No one was sure what to expect last year when the news broke that Mid-Ohio Con, long seen as one of the most stable and consistent of the independently-owned regional shows of the Midwest, was being bought by Wizard World.
On the eve of the con one year later no one was still sure what to expect – seemingly including Wizard themselves – not that there can be any blame laid there, of course.
After all, Mid-Ohio Con has been seen as a beloved Midwestern comic con destination for about three decades(!!!) due to the creator-friendly, retailer-friendly and customer-friendly vibe of the show while Wizard World was in the midst of developing a reputation – be it a fair one or not – as a mega-corporation bound-and-determined to gobble-up as many smaller comic conventions as it could in order to strengthen the “Wizard World” brand.
While Mid-Ohio Con has had its peaks and valleys over the years (something that’s bound to happen over – let’s say it again – a three-decade existence), even amidst the occasional grumbles that arose here and there (usually over dates and venues rather than the actual organization/operation of the show itself) creators, fans and retailers across the board have pretty much always come back year after year.
Enter: The Wizard World acquisition.
While it’s been a bit of an “open secret” that the Henry brothers (who bought the show in 2008) would still be involved with the show – on some level, at least – despite Wizard World now officially calling the shots, the feelings of most creators and fans ranged from cautious optimism to moderate trepidation.
Fears of increased table/booth costs and an increased “Media Guest” presence – two staples of any Wizard World-based convention – were quickly realized, and naturally a fair amount of grumbling ensued, including some fans, creators and retailers alike vowing they would never again attend/support Mid-Ohio Con since it was now part of the “Wizard World Empire/Juggernaut/Monopoly/Etc.”
I mean, hey, there are some people out there who will just always hate on Wizard, you know?
The “X-Factor” here, if you’ll pardon the pun, was the very tight bond so many creators, retailers and fans had with the Mid-Ohio Con of old. I personally know a lot of creators (myself included) who’ve supported Mid-Ohio Con year after year not because it was the most financially successful show they attended on the circuit… but rather because, hey, it was Mid-Ohio Con and you supported Mid-Ohio Con.
So… now that the dust has settled and the first Wizard World: Mid-Ohio Con is in the books… how’d it go?
While this should go without saying, let me take a moment to say that the opinions and observations herein are my own and my own alone, and although I did talk with a lot of other creators and vendors at the show, none of them will be directly quoted here. Also, for what it’s worth, my following assessment/analysis seems to jive pretty well with the public consensus of other professionals who I talked with in person or who have since shared their thoughts online… for better and/or for worse.
That being said, I should also point out that I attended Mid-Ohio Con pretty regularly for about a decade before making the jump to being a guest in Artist Alley a few years ago… so, yes, I am indeed more than passingly familiar with the show.
Now, with all of those disclaimers out of the way, onto the details, yes?
This year I set-up in Artist Alley to promote NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume 3: “Demon Days”, the final part of the print trilogy horror anthology-ish series from Image Comics/Shadowline – which you can check for free online and/or support by purchasing the graphic novel collections at any local comic shop/book store, Amazon and/or Comixology.
(Hey, what would any Bleeding Cool article be without a cheap plug to remind you of our questionable journalistic standards, right?)
From the moment I picked-up my badge and went to set-up my table it was obvious that that was going to be a much different Mid-Ohio Comic Con from any I had ever previously attended as either a fan or professional.
Clearly, the most influential difference was the room itself.
For many years Mid-Ohio Con was held in at The Hilton Columbus in Easton in a cozy hotel- atmosphere, with only the last few cons taking place in a cavernous-by-comparison hall at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
Rather than having the show in the bigger room of years past, though, Wizard took the initiative to move the show to the smaller Grand Battelle Grand Ballroom upstairs, a gorgeous room which recently received a stunning make-over. Unlike the last few years, in the new room the hall was filled with natural sunlight and beautiful ceiling decorations comprised of color-changing lights.
Furthermore, modern pop music played throughout the show at a nice and non-intrusive volume level, giving the venue a nice – and dare I say “hip” feel – as opposed to the sting of announcements that were usually too garbled to hear in the old room, anyway.
So… there I was entering a gorgeous hall with a great environment… only to walk in and be greeted by the 1960’s era Batmobile parked just inside the front doors.
Yup… it was a Wizard World show, all right.
Past the “Celebrity” booths were the vendor booths, followed finally by several rows of Artist Alley tables, the location where I would be spending the bulk of my time at the show.
As mentioned a moment ago, the Grand Battelle Grand Ballroom is smaller than hall previously used over the last few years, and the result was a very compact layout for the whole convention.
Mind you, this isn’t meant as some sort of backhanded compliment or snarky comment, mind you… but rather just an observation.
The show had somewhat smaller aisles than the larger more recent regional shows such as C2E2 and Detroit Fanfare… and although I may be in the minority here, as someone setting up at the show (rather than someone who has to navigate the aisles for hours), I actually prefer the slightly narrower walkways – especially in Artist Alley – as it leads to fans being more likely to check out what I have to offer given their closer proximity to it when they inevitably venture back there.
Speaking of Artist Alley, in the last few weeks leading up to the show there was originally a plan to have some of the AA tables on the second level, although (thankfully for those who would have been forced to set-up on the upper level) it was decided the week before that the con all the AA tables would be moved to the first floor.
Obviously that’s a good thing.
The downside to having everyone moved back down to the already compact floor was the removal of any interior walkways/rows between the AA tables themselves, resulting in the artists and exhibitors who wanted to leave their table having to jump over it, crawl under it, or push themselves along behind a row of up to a dozen other artists/creators (who were already wedged in tightly behind their own tables).
Again, I know of some creators who were incensed at the notion of having to “crawl on the floor” after paying $200 for a spot in Artist Alley (which is about double the price of the Mid-Ohio Con tables pre-Wizard – more on that in a moment) and its certainly something that should be taken into consideration for next year… but given the fact that a little hand-planting and/or crawling kept several artists and creators from being moved away from the main floor – combined with the fact that this was Wizard’s first go-around with this show – I was OK with having to perform a few quick stunts here and there to use the restroom.
That being said, though, I hardly had a chance to even leave from behind my table on either day since from the moment the doors opened the floor was ROCKIN’ not just with attendees… but customers.
Yes, the Artist Alley tables cost more this year… but those that sucked-up the cost were paying for the “Wizard” name and the potential influx of customers and sales it would warrant.
And again, yes, there was a bit of trepidation here concerning whether or not the investment would be worth it… but any such feelings were pretty-much unanimously went away as the sales began to flow.
The crowd that Wizard brought to the show was a buying crowd, and some very informal polling conducted by yours truly revealed that a vast majority of the AA exhibitors made their table costs/“sales goal” (at least) for the weekend on Saturday alone, making Sunday a day of pure profit/ “clean-up batting.”
Mind you, there was also a lot of discussion about the rate at which people were being let into the show (slowly), as well as about how the celebrity signing booths at the front were creating a bottleneck that was difficult to navigate through, and that the (again, seemingly) narrower aisles resulted in gridlock when the particularly impressive cosplayers were being stopped for photographs (and there were an abundance of especially good ones this year)… but regardless, Saturday sales in Artist Alley were booming pretty much across the board.
To top off an already successful Saturday, the traditional after-hours party was still hosted by the Henry Brothers that night at the Hyatt, resulting in plenty of good times and camaraderie, including but not limited to David Mack’s trademark break-dancing and Matrix moves as well as general good spirits by everyone there.
After all, nothing puts creators in a good mood like free drinks (Shirley Temples in my case, thank you very much) and a successful day at a show, right?
Sunday started slower pace (at least in Artist Alley) and only picked-up steam towards the latter half of the day… and although sales were still nowhere near where they were on Saturday (again, according to everyone I informally polled), there were still plenty of transactions going on, as evidenced by the fact that almost everyone stayed at their tables until the last few minutes of the con before ole-vaulting or scampering under their tables to make the mad dashes to visit friends and pick-up some last minute items.
To be fair, there were a few little hiccups, though.
Along with the last minute Artist Alley shuffle, there was seemingly a small ballyhoo about the convention programs (which were graciously – albeit inexplicably – printed/provided by the local comic shop Packrat Comics rather than Wizard World), although thankfully everything seemed to have gotten smoothed out rather quickly without any feelings being hurt on either side.
Additionally, local comic shop Superfly Comics went as far as to publically airing their grievances on YouTube when they felt that Wizard’s attempt to get them to sign-up at the show got too aggressive for their taste.
Finally, more than a few fans were heard on the floor (and later seen online) grousing about the higher admission costs, and talk of unadvertised at-the-door “service fees” were a little off-putting to some con-goers as well.
All in all, it seems that everyone set-up at the show had a great time and – perhaps even more importantly – made money.
So, in the battle of the Mid-Ohio Con of old versus Wizard World: Mid-Ohio Con… who won?
Even considering the aforementioned hiccups – all of which I’m confident (or at least extremely hopeful) will be ironed-out by next year, in this first go around I can unequivocally say that – from where I was sitting – Wizard Word: Mid-Ohio Con was a rousing success.
The numbers don’t lie, and despite the fact that it cost me twice as much to set-up this year than years past, I made more money on Saturday alone than I did at the last two Mid-Ohio Comic Cons combined – something also experienced by several other creators at the show.
Much as is the case with John Cena and Coldplay, haters will always hate, but it’s hard to deny that the vast majority of people involved with Wizard World: Mid-Ohio Con experienced a very successful show despite a few logistical and operational speed-bumps, none of which were out of the ordinary for what was – for all intents and purposes – a debut show.
Provided that the Wizard World folks continue to stay loyal to the professionals and attendees that have supported the show over the years (fingers crossed), I daresay that the Wizard World Mid-Ohio Con could become a genuinely premier level Midwest show it always had the potential – but not quite the bankroll – to be.
All things considered, you’re off to a great start with the new and improved (yeah, I said it: improved), Mid-Ohio Con, Wizard.
Keep it going in the right direction.
As shamelessly mentioned in the article, Dirk Manning is the writer/creator of the NIGHTMARE WORLD graphic novel trilogy for Image Comics/Shadowline as well as TALES OF MR. RHEE (which publishes new installments online every Tuesday and Thursday), also for Image Comics/Shadowline. He lives on the Internet and can be found on Facebook and/or Twitter when he’s not busy writing comics, columns, op-ed pieces or trying to otherwise fight off the dark demon known to most as “sleep.”
The few photos obviously taken from behind an Artist Alley table article were provided by Dirk Manning. The really nice professional looking photos were graciously provided by Aimee Finley, courtesy of Kraalo.comn and Mid-Ohio Con.