WIZARD WORLD: PHILADELPHIA
I took the two-hour drive down to Philadelphia on Saturday morning for a day at the Wizard World: East comic book convention. The drive was fairly clear and boring until I got to the Ben Franklin Bridge leading into the city, which construction workers were in the midst of repaving. They closed the middle lane of the three-lane bridge. More than a dozen tollbooths fed into two lanes on opposite sides of the bridge. It was ugly. Thankfully, though, that was the worst of it. Missing the entrance to the Turnpike on the way home was my own fault. I nearly miss it every time I go to Philly. I could blame it on the unlit sign, but I'm feeling more generous than that today.
Held for the third straight year in the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the show has evened out. It's no bigger than it was last year. It looks to have maintained the same floor space. On the bright side, it traded off wrestling rings and skateboard parks for an expanded gaming section featuring rows of tables for (mostly) kids to play card-based games. I have no problem with that. It's unobtrusive, not terribly loud or annoying, and it puts kids in the same room as comics. Maybe magic could happen with one or two of them there.
The front part of the hall was the anemic publishers section. Marvel was back with its two-sided roped-off autograph/portfolio review lines. DC had the smallest booth I've ever seen them use at a convention outside of New York City. It was an endcap maybe six tables around. Blink and you miss it. Michael Turner's Aspen had a larger and more interesting booth. TokyoPop set up a little reading library with bean bags, chairs, and sample issues to read through.
It's weird to walk onto a major comic book convention floor and not see the spinning cubes of the CrossGen booth overhead. I did, however, spot Chuck Dixon picking up some back issues. Took me a moment to realize he was there with DC this time around, pimping RICHARD DRAGON. In his panel later in the day, Darwyn Cooke mentioned he had talked to Dixon on the phone recently. They share similar interests in superhero storytelling and might try working on something together in the future. That would be cool. Cook said he didn't think a superhero comic should be two people in costume sitting in the kitchen and talking for 20 pages. He likes the more direction action style that Dixon uses.
The retailers and back issue bins were lumped together in the middle section, just past the comic companies. It featured row after row of back issues for sale, with a smattering of DVDs of questionable legality, original art, t-shirts, and tchochkes. I visited Koop's booth (he's a CBR message board regular and a heck of a nice retailer) and picked up some amazing comic gems that you might see sprinkled in this column in the weeks ahead. I found runs of semi-obscure stuff you won't be seeing in trade paperback format anytime soon. For a man who doesn't carry a want list anymore and doesn't buy back issues, I sure had no problem walking away with 50 new comics. Heavy hung that bag from my shoulder the rest of the afternoon.
Past that was artists alley, a series of rows of tables featuring an impressive lineup of talent, including the likes of FEATHER's Steve Uy, prolific cover artist Greg Horn, inker Mark McKenna, Oni favorite Mike Hawthorne, an assortment of self-publishers, and Aria Giovanni. Yes, a porn star. Right at the end of a row of tables, just past the end of the gaming area where all the kids were playing. Good ol' Wizard.
I didn't go into full scale convention mode at all during the day. I spent the time renewing acquaintances with old friends, for the most part. When it comes to San Diego, I'll go banging down every door to talk to as many people as I can. This means there's a pronounced lack of pictures to show for this column. I have only two.
After talking to Jim Krueger for a while and heaping more praise on his ALPHABET SUPES comic, I slid over to the next table to talk to Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, for whom I had brought a couple of MONOLITH issues to be signed. I ran into The Pulse's Heidi McDonald there, who is a picture-taking madwoman. While she took her picture of the guys, I took out my camera to do the same, but Palmiotti had a different plan. He turned the camera around, and this is what you end up with:
See? We can all get along.
After exchanging blogosphere stories and juicy con gossip (much of which related to fans who shouldn't wear spandex and the fans who so memorably smell), we went our separate ways.
That's when the P.A. announcement came that Devil's Due had Dan Jolley and Marie Croall signing at their booth. I brought a couple of VOLTRON issues with me to have them sign, since Marie was nice enough to be interviewed for this column a couple of months ago. While there, I took what would be the only worthwhile picture of the day.
I took that picture twice, just to be sure it came out. Both pictures look identical. You couldn't tell the difference if you tried. It's nutty.
If you want more pictures than that, I would suggest checking out The Pulse in the coming days. I'm sure Heidi's digital camera will have plenty to say.
Overall, I can't say it was that productive a day on the con floor, but I did enjoy myself.
ASSORTED BITS AND PIECES
- Alfred Molina cancelled out on his appearance, citing the weather in New York City. That's a blatant lie. The weather was fine. A little hazy, hot, and humid, perhaps, but nothing that would stop anyone from taking the trip to Philly. I think he got wind of what he was in for and ran screaming. Can't say as I blame him, but he never should have committed to his morning panel to begin with if that was the case. Eliza Dushku arrived like the trooper she was to do her panel and autograph signing session, though.
- The male/female ratio was as good as I've ever seen at a comic con. While there were some wives and girlfriends being pulled along, I saw more looking through back issue bins, talking to creators, getting sketches, and just having a good time. The few times I passed by the TokyoPop booth, it seems to be about 80/20 in favor of the women hanging around. Take that anecdotal evidence for what it's worth.
- There was a flea market right across the street from the con center on Saturday. It proved to be only a minor annoyance, since it closed up by the time I needed to cut back through the middle of it to get to my car.
- Security was very nice to the press people. I had no trouble getting my press pass, and one security guard even joked, "You're press? Oh, you can go anywhere." I doubt the people at the entrance to the convention hall who were checking badges would have agreed.
- The badges came with straight pins, and not alligator clips. That made me very happy, particularly since I forgot to bring a lanyard with me. It's the little things, isn't it?
- For comparison's sake, here are my write ups for last year's con and the inaugural Wizard World East con.
By now, you've all heard the news that came out of the con from Newsarama, The Pulse, Thought Balloons, or somewhere else. To sum up: Marvel is hiring as many CrossGen artists as they can get their hands on. There are plenty more Spider-Man and X-Books yet to come. The Avengers also continues to spread out all over the Marvel Universe again, just like they did when they were the center point for all company-wide crossovers in the 80s and early 90s. This "Disassembled" thing is slowly spiraling into one of those. To those complaining about there being too many X-books again: Wait till next week. I'll cover this topic then, because I have the opposite opinion on it.
I attended the Cup Of Joe panel and the DC/WildStorm slide show presentation later in the afternoon. The differences between the two could not be more profound, and DC could not have come off looking any worse if they had tried. And trust me, Dan DiDio tried. Real hard. We'll get back to them in a second.
Unlike previous Cups of Joe, this one featured a slide show and two other panelists: Publisher Dan Buckley (who looks a lot younger than I pictured him without the hat) and C.B. Cebulski, who does editing and talent herding and all sorts of stuff. Tom Brevoort even showed up at the end for another round of "Stump The T-Voort," in which audience members were invited to stump the long-time Marvel editor with obscure and arcane trivia. They did it by using Ultimate Marvel questions, prompting light applause when Brevoort joked that he only knows the trivia for the real stuff, i.e. the Marvel Universe.
Quesada fielded questions for the better part of the hour, avoiding plenty of them and answering what he could of the others. Seriously, Joe, none of us believe for a second that this new Spider-Girl series (sorry, "AMAZING FANTASY") isn't going to eventually replace Tom DeFalco's series. We can all read the writing on the wall. You're not fooling anyone. So stop trying to be cute with it.
This being a Wizard convention, of course, questions on movies and animated series were asked, none of which could be answered by Marvel's editorial staff in the publishing division. The same is true for DC, and the exact same thing happened in their panel. It still somewhat surprising to me that after all this time, people don't realize that the editorial staff of the publishing division of a comic book company don't have much say in the Hollywood stuff. Obviously, I spend far too much time on the internet.
Quesada's line that "you can only see so much Dr. Doom before it loses its impact" had me stifling a guffaw. Has he seen the lineup of Doc Oc books for the year 2004?
Snarkiness aside, the panel was informative, upbeat, and exciting. Quesada fielded all questions, made some announcements, and was prepared for anything. He even managed to compose himself when a fan referred to the act of "kicking himself in the balls," a picture that prompted many chuckles from people in the crowd wondering just how that could be done.
The only thing I found uncomfortable in the panel was the language. Any mothers with their small children in the room had to be horrified by the string of expletives that flowed freely.
Aside from that fact, the panel was a great Rah Rah party for Marvel Comics, and it filled the room.
Then there was the DC/WildStorm panel, an unprepared mess of a presentation that elevated nobody, especially a panel composed of giggling frat boys. Darwyn Cooke was also on the panel, but he arrived late and didn't get the memo to act like a git. He seemed like Einstein at the panel when he gave some well-reasoned responses. Never before have I missed Bob Wayne and Patty Jeres more.
DiDio did the slide show presentation, highlighting a couple dozen series with short corny write-ups, as is the DC norm. The only problem is that he had no other clue what to do past that. On the dais with him were Howard Porter, Tom Raney, Justin Gray, Mike Turner, Ron Garney, and Dan Jolley. DiDio took a half hour to give the slideshow presentation and then opened up the floor to questions which ranged the gamut, only half of which could be touched upon by the people on the panel. The disorganization wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact that DiDio acted like a drunken lout through most of it, giggling at his own jokes and several others that went unheard. I could be charitable and think of it as a nervous reaction to the flop sweat appearing on his brow, I suppose. The best he could come up with was asking creators on the panel what they thought of books they had nothing to do with - or which had just come out three days ago. When one mentioned he hadn't read the book yet that DiDio was asking him about, DiDio mockingly (I hope!) scolded him for not reading through his comp box. The book just came out on Wednesday! Comp boxes are monthly, if I've heard correctly.
It was so bad that there were two running jokes that comprised the majority of the dais conversation. "It's the best book I've ever read" and "she's a lesbian." Truly, it was a shining moment for DC.
DiDio bad-mouthing Humanoids was what really sealed the deal for me. He hyped TECHNOPRIESTS as "now fitting on your bookshelf while maintaining the same aspect ratio." He quickly followed that up with a laughing, "I'm sure that means a lot to you guys."
Well, yeah, it does mean a lot to me, and to an awful lot of fans who are concerned about the change in formatting. I'm sure he was just making light of the technical detail in an otherwise boring and useless write-up for a well-respected series of stories, but he didn't sell it very well. If he doesn't believe in the books DC publishes, DC has a big problem. I'll even give you this: for the books he doesn't believe in, he should shut his yap about it, read the card like a good automaton, and move on.
The other telling moment about DC came when a fan in the audience asked about AQUAMAN, and DiDio said that writer Will Pfeiffer was doing a great job, and that editor Peter Tomasi had a great take on the character. Lots of people have inferred lately that Marvel is micromanaging its writers. (OK, maybe it's just disgruntled Chuck Austen fans.) But when DC elevates Editorial above the creative talent, it ticks me off. Pfeiffer should be the one with the great take on the character, while Tomasi should be doing a great job in controlling traffic and answering the writer's continuity questions.
The panel was ill conceived from the get-go. I can't blame it on the artists and writers on the panel. They were at the mercy of the panel presentation, and could only do what was asked of them to make the best of a bad situation. So, in the interests of saving DC some face before they repeat this charade at the last few conventions that they are attending this year, I'll give them some pointers:
1. Have questions and answers mixed in with the slides. After showing the FLASH slide and talking about what exciting new things are in store for the season, open it up to any questions the audience might have for the artist of the series who's sitting there. Don't turn to Mike Turner and ask, "Mike, what did you think of this book?"
2. When throwing open the floor for questions, perhaps encourage questions that might be answered by the people on the panel. I know this sounds like common sense, but these are comic book fans we're talking about. Sometimes, they ain't quite smart enough to realize this. Guide them in this direction. Witness the person who asked Joe Quesada a second question about Marvel's Hollywood deals shortly after he answered the first with a general, "I can't talk to that. That's Marvel West."
3. Don't act like a buffoon. Everyone has off days. Everyone reacts poorly to hangovers. Everyone does things they don't want to do sometimes for the good of the greater cause. The trick is in not presenting that to the public. Acting like a frat house in front of an audience isn't going to help you. I know I'm talking about a Wizard convention, so that sounds very odd, but trust me on it.
It's really simple. Those three little things could have made that hour of my life more bearable, not to mention the lives of the other couple or three hundred people in the room. I know of at least one person who walked out of the room because of the tone of the panel, and another one who nearly did. I would have, but it made for a better column for me to stick around to see the mess through to the end. If anyone else walked out, please let me know.
In the end, the Cup Of Joe presentation was far more entertaining. Aside from presenting new information, it felt like the panel was having more fun and knew what they were doing, despite some technical glitches with the A/V equipment. They were more confident and more prepared. The DC/WildStorm panel had no slide show problems, but the dais was filled with people who didn't look like they wanted to be there, or who just made a shambles of the whole thing, starting with DiDio.
Do better in San Diego, DC.
The final presentation of the day was an hour with Darwyn Cooke. Mark Chiarello, DC Art Director and editor on DC: THE NEW FRONTIER, was on hand to moderate and help push along the conversation when there was a lull in the questions. As opposed to the other DC panel I attended, this one was entertaining, informative, and educational. Cooke talked about specifics in creating THE NEW FRONTIER and his hand in the latest CATWOMAN series, plus his time on the BATMAN and SUPERMAN animated series. He talked about storyboarding and comic book drawing, his thoughts on using comic characters in movies, and more. If you get the chance to listen to Cooke talking about his art sometime, do it. It's worth it.
WizardWorld: Philadelphia looks a lot like every other Wizard convention. While it continues to rely too muck on flaky Hollywood guests, you still get a decent assortment of artists and writers and companies and retailers to spend a weekend with. I think it's a perfect two day con that runs for three days. It needs some new panels, but shouldn't consider dropping the Wizard School lineup. That track of programming is perfectly geared to the type of attendee at these shows, plus it's relatively unique to comic book conventions.
I'm not sure what the arrangements are with the convention center, obviously, but it would be nice to see it grow just a little bit in the next couple of years. Of course, with so many conventions happening these days, it's going to get tougher to drag busy creators and cash-strapped companies out to so many of them. Wizard may be creating its own demise that way.
Only two months to go before San Diego!
The after-hours part of my con experience this year was spent at an Italian restaurant with a group from my local comics shop. Special thanks to the gang from Dewey's Comic City in Madison, NJ for putting up with me for dinner for one evening.
Pipeline Commentary and Review returns next Tuesday with a review of Steven Seagle's IT'S A BIRD graphic novel, and my argument for the proliferation of X-Books. Next week also sees the return of PIPELINE PREVIEWS, looking at books scheduled to ship in August.
Over at Various and Sundry this week, you'll get thoughts on the WB's SUPERSTAR USA and FOX's AMERICAN IDOL. Plus, "Knight Rapper," the sport of dodge ball, and lots of news on the new television season, including delays on 24 and ALIAS.
More than 500 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are also still available at the Original Pipeline page.