Wizard World Chicago 2006: Problems

I just saw something that suggests Wizard is claiming 200,000 people attended their show over all four days. (Wizard probably follows the method of counting a three-day pass as three attendances. Or, come to think of it, four, considering Preview Night.) I sure hope I misread that, because it’s nowhere near the truth, based on what I saw Thursday and Friday and what a retailer friend told me about business the rest of the weekend.

Preview Night, Thursday from 4-7, was noticably sparse in Artist Alley and the small press area, with relatively few tables even bothering to set up. Fans who wanted a head start on purchasing “convention exclusive” statues and the like appreciated the chance to buy early; fans who wanted to check out new or lesser-known talent were disappointed.

But that was the theme of the weekend. The best times were had with old friends, online or otherwise; the worst was trying to look for anything new. That’s what I anticipate most about a show, discovering a quality title that was previously unknown to me. Unfortunately, as time goes by, there are fewer and fewer that meet that criteria.

During my most fatigued time, someone asked me how I was finding Artist Alley. I said it was like SPX for dark and crappy comics. There were a few exceptions, professional self-publishers or creators who worked for DC and Marvel who knew what they were doing, but the majority of the inhabitants wanted to be another Stan Lee or Image or even just work for them.

There was no shortage of aspiring comic creators, often local, hawking copies of their self-published comics. These tables usually had copies of the one or two issues they’d manage to release, often published through a print-on-demand company and consequently of lesser quality and higher price. (POD books risk looking fuzzy, and they don’t feel right in the hand, due to the paper and copying method.) The subject matter was usually superheroes, horror stories, moody crime tales, or some combination of the above.

One particularly memorable conversation I had consisted of a young artist (strongly influenced by Marc Silvestri and Michael Turner) asking “What’s the difference between a comic and a graphic novel?” When I replied “a variety of factors, including audience, distribution, length, and format,” he responded “how is the format different?”

Another creator, someone who’d put out one issue of their planned 12-issue “season”, was already working on the second. That’s when, he told me, it got really good. I didn’t have the hard to tell him that it was unlikely he’d get three issues published, let alone more than 12. (I also didn’t tell him how much calling comic miniseries “seasons” grates on me.)

The willingness to work with press was, aside from the size of the table and the professionalism of the display, the major distinguishing factor between Artist Alley and the Small Press area — the latter were much more interested and active in getting the word out about their line of comics. The former, in contrast, when they saw my press badge, wanted to spend 10 minutes telling me the story of their great new series but were completely unwilling to give away a single issue of their $3 book.

It’s not that I really want copies of their title, because I’m not likely to enjoy another issue of a generic and mediocre-looking series; it’s that they don’t understand the basics of how to get the word out, which means that they’ll get no sales, no retailer support, and no chance to survive. I resented them for wasting my time by leaving me no physical reminder of their work or remember what they told me or how to find more information.

The Small Press-area publishers, on the other hand, were forcing more books than I could carry on me, allowing me to sample their titles on my own time. As a result, I have a better chance of finding something that’s a pleasant discovery. (Watch for more later about books from these companies, including Markosia and Ape.)

Another difference in professionalism was on display in the major exhibitor section. When I had a question about DC’s schedule or events or staff, I walked into their active and profusely decorated booth. I could instantly find a staffer, either by their headsets or their matching logo t-shirts, and any of them would either answer the question or find someone who could.

Marvel, on the other hand… their “booth” was two tables and a TV screen. There was often no one staffing it beyond one guy keeping people in line, and he didn’t know anything about their signing schedule or who was appearing when. The entire attitude was one of “we don’t care”.

That’s my overall response to the show, too. I’m not the audience. This convention aims to be just like the magazine and succeeds, only with fewer women sporting impossible breasts.

I had some previous comments on the show, and I have one more post coming, that one focusing on the good bits.

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