This last weekend, I attended the Chicago Comic Con (also known as Wizard World). I was not initially planning on going to this comic convention, but after learning that my good friend Kyle and his bride Lisa were going to go, I decided to tag along with them. Though I enjoyed my time seeing some good friends and picking up a few items I have no business owning, I cannot help but say that Wizard World has really gone downhill. This was the first time I went to it since 2009, and quality decline was noticeable. To quote Zack, “what went wrong”?
Personally, I think it was a number of things. After Wizard World 2008, the two big comic book companies (DC and Marvel) signed exclusive contracts with the other Chicago comic convention C2E2. As such, the higher-ups from those publishers cannot contractually attend Wizard World. Since they cannot be there, no big comic-based news is discussed nor released. I do not mean to suggest that no comic writers or artists attend the convention; it is just that it is very limited in scope.
This was a heavy blow to Wizard (who was already losing ground since their magazine was dying). Needing to make up for it, they refocused the convention on the celebrity guests and photo-ops with them. As cool as it is to see minor celebrities such as Dean Cain or Kevin Sorbo, that really is not the reason I enjoy going to these shows. Also, while I am not one who is really all into celebrity autographs, I could not help but notice that the prices charged are absolutely ridiculous. Take Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk). He charges $40 for an autograph. That is a little steep for me, but I get it. What I do not get is why it costs an extra $40 if you want to take a picture with him using your own camera. I do not know if this is Wizard’s rule or the celebrity’s, but I just find that to be highway robbery.
Speaking of money, the convention prices went up this year from $25/day to $35/day. The main reason for this seems to be that the convention has been extended a full extra day. However, is this the type of convention that really needs four days? Given the lack of prestige the convention once had, I cannot say it is.
Not helping matters is how cheap Wizard World has gotten over the past few years. They went from issuing badges to plastic wristbands for entrance. Not the classiest thing, but not a deal breaker either. The real off-putting thing is that they have not done away with programs. In its place are two sheets of paper listing the programing and an almost impossible to read map of the floor photocopied in black and white. While I appreciate the simplicity of it, could they not step it up a notch? Also worth noting is that these “programs” were not even ready for distribution when the convention started on Thursday. It was not until about an hour in before they were handed out. That is horribly unprofessional.
Wizard World has also taken a step backwards in their organization. For starters, the entrances to and from the main floor while seeming practical, ultimately makes no logistical sense. Visitors are only allowed to enter on the far east side of the lobby and exit from the opposite west side of the lobby. The panel rooms are roughly next to the west side exit meaning that if one left the floor to see a panel, he would have to walk all the way around the lobby to re-enter the floor. It is a nuisance and there is seemingly no purpose for it (beyond when the convention first opens).
Another point of contention I have with the organization of Wizard World is that the main floor has been horribly redesigned. Specifically, the artist alley is incomprehensibly arranged. Traditionally, in the back of the main floor, several long rows of tables had established and new artists attempting to show off their work. This row organization was easy to find and to navigate. Now, Wizard World completely changed that and the artist alley is placed wherever there was any extra room. It is still in rows, but not nearly as easy to navigate (even the number system each artist was assigned to did not follow any logical pattern).
All that being said, there is some silver lining coming out of this revamped Wizard World: the programming. I really felt that many of the panels were much more interesting to attend. They had some writer workshops, discussions on symbolism in comic books, and a book talk from the author of Superman: The High-Flying Story of the Man of Steel among others. On Sunday, nearly all the programming was geared towards children (including a panel about bubbles – yeah, I did not understand that one either). I love that the programming was not dominated by celebrity talks nor were 45 minute commercials for upcoming DC and Marvel projects.
As a comic book fan, I found these programs more interesting. The only problem was that the programming was a bit limited. There were times where only one thing was going on during a particular time. For a convention in the Chicago area, too many things should be going on at once. Options should be overwhelming. That said, if you wanted to put on a panel, you would probably have a decent shot at getting approved at Wizard World than at C2E2.
I know I am ragging on Wizard World a lot here. I guess I should mention that if this is what you want out of a convention, then my criticisms are meaningless. I just feel they really have taken the comic out of the comic convention. While I was there, I was talking to a few other convention goers. They lamented the same issues I had. One even predicted that Wizard World had only two years left before folding. I really do not want that to happen.
Wizard World use to be such a great convention, and it can be again. True, it does not have the support with the major comic companies it once did. However, the problems I find with the show can be remedied. Wizard can still focus on the celebrity aspect. They just need to step up the effort, streamline the convention organization, examine their pricing vs. value, and find ways to expanding their programming options. I still have some faith that Wizard World Chicago will be a different kind of great again!