Peter Mayhew looks old and I don't feel so good myself: some quick impressions of WWPhilly 2009

Wizard World Philly was a big success.

That little nugget of information comes straight from the mouth of Gareb Shamus himself, who introduced himself to me while I was furiously typing up one of the panel reports in the "media room" on the second floor. Apparently the rain, which had been coming down in buckets all morning, had been a contributing factor, keeping people in the city and avoiding outdoor activities. The end result, Shamus said (who by the way reminded me a little bit of Gary Groth, at least physically), was double the patronage they had last year.

I have to take Shamus at his word. I really didn't get to spend much time on the ground floor except for occasionally circumnavigating the area once or twice, looking for anything that might catch my eye. My schedule was pretty much: get there, check out the first panel, write report, see a little con, eat, hit second panel, write report, go home.

Still, I did come up with some with some potentially worthwhile observations that I'd like to share if you have the time. You do? Excellent!

Yeah, I'll go along with Gareb: the show probably was a success. Certainly it was crowded on the Saturday I attended, though not to the point where I was constantly swinging my shoulder bag into people, a la NYCC. It was far from packed is what I'm saying. Still, there seemed to be a healthy amount of people sauntering in and out of the Pa Convention Center, and few frowny faces all around.

It was a decidedly small convention. Marvel and DC, while present in the panels and elsewhere, didn't have booths. Image wasn't anywhere to be seen. The biggest publisher booths at the show were Dynamite, Aspen and Avatar. Retailers made up the bulk of the show, with b-movie celebrities, notable artists and writers like Amanda Connor and Dan Slott and assorted hangers-on picking up the slack. The show had a decided small-town feel to it, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Garth Ennis was the best reason to go to the con. Certainly he seemed to be a big draw, as there was a long line by the Dynamite booth for his upcoming signing when I walked past (poor Howard Chaykin didn't nearly get as much love). I snuck into the end of one of his panels with Steve Dillon just in time to hear him slag the Iron Man movie. That alone made me pretty much glad I had come.

It was a good show for bargain hunting. Apart from Ennis, the thing that would make me attend the show (if I weren't covering it for CBR) was the thought of picking up some trades and comics at good prices. You're not going to find any obscure manga or mini-comics here, but you can get a good deal on, say, a couple volumes of the Spirit Archives. And if you dig deeper, who knows what you may find. I managed to grab a 2000AD copy of Peter Milligan and Jamie Hewlett's Hewligan's Haircut and a year-old copy of the Comics Journal I was missing for less than $15 total.

The Pa Convention Center is one ugly building. I'm sorry, it just is. The main room itself looked like an airplane hanger. A particularly hideous airplane hanger. Also, what's up with the WiFi in that place? The media room was decent, but I couldn't get an Internet signal to save my life. The only place I could get online was over by sitting on the floor over by the water fountain, near the press registration booth -- though to be fair, that was mainly because my laptop's battery sucks. Note to convention center folks: You need more electrical outlets in your building.

There were a lot of families and small kids at the show, some of them even dressed up like their moms and dads (one toddler was GL to his mom's Star Sapphire). I found this intersting because a) I wouldn't necessarily describe this as a family-friendly show. There was a lot of stuff, both of a sexual and violent nature, on full display that I wouldn't necessarily want my kids to see; and b) I often wonder if these kids are really into comics or if they're just going along because their parents were really into it. At the DC Nation panel, a dad behind me was telling his pre-teen daughter all about who Barry Allen is and why it's awesome he's back. She didn't look the least bit interested. I wonder if next year she's going to be pushing to attend Otakon instead.

In general there seemed to be more of a healthy mix of people than I would have figured for a Wizard World show (I know, I fall into nerd stereotypes too easily. It's a failing). While there certainly were a plethora of pasty white males (some of them overweight, yes) there were a healthy proportion of women there as well. Some of them even seemed to be there to attend the actual show and not because their boyfriends dragged them! Astounding!

There were an awful lot of toys and action figures on sale at the show. In fact, at times it seemed like they overwhelmed the comics. Perhaps it's my own bias showing, since for me, money spent on a $50 bust of Green Lantern is money I could have spent on more comics, but I wondered if that underscored some shift of interest away from the artistic medium itself and onto the characters and our identification with them (I know, no duh, but still).

In all seriousness, the complaint that conventions like these are less about the comics medium than the pop culture detritus that surrounds it seems like a moot point to me. It's been that way for a long time now and to gripe about it is sort of like saying water is wet. Yeah, the guy who originally played Boomer on Battlestar Galactica and the leather corsets and chain-mail fetish wear booths don't have much to do with words and pictures placed in a sequential narrative. What's your point? Wizard World and cons like it have long been a general celebration of geek culture and not specifically comics.

So yeah, decent show. Not necessarily my thing, but the people there seemed to be having a good time. Certainly, Philly is close enough to me that, depending on the guest list, I'd go again, if just to try and track down a couple Spirit Archives and some Showcase volumes dirt cheap.

I walked by actor Doug Jones' booth twice, and both times he was hugging people. Dude likes to hug. Just sayin.

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