I had thought that I’d never been to a comics event before, but when I ran into Barry Deutsch he pointed out that I’d been to several iterations of the Stumptown Comics Fest. Which is true, but Stumptown is more of an arts festival, where most of the tables are staffed by independent comics artists. The Wizard World Comic Con was not very much like that at all.
My first thought when I stepped onto the show floor was that this looked and felt exactly like the “sci-fi conventions” seen on shows such as Castle and CSI — masses of people, mostly dressed in black, with a sprinkling of costumes, all tightly packed in a show floor crammed with booths. Lots of T-shirts with geeky slogans; mass-produced zap guns and other accessories. Quite a few small children, with parents in tow (or is that the other way around). Pop music from the overhead speakers competing with video game noises and soundtracks from the booths. Thousands of people, possibly over ten thousand; certainly all the parking near the convention center was full. This was a place of commerce — a giant dealer’s room with a few tracks of programming attached (on the other side of the hall, more lightly attended). Apart from Barry (whom I’ve met only a few times before) and the other panelists on my own panel, out of all those thousands I didn’t meet a single other person I knew.
But as I wandered the show floor, looking at pirated DVDs and buying some graphic novels from the 50% off racks, I realized that there was something else this reminded me of: the state fair. Like the state fair, it had booth after booth of vendors and exhibitors; it even had games of chance (I won a T-shirt) and pitchmen hawking the geekish equivalent of Veg-A-Matics (mostly iPhone accessories). Instead of cows and horses, it had artists and actors. Brent Spiner and Lou Ferrigno chewed their cud in their stalls, signing autographs for $40 a pop and up. Artists, too, were had stalls, selling books, prints, and sketches (I’d been told that some would provide sketches for free; I didn’t ask, but saw several with posted price lists). I saw an enormous line, stretching the length of the exhibit hall, of people waiting for an autograph from one of the stars of The Walking Dead, which sort of baffled me. All it lacked was elephant ears and Fried Things on Sticks, though the convention center’s usual providers of unhealthy food were on hand.
Crossing the hall to the programming area, I sat in on a few panels, including a presentation on the history of Filmation by Andy Mangels, before it was time for my own panel (“Science Fiction Writers: Imagining Our Future” with Erik Wecks, William Hertling, Daniel H. Wilson, and Chris Claremont). Over a hundred people attended, and I think most of them were drawn by the name Chris Claremont… but he didn’t show, and didn’t show, and finally we started the panel without him. Then, about fifteen minutes in, someone from the convention came in and removed his name tent, muttering to the panelists “he’s not on this panel.” (::waves hands:: “I am not here. I was never here.”) Later we learned that Claremont had not been informed of his addition to the panel, though he was listed in the program book. However, even when it became clear that the star would not show, not one audience member left, which cheered me greatly.
It was a perfectly respectable panel; we covered the basics, with special attention to robots and AI due to the specialties of Wilson and Hertling, and fielded several questions from the polite but engaged audience. I handed out a few business cards and then left for another engagement.
So that was yesterday. Am I going back today? Probably… I must confess I am interested in the presentations by Morena Baccarin and James Marsters. Would I go again? Maybe, if I’m invited again, but I don’t think I’d pay $60, plus parking, for the weekend.