Heroes Con & Supercon make Con Love, not Con War

Not every comic-convention conflict has to end in tears. So Heroes Con organizer and Heroes Aren't Hard to Find retailer Shelton Drum discovered when he ran into a seemingly unavoidable scheduling overlap with Florida Supercon, the Miami-based show organized by Mike Broder. The two shows have announced that Supercon has voluntarily switched its 2010 dates to June 18-20 in order to accommodate Heroes Con, which will be held on June 4-6.

According to Drum, the increasingly busy convention season and a booked-solid schedule at the Charlotte, NC convention center during the June-July timeframe during which Heroes Con is traditionally held combined to limit his scheduling options.

"I had actually just about given up on doing anything at the Charlotte Convention Center in 2010," Drum tells Robot 6. "Using a smaller venue was an option as well as just taking a year off." But when Drum put out feelers in these directions at the Baltimore Comic-Con, he was met with such an overwhelming response that he feared hosting the show at a smaller site would lead to overcrowding.

Things changed last week, when Drum learned that the June 4-6 weekend had opened up at the Convention Center.

"The only problem was the already planned Miami Supercon that I had promised myself to respect," he says. "I called Mike Broder actually to apologize that I was going to have to use that weekend if I was going to have a show at all in the summer of 2010. Mike's response without hesitation was, 'I love your show. I enjoy attending it. I think I have some flexibility with my center, let me see if I can reschedule.'"

Broder tells Robot 6 he wasted no time when he heard of Drum's predicament. "He gave me a call to see what could be done on Thursday. I have the utmost respect for Shelton and Heroes Con, and I think they're a great show, so [I told them if there's] anything I can do to help I will. I called my convention center and set up a meeting for Friday to see what our options were. They had the June 18-20 date open on the space I needed, so we moved things around to make it work. It was mostly a matter of pushing a bunch of different papers around."

Both Drum and Heroes' Creative Director Dustin Harbin report that they'll try to return the favor by attending Supercon as a vendor, promoting the Florida show to their customers, and even helping out with its guest list. It's a method of dealing with other shows they prefer, given their contentious history with Gareb Shamus's Wizard Entertainment. "We’re sensitive to that sort of thing, having been on the David side of the David/Goliath metaphor before," Harbin says.

Whatever their reasoning behind their confrontational recent scheduling against Reed Exhibitions-hosted events like NYCC, Wizard seems to have learned that their perceived bigfooting of regional shows like Heroes Con in the past has done their convention efforts more harm than good. In an interview with the Philadelphia Daily News (scroll down to the last item), Wizard VP of Business Development Stephen Shamus (brother of Gareb) calls the show's past scheduling against Heroes Con in 2007 and 2009 "stupid" and lays the blame at the feet of unnamed former employees: "The people that did that are gone and I can guarantee Wizard Philly will never again be going head to head with Heroes Con. Ever!" Presumably Shamus is not referring to former staffers Adam Tracey or Benjamin De John, both of whom had spoken to Drum in order to ensure that no conflict would take place in 2010 after a last-minute 2009 date switch by Wizard led to their Philly show's second overlap with Heroes Con.

It's worth noting, however, that the surrounding article appears to have a rather dubious grip on the facts -- avoiding any mention of the Big Apple/NYCC kerfuffle despite ostensibly being about con conflicts, referring to Big Apple as "the New York Con," and claiming that the Philly/Heroes conflict "hurt both shows." Nothing could be further from the truth, according to Heroes' Dustin Harbin, who recalls how pros like J. Michael Straczynski, Greg Rucka, Tony Harris, Cully Hamner, and Brian Stelfreeze were among many who rallied to Heroes Con's side following Wizard's soon-to-be-aborted Wizard World Atlanta counter-scheduling in 2006.

"The upshot was that 2006 was one of our best years ever," says Harbin. "It was just a great resolution to that story, to be honest. Does that sound petty? When someone does something bad and your entire community responds by lining up behind you, resulting in a hugely successful convention...well, how can you help loving turning that frown upside down?"

Is Wizard frowning or smiling lately? Their official and semi-official stance continues to emerge only in drips and drabs -- a mainstream-media promotional piece here (like Stephen Shamus's Philly.com interview), a message board post there (like the series of posts by staffer Mark Allen Haverty, which were since deleted from both the Wizard Universe message board and from Rich Johnston's BleedingCool.com, per Haverty's request).

Perhaps the most interesting indication of where Wizard's coming from emerged through Johnston, who recently posted a seemingly Wizard-derived "origin story" for the current "Con War" with Reed. The story centers around some antagonistic promotion for a party hosted by retailer Chicago Comics during this summer's Wizard-owned Chicago Comic Con and cross-promoted by Reed -- but the explanation has been met with skepticism, most notably by Chicago Comics manager Eric Thornton.

Elsewhere, Heidi MacDonald's epic Con War round-up chronicles a variety of problems Wizard/Shamus's conventions arm has experienced, many of which predate or exist independently of the battle with Reed's C2E2 and NYCC. And former Wizard convention staffer Brett White has posted a before-and-after photo comparison of Wizard's 2008 staff in which only one of the pictured employees remains at the company today.

The ultimate source of the Con War notwithstanding, Drum, Harbin and Broder all agree that when it comes to comic conventions, communication rather than competition is key. "I'm very happy that we could do this with Heroes Con," Broder says. "It's great that it was so easy to fix the problem, and not cause any more drama in the con world. There are 52 weeks in a year, so there's generally always another weekend to do a show when a date conflict arises."

Conflicts can cause trouble not just for those promoting the cons but for those selling at them as well. "The fact is that most of us 'regional' convention promoters are comic retailers as well," Drum explains. "I want to go to most of the shows as a vendor, or attendee. I can't do it if I'm having a show on the same date. Plus a lot of the dealers at our shows count on making every one. They miss a 'payday' if they have to choose one show instead of another."

"We are pretty close with our 'sister' conventions like Baltimore Comic-Con, Emerald City Comic Con, and others," Harbin elaborates. "These are the shows that would be our competition if we weren't such good buddies with Marc Nathan and Jim Demonakos. Instead we gossip, share information, promote each others shows; basically do whatever we can to help each other." Indeed, both Drum and Broder report that Baltimore's Nathan played a key role in facilitating communication between Heroes Con and Supercon.

"I mean seriously, this is comics, right?" Harbin continues. "It is not so small an industry that there isn't room for everyone who wants a seat at the table."

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