WIZARDWORLD EAST 2002 WRAP-UP
There are two ways to judge this past weekend's WizardWorld East: Philadelphia convention. The first is in comparison to the Pittsburgh Comicon. The second is a judgment based on the first year of a new con. Neither have quick conclusions.
(There is a third way. If you live on the east coast and have never been to one of the larger cons, then this is the only show in town and it's a great convention to go to. It's not as daunting as San Diego or as crowded as Chicago, but still has a great selection of people to talk to and dealers to buy from.)
As a first time convention, WizardWorld comes out looking pretty good. They brought the major publishers at the con, with a great selection of artists and writers attending. They had a nice assortment of panel presentations, and some "other media" guests that don't make their living going from con to con. Sure, the Star Wars mask-wearers and Lou Ferrigno were all there, but Kevin Smith and Ray Park (to name two) don't regularly attend these functions. The overall organization of the event seemed relatively painless. I didn't hear too many complaints from people setting up at the con, and it seemed that the dealers and many of the smaller press people managed to cover their bets, in spite of the outrageous prices for tables.
On the other hand, this isn't a completely new con. WizardWorld has been running Chicago for a few years now, and it seems many of the people behind that con were running this one. You'd have to expect that they know what they're doing by now. It's a great advantage to have when starting a major con in a city that hasn't hosted one in 6 years, and in a section of the nation that just hasn't been able to put together a large con in nearly forever. (My first con ever was in Philadelphia on that snowy January day in 1996. I was just a USENETter back then, and I received my first encouragement to start up a new internet column at the event. Oddly enough, Steve Lieber was at that con, too. The man has no shame.)
Since staging an event in New York City is cost-prohibitive and nobody's gotten it into their bright minds to try staging one just outside the city in New Jersey, WizardWorld East will have something of a monopoly on the area when it comes to larger cons. Next year's is already scheduled for the weekend of May 29th. Thankfully, this gives us all a full month between Pittsburgh Comicon (weekend of April 25) and WizardWorld.
The big question remains, however: Which of the two cons is better?
No two cons are exactly alike. Guest lists and venues and twenty other variables differ. It's an individual choice. Philadelphia has a larger presence from the big publishers. Marvel, DC, and CrossGen all had booths at the con. None had a large presence in Pittsburgh. With them, of course, comes a greater selection of big name guests. Pittsburgh seems more geared towards the individual creators. In the absence of the major publishers (although Top Cow and Dark Horse had booths), it's up to the creators to fend for themselves and get their own booths. Plenty of smaller press and alternative titles fill the aisles, and artist's alley is packed with a wide assortment of people.
If you're going to a con for shopping, there's not much difference between the two. You have your video bootleggers, your trade paperback discounters, your Silver Age dealers, your messy assortment of comics retailers... I don't do much back issue bin diving at cons anymore. Dealer selection doesn't affect my con-going at all. Besides, the same assortment is at just about any major con. In San Diego, they're just all there in greater numbers.
The big difference between the conventions is the panel schedule. WizardWorld has some serious panels scheduled, whereas Pittsburgh is just beginning to realize the importance of panels, but doesn't really have the rooms necessary to pull them off. In fact, it's the panels at WizardWorld that saved the weekend for me. They've got ballrooms to set the things up in that will hold hundreds of people, whereas the largest room in Pittsburgh might hold a couple of hundred, but then the Bendis Q&A is held in a room that seats 30 and stands another 20 or 30 uncomfortably.
In the end, though, both conventions are one day cons spread out across three days. Spending 8 serious hours at either one will probably be all you need. If you spend the entire weekend, you just don't get winded doing it all.
DC had their typical booth in place, with various signing stations for their different divisions, along with an assortment of black and white previews for upcoming books. (The BIRDS OF PREY was labeled "TOP SECRET" and word balloons were carefully ridacted to prevent leaking the end of the current on-going storylines.) I got to sneak a peak at the first 8 pages of the first issue of Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee's BATMAN. It's really nice stuff, including a fresh look at Killer Croc, who looks more monstrous than ever. Scott Williams is using new tools to ink the book, but the look isn't suffering for it. The first color shot of Lee's Batman was also displayed at the booth, and I'm happy to say that they got it right, also. The colors are muted and earthy. It's really nice. I'm excited for this one.
Marvel has a new booth layout. It's one long table with 5 or 6 creators seated at it, and a line wrapping like a snake in front of it. Load up your people in search of sketches and autographs, and let them rip. For the fans who come to cons for those things, it's an ideal way to get to all the big names. I still prefer CrossGen's four separate tables with confirmed signing schedules and more manageable lines, however.
Mighty Gremlin was there to hawk Michael Brennan's ELECTRIC GIRL, a title that's too often overlooked and really a lot of fun. Brennan's art style is cartoony, and something that might remind you of a Cal Slayton ("Shades of Blue") or Andi Watson ("Breakfast After Noon.") It uses toning to great affect, and features a yellow dog named Blammo. You can't go wrong with Blammo.
CBR's own Larry Young shared the booth to hawk his AiT/PlanetLar wares, including an appearance on Saturday by New York City's own Brian Wood, and the creative team behind TEENAGERS FROM MARS, Rick Spears and Rob G.
Top Shelf, Highwater, ACTOR, Top Cow, and Wizard itself also had prominent booths near the front. If you've never been to a WizardWorld, then you've never seen the spectacle of the Wizard Wheel. People wait on line to spin the wheel and win a prize if they can correctly answer a comics trivia question. If they can't, they can perform a physical stunt (usually involving yelling something embarrassing out loud) to win the prize. It draws a continuous crowd. It's amazing. It's also sad. Right next to that line on Friday was a line for Paul Dini. Dini attracted ten people, while the Wizard Wheel attracted three times that many people. Yeesh
Visited the CBLDF booth, where I talked briefly with director Charles Brownstein about cases both past and forthcoming. Felt like an idiot when I saw a Frank Miller-autographed copy of the RONIN trade for $25 when I just broke down earlier in the day and bought the un-autographed version from a dealer elsewhere for 20% off. That'll learn me. Also picked up a copy of MURDER BY CROWQUILL and one of the neat CBLDF Grab Bags, which included a copy of SAVAGE DRAGON/DESTROYER DUCK, an autographed SUPERMAN comic from Dan Jurgens, and a half dozen other miscellaneous comics, including some with alternate covers. Looks like there's another case on the horizon for the CBLDF. It's pretty stupid, but they'll need the funds to help fight it. Check out the CBLDF web site for more info on how to get involved.
Artists Alley was an interesting mix, as always. It never fails to amaze me how chaotic it can be sometimes. Some artists bring big displays and name tags. Others sit quietly at their table and sketch, all the while hoping someone recognizes them, I guess. Here's a hint, people: Name tags can be your friend!
Picked up a run of THE FACTOR from net-regular Nat Gertler, who recently put out the terrific PANEL ONE book, collecting various writers' comic scripts. Bought a copy of the graphic novel, CLICK TRACK, from PATY CAKE's Scott Roberts. Talked some more with Jamal Igle, right where we left off after Pittsburgh. He's got a couple of exciting things coming soon, or being announced soon. Jay Faerber set up shop for NOBLE CAUSES, even selling the most recent issue at his table. Silly me is so used to seeing promo images from books all over the place that I didn't even recognize the book on his table as the new issue. NOBLE CAUSES #3 is out now, and it's just as addicting and frenzied as the first two issues. You'll be mad when you run out of pages to flip through. Faerber has the hang of this soap opera writing.
I only ended up attending three panels, and they were all CrossGen-themed. Caught the last 45 minutes or so of the Marc Alessi CrossGen Q&A on Saturday afternoon. I've heard much of what he's said there before, but it's always assured and confident, blended with a bit of self-deprecating humor. The more you listen to the gang at CrossGen, the more you want to root for them. Think of their books what you might, but it's exciting to have at least one company in the business right now that's well funded and trying different things, from the Compendia to the Comics On The Web and more. (There's even more news promised in the "next 30 to 90 days." Alessi's business plans move in 30 day increments.) Even better, some of it is sticking. The Comics on the Web initiative has produce greater sales on back issues of CrossGen's comics. If you give stuff away for free, people will want to buy it. It sounds paradoxical, but it's true. There's a theory that music file swapping on Napster led to increased CD buying. People don't want to take a chance on spending money on things they know nothing about. Giving them free reign to sample first often leads to greater purchases.
(One other potentially off-topic corollary to this: There's a web site that tracks continuity errors in movies. SPIDER-MAN is setting all sorts of records for these film flubs. Does this mean it's a bad movie? No, it means that the greater number of people seeing the movie leads to more errors being caught. It's a great example of the Open Source methodology of computer programming. "With many eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.")
Friday's featured panel (for me, at least) was Chuck Dixon's Q&A session, which was part of the Wizard School track of programming. Dixon took questions and went off on tangents for an hour and a half. Having attended a couple such Q&As from him in Chicago in the past, relatively little was new here for me, but it was still fun. Dixon has some great anecdotes from his years in the business and he's not shy about telling you what he thinks. He's very much a traditionalist, which puts him at odds with a great many people at the convention. I caught a couple of grimaces in the room as Dixon spoke about keeping Marvel heroes all-ages friendly, for example. Still, it's always very interesting to me to listen to a comic writer explain some of the techniques of his craft, even when everything has to be preceded by, "I'm not suggesting you work this way. It's only the way I work." CrossGen is lucky to have harnessed his energy.
Dixon mentioned that watching the computer colorists at CrossGen at work is like watching the ocean. He can sit there all day to watch the magic happen, or until they shoo him away and tell him to get back to work and stop bothering them.
I discovered this for myself on Sunday morning. That's when Laura DePuy flew into town to give an hour and a half demonstration on coloring comics with the computer. I have only the most basic knowledge of Photoshop. I can brighten an image, or flip it around. I don't use it for much more, and I don't need to. (I use a small freeware program called IrfanView for quick down and dirty file maintenance.) The stuff DePuy pulled off with a Wacom tablet in one hand and the keyboard in the other is just mesmerizing. Keep an eye on comiccolors.com and their message board for samples from the tutorial.
DePuy took a panel from an upcoming issue of RUSE (a two-shot with Emma and Simon), and worked it all the way up from the flats to the models to the special effects. I also saw one of the most amazing things I've ever seen at the end of it. When you drop out the line art from the finished colored piece, you can perfectly see the image. It looks like a painting, and not crudely colored blocks needing black line art to give it shape. It's amazing.
Most of the seminar involved tips and tricks with PhotoShop along with a strongly held conviction in color theory. Some of it got into specific problems with printing color art. I couldn't begin to do it justice even if I wanted to. Sorry. You had to be there. Hopefully, the materials up on the comiccolors.com web site will get you started. I've never aspired to be a colorist. It's probably the last thing I could ever hope to be in the comics world. I always figured that if I devoted myself to it, I could become a decent writer, artist, or letterer. Coloring, however, is beyond me. I know some storytelling techniques involving color, but nothing about color theory and the thought of having to color every little thing on a page fills me with more trepidation than having to ink every little thing on a page.
That's why the panel on Sunday morning was worth waking up a couple of hours early for.
WizardWorld East is what the northeast section of the country has been looking for for a very long time. It's an established con with a large guest list, a big pull, and the manpower to repeat its own successes. Since it's the only show in the area, it shouldn't have any problems with attendance. It's not the best major con that I've ever been to, but if you're geographically limited for any reason, it's definitely worth a trip to see. I look forward to watching it grow in the coming years and becoming one of the major conventions. We could use it over here.
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