Search Robot 6 for our most recent Con War stories and you might get the impression that the action has been one-sided. In under a month, Gareb Shamus’s Wizard Entertainment has added four new shows to its “Wizard World Tour” of “Comic Con”-branded pop-culture conventions.
Apart from the early-December announcement that Wizard rival Reed is partnering with Lucasfilm to put on the next Star Wars Celebration — a move that forced Wizard to reschedule its Chicago Comic Con — the outfit behind the New York Comic Con and Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo has left the expansion arms race to its opponent.
Instead, perhaps attempting to make good on its nose-tweaking tagline “The con Chicago needs, the con you deserve,” Reed has focused on shoring up its C2E2 guest list. The show boasts some true heavy hitters, including Geoff Johns (superhero comics’ biggest writer), Alex Ross (superhero comics’ biggest painter), Gail Simone (superhero comics’ most prominent female writer), Jeff Smith (arguably the biggest name in children’s comics with Bone) and, in a very rare con appearance, Chris Ware (arguably the biggest name in alternative comics with The ACME Novelty Library).
Additional guests on the pretty-massive roster include Jim Cheung, Mike Mignola, Steve McNiven, David Finch, Steve Epting, Geof Darrow, Frank Cho, Gene Ha, Adam Hughes, Greg Land, Ethan Van Sciver, Ben Templesmith, Mike Perkins, Butch Guice, David Lloyd and a dedicated line-up of women creators spearheaded by Amanda Conner, Jill Thompson and Sherrilyn Kenyon. And as best I can tell, every single guest C2E2 has announced actually makes comics.
What of the two Wizard shows that provide C2E2 its most direct competition, Chicago (with which it shares a town) and Anaheim (with which it shares dates)?
Anaheim is closer to us on the schedule, and unsurprisingly its guest list is a bit better fleshed out. Long gone are Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev and Phil Jimenez, who pulled out almost immediately following Wizard’s announcement that its Big Apple Comic Con will compete directly against Reed’s NYCC on the same October weekend. Gone also is Heidi Klum, the model/host of Project Runway who shared top billing with Bendis. I’m also not seeing Ernie Hudson or Mick Foley, despite the presence of press releases trumpeting their attendance.
Heading up the Anaheim guest list right now is a genuine comics giant: The Man himself, Stan Lee. After that, the most prominent names are nerd god William Shatner, Dollhouse star Eliza Dushku, Battlestar Galactica‘s Mary McDonnell and Hung star and occasional comics creator Thomas Jane. Anaheim also has a moderate comics-centric guest line-up that includes Bernie Wrightson, Tim Bradstreet, J.M. DeMatteis, Mike Mayhew, Mike McKone, Simon Bisley, Glenn Fabry and Charlie Huston.
But this is simply dwarfed by the number of guests attached to old TV shows and movies (which Wizard’s Anaheim sub-site helpfully groups by franchise), including Star Trek‘s Shatner, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig and Michael Dorn; Futurama‘s Billy West, John DiMaggio and Phil LaMarr; Batman‘s Adam West, Burt Ward, Yvonne Craig, Julie Newmar and Lee Merriwether (plus the Batmobile); and an assortment of (mostly supporting) actors from Stargate, Seinfeld, Hill Street Blues, Austin Powers, Three’s Company and so on. There’s also the usual sprinkling of other celebs (Adrianne Curry, Angie Everhart, Jason Mewes, Erik Estrada, Micky Dolenz, Tia Carrere, Jake Busey, Doug Jones, Taylor Dayne) and ’80s wrestlers (Ted DiBiase, Virgil, The Honky Tonk Man, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine). Interestingly, the list contains several guests — Joe Viskocil, Mark Sheppard, Michael Pappajohn and J.M. DeMatteis — who were among the wave of ostensibly last-minute no-shows at 2009’s Big Apple Comic Con.
The Chicago show is further away and thus its current guest list is shorter. But the make-up is mostly the same: nerd celebs like Shatner, West, Newmar, John Schneider and James Marsters, and a smattering of comic creators topped by David Mack, Michael Golden and Mark Texeira.
What to make of all of this? A few things, I’d argue. If we’re judging by the guest lists alone, then Reed clearly appears to have the edge in terms of support within comics. I’d guess that this isn’t just pro-community support, but institutional support as well — you’ll notice how well-represented big-name exclusive creators with Marvel and DC are at C2E2 versus Anaheim. And if we extrapolate the goals of the two convention organizations from the guest lists they’ve produced, it appears we have two very different conceptions of what a comic con should be, and perhaps more to the point, who their audiences are and what those audiences want. Neither is necessarily my ideal — Chicago is one of North America’s great alternative-comics towns, so I’d love to see C2E2 support Chris Ware’s appearance with a slate of local and regional creators of that sort, for instance — but when given the choice of the two approaches, certain distinctions are not difficult to make.