(By the way, there’s an update here.)
Last year, my hometown comics convention, Mid-Ohio-Con, celebrated its 30th anniversary. Sadly, that was also the year that the independent show was acquired by Wizard World conventions. Almost immediately, comic creators and fans of the venerable show took to Facebook and Twitter to lament the passing of an era. Like any other long-running comic con, it had its share of ups and downs, but at the end of the day, MOC was always a fun show to attend, never too crowded or too “Hollywood,” where guests were easily accessible to fans, and the atmosphere was relaxed and congenial.
MOC was the first comic con I ever attended as a fan, starting sometime in the late 80s, 1988 maybe? I know it was when it still hadn’t moved to Columbus. And I’ve been attending the show as a comics fan for over 20 years. As a creator, I’ve had a table at the show since 2002. Coupled with Columbus’ own indie/small press show in the spring, S.P.A.C.E., these 2 shows are more than just comic cons to me. They’re institutions, traditions. They’re a chance to meet old friends, respected creators, and new fans. Colorist Matt Webb and I used to get together for a drink every year he was there. I looked forward to catching up with fellow Columbusites Sean McKeever, Darryl Banks, and Chris Sprouse at the show, and going out to dinner with my fellow PANEL Collective members and new friends after the show. The pre-con parties that used to be sponsored by my local store, The Laughing Ogre, were legendary. Free beer, food, entertainment, and a chance to mingle with creators in a fun environment. What a blast!
I remember the first time my young daughter attended the show on my guest badge, dressed up as Batgirl. Or the time before that when a life-sized remote controlled R2D2 chased her around the convention floor, much to her delight. Having slowly built up my profile as a writer over the last several years, I can’t explain the sheer joy and appreciation I felt when folks would seek me out at MOC and ask what new books I had out since the previous year. The first time I was invited to participate as a comics pro on a panel was at MOC.
(Above: Mid-Ohio-Con 2002, my first year attending as a creator, not just a fan (yes, I had green hair). Also my table at MOC ’03 (or maybe it was ’04?) This is when the con was at the Hilton at Easton Town Center)
Several years ago, the con’s long-time showrunner, the personable and accessible Roger Price, sold the show to James Henry and his brother. The con had been struggling for a few years by this point, but I feel that the Henry brothers did an admirable job of trying to turn things around. Certainly, they were very open to working with local creators and the Columbus community, and were especially fair and generous with me.
But that’s all in the past, as this year, it’s a different story. Sure, Wizard World retained the Mid-Ohio-Con name, but that’s just window dressing. The guts of the show are now all Wizard World, and everything that entails. Just Google Wizard World conventions and see what folks have to say about the infamous Gareb Shamus’ low-rent outfit.
I debated whether to apply for a table or not. An artist alley table which used to cost $125, is now $200. Yes, a 60% increase. And attending the show as a fan will also cost you a lot more this year. For the past 3 years, I had been comped a table at the show. So after hearing from other creators that they were offered free tables, I broke down and decided to contact the new organizers. In my email, I introduced myself and my history with the show (20+ years attending, 9 years tabling as a creator, 4 years organizing/sponsoring a pre-con party, volunteering for con programing as both moderator and panel guest, etc.), listed my credits (Image, IDW, DC, etc.), listed my upcoming projects (Dark Horse Presents, CBLDF Liberty Annual), and asked if they would be willing to provide a comp table. Their answer?
“Unfortunately, we have no more comp tables available for Mid-Ohio. If you would like to attend tables are $200. See artist alley form attached.”
Now, I completely understand my place in the “hot celebrity guests” pecking order. I know I’m not a main draw like Bill Sienkiewicz or Jeff Smith. And I’m not saying I automatically deserve a free table. But at the same time, I’m not some Joe Shmoe off the street whose only contribution is selling photocopied “prints” of copyrighted Marvel & DC characters. I’ve got a body of work that I’ve been building for the past 10 years, including high profile properties like Ghostbusters and Terminator, as well as creator-owned books and small press publications. And I’m a local Columbus guy who has been been supporting and promoting this show for a very, very long time. To go from being comped a table for the past several years to being summarily rejected with a one-sentence form letter response stung a little, to put it mildly.
So I waited a few days to think about it, and not say or do anything rash. And I contacted Wizard World back and explained that while disappointed, I was still interested in having a presence at the show, especially since I have a story in this year’s CBLDF benefit book and have been invited to sign at the CBLDF booth to raise money for the fund. All I was asking for was a measly guest badge to the show. Again:
“If you would like to attend as a professional pro passes are $25 for the weekend with a valid business card.”
That’s right, at a Wizard World show, comics professionals are treated to an amazing discount of 26% off the advance price tickets. Incidentally, as a means of comparison, I’m attending the NYCC show in New York as a professional, and their pro badges cost a mere $10 compared to the regular $85 advance price. For those of you who don’t want to do the math, that’s an 88% discount for a 4-day show that features a couple hundred more guests than MOC, and boasts major publishers, etc.
And again, I understand that Wizard World has a business to run. But I find my treatment a bit puzzling, and very frustrating, given my long association with the con. Doubly so, in light of reports such as this one on The Beat that shows WW comping all sorts of creators:
“In recent months, Wizard has also been reaching out to pretty much every cartoonist on earth to invite them to be guests at their shows. The basic invite includes a table but no travel or hotel room…Yesterday there was evidence of Wizard taking it to a whole new level, as indie cartoonists were tweeting about their own Wizard invites.”
“[Brian] Harbin further tweeted that his invite was particular surprising given past history: ‘Back when I ran HeroesCon, there was a ton of bad blood between us. They’re dicks. So I was like ??? at the invite. …Well, I don’t bear them super ill will or anything. I’m tempted to email back and ask for a plane ticket/hotel room.’“
I don’t know, maybe WW somehow forgot about me. I mean, I’ve only been on the MOC mailing list for 20+ years, and their guest list for 9.
Seriously, what’s the point of going around and buying up regional shows, when you’re not going to make the slightest attempt to build any sort of relationship with the community and the show’s long time advocates? As you can see from the canned replies above, there was zero effort and zero interest on their part in engaging me in conversation or trying to work out some sort of a deal. Not even a nominal, token one. Nothing. Thanks for contacting us, here’s our website where you can pay us your money, good bye.
So ok, I should just let it go and take the high road. After all, it’s just a comic convention. But you know what? It’s a comic convention that means something to me. And being dismissed in this manner sucks, and bothers me a great deal, and just validates every crappy thing I’ve ever heard or read about how Wizard World runs a con or treats fans.
So this is the part where, despite my better judgment, I lapse into an unprofessional rant. I know I shouldn’t, but screw it. Not only will I never pay money out of my own pocket to attend Mid-Ohio-Con, or any Wizard World convention, but Mid-Ohio-Con’s new corporate overlord can go fuck itself. And while we’re on the topic, Wizard World can take their precious Rob Liefeld, and has-been convention whore actors like Adam West and Burt Ward, and “celebrity” guests like William Holman (“Contestant – Bachelor Pad; The Bachelorette”…wow!) and shove them straight up its ass as well. I don’t wish for anyone to lose their job, especially in this economy, but when they day comes that Wizard World goes extinct the way of Gareb Shamus’ other much-maligned venture, I won’t shed a tear. The comics industry will be better off with a more progressive, responsive organization being in charge of regional conventions. We as creators deserve better, we as fans deserve better, and Columbus certainly deserves better.
PS. For nostalgia’s sake, you can check out one of the longer con write-ups I did, for the 2005 show, here. And there’s a bunch of pictures from the first Unmasked pre-con party we (the PANEL collective) sponsored in 2006, after The Ogre stopped doing so, here.