Let me begin this piece by saying that I scored some very cool books (and an action figure!) at the recent Wizard World Austin Comic Con. Those treasures have all been posted here over the past month and I am quite pleased with everything I bought. And, as related in another post, getting to and from the convention was easy thanks to Metro Rail. However, I have several criticisms of the overall convention experience, enough so that I honestly don't know if I'll attend another one.
To begin with, for some reason the con this year ran Thursday, Friday and Saturday, which is very unusual. All previous Wizard World conventions have been Friday-Sunday affairs. My guess is that this scheduling must have been due to the availability of the Austin Convention Center but it's still a strange schedule. I bought my one day pass for Friday, so I was there on day two of the three day event.
The convention website didn't post a schedule of panels until the week before the event. Again, I'm sure that several last minute things had to be nailed down and commitments from convention guests had to be confirmed but I would have liked to have seen this information posted earlier if possible.
That said, there were two panels on Friday that I decided to attend first before hitting the dealer's room. The first was a celebration of Marvel Comics' 75th Anniversary. There were three people on the panel: former Marvel editor/writer Danny Fingeroth, my pal Alan Porter and some guy whose name I don't recall. I don't why Alan and the unknown panelist were up there because they added nothing to the event which consisted of a PowerPoint presentation narrated by Fingeroth. Fingeroth spent a great deal of time on the golden and silver age days of Marvel, so much so that he had to rush through the last 25 years of the company in about five minutes. Fingeroth provided no insights into what the company was like during his days on staff (which I would have loved to hear). He talked, the other two guys threw their two cents in occasionally and I didn't learn a single thing I didn't already know about the history of Marvel Comics. Not a great panel by any stretch but it was far better than what followed.
The next "panel" (actually a one-woman show) was in the same room so I stayed put to see and hear something entitled "From Science Fiction to Science Fact". The woman presenting the material never identified herself to the audience so I have no idea who she was or what her credentials were. Was she a science fiction author? A scientist? A science writer? A futurist? No clue.
Her presentation was another PowerPoint slide show of various technologies that are either already in existence or in development. It was like reading an issue of POPULAR SCIENCE with an ill-informed narrator. I got the impression that this woman had simply surfed the web for various science sites, found some interesting material and put it all together. Anyone could have done this. Her final "slide" was a plug for her various self-published science fiction books were for sale in booth number 1234. I doubt many people left that "panel" and made a beeline for her booth. In fact, many people bailed out of the presentation as this woman droned on and on and folks realized that they all had better things to do. I stayed until the end and wished I hadn't.
One mediocre panel and one bad presentation down with the rest of the day to go. Time to hit the dealer's room and see what treasures I could find.
The first thing I did was reconnoiter the whole exhibit hall and identify the booths I wanted to come back and hit on a second pass. To the left of the hall was the autograph and photo ops section. The main, center part of the hall was where the dealer's booths were located with "Artists Alley" at the rear of the space. In the center of the dealer's space and taking up an sizable piece of expensive Comic Con real estate was Neal Adams. Adams was at the convention last year and I bought a Superman print from him. He signed it for me and I have it framed and hanging in the man cave. I didn't particularly want to purchase another item from Adams this year but it was nice to see him again. The right side of the hall featured interactive exhibits, games and a space for people to play Magic The Gathering and other role playing games. So, something for everybody with cos players everywhere.
I traversed the entire exhibit hall in about 30 minutes. Had I missed something? I covered the dealer's area again just to make sure and I was right the first time. There were almost no comic book dealers at the show. Oh, there were tons of other stuff. You want swords? Several booths had them along with light sabers, prop replicas of guns, T-shirts, art prints, high-end, autographed collectibles, action figures, toys, bobble heads, steam punk paraphernalia, bootleg DVDs (how do those guys get away with selling clearly illegal merchandise at these shows?), the current "hot" comics and more including a booth selling sugar gliders (who comes to a comic book convention to buy a live animal?), several "spin-and-win" movie passes booths, a booth for the Gay Geeks of Central Texas and State Farm Insurance. Wait, what? State Farm Insurance?
What I didn't see was very many booths offering vintage comic books, magazines and toys for sale. For instance, at last year's Wizard World, legendary comic book dealer Mile High Comics had an enormous set up with literally thousands of comics old and new for sale. They weren't here this year and I suspect there are two reasons for that. One, the big New York Comic Con was coming up and they probably decided to spend their money on that show instead of Austin. And two, that they didn't have strong enough sales in Austin last year to warrant coming back. There were other big comic book dealer booths that were at the con in 2013 but they were all missing in action this year.
I counted about half a dozen booths offering back issue comics and I decided to hit them all and ask for what I was looking for. My holy trinity of wants this time around were Dell and Gold Key comics, men's adventure magazines and pulp magazines. You've seen the Dell and Gold Key comics I was able to find. No one had any men's adventure comics and only one dealer had any pulps (four overpriced issues of WEIRD TALES). Granted, I'm at the far end of the collector spectrum, a 58-year-old man with specific interests that aren't "hot" and popular with the younger buyers. Heck, most kids probably don't have a clue about the type of material I was looking for. I also get that booths are expensive and that dealers have to bring what they think they can sell in order to cover their costs and make a profit. They are business people and I respect that.
But I found it somewhat distressing that so few comic books of any kind could be found at a convention with the word "comic" in it's name. Everything else pop culture was well represented. State Farm Insurance was represented. Sugar gliders were there. But comic books? Good luck finding 'em at Wizard World Austin Comic Con.