This weekend, after about a decade with no major shows, Wizard World brought the comic convention back to New Orleans in a big way. Now, this drought should not suggest there has been nothing for the comic fan in all that time. For the past two years there’s been a really great small show, Nola Comic-Con, in April. Locally owned and operated, it proved to me conclusively that New Orleans has a much stronger comic book community than I realized. I’ve met some great people thanks to that show. But still… it wasn’t big time.
Wizard World New Orleans was clearly different. Bigger, obviously – much
bigger. It features more creators, higher-profile creators, a lot more vendors, a flurry of movie and TV stars that Nola Comic-Con probably wouldn’t have scored, and a lot more all poured into the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center for two really packed days. By any measure, Wizard World New Orleans 2011 was a success. The crowds were steady, people made money, and everyone I’ve talked to had a really good time. That said, there’s always room for improvement.
I bought a two-day pass for the event in advance, but only wound up going on Saturday. This is not entirely Wizard World’s fault. I wasn’t feeling great that day and by the time I got home to a thermometer I discovered I was running a 100-degree temperature, apparently having picked up a bug that’s been going through the little Petri dish of a public school where I work. (This is not a knock against my
school. In my experience, all
schools are full of festering, mobile packets of disease, and if they weren’t called “students” it would be much easier to get rid of them.) I do feel bad about this. In the other half of the Convention Center was a World of Wheels auto show, and many people chose to visit both events that day. As a result, I have exposed every nerd and
gearhead in the state of Louisiana to this illness. Also Ernie Hudson
. So anybody who was at either of these shows who gets sick in the next week: my bad.
Still, even without my scratchy throat, voice like gravel, and the very real fear that in my feverish state I would attempt to climb on a cosplayer dressed like Superman and reenact the “Can You Read My Mind?” sequence, I don’t think I would have gone to WWNO Day 2. As big as it was, I felt like I’d done everything in one day. I’d wandered amongst the creators, talking to those I wanted to (with the sole exception of Ethan Van Sciver
, whose line never diminished.) I’d lapped the dealer’s area multiple times, spending a shockingly small amount of money. And I’ve never really been the sort to stand in line to get an autograph from a celebrity, except that one time with Erica Durance
, and can you blame me? I’m sure most of them are very nice people (with two notable exceptions that I won’t mention here by name) but I don’t really know what I could say to them that wouldn’t just be a repetition of stuff they’ve heard from thousands of fanboys over the years. How many times has Ernie Hudson
been told Ghostbusters
is somebody’s favorite movie, has Claudia Christian
heard that Babylon 5
revolutionized television sci-fi, or Julie Benz
heard that someone can’t stop rewatching that scene from Dexter
(you know damn well which one)? Unless I’ve got something truly unique to say, I’d rather spend my precious convention time elsewhere.
These things are all par for the course at a comic book convention, though, so it’s not something I really would want to change. But here’s the one thing that could have brought me out for Day Two, had I not been Patient Zero for a new hybrid of the Black Plague, Ebola, and Athlete’s Foot: great panel discussions. Dealers and autographs are great, they’re what bring people out to the convention, but panels keep
people there after they’re done with the shopping and autograph hunting. I attended three panels on Day One – “The Art of Sweets
with Kody Chamberlain
and Rob Guillory
”; “Q&A With Victor Gishler
;” and the bizarre musical stylings of Ethan Van Sciver
. I enjoyed all three. But looking at the slate for panels for Day Two, nothing really interested me. To be certain, this is entirely a matter of personal taste. Most of the Day Two panels seemed focused more on the TV side, which is great if that’s why you’re there. But I’m there for the comics.
Which brings us to another point where I felt the convention was slightly lacking: there was no editorial presence there from any publisher. None. Zip. Zero. Okay, I didn’t really expect Marvel or DC to be there – they save it for the “Rilly Big Shoes” these days – but I’d hoped to find a booth or two from some of the smaller guys… Red 5? Zenescope? APE Entertainment? Anybody? Even more than their favorite writer or artist, the would-be comic pro (which is a ridiculous percentage of fans) comes to these things in the hopes of networking, showing off their artwork, sneaking a writing sample to an editor, that kind of thing. You just can’t do that when there’s nobody there.
What’s more, I think the big boys miss out on a chance to snag new readers at things like this. “Wait, Blake,” you say. “New
readers? At a comic convention? Check your temperature again.” But no, friends, I’m serious. And 98.8. I’ve been to Wizard cons before – in Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia – but because this was my hometown show I noticed something I never would have thought true. There were a staggering number of people there who are not
regular comic book readers. And I know this because I kept running into them all day
. People I went to high school and college with, former co-workers, relatives, the only person my sister liked at her last job, and so on. People who are not
members of our little, exclusive, sadly incestuous Club For Geeks. They. Were. There.
So I asked them why, and I got an array of answers. Some were Buffy
fans drawn to the convention with the promise of meeting about a dozen cast members. Others were in the center for the auto show and thought it would be fun to pop over to the comic book show for a little while. Still more are in that selection of families (not as rare as you think) that enjoy doing things together and thought – correctly – this would be a fun way to spend the weekend with the kids. And yes, there were a lot
of kids there. Whatever their reasons, we had people there who were not part of the usual comic book demographic, but were receptive to the message
. This would have been the time to make the case for comics! Do a panel talking about the big Fantastic Four
death, show clips from the Green Lantern
movie and TV show, hand out copies of last year’s Free Comic Book Day offerings! I know Geoff Johns
can’t be at every convention and that Marvel can’t afford to send their booth out every weekend, but at least a small
presence, you’d think, would be worth their while.
And you know what? I’ll bet you get this sort of unexpected audience at every
convention. Except maybe San Diego, where tickets sell out a year in advance and you have to fight a lightsaber battle with Robert Pattinson’s entourage just to get in. But I never would have noticed it anywhere but home.
Here’s the great news: Wizard World New Orleans did enough just from advance ticket sales
that Wizard already locked down the same weekend for a show next year. So there’s definitely going to be a chance to do the next show even better. There’s no party town like New Orleans. It’s great to see my favorite Geekdom coming down here to take advantage of it.
Favorite of the Week: January 26, 2011
has cracked the top four. Along with Stan Lee, John Byrne,
and Mark Waid
, he’s now one of my favorite Fantastic Four
writers of all time, and he got that status by killing
one of them. In last week’s cataclysmic Fantastic Four #587
, Hickman brought one member of comicdom’s greatest family to the edge, and we watched a hero make the final sacrifice in what I’m sure will go down as one of the all-time great comic book deaths. Sure, we live in a universe where the character in question will most likely return from the dead in a year or two, but that doesn’t make this one issue any less awesome. If you haven’t read it, do it. Well done, Mr. Hickman.
Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast and the weekly audio fiction podcast Blake M. Petit’s Evercast. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page, and check out his new experiment in serial fiction at Tales of the Curtain.