Pipeline: Pipeline, Issue #166

Tue, August 8th, 2000 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

PIPELINE: WIZARD WORLD OVERVIEW

[Welcome to Wizard World]Chicago is CBR territory. I should ask the mayor for a proclamation of that. At the Comic-Con International in San Diego, I got stopped a few times by well-wishers who wanted to tell me that they read the column and enjoyed the site. But in Chicago, there was a new person every half hour stopping me to say that. It might have been just because I was an easier target -- during CCI, there were four or five people in CBR shirts floating around. In Chicago, I was the only one.

It's neat to have this little slice of fame.

So to Josh and John and Sean and Marc and Adam and Mike and Jeff and Danielle (and all her gaming friends)-

To all the people who I met during the panels-

To all the people who stopped me while I was walking around the convention floor-

Thanks for stopping me and saying hello. My apologies if my memory is shortchanging your name right now. It was great meeting and talking to all of you. Don't hesitate to stop me and say hello at the next con. Feel free to drop me a line from time to time just to say hello, too.

The Wizard World convention is very different from the CCI show, but still similar enough to be familiar. The vendors, booths, and artists are all familiar from San Diego if you're a comics fan. (If you're a wrestling fan, then Wizard World holds bold new adventures for you that San Diego, thank goodness, doesn't.) The layout is similar; you have the companies and small press booths, then the dealer room, and then artist's alley. In San Diego, the artists' alley comes before the companies. All the same major booths are there -- Marvel, DC, Eruptor, Sci Fi Channel, Oni, Dark Horse (although much scaled back in Chicago), CrossGen, Wizard, et. al. Talent in the artists' alley is much different. Yes, Steve Lieber, Jim Krueger, Matt Hughes, and a few others were in both places. But I saw a lot of new faces in Chicago that I hadn't seen in San Diego. Quite honestly, there were a bunch sitting there I don't expect to see at any of the cons next year, either.

We live in amazing times. As the comics industry gets smaller and smaller, the love for the medium and love for the art gets more and more concentrated. You can see that on a numerical level by looking at the rising attendance figures for cons such as Wizard World and CCI: San Diego. By the time we're down to our last 50,000 readers, you're going to see nothing but love for the art form. The Hollywood wannabes will be long gone. As such, there's a lot of terrific stuff out there. I can't think of a single time in the eleven years I've been reading comics where there were so many good books being published by so many different companies and creators on such diverse subject matter. Yes, the super-hero still dominates. But he doesn't have a stranglehold. And there are plenty of people willing to do other stuff.

You see a lot of that love and that excitement for comics in artists' alley, with many young upstarts showing off their wares. They're doing the best they know how. They're doing it, quite often, strictly for the love.

The flip side of that is that there's a lot of crap out there. There's stuff that I would generously call amateurish. Most of them won't last a year.

But if just one or two of the rest of the artists succeeds, we'll be a much better industry for it.

(If you haven't done so already, go read Warren Ellis' latest "Come In Alone." I think he has a good idea with "The Time of Cleansing." Ironically, the first book I'm dropping is X-MAN. I've discussed why in previous columns. At the very least, this should prove that writing a column for CBR doesn't guarantee you favorable reviews. Hot on its heels is probably MARVEL BOY. FANTASTIC FOUR is a possibility.)

Back to the convention center:

The population inside the convention is very different from San Diego. It's much younger. It's much more the stereotype of the young white male that you'd expect. But that's WIZARD's audience, also, so it makes sense. This impacts how things run at the show in different ways. I'll give you one example near and dear to my heart: In San Diego, you can get to Erik Larsen's booth at just about any time with little problem. On Saturday, there might be a small and constant line but it's still accessible for those who don't want to sit in line for a half-hour to talk to their favorite pro. In Chicago, there was a group of people at Erik's booth every time I walked by. It was steady. It was deep. But, then, this is more his target audience than the San Diego crowd, which is more independent-minded, more alternative, and more diverse. (I'm not calling one crowd superior to the other, mind you. I'm just saying that it works out to different advantages, depending on your interests.)

The con center itself is different from the slick, polished white walls and ceilings of the San Diego Convention Center. My standard line all weekend was that it looked like a comic con with a rave waiting to break out. The ceilings were tall, exposed, and painted black. It had a definite warehouse or airplane hangar feel to it. It also made it feel smaller, even though the space itself is probably just as large as San Diego. There were massive banners hung along the outside walls with advertisements for upcoming TV shows "Freakylinks" (what a godawful name) and "Dark Angel."

One more-than-slightly annoying thing was the carpeting. You probably wouldn't understand the gravity of the situation unless you were there, but the aisles are all carpeted. Larger booths have their own patches of carpeting. And quite often, there's a bare spot inbetween. I can't tell you how many times I tripped on carpeting. Sometimes, your toes hit the edge of the new section of carpeting. Sometimes, you go from one level of plushness to another and drag your foot to the point of tripping. In San Diego, everything stays pretty consistent, even with the larger Marvel and DC booths. There are certainly no such bare spots on the ground.

(Yes, this is the kind of thing I notice and like to talk about. Once again, thank you for reading this column.)

It was obvious from the time you set foot in the con center that this was Wizard's show.

[Top Cow Booth]The first really huge booth you saw when you walked in the door was the Top Cow booth. (Top Cow, you see, is Wizard's current favorite publishing imprint.) It faces out the doors you walk into the hall through, and blocks your view of the rest of the convention until you get around it. Just a block away from that was a simple BLACK BULL booth, staffed by that DESPERATE TIMES guru, Chris Eliopoulos, amongst others. (Be sure to look for DT on your funnybook racks again this November.) Wizard and WizardWorld.com had booths located prominently in the center of all the action on the floor, as well.

Again, none of this is necessarily bad. I'm just pointing out how the con was set up.

The one truly bad thing about the show was the wrestling ring they had set up by the concessionaires just before artists' alley. I felt sorry for the dealers who were within earshot and had to listen to all of that bravado, loud music, and the rest of the usual asinine occurrences you might associate with a wrestling ring. (I mean, can you imagine selling art at your booth for eight hours a day with the slamming and banging and music playing not thirty feet to your left? I know of at least one dealer who had to do that.)

That, generally speaking, is the overall look and feel of the convention. It was quite impressive, over all. I didn't know exactly what to expect. I thought it might be something slightly smaller or less busy, but I was pleasantly surprised at the size and popularity of the convention. Wizard did an excellent job in pulling this thing off, including lining up an impressive array of mainstream guests, organizing some wonderful panels, and getting all the major comics companies to attend the show. I didn't talk to anyone who was disappointed. The dealers and some of the artists in the alleys even volunteered that they were doing gangbusters business. Everyone seemed happy. I know I was.

And I haven't even discussed the after-hours parties, the panels themselves, or some of the people in attendance. That's all for Friday.

There's one thing I'd like to take care of first:

WITCHBLADE PREMIERE

[Witchblade]I had the pleasure of attending the WITCHBLADE movie premiere on Friday night. (Thanks to Jim Valentino for giving me the tickets.) Like what happened with San Diego, however, they gave out ten times as many tickets as they had seats. This time, however, I was prepared and got there an hour ahead of time. So I got a seat this time. It was held at a small theater, which seated about 2000. The film was projected onto the screen off of a VHS copy of the movie. I hope it was SVHS, at the least, but who knows? In the end, I didn't really matter. Picture quality was still pretty impressive.

Marc Silvestri was in attendance and introduced the movie. The movie's star, Yancy Butler, was there as well. It's true - the television or movie screen adds ten pounds to you. She looked almost painfully skinny in person, but looked healthy on the screen. Director Ralph Hemecker also atteneded.

The movie itself is a two-hour music video. It also gets incredibly loud in spots. Keep the volume button on your remote control handy when the movie premieres on TNT August 27th. Trust me.

There are a couple of big staged action scenes, which are done with a ton of ARMAGEDDON-style quick-cutting, some MATRIX "bullet cam" special effects, and a lot of special lighting. The "bullet cam" is only used once or twice, and gets used to neat effect the first time. The frame pauses each time a bullet is fired, then the camera starts circling around until the next bullet stops it. My description doesn't do it justice, but look for that when the movie airs at the end of this month.

I've never read the WITCHBLADE comic before in my life. I can't vouch for the authenticity of what appears on the screen versus what shows up in the comic. The costume is obviously gone. It may be cable, but it's not quite that daring. The witchblade itself is seen as a simple glove attached to Sara Pezzinni's arm when in use. With all the quick cutting, and a certain amount of CGI, it doesn't look as bad as many of the still shots led me to believe it might.

The story itself is easy to follow, although there are a couple of rough moments. There's one major bit of character info that gets added in for no purpose to the plot whatsoever. Sure, I can see it being important for future episodes of an on-going series, but for the sake of simplicity, I don't see its purpose in the movie. I'm not going to spoiler it here for you just yet, but it's a scene a little more than halfway through the movie between Sara and the police chief.

Overall, however, the acting, the special effects, and the rock music soundtrack are all pretty high quality. Whatever money they spent on this, it all ended up on the screen. It's not laughable. It's not campy. It's played straight and serious. Thank goodness for that. When it airs, give it a chance. Then, as Marc Silvestri suggested, write TNT lots of letters to suggest a series. I think it deserves that.

TEASER FOR FRIDAY: THE PANELS

One of the nicer things about Wizard World in comparison to San Diego is that the panel scheduling is much easier to read. There's vastly less of it. This, of course, can easily be construed as a deficiency, too. However, there was enough interesting stuff going on in those four rooms that I didn't miss the other dozen tracks of programming. All of these panels and Q&As were with top-notch mainstream talent talking about big things. You don't get the niche programming of "On-line versus Print Journalism" or "Computer Coloring," for two examples.

There are four rooms with panels. One is specifically set aside for "Wizard School," with instructional appearances by professionals on everything from how to structure your portfolio with Joe Quesada to how to stage a fight scene with Erik Larsen. The room is also unique in that the rows of seats have tables in front of them. It's more of a classroom setting than the other rooms, which simply have rows of folding chairs. It also means it holds less people, but it holds some fascinating discussions.

I didn't have too many conflicts between panels. The biggest panel of the weekend was, by far, the Kevin Smith panel. It was scheduled for the largest room (with a capacity of over 900) and with a running time of two hours. The line for it when the time came filled up and choked the entire hallway in which the panels were held. I can only imagine how ugly it got when people started getting turned away. Ouch. This is a good example of a panel that would have benefited from one of the massive ballrooms at the San Diego Convention Center. (Room 16ABCD sounds about right...) The long line led me to skip the panel completely. I'm not that big a fan of Smith's, or crowds that large.

I spent a fair bit of time at the Wizard School over the weekend, getting a chance to check out Chuck Dixon's "10 Commandments of Comics Writing," Jeph Loeb's "Writing Mystery and Suspense in Super-hero Comics," Erik Larsen's "Creating the Ultimate Fight Scene," and Joe Kelly and Joe Casey's "Character Development." (I wanted to catch Mark Waid's "Making Comics Readable," but that conflicted with the Marvel Knights panel discussion. Maybe next year.)

I have notes on all of those and I'll share them with you right back here coming up this Friday in Pipeline2. Also, some comments on the Wizard Fan Awards, the official convention program, and more!

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