Monday, August 3, 2009

When Conventions die slow, meandering deaths

The Wizard World Chicago convention is this weekend.

I am sorta amused that they're website lists it as the "Chicago Comi-Con" again. Which was the title before Wizard bought it out a number of years ago. Wizard (which is a comic-book/pop culture magazine) had been promoting dozens of conventions over the course of the year for a while, but this year...just two. Chicago and Philly, I believe.

There was a time when the Chicago Comi-Con was the largest in the country. Hard to believe now.

Honestly, I first went just a few years ago. Probably '02/'03, it was a couple of years after we moved here. I was pretty impressed the first year, and horribly unimpressed upon every attendance since. I actually haven't gone in about 4 years, I say. The sight of a wrestling ring in the middle of the floor, when Wizard was trying to start it's own wrestling tour, was the end of the enjoyment for me.

Well, this year, looks like I'll be heading back. Some of the guys and I are talking about it. I think it's SDCC withdrawls.

Though I also have the hotel reservations in place for the 2010 SDCC. Go-go gadget nerd!

Couple of interesting people will be attending WWC this year, George Perez, always a lovely man, fun to listen to, and a genius. Dan Slott, one of the few exciting writers over at Marvel right now. Howard Chaykin, another genius. Plus, another chance to be in the same building with Edward James Olmos.

But I'll be damned if I'm paying $50 for Billy Dee Williams autograph, and what would a convention be without some classic Star Trek actor hocking their own photos (Nichelle Nichols)?

Y'know, I first started going to conventions in high school. I'd travel up to Denver with a few friends, and we'd see Leonard Nimoy or William Shatner speak. I was at the very first convention appearance that Patrick Stewart ever did. I watched him sign autographs and meet people for 8 hours, and never a dime was exchanged. That's the way it was in the old days, they people would do a Q&A session, then sign for a few hours. If you made the line before cut-off, you got a signature. Shatner and Nimoy knew, and Stewart quickly learned, that sometimes it was just easier for everyone if you didn't sign.

But Takei? Nichols? Koenig? They'd always sign. They were right there swinging.

Then somebody told them they could make some dollars.

I don't begrudge anyone the right to make a living, everybody's got to eat. The conventions have also changed, you won't see Takei or Nichols doing Q&A anymore. Actors and actresses have found a new area, the autograph area, off by the artist's alley. (Where artists you've never heard off try to hock their self-published books)

Now, SDCC and WWC are, supposedly, COMIC BOOK CONVENTIONS. So, the idea that your actors and actresses get turned into glorified autograph machines kinda makes sense. We're supposed to be here for COMIC BOOKS, right?

Yeah, but, you see, when Wizard, and Creation before them, got into the convention business, comic books, or Trek, or whatever, got amalgamated into these great mass "pop culture" conventions. When that happened, a lot, if not most, of the character was lost. Now, there's a convention on pretty much every weekend of the year.

Who pays the price? Well, Wizard does. Yep, their insta-con recipe ultimate gave their conventions a generic sense of "so what?" SDCC never had this problem, because, as much as it's been sucking the corporate and Hollywood teat for years, there's a uniqueness in what it is. The size, the sheer magnitude of the exhibits and dealers. It sprawls, and you know you're right in the bowels of the fanboy world. Plus, the SDCC stands alone. They don't publish a magazine, they don't run an internet store on the side, and they don't feel like they're trying to become the Apple computer of the fan world. They run their massive conventions, and they attempt to do that as well as possible.

(In a convention center that's woefully too small, and a city that ALMOST can't deal with it.)

The myriad Wizard conventions? Feels like you're walking through a cookie cutter. A cookie cutter that's trying to sell you all sorts of crap on your way through.

So, the ultimate point?

Wizard just about ruined everything. They've been around since the comic boom of the 90's, when every idiot on the street thought they could buy 10 copies of The Death of Superman, and be multi-millionaires within ten years. Pretty much the entire hobby has moved past this mindset, EXCEPT WIZARD. They've been leading a war to try to drag us back to that mindset since the speculators realized a comic that printed 1,000,000,000 issues would NEVER be worth anything in the aftermarket, and hit the road.

Gareb Shamus, CEO of Wizard

Wizard has proceeded with a "suck up everything, and then suck the life out of it" attitude. The magazine isn't even that good. For a while it was the premiere magazine for the comic book industry. Whereas with most industries, that would mean some journalistic credibility, with Wizard, it simply meant they sucks up to the big comic companies better than anyone. No reviews, at least none that amounted to anything more than a puff piece. No interviews that dared to challenge any creators or publishers. No OP/ED content at all. Half the time they'd have a "Wizard Exclusive Cover" for whatever the hot title was, at some insanely jacked up price.

Yeah, that's right the magazine covering the industry was also trying to be a one-stop sales location for all this stuff they'd proclaimed "hot collectibles" in their pages. Hmmmm.....

That's not what the industry needs right now, and the fact that Wizard, as a company, is having a tremendously hard time right now, is proof that the market is (hopefully) starting to grow up. (In the best way, and staying kids at heart in the best ways) The shrinking of the convention numbers, from about 10 to 2. Lots of staff getting let go. I feel bad for the people taking a hit, but I'm really gald to see the fan base moving away from this stuff.

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