Is Wizard World the Walmart of Conventions?

IMG_1021   I recently attended the sophomore outing of Wizard World in Sacramento and I sat down to write my review.  However, I think there is a better story out there to be told, the one about evil corporate greed, and the battle of light against dark…so I will entwine my review of Wizard World Sacramento 2015 with this tale of conspiracy.

If you remember Wizard World came out like gangbusters last year in this previous untread market of Northern California.  Booking no less than Thor the God of Thunder himself, Chris Hemsworth to headline an impressive line up of guests.  This clearly was the biggest comic based event to come to NorCal since WonderCon vacated San Francisco for Anaheim in 2011.  It seemed that Wizard World was committed to establishing a significant show in California.  You would think all this would sound like a fairytale to the entertainment hungry geeks who had been deprived of a local show for several years, and while there was a decent turnout for the con, it had it’s detractors.  For every event, movie, comic company, or celebrity there are those who feel that they became successful through some deal with the devil.  I’ve often heard stories of how Wizard World is looking to take over the convention business nationwide and if they had their way all cons would be Wizard World events.  They’ve been compared to Walmart for making forays into new territories that were already staked out by smaller, homegrown conventions.  I actually tried to do a bit of research to see if there were any REAL stories of Wizard World pushing out a smaller event on purpose (for example by booking their event right before the smaller event AFTER the smaller event announced it’s dates).  I’m not saying this isn’t possible, but I couldn’t find anything of merit published with proof of this.  Actually I have it according to two separate sources who know that they have contacted other shows in certain areas telling them their intention to book a venue in advance of them announcing.  Clearly giving the other event more than fair warning.

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See to me everyone likes pizza, but they like it their own way, and while Wizard World might NOT be for everyone, there are clearly people who this type of show appeals to.  Personally, I’m not that big into autographs.  I worked several years with the talent in Hall H at SDCC and have met more than my fair share of celebrities.  To me they are just people are a slightly more lucky (if not a bit more attractive) than myself…they are just ordinary people living extraordinary lives.  Autographs is what drives Wizard World (if you haven’t figured that much out already).  Their shows do not make it a point to invite publishers, studios, or even higher profile comic artists…if they come great, but there is no special area set aside like there is at say NYCC or SDCC.  In fact the dealers room tends to ere on the smaller side for a convention of this size.  This is all by design, their shows are driven by assembling impressive guest lists of stars you normally do not have access to…and that is the key ACCESS.  When is the last time you got an autograph from the famous movie star headlining New York Comic Con?  What is the last panel you attended in Hall H at San Diego?  Chances are you didn’t…in fact less than 5% of the total attendance of either of those conventions are able to partake in the highly publicized “convention experience”.  That is not the case with Wizard World, if you want to lay out the cash to meet Chris Hemsworth you have a great chance of making that happen, even better if you choose to book that meet and great in advance.  This privilege does not come cheap, but at least you are guaranteed that memory as opposed to waiting in ungodly long lines for the CHANCE to be able to see Robert Downey Jr. or hear Christian Bale speak.  If may sound like I am defending Wizard World, I’m not, because there is no need to…they run their conventions how they choose to…it is up to you or I to either go or not go.  On to my review…

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This year Wizard World took over the entire Downtown Sacramento Convention Center.  No longer did you have to worry about not walking down a certain hallway because it was reserved for some Home and Garden show.  They assembled a respectable guest list including; Malcolm McDowell, Billie Piper, Manu Bennett, and Henry Winkler (who had an appropriately named panel “Jumping the Shark” )  The dealers room was expanded, and they made full use of all the meeting rooms upstairs. I liked that they had a wide variety of merchandise available, and there was an effort to include more “attraction” type booths like ConTV.  Some of them were Coke Zero, but hey you take the good with the bad.  Personally I’d like to see at least some representation from publishers/studios and the like.  It was clear there were some unsold spaces so you might as well use them IMHO.  They did learn from the previous year about where to place the cosplayers.  In 2014 they were right up front and caused quite a traffic jam with people stopping wanting to take pictures.  This year they were over to the extreme right bordered by the snack bar with plenty of space to make it by those booths if you didn’t want to stop.  At times the music playing both inside and right outside the dealers room was a bit loud (especially since it was two different sources playing different music) but it was a nice idea to have something to listen to going on.

Wizard World has made it known they wish to hear from you, the fans, on what they can do to improve the show.  If you like something or don’t like something, write them or comment here and let your voice be heard.  Besides the few points I’ve made I would call for more signage, but then I haven’t been to a show that wouldn’t have benefited from more signage.  I look forward to next year and hope Wizard World continues to carry on shows in Northern California.

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I want to wrap this up with one last story from the con.   It was my observation that the convention staff and security was beefed up, I felt like I couldn’t turn around without seeing someone in a Wizard World t-shirt or security uniform.  This was great whenever I had a question.  This is something I judge conventions very harshly on, how well informed and trained are your grunts when it comes to handling both routine and non-routine questions or situations.  I found the staff to be both respectful and helpful, even when they DIDN’T know the answer…that is a big tell as far as I’m concerned.  The one bit of falling down on this point that I want to address was when I happened to hear a sight-impaired fan trying to make her way to the Costume Contest.  She was with one of the uniformed security officers trying to tell him where she wanted to go.  He was unclear what she wanted or where it even was.  I didn’t know this person, but I knew where the contest was happening and knew it was just starting.  I walked over and offered to help with directions…to my surprise the officer handed the woman off to me to lead her to the auditorium.  I found this a bit worrisome, this woman did not know me at all, and I said as much to the officer.  Now in his defense  he had a post to watch and had already been away for some time obviously and I had identified myself to both of them when I came up for some reassurance…it still made me feel a bit uneasy for him to place her in such a vulnerable situation so easily.  I walked the woman over to the auditorium where her friends who she was separated from were competing in the costume contest.  I asked one of the ushers (in a Wizard World t-shirt) if they had disabled seating to which she replied “what for” after observing neither one of us had any mobility problems.  I told her the woman I was escorting was blind and would like some consideration if possible.  This seemed beyond the woman’s comprehension.  She didn’t understand why if this woman could walk why she would need to sit close, in fact she said “why doesn’t she just sit in the back if she is handicapped and can’t see”.  I corrected her on two points, her choice of words and the fact that most blind people have SOME measure of sight and that closer would be very beneficial to this woman.   After several failed attempts of a second usher to find her a seat I asked if I could go in myself and help her find one, to this they were overjoyed to let me do whatever I wanted so they were off the hook.   When I got inside another usher was very accommodating and told me there were free seats up front and she was welcome to one of them.  After the fan was seated we parted company, I felt good for being to help even a little bit, but disappointed it took so much to navigate what should have a simple task.

All in all I had an enjoyable time at Wizard World.  This show might not be for everyone, but they are trying.  There are a number of good local Nor-Cal events now including Stockton-Con and Fanime and I see no reason not to welcome Wizard World to Northern California.

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Photos taken by Perry ” Agent P” Louie

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About skulldouggary

Evil genius and future ruler of this puny planet.

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