Wizard World held their annual comic book and pop culture convention in Austin, Texas, this past weekend. This was the second time in Austin (previous years were held in Arlington).
Rent a big floor space and fill it with artists, retailers, and fans, and a good time is going to be held. I had a good time at this year’s con, but found it lacking compared to previous years and compared to their competitor, the Dallas Comic Con. It just feels like Wizard has become lackadaisical about the show – they just aren’t putting in as much effort. For the first few years, in Arlington, Wizard was a very big presence at their own show. They had a big booth. They had exclusive merchandise. They had games. They had goody-bags. They had well produced programs. Most of that has faded away.
I couldn’t believe there wasn’t a con program brochure, this year. There was just a black and white single tabloid sized piece of paper with the floor plan on one side and the programming schedule on the other. The program brochure is an important part of a con. It has all the information about the show, including photos of the guests. Many fans had the guests sign the program and it becomes an important memento of the occasion. Not this year.
There was no goody-bag with a free exclusive comic, magazine, and or Her0clix. Wizard had a small booth that was selling T-shirts. The trivia wheel was gone. Really, except for the banners set up, it was hard to tell Wizard was there.
The most egregious thing is the decline in quality of the panels. Comics and the other pop culture elements that Wizard celebrates are VISUAL media – yet Wizard has stopped providing the VISUAL component of the panels. There used to be laptops connected to the projectors that would show art on the screen behind the panelists. Often, at panels, there are the hardcore fans whom know exactly who the guests are, but there are also their family members who don’t and would really benefit from seeing what the artist that is talking actually produces. How hard would it be to have a volunteer do a simple Google Image search and pick a dozen or so samples to represent the speaker’s work?
I found it rather annoying that Wizard didn’t notify the attendees about the guests that were unable to attend. Usually a convention will put a notice on their website, but Wizard just removed the names as people dropped out. So I, and others, brought books to be signed by guests that weren’t there (such as Stephane Roux, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Patrick Gleason).
This year’s con didn’t really excel on the big name guests, either – especially when compared to the Dallas Comic Con, back in April. At that con they had Leonard Nimoy, Stan Lee, and John Romita Jr. At this con, the biggest names were Greg Capullo (currently drawing Batman) and Adam Baldwin (Casey from “Chuck”). Both good guests – but not quite on the “OMG! I just met Spock!” scale.
The retailer space seemed a pretty good size, but not a pretty good selection. There were maybe half a dozen comic dealers and they all seemed to have the same 20 silver age books on their displays.
Another strange thing was the schedule. It was a 3-day convention, as it usually is, but the con didn’t start until 4pm on Friday. The only food vendor in the exhibition hall was serving putrid nacho-crap, so it appeared that most people decided to leave and go get eat dinner at around 7pm. And then Sunday was billed as “kids day” and there was very little on the program of interest to anyone over the age of 10. So that expensive 3-day ticket really felt like a 1.5 day ticket.
The disappointing aspects described, let’s talk about what happened that was good.
The big value of the Friday at a 3-day con is that the attendance is lighter, so it’s usually the best time to work through Artist’s Alley and obtain signatures from in-demand creators and to get yourself on their sketch/commission lists. I quickly got myself on Michael Golden and Billy Tucci’s lists.
There wasn’t really anything on the programming agenda that interested me, on Friday.
11:00 AM – Storytelling with Michael Golden
Michael Golden is a great artist – although he doesn’t consider himself an artist – he considers himself a craftsman. He started in commercial art and first worked on comics in 1977. There are two basic categorizations of comic book artists – there are those that learned art and then started to work in comics and there are those that learned art from comics. Golden is the former. There are certainly excellent artists from both categories, but an advantage to the first category is that those people have usually spent more time learning form and anatomy and don’t have a single style. Golden is renowned for his ability to completely change his style to suit the needs of the work/client.
12:00 PM – Wizard Spotlight: Marv Wolfman
Wolfman is another long-timer. He is probably most widely known for his work on the Teen Titans, for creating the character Blade, and for writing Crisis on Infinite Earths. He has a new graphic novel featuring the Titans called “Games”. It is illustrated by George Perez and is a story that the fans have been waiting for for more than 20 years. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a single retailer at the con that had the book for sale. Wolfman is a timely guest to have at a con because his Crisis on Infinite Earths, back in 1985, was an attempt to do what DC is attempting right now – rebooting their universe. He provided some interesting insights on the topic. He believes that a comic universe has to renew itself for each generation, and that looking back, it seems to happen roughly every 25 years. 2011 is DCnU. 1985 was Crisis. 1961 was the birth of the Marvel Universe. 1938 was the start of the superheroes. Those hoping for him to have some biting words for changes to his characters were in for a disappointment, as Wolfman says he has a firm rule not to read characters he worked on after he stops working on them. He said when he started on a book, he made changes without permission from the people that worked on them before him and the people working on them now certainly don’t need his permission.
Although Jo Chen was present at the convention, she did not attend the panel for which she was slated. Greg Capullo and Yanick Paquette were both gregarious panelists and very open about the challenges and frustrations of working in comics. Both are involved in the DCnU reboot (Capullo is drawing Batman and Paquette is drawing Swamp Thing). Both seemed a little frustrated about the short notice they were given to start working on their new books and the difficulty of putting out their best work on the schedule of a monthly book.
Sturges (Jack of All Fables, House of Mystery) and Edmondson (Who is Jake Ellis) provided the perspective of the writers. They discussed how they script comic books and their thoughts on how the move to digital will influence the way comics are written. Sturges is from Texas and received a big welcome from the audience.
4:00 PM – Adam Baldwin Q&A
Adam Baldwin is best known, by the geek community, for his current role on NBC’s Chuck as Col. John Casey and for his role as Jayne Cobb on Firefly and Serenity, but he has been in dozens of films, including Full Metal Jacket. He often plays the tough guy of few words, but in person he is charming and hilarious. His panel was the best of the con. Particularly funny was when he pulled a little kid up from the audience and made him his sidekick for the rest of the panel.
Patrick Gleason was a no-show at the convention, so the panel was just Kevin and Freddie. The panel started with Kevin saying that he had no idea why he was on a panel on “breaking in” since he broke in 25 years ago and barely remembers it. He was an entertaining member of the panel, though. I’m a big fan of Kevin Maguire. I think he is the best in the field at portraying human emotions through lineart. Freddie Williams has been working for DC since about 2005, so his memory of breaking in was fresher. Williams is also the author of The DC Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics, so naturally a lot of the questions were about how digital will change comics.
And that was pretty much it. I also attended a Sunday panel where Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and his wife read from a book they’ve written for children about Peter’s giantism and the subject of being different. After that I walked around the hall as I waited for Billy Tucci to finish my Captain America commission.
I had a good time. Austin is a really nice city with excellent BBQ (Salt Lick!) I ended up getting these two great commissions of Captain America by Michael Golden and Billy Tucci, respectively: