With the initial salvos -- head-to-head scheduling, employee ejections -- out of the way, the battle between Reed Exhibitions and Wizard Entertainment's Gareb Shamus that began in earnest this past weekend may have produced its first major fallout.
Following Shamus's scheduling of next year's Big Apple Comic Con directly against Reed's New York Comic Con, previously announced Anaheim Comic Con guests of honor Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev and Phil Jimenez -- all marquee names under Marvel-exclusive contracts, for what it's worth -- are now nowhere to be found on the Shamus show's guest list. Will Shamus's apparent loss be Reed's gain, particularly for that same weekend's C2E2 con?
For now, Con War watchers' eyes must turn to the PR front for answers -- and there, the battle's been mostly one-sided. Reed showrunner Lance Fensterman has been taking to news sites to discuss Shamus's Big Apple/NYCC maneuver. (Not to mention his pitting Anaheim against C2E2 -- itself seen as a rival to Wizard's Chicago Comic Con -- and Toronto against Boston's PAX East.)
Speaking with CBR's Kiel Phegley, Fensterman called out Big Apple's practice of allowing its big media guests to charge for autographs:
But to be honest, we've always shied away from "pay-to-play" guests, meaning you have to pay to get a signature, because we've always tried to view ourselves as all-inclusive. When you buy a ticket, the many guests of honor that we've lined up are there for free. You buy a ticket, and you have a right to see those people and get a signature. We never felt it was our philosophy to say, "No. Buy your ticket, and then everyone you want to see costs $100 to get a signature." It wasn't our thing.
And in this interview with The Comics Reporter's Tom Spurgeon, Fensterman gingerly addresses rumors of misconduct by Shamus's organization:
I don't think there is any question when someone puts a similar named event, in the same city as the market leader on the same weekend, they are counting on drafting off our success and confusion as part of there business model. To me that's without question. We are aware of guest issues and exhibitor issues that are not what we would consider "above board" on the part of other events and we've chosen not to take action because, frankly, we believe we have a better business model because we consistently put the industry, the exhibitors, the fans and the guests first. That's a headache we don't need, we'd rather focus on our customers and growing this industry.
In both cases, Fensterman calls on potential attendees and other observers to take a look at existing declarations of support from both the industry and the fan community and draw their own conclusions about the differences between the rival convention circuits.
Creators continue to weigh in as well, largely on the side of Reed and NYCC. Following her recent photo parade (from which the above shot is taken), Heidi MacDonald's latest "Con War" round-up at The Beat directs us to A Distant Soil creator Colleen Doran's Big Apple horror story from the pre-Shamus days, the gist of which is that Big Apple's current complaints about Reed's "soliciting" at their shows are the height of irony. And on his Twitter feed, PvP''s Scott Kurtz offers the most scathing assessments of Gareb Shamus and his cons yet to surface from a comics pro.
But what about the other side? CBR reports that Wizard offered only a "no comment" when asked for its take on the controversy. Indeed, the only source for on-the-record comments by Wizard staffers on this weekend's show and next year's scheduling appears to be the Wizard Universe Message Board. Reacting to complaints about guests showing up late to their announced signings and the media-heavy make-up of the guest list, Big Apple Convention Coordinator Spat Oktan offered the following rationale:
The guests that we book to the show know what time the show opens (or their agents/reps/handlers do), and are adults. If they arrive late, there's not a lot we can do about it. Short of kicking in their hotel room doors and dragging them out, we have to just wait until they arrive. I know I asked one of the agents every hour when their guest was going to arrive (I don't want to mention any names), and was told over and over again that they would be there within the hour. So again, there's just nothing we can do. Some guests like to get there before the doors open to set up, some sleep in and show up a little late, and others like to stop in later in the afternoon.
And as for the focus on comics, I consider our Media Guests who appear in movies or TV shows that are based on Comic Books to be Comic Guests in their own way. John Schneider played Jonathan Kent on Smallville, so as far as I'm concerned, he fits right in.
Thomas Jane had nothing to do with the Punisher comics, but a lot of people brought their Amazing Spider-Man 129 to the show for him to sign.
And I do believe that little kids are more likely to start collecting comics after seeing an awesome movie based on a comic.
Does everyone at the show have a comic? No. But if you look at the number of comic writers and artists we have at the show, and add the number of media guests from movies and TV shows based on comics or that spawned into comics, then you will see how heavily focused we are on the comic genre as a whole.
But that's just my opinion.
A more impassioned and wide-ranging defense was offered by Wizard freelancer Mark Allen Haverty. As Rich Johnston notes, Haverty's WUMB post read, in part:
If Reed had shown any respect, they would not have shown up to not one but two Wizard cons to hand out their fliers for their con. They did so not as vendors, retailers, or exhibitors, but as people buying tickets. That's unethical on multiple levels.
But, please, feel free to think that Wizard is somehow a bad guy.
This will be my last reply here, because I really don't want to sit here and listen to 20 people scream at me. Here are the facts, though:
1. You don't call Marvel a--holes when they make you choose between buying X-Men or a DC book.
2. You don't call Sony an a--hole if they release a movie you want to see at the same time as another studio releases a movie you like.
3. You don't call Coke a--holes because they force you to choose between Coke and Pepsi.
Business is business. Just because some comic fans on a message board want to make it personal does not make it so. In business, there is going to be competition. Wizard and Reed are competing for the convention market. Reed has been playing dirty by walking into Wizard shows and handing out fliers - which, by the way, is a fact that multiple sites will confirm. Wizard shot back by deciding to go head-to-head with them. That's called the free market -- if Reed is better, it will win; if Wizard is better, it will win.
Interestingly, these comments, along with incredulous responses from other users and several entire threads responding negatively to Shamus's moves, have since been scrubbed from Wizard's site. However, Johnston has preserved the bulk of Haverty's posting on Bleeding Cool, while many of the responses have also been copied to this thread on PanelsOnPages.com, a site set up by former Wizard contributors and message board users. And the battle continues ...