Pipeline: Pipeline, Issue #426

Tue, August 9th, 2005 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

WHY I'VE HAD IT WITH WIZARD

I'm of two minds when it comes to Wizard World.

First, I want to do everything in my power to systematically tear Wizard down for its unethical, shady, and slanted business practices. I'd love to pop their balloon of hubris, pry apart the fingers that form the stranglehold on this industry that Marvel/DC/et. al. have given them, and then jump up and down repeatedly on their rotting corpse. I realize that my next press pass request will likely be rejected now, but somehow that distance between the self-proclaimed Congers Cognoscenti and myself will just make me feel cleaner, like a freshly showered geek at the end of a long day's convention. The stink will be off me just as Frank Miller begins wallowing around in the same mud pit he once so beautifully vacated in a passionate Pittsburgh spiel.

My other mind is that Wizard World: Chicago is a great comics convention, where comics fans can come together and meet their heroes, shop for a wide array of discount comics, and pick up exclusive toys they won't get anywhere else. Make no mistake about it -- this show skews younger and more superhero-centered. That's not a bad thing. That's not the downfall of this industry. That's a strong corner of the industry, and one that a lot of us -- critics and creators, alike -- do our best to reach with more diverse books and broader tastes. In the meantime, if you want to read X-MEN and SUPERMAN and not apologize for it, this is the place to go. It feeds on that attitude.

I saw people wandering the aisles of the retailers section of this convention with want lists, filling in the gaps of their collections. They were finding new books they didn't consider before this, and surprising themselves with comics from the near past that they didn't realize existed. They left with TokyoPop-sized bags of goodies, much of which cost them fairly little. By Saturday afternoon, it seemed like half the dealers had 50% off signs on their boxes, at the minimum.

It's cool to see that. San Diego has lost that. Their range of dealers isn't as great. It's broader, covering everything from prop swords to Goth swag to comics and animation art. What it lacks, however, is the great flea market mentality of back issues. Good luck finding the 50-cent bins or the 50% off trades boxes in San Diego. They exist in very limited quantities, if at all. Chicago, on the other hand, specializes in those things. They move comics like you wouldn't believe. Toys come in second, and bootleg DVDs are a distant third.

There's also a certain camaraderie at the convention that can't be denied. Since most attendees are on the same wavelength, there's a shared experience that isn't always available at a larger or more diverse convention. Going to panels in Chicago -- what few there are -- is a lot of fun, because you can be swept up in the excitement and adrenaline of the big announcements and exclusives.

Having said all that, though, Wizard still disgusts me on most every level. For starters, they've added a new layer of frustrating hype. Case in point: Joe Madureira's second coming to Marvel. Since San Diego, Marvel has hyped that they'd have some big announcements in Chicago. We buy into that and wait patiently for Chicago. This weekend, Marvel announces that Joe Madureira has returned to Marvel for a new project. What is that project? We can't say; WIZARD will have the exclusive in just two weeks. If anyone had questions for Joe Mad, they were allowed to ask, but shouldn't expect any answers. This is, Wizard says repeatedly, the show for fans. No, it's the show for fans to be hyped on the next issue of the official con publisher's periodical. Marvel and DC and all the rest start buying into that and feed the ugly beast. WIZARD will never learn, because nobody with enough clout ever smacks them across the maw.

CrossGen put its convention organizer in a different office when it took over Megacon. Here, though, the same person might as well run WIZARD editorial, advertising, and conventioneering. From a business point of view, it's an awesome bit of corporate synergy. From a fan's point of view, it leads to an ugly case of inbred hype.

Wizard is also hostile to the press. This makes sense since they consider themselves the only press worth reading. Why should they treat any "competing" press well? Those with press passes were not allowed into the empty con hall on Preview Night. Preview Night, they said, was for the fans. It's a nice idea, made lie only by the fact that there was barely anyone in the hall that night. The press, thankfully, is smarter than Wizard gives us credit for. We still snuck in through other methods. Ask anyone who was there on Thursday night, though, and they'll tell you what was going on: Nothing. It was half a show and some wandering professionals.

Those with press badges were also denied the posters Marvel was giving out after the Cup of Joe panel on Friday. The joke turned out to be on them -- Marvel had so many of the exclusive posters left that they gave them away to those who attended the Ultimate Universe panel the next day, no questions asked.

I wouldn't dare suggest that this was WIZARD trying to get payback on the press for scuttling their planned Atlanta convention. That went down in flames after Newsarama reported on it, the story got picked up by professionals and outside press alike, and a grassroots movement among professionals all but guaranteed WIZARD an empty hall and sloppy seconds on the last weekend in June, 2006. I couldn't say that was the reason; that would be hearsay. I'd have to be incredibly cynical to believe that. Right?

When it comes right down to it, the whole messy affair also showed Wizard for what they are: liars. I'm not going to beat around the bush or come up with some pleasant euphemism for this. Wizard flat out lied about an Atlanta show not being scheduled until 2007. As Newsarama originally reported, they were handing out business cards and trying to drum up business for 2006. Now, Wizard's own program guide for the Chicago convention lists Atlanta as a confirmed 2006 date not once but twice. Those pages have been scanned in and are seen here. You'd think that any professional organization wouldn't go to such lengths to promote a show which didn't exist yet.

If you don't think for a minute that Wizard isn't looking to shut down Heroes Con or Emerald Con or one of the smaller cons by moving in at around the same time, you're only fooling yourself.

In the meantime, WIZARD can run their magazine as a paid advertisement, where coverage is guaranteed to those who pay for pages, while trying to convince us that their finger is on the pulse of fandom.

Bah!

My WIZARD sub is canceled at my shop. It's pointless. All the news in WIZARD is announced on the internet at least a day sooner than the mag hits stands. The rest of the magazine is prison rape jokes, hype interviews that tell me nothing, and short previews for comics that I'm just not excited about anymore.

I'm not returning to Chicago for this convention next year. I really wish I could say that it was a completely principled stance, but it's not. Next year's convention is scheduled for the week after San Diego. That's not enough time. Two weeks was fairly tight this year. One week is asking too much. I'll pick another con at another time of year. Sadly, most of them are Wizard conventions, but I'll find something else. Heroes Con is the place to be in 2006. Baltimore puts on a nice show, by all reports, and is close enough that I can drive to it. So is SPX, although it's really only a one day con for me. I've heard nice things about the Orlando MegaCon, though the new NYC convention is that same weekend. And Pittsburgh is still an option.

Many great people go to Wizard World conventions - creators, fans, and retailers alike. I don't hold their attendance against them. I'm lucky enough that I have my pick of conventions. I'm not limited to one geographical area, as many are. So I'm going to do my darnedest next year to avoid Wizard at all costs. It might be hard to skip Philly, since it's only a two hour drive away, but we'll see. . .

Now, I have eight more pages of notes I took this weekend that I'd like to run through with you. So sit back and let's enjoy the more pleasant moments.

AIR SICKNESS

Let's get to the point of the con report that you all came here for: Flight horror stories. Fortunately, I don't have any for this con, although I came close once or twice.

The airport was very kind to me. My 4:45 flight out on Thursday afternoon was booked solid, but the security lines were humming right along. I don't think I broke stride from the time I was dropped off at the Departures curb until the time I sat down in the terminal. I even got to see one of those new bomb sniffing machines that have been in the news recently. They weren't in use. Too bad. It looked retro-future cool.

I pulled out Greg Rucka's A GENTLEMAN'S GAME when I got to the terminal. I had started it in San Diego, but hadn't picked it up since then. I ended up reading about half the book on the way out to Chicago, and couldn't wait to read the rest on the flight back. I sat far enough away from the screaming kids in the terminal to be able to enjoy the novel, but I just knew the little brats would be near me on the plane. That didn't happen, although I did have a sumo wrestler to my right and someone who felt the need to recline her chair back onto my knees in front of me.

My escape from the 100 degree heat of Newark International Airport was on time. Almost. Expedia shows the flight to Chicago as being a 2 hour and 40 minute one. I knew that was a lie, but who was I to argue? Our plane boarded a few minutes late, and pulled away from the gate perhaps 10 minutes later than it should have. That's not a big deal, but then the pilot came on the p.a. speaker to inform us that our "Wheel's Up" time is another 20 minutes away. Doing the math, we can see that we'd be at least a half hour late. The pilot then also informed us that the flight is expected to last one hour and 45 minutes. Sometimes, the left hand doesn't have a clue as to what the right one is doing.

We landed on time in Chicago. The story ends well, after all. Good job, Continental.

After that, it was a matter of waiting for my hotel's shuttle bus to arrive at O'Hare to whisk me and several other conventioneers to the weekend's retreat. While waiting for the bus, I ran into That Dude from DC, Bill Rosemann, who I didn't cross paths with again the entire weekend. Sorry, Bill!

RANDOM THOUGHTS ON A PASSING CON

Thoughts and observations from this weekend's Wizard World: Chicago:

  • Wizard World is still small enough that you have a decent chance to see everyone. I learned a valuable lesson while hanging out most of Saturday in the various Artists Alleys: Stay still and let the world come to you. I ran around on Friday and didn't see half the people I had the chance to chat with on Saturday when I was standing still talking to someone else already. Artists Alley is a tight knit community, in many respects. You have to learn to get along well with your neighbors, if only so they can watch your table when you need a bathroom break.

  • That said, there were still some people I didn't see until the last hour of Saturday, which was the end of the convention for me, effectively. My 1:00 p.m. flight out on Sunday meant that I wouldn't make the con at all for a third day.

  • I want Tyler Page's NOTHING BETTER to be the buzz book of the con, but I doubt anyone else caught it. Crap. It's coming through Diamond this fall. Keep an eye out for it from Dementian Comics.

  • I still put in a good word or two for THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SCROOGE McDUCK as the Buzz Book of the con, but it was difficult without its publisher or creator there. Ah, well. . .

  • I did see a dealer with signs up advertising the Don Rosa Pedigree collection for sale, though. Does that count?

  • Not all of those people are in costume. Some of them just dress that way every day. Besides, who in comics has a green mohawk anymore?

  • Saw a group of people in the Hyatt lobby on Saturday night playing what appeared to be Pictionary on a whiteboard. Pretty cool.

  • THE NECROMANCER #1 is the new Top Cow book. If you stripped the label off it and showed it to a dozen random comics fans at that convention, they ALL would have been able to tell you it was from Top Cow. House style, or needless repetition? You make the call!

  • Was thrilled to meet colorist David Baron at the bar on Friday night. Had a great chat with him -- turns out he's been working as a colorist in comics and trading cards since he was a teenager.

  • "You have to read PUNISHER #27 to read OMAC #5." - Jeph Loeb, joking.

  • Joe Madureira has the best con posture I've ever seen. At the Cup o' Joe panel, he sat ramrod straight. My lower back envies that ability.

  • C.B. Cebulski attends a lot of Marvel panels, but doesn't speak at any of them. When Bendis is up there on the dais with you, though, you can't expect to have many questions directed at you.

  • "You do have to read 1602 to understand 1602." - Jeph Loeb, likely talking to internet fandom

  • Did a quick survey on Friday night: The Sofitel appeared to have the best non-Knuckles (Hyatt) bar in the area. The Embassy Suites' bar sits about ten, by the looks of it. The Doubletree's bar didn't look to have a single comic book person at it.

  • Saw a lot of people using their lanyards from San Diego to hold their Chicago badges.

  • There were two things I forgot to pack this year: My San Diego lanyard (Wizard doesn't give those to the press, either) and a few empty bags and boards to bring the comics home. They would have come in handy later for when the TSA decided to open my luggage, inspect my dirty clothes thoroughly, and repack my things.

  • I walked Artist's Alley on Saturday afternoon with Robert Kirkman. That was a thrill for me, just because it meant I got to look at all the tables without being mobbed by those who saw a press pass and the CBR logo on my shirt. Kirkman serves as a great distraction for them.

  • If I am touched by craziness and do return to Chicago in 2006, I'm going to do a photo parade of illegal DVD bootleggers.

  • Jonah keeps talking about a photo parade of porn stars. He swears it's for journalistic curiosity.

  • I wore the pedometer on Saturday. Whereas San Diego involved five or six miles of walking every day, I barely made it to 2.5 miles in Chicago on a Saturday.

  • I never walked a Habitrail this year. It was nice and sunny out. Why wouldn't you walk outside for the fresh air?

  • Got to Marvel's Ultimate Universe panel early on Saturday afternoon. Watched the crowd flow in behind me. Was bemused at how lost the guy looked who came in with his DC logo shirt on.

  • A guy sitting in front of me at that panel had an insulin pump on. I wanted to talk with him about it, but he left the panel early. Drat!

  • Saw one gentleman at the con with a CrossGen shirt on. I wanted to give him a hug and tell him everything was going to be all right.

  • Bendis once again refused to write an Ultimate Speedball character. His loss.

  • Will the last person to move their book to Speakeasy please turn out the lights on the rest of us?

  • Bought two pages of QUEEN AND COUNTRY art from Mike Norton, two STYLISH VITTLES pages from Tyler Page, and a SMAX page from Zander Cannon. I looked through art from Michael Gaydos, Michael Lark, and Jesse Delperdang, but managed to control myself and my dwindling funds.

  • Mike Norton says I've turned him onto podcasts, as great background listening material while he draws.

  • Met a few people over the weekend who listen to the podcast. Thanks, guys!

  • The biggest trend in the dealer's area is the collector's sets. Don't skip to the next paragraph yet -- it's not what it sounds like. These are low cost sets of comics that collect runs of books. Sometimes, it's just a mini-series in a plastic bag at less than cover price. Sometimes, it's a long run of a series -- I saw one dealer with 100 issues of ACTION COMICS for $100. I picked up a few of the much smaller sets, including Peter David's THE ATLANTIS CHRONICLES, Mike Mignola's ROCKET RACCOON, and Mike Wieringo's ROGUE.

  • I also picked up TIME MASTERS, an eight issue mini-series from 15 years ago. It features pencil art from Art Thibert, who hadn't yet done BLACK AND WHITE, and whose greatest credit was inking Dan Jurgens on a Superman title. Imagine my surprise when I discovered at a second glance that it was co-written by Bob Wayne, DC's current Veep of Sales. I brought the issue along with me to the con the next day for him to sign, and turned out to be the SECOND person to ask for such a thing. Go fig. Someone else probably found the set in the dealer's room, too.

  • Ran back in on Sunday for twenty minutes before my flight to do some last minute purchases: A Super Grover lithograph, the 40 years of the FANTASTIC FOUR DVD, and four new instructional CDs from Brian Haberlin, including one on techniques for digital inking. I am still a process junkie.

  • That Super Grover litho is the nicest thing Alex Ross has painted in years.

  • I would love to know the financials behind some comics companies. I know it's none of my business and all, but looking at those booths begs those kinds of questions. Aspen always has a large booth, but they've only produced something like five comics. How can they afford that booth and all the WIZARD Magazine advertising? Does DC pay that well for covers?

  • I don't think the convention had greater attendance in 2005 over 2004. It didn't seem as crowded, and there were thankfully no near riots near the panel rooms. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that Wizard will announce record-breaking attendance at some point this week. Their misguided way of counting attendees is partly to blame for this.

  • Chuck Dixon doesn't write down every idea that comes to mind. His theory is that if the idea is good enough, he'll remember it when he needs it. That might work for him, but I wrote down almost eleven total pages of notes on legal pad-sized paper. You're only seeing about three of those pages in this column. The rest will come when I review some of the books I read over the weekend.

THE WAY HOME

It's a bit of a mirror image of the flight out, actually. The flight pulled away from the gate on time, only to pull out to another runway before stopping the engines. There were rain showers on the east coast, they said, and we were to sit still for 20 minutes. Five minutes later, though, they announced we were good to go, the pilot fired up the engines, and off we flew.

I'm sick to death of airlines loading up planes that they KNOW will not be flying right away. I'm guessing they do this in an effort to maintain the illusion of "on time" flights. I haven't had one of those in years, it seems.

It was too short a flight for a movie, but here are the options available to flights, as quoted in Continental's magazine: MILLION DOLLAR BABY. What better movie for a long flight, eh? KANGAROO JACK. Get out the parachutes. An edited version of MADAGASCAR. What, is the unedited version too vulgar? SCOOBY DOO. SAHARA. RUSH HOUR 2, which would cause me to rip off the headphones before having to listen to the sound of Chris Tucker's voice. DADDY DAY CARE, MISS CONGENIALITY 2, GUESS WHO, FEVER PITCH, and (out of left field) DISCLOSURE.

I finished reading the QUEEN AND COUNTRY novel before boarding the plane.

Wow. It's a great book, but Greg Rucka is a meanie. He took advantage of my comfort with the cast of characters to pull off a couple of great twists that I should have seen coming, but didn't. That's the problem with a pre-established series: You think you know who the regular characters are, what their positions are, and who needs to stick around. Rucka subverts that beautifully with this book. I can't wait for him to get back to the comics now -- or at least release the second novel.

Having said all that, I'm not sure if this is one I'll be passing along to the rest of the family that has enjoyed the Atticus Kodiak series. This one can be difficult to plow through, at times. It's a large cast of characters in the unfamiliar world of British defense. If I hadn't known the characters and their histories through the comics already, I'm not sure I'd have made it all the way through. If they can make it through the first 100 pages, they'd be golden. We'll see.

Back to flying:

Does anyone know why they choose the stencil-like font for the "NO STEP" signs on the wings of an airplane? Is there a reason for that?

I spent the flight listening to music on the iPod and filling out the crossword puzzle in the in-flight magazine.

In listening to the iPod, I was amazed at how loudly I had to turn it up to hear it over the dull roar of the plane's engines. I took the ear buds off a couple of times to see if the passenger sitting next to me would have a chance at hearing the music I was listening to. It was impossible to hear. This made me wonder just how deafeningly loud passengers in my past had to crank up their walkmans to make it easy for me to hear their music three rows away.

TSA saw fit to open my baggage on the flight home again. I wonder if they noticed the 15 pound increase in its weight between flights and thought it was suspicious. I hope they enjoyed reading the Rob Liefeld sketchbooks and RAVENOUS trade paperback I took along with me.

The bomb-sniffing machine at Newark was up and running when I left the terminal. It was carefully sniffing for bomb residue on the body of a 20 year old blonde co-ed. After all, she's the perfect terrorist suspect. But, hey, the machine makes all kinds of beeping sounds and lights blink and everything. Don't you feel safer already?

I see air flight as an exercise in self-deprivation. Deprive yourself of elbow room, leg room, easy access to a bathroom, and familiar company, and stay like that for hours at a time. Your only forms of entertainment available are what you can fit in a bag that sits underneath the sit in front of you. You can't easily bend over to pull it out, because the person in front inevitably pushes his or her chair back, banging it on your knees and further trapping you in.

That which doesn't kill me only makes me stronger.

Right?

Pipeline returns next week with Previews and Reviews.

Check the Pipeline message board for updates on the Pipeline Comic Book Podcast. You can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes now, too!

You can still hear last week's podcast through the MP3 file. This week's is over here (as of Tuesday night).

Don't forget about the VandS DVD podcast.

Various and Sundry continues its link dumps, and all political discussions are at VandS Politics.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 600 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.

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