A Wizard World Austin 2010 Report

by Cary Kelley

Austin. The city with the slogan that says without apology "Keep Austin Weird!" It's a place of diverse interests and population, and as it turns out it's also a perfect place for a big national comic convention.

Having big conventions in Texas is nothing new really. For some, memories still linger of the old Dallas Fantasy Fair and the absolutely insane Houston Comic Cons of old. Dallas, considered by many to be more of a central location in an almost ridiculously large state, played host to three years of the Wizard World Tour, and still hosts at least two fairly successful annual non-Wizard events. But try as they might, the Wizard shows just didn't resonate with the Dallas crowd. Perhaps it was the pop culture nature of the shows, splitting time with celebrities and mixed martial arts fighters that put some fans off. Perhaps it was the time of year, coming in November, that lowered attendance and interest. It may be all of that, or none of it, but when Wizard pulled the Texas show it was definitely a blow to the folks who had come to call that show their hometown event, even if that meant driving six or more hours to get there.

And then they announced the return of Wizard World Texas. For those of us familiar with the old venue it was more than a little shocking. Austin? But...what about the sprawling Arlington Convention center, nestled in the shadow of the Ball Park at Arlington and that snazzy new Cowboys stadium? What about all that easy parking, the walking distance hotels, the food! In an instant it was gone, replaced by the largely unknown Austin Convention Center, and a bustling downtown area as unfamiliar to most of the old guard as the dusty surface of Mars. Scary, right?

Not at all. For me personally it was a breath of fresh air. Having moved to Austin a year ago, it was extremely exciting to hear we'd not only get the Texas show back but that they'd hold it less than 20 minutes from my house. Yeah, home town show for real this time!

But what's up with giving Austin a show like this anyway? They already have a show! Austin hosts the annual STAPLE show, focusing primarily on Indy and Small Press creators and publishers. STAPLE has grown from a mainly local affair to a show that's talked about and attended by folks from all over the country. In fact it has grown in size and popularity to the point where in 2011 they've expanded it to two days! So Austin loves the comic crowd already, no doubt about it. But could it withstand the type of convention that brings the hard core fans out of the woodwork? In a word: HELL YEAH!

I secured an Artists Alley table fairly early this year, not knowing what to expect as far as local competition and such. Austin is a comic book town like few others can boast. It supports no fewer than five large and well outfitted comic stores, not to mention outlets like Hastings and all the myriad book stores selling graphic novels and such. If you want to get your comic on, Austin is the place. In addition to supplying fans with plenty of weekly reading fix, Austin also supports one of the largest home grown comic creator nests you're likely to find anywhere in the country. Austin has drink and draws, comic creator groups, publishing houses, indie solo fliers, and everything in between. We even have a live action graphic novel running at one of the local theaters. Yeah, you read that right. Live action graphic novel. You gotta see it to believe it. So with all that in the mix, I figured getting in early was the way to go. Turns out, I was right.

We showed up Friday ready to rock and made our way to the convention floor with very little trouble. I had to navigate a set of daunting steps with my dolly, and dodge a band of Ghost Busters in full gear along the way, but it was fairly painless. Signing in was quick and simple, and the great folks at the show instantly accommodated me with two extra guest badges for a last minute table addition I was bringing in. They were super nice.

The set up went smooth, especially since we'd worked out a lot of the kinks earlier in the year at Champion City Con. This time we had the stuff we needed and it all went up like clockwork. As Friday opened up, there was an initial surge of fans and customers that stayed pretty steady all day. The incomparable SPLASH, also known as the genius behind our cover colors on Dynagirl, showed up around 2 pm or so and signed prints as well as shouldering a huge portion of the sales pitching. The dude was a madman at sales! It was nice to have him there as well because it allowed me to get up a couple of times and roam out and do some shopping. The one thing I love about Wizard shows is the half priced graphic novels and trades. I never miss a chance at that and I wasn't disappointed this year either. I picked up the first four Walking Dead trades, the newest Invincible, and a few others I've had my eye on. The show opened at noon and stayed open till 8 pm, and by the time we closed it up my voice was killing me from pitching my comic at everyone who came anywhere near us. Our close table mates were the wonderfully talented Dan Hale, Chris Summers, and Brian Denham and I'm sure by the time the weekend was over they were as ready to get away from me and my constant pitch assault as anything!

Saturday...was a mess. First off, my best friend and I were going in to run the table while our wives were going to have a spa day and do nails and such. That worked out great right up till we got to the show and discovered we'd forgotten the cash box at home! ARGH! My wife was awesome enough to run out with the box and some extra prints we'd also forgotten and kept us in the game, but the start was shaky to say the least. Then, the doors opened.

Wow. I've been to a lot of shows, both as a fan and as a creator, and this one was flat out crazy. We stayed busy all day long, without stopping. My wife brought me food and I ate at the table, pitching the book between mouthfuls of chicken sandwich that's how busy we were! From 10 am to 7 pm it was simply a non-stop crowd, complete with costumers galore! We handed out Dynagirl postcards, pitched both Fallen Justice and Dynagirl, and showed off a great preview of the forthcoming Dead Reckoning graphic novel all while pushing the only convention exclusive at the show, our Dynagirl and Bevo print! It was awesome having the only con exclusive and we cleaned up with that to such a degree that I'll be doing that same thing at every single show I hit from now on. It was awesome. I was so busy Saturday that I missed Burt Ward and Adam West, not to mention Lee Majors and that whole retinue, but I did manage to sneak over and speak with Michael Golden of Micronauts fame, and got him to sign a couple of his prints! Woo! I also made it a point to go speak with Mike Grell, because the dude is one of my comic creator heroes and quite honestly one of my favorite artists. Both guys were incredibly gracious and more than willing to sit and just talk about nothing in particular. It was great and I wish I'd had more time! We closed Saturday even more whipped than the night before, and I barely managed a glass of wine after our Mongolian Barbeque before heading straight to bed.

Sunday was a 10 am to 5 pm day, and the traffic was steady, but more along the lines of Friday than Saturday. Even still we got a lot of traffic and business because it was the end of the show and folks that had been waiting around were now making up their minds and spending that cash. We also saw a lot more traffic from the other creators with tables in the show as several of them were finally getting enough time and space to actually make the rounds. It was great to meet so many wildly creative types, and it was also pretty funny to discover just how many of the same people we all knew. You are never so reminded of just how small the Indie comic scene really is till you hit a show like this and start comparing notes and projects.

As the crowd was steady but slower I took the opportunity to get up and run around a bit again, this time catching up with Billy Tucci and meeting Erin Grey, who seemed quite taken with my infant son Logan. Carrying a cute kid around a comic con does have perks folks; you just gotta know how to work it! I also caught up with the Amanda Rachels and Kevin LaPorte as they pushed their book Clown Town, which is currently in the mix of the final round of this year's Small Press Idol competition. They had a great set up, and while I couldn't get them to bring in a clown for the show it was all a ton of fun getting to meet and talk with them. I also touched base with Ty Tyner, another local Austinite who I'll be sharing table space with at next year's Comicpalooza in Houston. In case you haven't heard Ty is the color genius on Tyler James' EPIC comic, and he'll be coloring the forthcoming EPIC/Dynagirl crossover! I actually got to see some preview stuff of that book and it's gonna blow people's minds when we hit the street with it.

Swag wise I picked up a couple more trades, most notably the newest two Atomic Robo trades from Red 5 Comics, and my wife scooped up a couple of really cool prints of Iron man and Wolverine for my son's room. We started packing it up around 4:30 pm on Sunday and walked out the door as the show officially closed. It wasn't raining yet, but it was close, and as I waited for my wife to bring the truck around I chatted a bit with Harry Knowles about the show. You just never know who you might meet on the streets of Austin Texas!

But what did I really think of the show? For me personally it was a rousing success. I made more at this show than I've ever made at any other show by a huge margin, covering my table expense and making a tidy profit over what my print costs were. I sold a good mix of Fallen Justice Collected trades and Dynagirl exclusive prints, and handed out over a thousand postcards with our info on them. Red Handed Studios wise, we rocked it.

Having said all that, there were some glaring problems with this show, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention them. First and foremost, the show was celebrity heavy and comic creator light. Artist Alley was full of all manner of great people, and they had some excellent creators as I've mentioned already, but neither Marvel nor DC bothered to so much as send a booth or even marginal staff to the show. They had no presence whatsoever. Missing too were the next tier companies that usually make a big showing at the Wizard conventions, like Image, Dark Horse, and others. Certainly the economy and a crazy long con season may have factored in, but I get the sense that everyone was waiting to see just what the show was going to be all about before they commit resources and time towards it. There were rumors of bad blood from the Big Two over the cancelled Las Vegas show, but I was never able to confirm anything of that nature. Fact was they weren't there, and it doesn't really matter why as much as that they weren't. You just miss something at a show like this when you can't walk into the mega huge DC booth and immerse yourself in the icons of the industry. You feel kinda robbed at missing the DC panel with all the rumors and revelations, or catching Dan Didio walking across the con floor. It's like coming home for Thanksgiving to find your parents on vacation in the Bahamas and your sister cooking for the first time. You'll sit down, enjoy the time, and eat it, but it's not the same.

So now what? Well they've already booked the show for next year, and we're planning to attend. I'm confident they'll build on the success of this year and have an even bigger and better show next year. Word is they've already decided to double the floor space, and with that increase it seems likely we'll see at least Marvel and DC attend and set up their displays, if not fan favorites like Aspen and Dark Horse. I think its incumbent upon the folks that run the Wizard shows to listen to the fans, and give them the show they want going forward. This was an excellent start on the road to what could be a marquee show if it's handled correctly. What they do with that...we'll see next year.

Name: Cary Kelley/Writer, Podcaster
Bio: Cary is the founder and owner of Red Handed Studios doing all the production and design work plus a great deal of the lettering on the books they produce. He created the Fallen Justice universe along with Harold Edge and Steven Forbes, as well as creating Totem, The Kansas Hit, and several other titles. Cary wanders the Earth a lot, but makes his home in south Texas. He is part of Zone 4 podcast here at Comic Related.

blog comments powered by Disqus