The comic convention season has changed dramatically in the last five years. It used to be that there were two shows you had to go to– Comic-Con International in San Diego and WizardWorld Chicago. Sure, there were other regional shows, but most of them were rather small in comparison. Then, more shows began opening all over the country and regional shows that were once small suddenly grew in size and began attracting a higher caliber of talent. The convention season got busy quickly, with a major show held once a month, if not more often.
The convention season gets its unofficial start this upcoming weekend with San Francisco’s WonderCon. This edition marks the 20th anniversary for the show, which has seen itself grow rather dramatically itself in the five years since Comic-Con International began managing the convention. With increased competition from other conventions– the New York Comic-Con takes place two weeks after WonderCon, with Wizard World Los Angeles set to follow three weeks after that– the stakes have been risen. We spoke with Comic-Con International’s Marketing Director David Glanzer to discuss the challenges faced by convention organizers and to find out what sort of plans they have in place for WonderCon this year.
In 2002, the convention found a new home at the Moscone center facility in San Francisco, which allowed the convention to expand with greater amounts of programming for attendees. This year, the convention itself will be located in the recently completed Moscone Center West. “This is a newer, multi-level building that allows us to have the exhibit hall on the ground floor, a floor dedicated to programs that allows us more space for expanded programming, and a floor dedicated to the masquerade which was a huge success in 2005,” explained Glanzer. “Also, we have an impressive line up of comics guests, programming, and exhibitors, so I think this is going to be a pretty great show.”
An impressive line-up indeed. A quick look at the Web site reveals some exciting guests from comics and Hollywood, including:
- J.J. Abrams (Director “Mission: Impossible III”)
- Mike Allred
- Sergio Aragonés
- Erik Larsen
- Mike Mignola
- Frank Miller
- Grant Morrison
- Bryan Singer (Director “Superman Returns”)
- Kevin Smith
- Mark Waid
- … and more!
One of the big surprises at last year’s convention was the last minute addition of “Batman Begins” actor Christian Bale to the programming schedule, his only convention appearance. Glanzer said the unexpected should be expected this year as well. “One of the great things about WonderCon is that Comic-Con International runs the event and we have a 36 year history of knowing how to put on a successful show,” said Glanzer. “The studios in Hollywood are very well aware of this, so WonderCon also benefits. Last year saw some very cool presentation, not only in comics, but from Hollywood as well. I think we can all expect some super surprises at this years show.”
While the convention season is now a year round event, WonderCon is the first major comics convention of the year. Despite its position at the head of the pack, Glanzer said it doesn’t really affect the way they put the show together. “All of our shows are independent events from one another. Each must be the best it can be whatever date on the calendar it falls. I think WonderCon being at the beginning of the year may set the standard by which other shows are judged, but, honestly, we strive to put on the best show we can, for attendees, fans, and exhibitors at all of our events. And hopefully we’ve succeeded.”
But adding to the pressure this year is the emergence of the New York Comic-Con, held just two short weeks after the conclusion of WonderCon. How did this addition to the convention circuit affect their plans, if at all? “I think whenever you have shows close together that may attract similar attendees or exhibitors, there can be some cause for concern,” said Glanzer. “But the truth is, again, we try to put on the best show we can regardless of other conventions. We try to attract the best guests and exhibitors so that those who attend the event have the best time they can. I’m sure other events do the same.”
Often with regional shows, programming takes a back seat to the main convention. While Comic-Con International easily has the busiest programming schedule of them all, WonderCon’s schedule is one to be respected. The 2005 convention saw the number and quality of WonderCon programming increase dramatically. “I can say that on behalf of all our events, programming has always, and will always be an integral part of our shows,” said Glanzer. “It’s our mission. We are a non-profit, educational organization with a mission statement that includes creating awareness of and appreciation for comics and related popular art forms.
“Having a convention isn’t simply about getting people in the door. It’s about educating people and introducing them to new things,” continued Glanzer. “By having extensive programming you can teach people about the history of this great medium. By having a diverse exhibit floor you can introduce product to people who may not even be aware some of this stuff exists.
“When Comic-Con started over 30 years ago, it’s main interest was to honor comics artists who weren’t getting the attention they deserved. We also had a huge film and movie interest back then, and this carries over to today.
“The increase in programming at WonderCon is because we moved to a venue that has more programming space. The same was true of the move from Oakland to San Francisco.”
The 2005 show was the biggest WonderCon to date, but Glanzer says they’re not making any predictions or projections of what they expect this year. “I know people aren’t sure what to make of it when we say that we don’t forecast numbers. But we just don’t,” said Glanzer. “We’ve always been very conservative in our number counting. We always hope to have as many people as the year previous, but there are too many variables to be able to honestly say how many people to expect at any given show.
“Last year WonderCon had 14,500 individual attendees. Hopefully we can meet that number again this year. As for capacity, Moscone has several different exhibit halls so the issue of capacity is one that shouldn’t be of concern. But I should say here that WonderCon isn’t the kind of show that will become the size of San Diego. It’s not supposed to and we’re not looking for that to happen.”
WonderCon is held this Friday, Saturday and Sunday February 10th through 12th at the Moscone Center West facility on the corner of Fourth and Howard Streets in San Francisco, California. Comic Book Resources will be in attendance providing coverage from the convention all weekend long.
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