Sunday, June 21, 2009

Philly Wizzer World-09: Attack of the Babymen Final Report

As promised here is the big wrap-up report on what appears to be or was much rumored to be the final Wizard World con in Philadelphia. Once again I will say right up front my report or review is based on my perspective and place and experience in the business as a professional artist, and I am just laying it out as I see it.

After last years lame show I decided to not get a table this year, and instead I just showed up and walked the show yakking with a few friends and fellow pros like Walt Simonson and parked my feet at my buddy Scott Cohn's table. The air has been going out of this show for many years, but the last 2-3 years was really a big downturn. This year I think the tent collapsed. Artist alley was very small this year, though they suddenly had a sign with the location of every artist's table.

Now I'm sure there were people who were doing great, every show has somebody who did great, I just didn't see or talk to any of them. Now I know Wizard as a company has been facing hard times, laying off many staffers and I think that might have a lot to do with the poor advertising of the show in the greater Philadelphia area and the feeling of disconnect. The crowd was the smallest this year it has ever been,I'd say 10,000 tops, I'm sure the Heroes Con drew away many pros, the crappy weather kept people at home, it rained like hell on Saturday morning, the economy is also having an effect, but in the end I think Wizard just didn't do all they could have done and the fact is there are so many shows now, shows are not special any more.

I also think the industry as a whole is in a spot where we can really see that now without new readers the old readers get stretched thin. This is an issue that will continue to drive down the retail business in comics year after year, and face it, without new 13 year-olds coming in, those slowly rotting boxes of old comics are increasingly heavier and heavier to cart back and forth. The fire sale on trades and graphic novels at this show was amazing. I wasn't buying anything, but retailers were literally giving the things away on Sunday afternoon. Bottom line-- no new readers eventually means death or a big return to small venues where quarter boxes and 5-for-a-dollar boxes will rule the day. Sad old men selling shit to other sad old men. I couldn't believe the amount of dolls, action figures and toys literally littering every space, and it seems to me nobody was buying this stuff. The Babymen already have this stuff, so with literally no new readers, new fans, what is everybody going to do with the ever growing piles of crap?

I will say that one of the things Wizard has really fallen down on is making the local media aware of the show, none of my students at Uarts, a major art college a few blocks away knew about the show, there were never any flyers in the schools of which there are many in Philly, there were flyers for all kinds of things in the school all year but a con like this lives or dies by the sheer volume of people in the door. One of the things that has always frustrated me as an artist working in the comic business is just how poorly comics is often run as a business. The old addage, "that you have to spend money to make money" is true, but you also have to spend your money right.

The crowd even on Saturday, the normal heavy day or any show was never that crazy, and by 3:30-4, the crowd really thinned out, the show was not over till 7pm. I know most retailers and artist had mixed feelings, the show was weak, so they didn't make much, many were frustrated Wizard didn't do a better job, and most felt bad that this would be maybe the last con here, but were not that sorry it might not return. There were a lot less costumes this year, there was the usual platoon of Star Wars characters walking the floor, a few home grown costumes, a lot of zombies for some reason. There was aslo a booth were you could get your face painted, so I saw many kids with faces painted with Spider-man eyes, bat logos, etc.
No big tent publishers this year, Marvel and DC were not there, no Spike TV, no big video game company, no manga or animae, hardly any girls.

In short, no mojo at this show. It's a shame because as a shows go this con is easy to get to via car, regional rail or public transportation, lots of great eating within a few blocks, so this show had a lot of reasons it could have been better.

The last few years there were a lot more women at the show,this year there were a few booths selling gothy corsets, the tape and bootleg DVD guys were back, it was mostly a comic and very heavy toy show. In short it was a Babymen show, and a weak one at that. There were a bunch of TV people there, the usual suspects like Lou Ferrigno, Erin Grey, a bunch of wrestlers, the gal who was the female terminator, Edward James Olmos, and Kitt, the car from Knight Rider--wheee! But often when I passed by many were sitting there looking very bored. If you are trying to attract normal people, fans of LOST, then you need to let them know that the TV stars are here. Normal people don't know or care about people drawing comics, the biggest names in comic books are not house hold names. Babymen know who drew what issue of Bouncing Boy, but the average guy who will bring his kids to this type of show will remember the Honky-Tonk man.


In short, it wasn't a show that had a lot to offer anyone but the type of fan who likes mostly superheroes and super hero toys and not much else. I just knew getting a table in this case would have been a waste of my money and time and I'd would have been sitting starring out at the wandering fans most of the weekend. No thanks. It's also a very impersonal show, in Baltimore or Heroes Marc Nathan and Shelton Drum bring you snacks, water, even hamburgers. Wizard has always been very impersonal in that way and those little things go a long way to making people feel better about doing business with you by again, making things personal, warm and friendly. I have always felt that they will take my money, but that's where our relationship ends, and that is bad business. Face it,outside of Hollywood and licensing shows comics is a handshake industry for us artists working in it or retailers. It's a face-to-face business at cons, you get to know people over many years, and it's a small dollar business.

Sunday the show was really light in attendance, as expected, and there were not even that many costumed fans to snap pics of, so after some time looking over Walt Simonson's shoulder at some new work I headed over the Dick Blick with my buddy Scott Neely and bought a bunch of art supplies. I came back as the con and was greeted by the sound of zipping tape, screeching dollies as people were busting this puppy down early and booking back home.

I will on one hand be sorta' sad if this was the last big show in my home town, but I also won't really miss it if it is. This town seems to be cursed with comic conventions, Fred Greenberg used to do them till he went bust and otherwise you are left with the local cons at the WMCA or Holiday Inn at the end of the world, no thanks.

Captain America is a pick-pocket!

All this sounds pretty negative, but the show did have some upsides. I met some cool people, got to meet some younger local artists, recent graduates, coming up and looking for work, met a new publisher Eric Gregorio and his 4th Dimension Entertainment who just published a great new graphic novel Lackadaisy by Tracy J Butler a really great cartoonist, I urge you to go get yourself a copy of this book. So every cloud has a silver lining--even in Philly.

Thor looking for a smoke.

Bobba Fett gets Ray Park's autograpgh.


Nelson Melle said...

Some of the costumes were great. That Batman and Black Manta are great.

Matt said...

I'm really entertained by your photos, and I love the originality of the costumes--zombie supergirl?


Mike Manley said...

Thanks Matt, I love taking pictures at the cons, there is a lot of really funny=tragic at times photo opportunities, I feel like that photographer Weegie.

The hobby is a fertile ground for any able photographer. I think chronicling the events is really fun and a slice of our pop culture history. There is a raw honesty about a show like this that the Hollywood money at shows like San Diego airbrush over.

Unknown said...

It's very sad yet at the same time it deserves a major 'I told ya so!'. This particular industry does have a major problem/issue/deficiency in getting 'new blood'. At times it works but not enough for the major transfusion it needs.

Of course I could be wrong but haveing been to several cons in NYC, Wizard in Chicago, local cons here in Puerto Rico and the Megacon in Orlando, it's all of the same. 'Babymen', as Mike so eloquently puts it, rules the show. Very few young and/or new readers show up and then you have a majority of coplay-ers that make a con looked pack but they don't buy anything at all.

My opinion, is that the indy press may take this moment in time to appeal to that crowd on a local level and if lucky they might be able to go nationwide or even international with webcomics.

And we have seen this beginning to occur with Boom! Comics, Muppets books and The Incredibles books. Just now need to move awareness over to the original material for long term sustainability.

BTW, Mike you need to add an updated Babyman image. :)

Mike Manley said...

Amin, I think the issues are many, but mostly they lay at the feet of the retail community and major publishers, after all, they have the most at stake in needing to have a steady stream of new customers.What business can survive without a steady flow of new customers? They as a whole don't do anything but advertise the same material to the same, and shrinking audience. print in general is suffering as we face a cultural shift from the old world of analogue and print to whatever the new world will be. Look at Twitter in the last few days with the Iran crisis? Who predicted that?

I don't think the small numbers of indy publishers have the financial clout nor the combined business model to make a dent either. part of the issue is that you also can't get artists as a group to cooperate very much, the issue also lies at the feet of the artists and writers a well who wait for somebody else to save the day in comics like Superman.

I think as long as toys and TV shows and movies of comic characters continue, comics will linger in some form, in fact even if comic books stopped the art form would survive through on-line strips and newspapers, etc.

I think people in the direct market forget that superheroes are not the most popular form of comics, humor strips like Peanuts,Calvin, Blondie, etc. are the most popular characters and format.

Unknown said...

Very true Mike. We're on the peak of a major turning point in media with some mediums adapting/changing and others dying from resisting to adapt.

Indy publishers: sad but true. if use artists did cooperate as a group we'd have an artists' guild just as strong as SAG. Or close to.

Future: That again is true. Comics will linger in some form. Perhaps comics may be the added touch the digital news outlets need to fully break into the mainstream. Or we could just Twitter them...

SNeelyArt said...

The picture that speaks the most, in my opinion is the girl sitting alone on the white folding chair as the older crowd goes on their merry shopping way... she has that "Why am I here?" look to her...

BFIrrera said...

Hey! That's my husband in the photo with Harley and Joker shopping at his table (Pab Sungenis, the creator of "The New Adventures of Queen Victoria" ( ). Sorry, but I can't resist the chance to plug him. There are three trades available and a fourth on the way in the fall.

What I observed from my stance, as a collector, was a lot of people "window shopping" but not really buying anything.

ComicMakers said...

Hey Mike.

I am Brazilian penciller and fan of comics, I found your blog just now...
I'm still enjoying it.
A doubt, you know tell me who is the artist who is transferring to a photo page of a spider man originally designed by Joe Quesada, to a giant screen?

Sorry for my bad english...
See you soon.

Mike Manley said...

Sorry I have no idea who the artist was doing the big chalk drawing.

Joseph Michael Linsner said...

Hi Mike,

Wow, you did a great job of capturing that show, both in words and pictures. I have skipped the last few Philly shows and you pointed out exactly why I stayed home and what was missing. No mojo, no positive vibe. Comic shows are supposed to be fun. I hate those shows where the air is thick with the feeling of people just going through the motions. 'It's just something to do..." I don't know what drives away the fun and if i knew how to capture it I would be rich.

I did like that guy in the Batman suit though.