Heading Into the Wizard World Comic Convention

wizworldThe traveling pop culture mega-convention that is Wizard World makes it way to Minneapolis this weekend. This will be the first appearance in Minnesota for the fast-expanding Wizard World Comic Convention, and there’s no question that pop culture fans of all kinds are excited about the event. Wizard World brings with it a host of A-List genre celebs (Nathan Fillion, Matt Smith and Karen Gillan), in addition to plenty of former TV stars (James Marsters, woo), former movie stars (Ralph Machio, woo woo), and numerous artists and creators from the comics world. The guest list, if that’s your thing, is long and impressive, no question.

But a convention this size does not come without controversy. Here’s the background on Wizard World Minneapolis.

Mostly, it’s about timing. Saturday is the big day at Wizard World, but it also happens to be one of the biggest days of the year for comic-book retailers: Free Comic Book Day. I asked my local comic retailer about this schedule overlap, and he was, to say the least, unimpressed. “If you want to go, you’d have to close your doors,” he said. “It’s like holding the largest flower convention of the year on Valentine’s day.” When I asked him whether he supported Wizard World coming to town, he said, “I hope the people who want to go see Bill Shatner talk about Star Trek have fun. If you’re paying all that money, I hope they have fun.”

Another scheduling problem? Wizard World waltzes into town only two-weeks prior to the Twin Cities long-standing, highly popular convention organized by the Midwest Comic Book Association, SpringCon. A lot of people wondered why Wizard World would arrive so closely to SpringCon, and crowd the spring/summer convention calendar that already hosts several conventions. The move reminded many of the Con Wars of years past, when large cons (Wizard among them) would move into occupied locales making it difficult if not impossible for smaller, local cons to compete.

When the Minneapolis tour dates were announced, John Macaluso, the CEO of Wizard World, was asked about why he scheduled the Twin Cities first Wizard World event so close to SpringCon. Macaluso reported the MCBA event “was not even on our radar,” and that even if it had been, they were holding their event during the only available dates for the Minneapolis Convention Center.

For many in the Twin Cities, that was an unwelcome response. First because the Minneapolis Convention Center Calendar is publicly available, and several alternatives on the calendar appeared to be available. But more significantly, any basic research by Wizard World in to Minneapolis Conventions would have turned up SpringCon, a beloved event among the densely populated comics community here. Which means Wizard World knew and didn’t care, or didn’t care enough to know. When I mentioned this move to a reporter I knew, she said, “they sound like the Wal-Mart of comic conventions.” That might be harsh, but if SpringCon truly wasn’t on the radar, Wizard World simply did not do even the most simple of simple searches.

And if Wizard World knew about the non-profit MCBA and SpringCon, which partners with Lupus Foundation and The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and budged in anyway, it’s disappointing.

I don’t know if I’d say we’re protesting,” Kevin Timm, owner of Captain Jack’s Comics in Bloomington, told the City Pages, “but to show support for SpringCon, we’re not doing the Wizard World one [in Minneapolis].”

All that said, I’d be lying to imply I wasn’t a excited about Wizard World coming to town.  I’m covering the event professionally, but I’m also a fan of many of the actors in attendance, and the stories they’ve had a hand in crafting. I love Firefly and Buffy and Lord of the Rings. I recognize the opportunity to see such stars in my hometown is rare. I’m eager to talk to fans and cosplayers and creators; to wander the floor and see a celebrities we don’t get in town everyday.

As is often the case, the sometimes unfortunate realities of Big Business competition–even in Comic Conventions–bring benefits to those of us whose dollars are being sought.

The Stake will be covering Wizard World this weekend. Stop by the site for updates, photos, and reports on how things are going at our big, controversial Comic-Con.

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