Wizard World Philadelphia 2013 Brings Big Celebs…And Some Big Problems

Photos ©2013 Marnie Ann Joyce

Though Denver Comic Con occupied much of the news cycle this past weekend, it was not the only major comic event going on – Wizard World’s Philadelphia Comic Con was also a huge deal, drawing a number of creators, editors, celebrities, and costumed fans to the Pennsylvania Convention Center for a star-studded weekend of geekdom.

My initial impressions were mixed.  One one hand, the show was packed and everyone there seemed to be having a great time; on the other hand, the event seemed to be searching for a clear identity, and suffered a few logistical issues.

One of the major issues was a lack of mainstream comics content.  There were no major companies exhibiting, and though Artists Alley featured a few big-name superhero artists, it seemed to be largely indie creators.  Ordinarily, I’d consider this an admirable quality in a convention, but it seemed at odds with the celebrity-driven atmosphere of the show as a whole – the back quarter of the main floor was taken up with autographing tables and celebrity photo ops, and many of the attendees barreled right past the booths of handcrafted mini-comics and custom portraits, on their way to join endless lines waiting to pay for a fleeting instant with the stars of ’Firefly’ and ’Star Trek’.

Another problem I encountered was the floor plan.  The Convention Center is a huge, labyrinth of complex of buildings and corridors and doorways, and there was a serious lack of signage directing fans from the main floor to the programming (which was mostly held in a separate section of the convention center, downstairs and across the street).  I encountered a great number of people wandering around, lost, missing the very panels that they had paid to attend.

But these problems aren’t insurmountable, and can be easily remedied the next time around.  The layout problems can be largely avoided with a some adequate signage (and some strategically placed staff members to help direct traffic).  And the identity crisis of the show itself could actually prove to be an advantage in the long run – shows like New York Comic Con and Wonder Con have done a masterful job encouraging new talent, while still drawing in big names, and if Wizard World can draw a couple bigger publishers to help draw in the casual fans, everybody would benefit.  (Image, Archie, Dark Horse, and Valiant are like the gateway drugs between the mainstream geek culture and the indie world, opening fans up to a world beyond simple sci-fi and superhero phenomenons.)

And those complaints aside, there were many wonderful things to do and see.  There were costumes galore: some clearly assembled at great expense, some achieving maximum effect with a minimum of fuss.  There were plenty of people dressed in painstakingly constructed, handcrafted labors of love: masking tape and tempera paint-slathered evocations of their favorite heroes. It’s the enthusiastic fan spirit that wins me over, and it was visible wherever I looked.

I attended the William Shatner spotlight on Saturday afternoon, which was delightful.  There was no moderator, no pomp and circumstance – just the man himself, standing onstage, regaling the crowd with stories, answering questions with charm and aplomb.  He touched on many obscure corners of his career, from TJ Hooker to the short-lived Barbary Coast TV series.  He discussed his musical output and upcoming album ’Ponder The Mystery’, which he described as “songs about a period of time… A guy sitting on a rock, at sunset”.  He fielded a query about his Star Trek and Tekwar novels, giving credit to his collaborators and expressing his gratification in the creative process (“I was given the opportunity to write, and I just happened to be able to!”). He recounted the famous tale of stealing Leonard Nimoy’s bicycle during the production of the original Star Trek series.  And he reacted with comedic confusion when an audience member asked about whether he had to approve use of his likeness for Star Trek action figures (’Yes.  Is there a hidden meaning in your question?  Is there some stuff I shouldn’t have signed onto?”). 

It was easily funniest and best celebrity spotlight I’ve seen at a convention, and I’ve seen a great number.  It was flawlessly professional, while still being entertaining and spontaneous – and despite the huge venue, it felt more like a casual gathering of friends than it did a staged event.  It perfectly encapsulated all the wonderful things about this show.  A bunch of people, joined by shared enthusiasms, having a grand old time.

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