My handful of hours at Wizard

This is entirely my own op/ed. This is a news site for Canadian comics, and this organization presents awards for creative categories, publishing and retailing. We do not have a convention award, nor are there any plans to have one.

So on that note… being up front and honest — this is a weird event for me. On the one hand, I now do work for Hobbystar on their comic shows and Hobbystar and Wizard are competitors in this market — I would hasten to say friendly competitors – based on the civility and lack of any conflicts that we had over the past six months and the fact that the shows are well spaced apart from one another. On the other hand, this is a revival of sorts of the old shows I used to work on with Paradise at the same venue that I found to be unworkable and unmanageable after trying there for five years. For me it was like having coffee with an old girlfriend and seeing all of the things that made you both interested but also the reasons for why you wanted to break up with her and ultimately coming to the understanding that you made the right choice and you move on.

On Friday night I went downtown to meet my friends William, Joe and Bradley from CGC and while I was at their hotel I ran into the owners and organizers of the Wizard shows and they invited me to come down and check out the event. I’ll admit I was hesitant, given politics and the talk of Con War – I was going to stay away and keep a healthy and respectful distance from the whole affair. Other people I knew were curious and the invitation was genuine, so we went down and checked it out.

It is my fervent wish that we can put this Con War crap to rest, once and for all. Some people are still wound up too tight about it. A lot of those people are people we all work with, and it’s almost like they want a fight to break out again. Maybe they felt it was an exciting time for the city, but I get headaches thinking about those years. Anyway, they were very nice to have invited us down, and we weren’t given any warnings or conditions, but I felt we should follow the ethic of “do unto others as you  would prefer they do unto you” and so refrained from handing out any publicity materials or even business cards.

I arrived around 3pm. Crowds looked good – what you would hope to see on a Saturday afternoon – the busiest day of the con. On Friday I kept receiving calls and texts from people I knew who did go who wanted to tell me that things were not going as well and that attendance was in the hundreds. I don’t think I’m spreading rumours by reporting that as other con reports, positive and negative have mentioned it. But seeing the Saturday crowd at 3PM it looked vibrant in there, and there was a friendly energy that I hadn’t seen at a Paradise show since the 2006 event (2007 was depressing and I did not want to go in 2008 after I had left the organization). I certainly wouldn’t say tens of thousands of attendees, but a couple of thousand, a good showing.

Every guest was easily accessible because of short lines, including the wrestlers, reality stars, and headliner celebrities  — that’s great for the attendees, but that’s why people loved the old Paradise show as well, accessibility – but the flip side of that is lower than expected attendance.

In my experience successful events are based on overall satisfaction of all groups, not just one specific group. And even then, attendees can be subdivided into different groups – some go for overall guests, some for specific guests, some for back issues, some for deals. The more fandom sub-groups you add the more people you have to satisfy and this former comics only show was now trying to entice wrestling, sci-fi and horror fans.  Was every group satisfied? That’s not for me to say, but the con reports are definitely reflecting whether or not people’s expectations were met.

I think I wrote about this a couple of years ago in my old livejournal — what makes a show successful? For (a) an attendee it is costs vs. successful completion of measurable goals + atmosphere, (b) for an exhibitor it is is costs vs. sales, (c) for a guest time spent talking with attendees and sales vs. down time sitting idle vs. overall treatment, and finally (d) for a show promoter it is the very measurable formula of admissions sold and exhibitor rebookings vs. costs involved in producing the event. It’s great to get positive reviews and all, but the mark of a happy exhibitor is a completed application form for the next year annual event, the mark of a happy guest – a thank you note expressing their satisfaction with your efforts (and referrals to their associates), and happy attendees is positive feedback and reports to other fans. Writing media reports on the success of an event before it’s completion and before you tally all of that seems premature to me, but Wizard did a great job in getting media interest.

Now the Wizard folks need to step back and decide on whether (d) was worth staging this again and whether (a), (b) and (c) will work for or against it. Since they have quickly announced 2011 dates I’m assuming they think it is, but those dates were planned before the weekend happened.

Comics folk were pleasant and it was nice to see everyone and I had some great conversations with comic book dealers (including Doug Simpson and Sarrah Young at the Paradise Comics booth), comic book creators and the many superfans which attend the area events. People were in good spirits. I had a great time seeing friends and associates. I was there to just enjoy myself, and I did, so take that as a positive review.

I did get a chance to talk with Ty for a bit about Bob Kane’s kleptomania and his independently exploding coke bottle, but I didn’t get a chance to pet his beard.

I also got herded out with the rest of the attendees and exhibitors when the fire alarm went off, and many people were laughing and joking with us (including the Wizard folk) about the fact that people from Hobbystar had arrived and then the fire alarms went off.

Note: later in the day after writing that, I came across Giancarlo Paniccia’s (a Wizard volunteer) blog post where he says he believes Hobbystar employees pulled the alarm – and accuses HSM for the lack of support of the Wizard show by dealers like Toronto’s Silver Snail and One Million Comix – so I gather for some it was taken as a fact, which in itself is sad.

Anyway, a lot of the crowd shots you’ll see on the internet were taken when the attendees and exhibitors and guests were all outside of the exhibit halls waiting to get in. Despite the inconvenience everyone seemed to take it in stride and they extended the show hours to make up for the lost time.

The afternoon ended with a long talk with Steven Shamus, and we were later joined by Gareb. It was a pleasant talk – I like these guys on a personal level. Steven is a very enthusiastic talker and I wondered if people thought he was chewing me out, given people’s love of spreading rumours. I was literally one of the last people to leave the convention centre around 8pm and went to have a pleasant dinner with some friends.

Anyway, it did remind me just how great and vibrant the people that live in Toronto are, and how much I enjoy working with them and promoting comics with them. It also made me recall all of the reasons why I did not want to do another Paradise con  (aside from the central not getting paid issue): specifically location, but also advertising, logistics, programming, volunteer quality, etc.

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