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Ruminations on the Cancellation of WizardWorld Boston

A. David Lewis, writer of Mortal Coils and The Lone and Level Sands, has long been a champion of comics as a true art form, and currently teaches English at Northeastern University, where he does indeed sneak comics into the curriculum wherever he can. He posted this article on his blog, and gave Fanboy Planet permission to reprint it.

When the news first hit, I had an IM conversation with Joshua Hale Fialkov, grand poobah of Hoarse & Buggy's Elk's Run, from which I take this excerpt:

SAcomics (10:58:35 PM): Heard about WW Boston?
hoarseandbuggy (10:58:47 PM): yeh, i saw that.
hoarseandbuggy (10:58:52 PM): You move there, and it goes to shit.
SAcomics (10:58:53 PM): bummer
SAcomics (10:58:55 PM): precisely
SAcomics (10:58:59 PM): i smell conspiracy

The conspiracy in question isn't Wizard's, nor is it any of the publisher's. But there is some nefarious force that is thwarting Boston from having a full-fledged comic book show worthy of this city.

I enjoy the small, local shows, mind you. Just this weekend, I attended Primate Productions' one-day event at the Radisson on Stewart Street, a bi-monthly event primarily aimed at collectors and back-issue retailers. Still, I got to see and chat briefly with Mike Oeming, Neil Vokes, Todd and Craig of Perhapanauts, Johnny Raygun's Matt Talbolt, and the lovely Jennifer Omand, from whom I purchased the charming Squarecat Comics collection. (Back off, men, she's taken.) April's show already has Mike Dooney, Hannibal King, Paul Gould, and Shea Justice listed as attendees.

Combine this with the fledgling Writer/Artist Networking Events held by New England Comics; Concord, NH's GraniteCon; Larry's Wonderful World of Comics Shows in Chelmsford, MA; and Nashua, NH's excellent Comic Show. (Undoubtably, there are other local cons I'm forgetting.) The point being: Even when I was down in Washington, DC, I knew there was a population of comic book creators and fans here in/around the Bay State. Still, it remains an underserved market...

...Or, in the case of last year's experimental WizardWorld Boston, an overserved one. When news of its demise was released in January, the WizardUniverse.com website said the following:

After speaking to our exhibitors and partners, all of whom shared our concerns about the outside costs of doing business at this time, Wizard World Boston has been cancelled. This is an industry decision, and we want to do what’s best for the industry.

We are thankful to the 8,800 fans that attended last year’s event and hope to return to Boston in the near future.

There are two major items to be gleaned from those comments:

  • An operation the size of a WizardWorld is not affordable in the current Boston market. Certainly, it's not feasible all at once, without any build-up or initial, smaller forays into the area.
  • There is a pool of over 8,000 comic book enthusiasts who would attend a show in the Boston area, even at a location as inaccessible as the Bayside Expo Center (rather than, say, in a nearby suburb, a campus, or downtown Boston itself).

    Are you telling me there's no convention planner who would like 8,000 local attendees?

    Certainly, another show without the Wizard brand might not get 8k of foot-traffic (assuming their numbers were right to begin with -- and assuming that "the Wizard brand" is more of an attraction than a deterrent). But wheedle that number down to 6k, even 5k, and you still have an impressive show and an impressive profit to be made.

    The trick would be to make it the Boston show -- Enlist A-list creators, reach out to local talent, advertise (and actively promote) on campuses, and hook into both Newbury Comics and New England Comics' impressive retail chains. The soil for a MoCCA-sized show, an SPX show, or even a MegaCon or SPACE! show is rich here in New England (that is, when the ground's not frozen).

    WizardWorld Boston wasn't a failure because of lackluster local response; it perished because of its own false expectations. Following the late September event itself (ridiculously timed to compete with the last Red Sox home game against the Yankees), Gareb Shamus, chairman and CEO of Wizard, wrote the following:

    Some of the greatest, most passionate fans in the world live here, and they really showed their support. The entire Wizard team looks forward to coming back next year and presenting Boston with another outstanding event.

    Even with the convention season at a point of (over)saturation, Boston should still be presented with "another oustanding event," no question. The interest and the support is here; only a show of the right size, right planning, and right flavor is missing.

    On this point, Shamus is correct: "New Englanders deserve a world-class event like Wizard World Boston." Maybe it could be "like Wizard World Boston," but perhaps Wizard doesn't have the right magic for the job.

    A. David Lewis

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