) Phoenix Cactus Con, and… I have heard nothing out of UT, CO, or OK, and while I lived there New Mexico couldn’t even support a one day, store sponsored con. It would be great if our home towns would live up to our ideals, but frankly, Chicago is blessed just to have a regular show.

    “It’s a full year, shame to waste it all on three months.”

    The Phoenix Cactus Con is in January. We moved it out of September because that was just insane. And we had to move it out of April because it kept conflicting with Wondercon, APE, Wizard World L.A., and a host of growing regional cons that were all drawing on the same talent pool. And then it runs pretty solid all the way down to Mid-Ohio Con over Thanksgiving. December is the only month without an on-going convention, and I am sure someone will try and hold one then too, if they can just kidnap enough creators’ loved ones. A very common complaint is that there are now too many conventions, and many popular creators would never get any work done if they went everywhere they were invited. Any more local cons get big, and we are going to have to invent a thirteenth month just to hold them all. And perfect cloning.

  18. Johanna Says:

    Chris, the ratio of people willing to travel to a show has to be higher than 1%, or San Diego couldn’t notch 125,000 attendence. And I would add one more thing to your list of what makes a great show: the culture. Which is driven mostly by the policies of the organizers. Good treatment, and exhibitors and guests want to return and spread the word to others. Poor treatment, and people only go back if they feel they have to.

    I’m sorry your local show is getting a bad rap, but I think the way to fix that is somehow convincing Wizard that their current way of operating needs improvement. I’d love to want to come back to Chicago again, but that will require changes in guests and policies.

  19. Chris Neseman Says:

    What policy changes and what guests would you like to see?

  20. Johanna Says:

    Off the top of my head, to start… No VIP passes or classes of ticket. No promoting attendance based on the opportunity to buy “exclusive” limited-run collectibles. Support of a diverse and wide-ranging artists’ alley, such that the many Midwest small press creators would feel welcome again.

    But those aren’t things that Wizard would agree with or see benefit in.

  21. Chris Marshall Says:

    Yes, OK. I was exaggerating on 1%.
    But David you are making my point on which we agree
    “And we had to move it out of April because it kept conflicting with Wonder con, APE, Wizard World L.A., and a host of growing regional cons that were all drawing on the same talent pool.”
    Exactly. Too many Cons crammed together. These guys eventually have to get some work done.
    Incidentally, I’m from Detroit, not Chicago. Talk about a bad rap. Geez.

  22. Chris Neseman Says:

    Those con exclusives are money generators for a lot of companies. We can’t forget that at the end of the day cons are business. Every con I go to has con exclusives. I don’t buy them, and I don’t feel like I have to.
    OK, I lied. I bought the Abe Sapien exclusive action figure. It looks really cool on my desk at work.
    Artist Alley is pretty much open for anyone who wants to buy a table isn’t it? If you think Wizard should be more proactive in inviting creators of a more diverse nature I can agree, but only one problem. Who? I may think indie creator X is awesome, but you may think their work is trash compared to creator Y. Who is the person that decides what art is more deserving of an invitation? I do think the general treatment of and attention paid to Artist Alley could be much better. Making those folks feel more like guests would make a huge difference.
    I still think the biggest problem with the Chicago show is scheduling. Next year should be an interesting test.

  23. Joe Williams Says:

    I think the biggest problem for Wizard Chicago is that Chicago is a HUGE alt comics city and yet you go to the show and there isn’t one BIG alt comics guest such as a Chris Ware, and Top Shelf is the only decent size alt comics publisher who does the show. Hell, Chicago Comics/Quimby’s wasn’t event AT the show this year!!??

    I think Wizard also treats Artist Alley like an afterthought and so do the vast majority of Wizard show attendees. The show layout is horribly flawed with Artist Alley being placed in the far back area but also split up with a 2nd smaller section that had maybe half the traffic of the main area. Convention shows should be like the grocery store with high demand things placed at the back to ensure visitors go THROUGH those areas- put DC and Marvel at the back and put Artist Alley in the middle or the front.

    Wizard as a magazine likes to hype the “next big thing” and at least give lip service to mainstream-friendly indy comics but their shows have ZERO interest in doing the same. There’s a reason the other shows are taking over the Wizard shows- because they try to appeal to the WHOLE industry and not one small demographic.

    By the way, I would actually like to see a con with a juried artist alley- keeping a certain thresh hold of quality might attract more fans and reduce the “carnival barker” mentality among alley exhibitors which keeps some fans away.

  24. Johanna Says:

    Chris N., you asked how I’d change it. If they want the con to grow instead of stagnate and/or shrink, then some changes will have to be made. They don’t have to be my changes (and I doubt they would be), but this kind of thing is why the show is no longer of interest to people like me. The problem isn’t just that exclusives are there and diverse artists aren’t; the problem is how exclusives are so extensively promoted, to the exclusion of other messages.

    If you want to talk more immediate economics, the reason not to promote exclusives as heavily is this: if your visitors spend all of their money on them, then they don’t spend any money with retailers or smaller exhibitors, and those people quit buying tables. Which is what’s happening, with people going public about why.

  25. Chris Neseman Says:

    Ah, I get what you’re saying now.
    I can agree with both that and the layout of the show.

    Artist Alley should be in a different spot. That said, the New York con had Artist Alley in a different section of the Javits center on a different floor with no signage telling anyone where it was. I don’t see people running from the New York show.
    Most of the average con goers don’t even know what Artist Alley is. Every (big) con you’ll see people wait in line at the Marvel or DC booth for a creator they can find any other time of the con sitting quietly at their artist alley table.

    So to make WWChicago a better con they need to:
    Reschedule it farther away from San Diego – check
    Redirect the amount of promotion given to exclusives –
    Redesign the layout of the con to be more creator friendly –
    Attract more small press and alternative publishers -

  26. Gary Reed Says:

    I attended this last Chicago Con and was set up in Artists Alley. I was in the “main” part. I thought the flow of traffic was pretty heavy most of the con but it seemed as if the majority of people just wandered in because they paid their admission and they were going to see everything whether they were interested or not.

    However, I thought the response was good. I was swamped on Saturday with Sunday and Friday being a little slow although certainly productive.

    A great move on Wizard’s part was that all the guests that did show up (Jim Calafiore, Phil Hester, and many more I can’t think of right now) who appeared on panels and such were also given spots in Artists Alley. That brought quite a few fans into the area.

    I agree that Wizard needs some kind of quality control in Artists Alley but have no idea of how you would go about that and quality is certainly subjective.

    The reason for lack of pubishers there is probably the cost. San Diego and NY (already!) deliver on fans. Chicago’s booth space is just too expensive, especially since the spots are usually in low flow traffic areas. I’d be pissed if I were some of the exhibitors.

    The Detroit show, as sad as it makes me, is not really a comic show anymore. Very few comic fans attend compared to the size of the “media” side of things.

    It seems that shows that want to be comic shows but rely only on media guests (its coming down to soap opera stars now…)should just drop the comics from the name.

  27. Max Says:

    I still think Wizard at least makes it more about comics than most shows. I think my place in “Bastard Off-Shoot of Artist Alley” is due to my getting my table late. Phil Hester told me he was the second person to get a table for the show, which probably helped in his placement (his was literally the second table walking in the beginning of AA). And from all accounts that I’ve heard, the indy and webcomic people that were situated in the main section of Artists Alley were well received and did good business.

    Quality control for AA is an interesting idea. I think my biggest problem with it currently is that it seems that most of the exhibitors are just selling super-hero prints – not even comic books they created. It would be interesting to have the actual comic creators in one section, and those selling just prints in another.

    As far as indy creators attending, I know they visit, but they may not have a table. I ran into Josh Cotter and we talked a bit; no table, but he was there hanging out. I don’t know if part of the problem is that most of the artists in the Midwest are more into super-heroes versus literary content or not (it seems like it at least – I don’t meet many people from around the area that do minis).

    Next year should be interesting with it moving to June.




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