Monday, November 14, 2011

Con Report: The League Goes to Wizard World

Oh, my.

Well, it may be that comic conventions simply are not my thing.

I attended the 2nd Wizard World Austin for two hours on Sunday.  The Wizard World Comic Conventions are a far cry from the weird invasion of ballrooms at the Holiday Inn off the river I attended as a youth.  The scope is much larger, the square footage fairly impressive, and, of course, we've gone from two of three guys in Star Trek uniforms to a wild array of all kinds of outfits, and people in booths catering to people in outfits.  The big attraction seems to be the celebrities.  Wait.  I meant: the "celebrities".*

In my mind, I have many people I would like to meet.  Athletes.  Statesmen.  TV personalities.  Actors.  Authors.  The reunited cast of the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is not at the top of that list.  And if I DID want to meet most of these people, slipping them a $20 bill for the privilege of meeting them isn't really what I'd have in mind.  I still don't know what it means for an actor to be making their money off of appearances at Wizard World conventions, but its nothing I want to think about a whole lot.  And not something I can very well ignore if Wizard wants for me to participate.

That said, there are some folks who are going to just be done with whatever made them "famous" in the first place, and in this respect, Wizard World is actually seems sort of neat.  Take pro-wrestler The Million Dollar Man.  That guy is not a teen-ager anymore, but he still has lots of folks who'd love to meet him, and that I get.  Last year Adam West came to sign autographs, but he's Batman.  I get the connection.

But, no, I didn't get anyone's autograph.  What I will say is that Kevin Sorbo of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys fame is a really tall guy (taller than me, and I'm, like, 6'4" or so) and I have no idea how old he is.  He still looks remarkably young.  Good on you, Sorbo.

There seemed to be a lot more booths this year, but somehow less in the way of comics.  And what was there didn't make much sense to me (I can't comment on the Austin Books booth as all I did was walk in, high five Brandon and Brad and head out, but they seemed to have a wide variety of goods).  Some had back issues that seemed to be going for twice what I think would be the going rate.  Others only brought things that were so expensive, I assume the stuff just wouldn't be moving.  Several booths had recent stuff, or detritus of the last 15 years that was probably worth more as recycling material than as comics.  People selling just packs of comics, as if the trade market doesn't exist.

There were a few t-shirt booths, people selling medieval/ fantasy weaponry, etc...  and a surprising number of booths to join groups where you get to dress up a steampunk, Ghostbuster, a member of various Starfleet vessels, Jedi clubs, rival Jedi clubs, and all sorts of things I am not sure what those people are actually doing, because I just...  I guess I'm just not wired that way.

I did find a couple of decent deals on Jimmy Olsen comics, a Lois Lane comic, and some deals on Superman comics that really weren't better than Austin Books sidekick store, so I took a pass.  And one Enemy Ace comic.  But I didn't spend all the money I'd budgeted, so I don't know if that says something about the Con, me, or what.

For some reason, this was $2.  GIANT SUPER BRAIN JIMMY!
I also confess:  I don't get the artists' area.  I had no idea who 95% of the people at tables were, and of the people I did know, they were face down drawing and sort of unapproachable or had a pack of people two of three deep.  This has been a constant at the Cons I've attended, and I just don't really get what I'm supposed to do.  And I'm not really curious enough about J. Random Artist's work to want to spend money on their take on Supergirl in a lusty pose (and there was an absolutely, unintentionally hilarious b&w picture of a topless Lynda Carter Wonder Woman someone had hung as a poster that must have been 3 feet high.  Nothing about wanting to hang that in your home suggests that you're adjusting well to adult life.).  I can kind of doodle.  If I want a picture of Wonder Woman by someone who's work I don't follow, I suppose I'd just draw it myself.

This, clearly, is not The Way of the Con.  I am a bad Con attendee.

Further, the retailers all seemed sort of unhappy.  Not Brandon and Brad, who both were extremely chipper for two guys who were dealing with an unruly mob in the Austin Books Thunderdome.  But most of the tables I went to, folks seemed sort of down.  In fact, one guy told me he was down as we were looking at the Overstreet Guide to determine fair sale price for a Jimmy Olsen.  "Nobody's buying anything" he complained.

And part of me wonders, given the nature of this thing, how many of these people even read comics?

Also, nobody seemed to know who the @#$% Enemy Ace is.  This was most vexing.

One hears a lot about how cons create a sense of community for comics fans, and that they're an opportunity for fans to see that they're part of a bigger picture, or simply that they are not alone in this solitary thing we call comics fandom.

Both years I attended, I experienced the opposite.

Perhaps its because there's so little of "comics" to the Con, and its more about what costume folks want to be seen in, or what club they can join in which they can wear costumes together.  Or because its about getting the autograph of Edward Furlong for $20.  Wizard World doesn't talk about comics in the few programming sessions they do have. And its not like there's any communication actually occurring on the show floor other than polite apologies when you bump into one another.  Its a community the same way going to the mall is a community.

After paying $25 for admission, and wandering around for two hours, I was left wondering "what was it I was supposed to get out of this?"

Look, in the Silver Age, getting a giant brain just happened sometimes.  Also, $2.
I hear a lot about the bar scene, and, hey...  man, sign me up.  The League likes a good evening out as much as the next guy.  I like talking to people I don't know, if we've got common ground to cover, or they can share with me the mysteries and inner workings of comics.  Great!

In fact, I attended a small deal on Saturday night full of attendees from Wizard World, and I had a terrific time.  Absolutely fun and though I'm no comics pro, it was great to have a drink with some nice folks who are in the industry.

But I'm not as keen on what and who I'm supposed to be relating to on the convention show floor.  The era of the sort of stuff I'm into seems to have passed, giving way to Gen Y fantasies and nostalgia for kids' stuff that didn't appear til I was in college (I watched my first Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers in the dorms at UT, Pokemon appeared the fall after I graduated college.  I used to watch it on Saturdays because I thought Charmander was charming.)

Where was the discussion about what makes comics great, not the celebration of the celebration?   Call me square, but if the whole enterprise is about how I can have my money spent rather than any real conversation or exploration..?  Well, it more or less reflects so much of what I've found disappointing in recent years surrounding the approach to comics by the kids coming up.

Likely I won't be going back.  At least not to the Wizard World Con.  I'd rather have spent the day at the dog park with Lucy and Scout, which was sort of my gut instinct when I was making my coffee in the morning and planning my day.

Its fine.  I found some cheap Jimmy Olsens and picked up some Superman and Lois Lane.  Its not like I walked out with nothing to show for my time.

Comics are something I grew up mostly sharing with a handful of other people (some of whom actually read this blog.  Hey, Matt A.!), and never discussed with anyone, really, until the first volume of League of Melbotis.  I don't know that there's a Con for that.  Maybe there is.  But this was cotton candy, fluff that melts away after a few seconds.  I want to get more out of my comics, and somehow this felt like fighting a tide of people who didn't care about comics, just the accouterments that have come out of pop culture.

*I am unsure of the difference between "occasionally working actor" and "celebrity".


Matt A. said...

I felt generally the same way with last year's convention, though it sounds like that one was a better showing than this year's. Mainly, the question "What comic-related thing am I supposed to be doing here that I can't get at a comic shop?" seemed to hang over my head.

The League said...

Yeah, we're spoiled here in town with Austin Books (also: the internet), so I don't need a Con to find things to spend money on.

J.S. said...

I know that I'm, at best, an observer on the periphery of the whole comics thing, but it just seems like the whole comic con thing made a lot more sense back when there was a greater emphasis on actual collecting (and maybe there's more of one now than I realize, but it seems like the emphasis has switched to trades and the like). I just remember the old comic cons being filled with table after table of long boxes, and we'd spend a whole lot of time digging through them and talking up what we'd find.