Saint Louis, Mo was home to Wizard World Comic Con this past weekend. The publicly traded Wizard World Inc. has been through hard times in recent years undergoing changes in corporate leadership after suffering from a large financial loss. Despite the setbacks the company is still throwing conventions all across America.
After nearly a five hour drive I arrived in The Gateway city to experience my first convention in St. Louis. Upon entering the convention center I was not sure if I was in the right place. The multi-tiered convention center was not only hosting Wizard World but a hair and beauty convention as well. There were multiple signs for the beauty convention but not a single one for Wizard World, which was held way in the back of the center. Here, I learned that a lack of signs – can be a bad sign. Luckily the sight of a few stormtroopers quelled my suspicion. A volunteer eventually directed me to the press registration desk where I was given an unreadable map of the convention layout and a paper of the panel listings. Typically conventions in larger cities have programs but Wizard World thought maps with print so small it can’t be read with a magnifying glass would suffice.
In speaking with the vendors and patrons of the convention I learned that dissatisfaction was widespread and prevalent. Veteran vendors and con goers alike would recall the glory days of Wizard World St. Louis while expressing disappointment for this year’s turnout and guest line up. This was not surprising considering they were operating as a small scale show charging a large scale price. The highest billed guests included Gene Simmons of KISS fame, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz of The Monkees, James and Oliver Phelps from Harry Potter and Michael Rooker and Sean Gunn from Guardians of the Galaxy. Many guests cancelled last minute with other guests added almost as an afterthought. Many people were complaining on social media about the guest cancellations in the weeks leading up to the convention, citing issues with receiving refunds for autographs and photo ops from canceled celebrities.
My biggest personal issue with the convention is its name. Despite having “comic con” in the title there was next to no comic related presence. There were only a handful of comic book vendors and a handful of comic professionals. I do not want to take anything away from the very talented creators who were present, but there was not a single guest who is actively doing high profile work for either of the big two or even the larger independent companies. As someone who attends conventions primarily for the creator guests, I found the convention underwhelming.
It seems the focus was taken away from comic creators and given to various forms of live entertainment. There were jugglers, puppet shows, acapella and dance troupes, magicians and even a falconer all performing on stages throughout the convention. I will admit it. Falconers are cool. Magic even has its place. But a comic convention is not the proper venue. The magicians could have at least cosplayed as John Constantine or Doctor Strange but they opted for the traditional Vegas get up.
In addition to the entertainment stages scattered throughout the venue, there were several stages set up for panels. Very few of the panels occurred in separate rooms. These entertainment and panel stages took up floor room that would have normally gone to vendors and guests. The result was an awkward layout and a cacophony of noise bellowing throughout the convention hall from all directions. The audio quality of the panels and entertainment stages was severely lacking. I went to catch part of a panel on one of these stages featuring X-Men and American Horror Story actor Evan Peters. I stood just behind the last row of seats and could not hear a thing he was saying from the stage.
The sad truth is that there just wasn’t much going on at Wizard World St. Louis. It seems that in an effort to become more eclectic and appeal to a wider audience they alienated much of their potential customer base. I was able to visit nearly every vendor booth and artist in the artist alley in just a few hours time. I managed to avoid the carnival-like vendors who reeked of desperation trying to peddle their wares to anyone who cast them a slight glance in passing. I would guess that the aggressive sales tactics were used in effort to combat a smaller than expected turnout.
I began to crash from my caffeine-fueled frenzy as the convention floor began to disperse several hours before closing time. Some vendors were already packed up for the day. Since I was hours away from my home in the Ozark hills and with a big day ahead of me I decided it was time to get back on the road. As a gigging musician of over ten years I am very used to being on the road. After spending Saturday in St. Louis I would be spending Sunday opening up for Doyle of the legendary punk band The Misfits in the town of Springfield, Mo. Knowing it would not be until Monday that I would be able to sit at my desk at my home in Branson and begin elaborating on my convention notes I let out a sigh as I began to make my way south. I thought to my self, this is the way Wizard World ends. Not with a Big Bang Theory, but a whimper.
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