Smaller is Better: Support Your Local Comic Scene

By Max Delgado

The nice thing about running your own blog is that you can sometimes publish content that’s not mission aligned and there’s no one around to fire you.

As some of you know, I live in the Twin Cities and, like most local geeks, consider the opening of SpringCon this weekend here in Minneapolis to be one of those little gifts of spring -- like longer days and green tulip bulbs this humble little comic con is something I look forward to all winter.

Because of that I’ve been following the recent “Con Wars” controversy with some interest (the semi-covered fracas between Wizard World and the Midwest Comic Book Association). And as someone who had to peck around the internet to get the whole story, I wanted to quick overview of the situation with the major encouragement that you should attend Spring Con if you can.

Please note, this isn’t a unique piece of journalism, but a mash-up of good journalism that has already occurred.

First of all, for those of you haven’t heard the term “Con Wars” I’ll offer this definition: Con Wars is shorthand for Wizard World’s predatory practice of moving into new cities and setting-up their big ass Wizard World shows just weeks or days before smaller local conventions. While Wizard World (the organizer of Wizard World Comic Con) has denied any underlying motivation to this practice, many of the smaller cons who’ve had to survive the invasion of these mega-shows have all come to the same conclusion: Wizard World is systematically trying to shut down the competition and corner the market on conventions.

So why do community-focused geeks see this as a problem? Isn’t part of the American promise that you can set-up your lemonade stand across the street from mine and give the consumer a choice about where to spend his or her dime? Well, yes. But as the recent Con War here in Minneapolis just highlighted, Wizard World’s approach doesn’t follow traditional rules of engagement where one lemonade stand goes nose-to-nose against the other. Rather, I would argue, Wizard World has played dirty. And actively sought to undermine the very sense of community-meets-commerce that cons are supposed to create.

Overview of a Con War

August 2013:

Newshounds around the web got word that Wizard World, the parent company responsible for Wizard World, has once again scheduled a larger-than-life convention right ahead of a local con -- this time Wizard World’s target was the small but celebrated Spring-Con, Minneapolis’ oldest gathering of geeks. SpringCon has been at it for a startling 26 years, and is run by the Midwest Comic Book Association, a local non-profit that literally gives fans an admission discount if they bring canned goods in for a local food shelf.

Sensing the rumbling, Wizard World claimed it didn’t know anything about SpringCon, and had not intentionally scheduled their event to try and capsize the tinnier competition. Wizard chairman John Macaluso told The Beat: “We’re trying to go into more cities, and we do everything in our power not to compete with anybody. Why would we want conflict? It would reduce the amount the attendees going to both shows.” Further, in the same article, Macaluso told The Beat that SpringCon “was not on our radar,” and that their research into the area had not turned up this potential conflict.

The Phone Call of 2012

While this ‘aw-shucks’ posturing might seem to let Wizard World off the hook, it doesn’t add up. Nick Postiglione, co-owner of local comic shop The Source and a lead organizer for SpringCon came out to refute this message: “About a year ago,” Postiglione shared “we were approached by Wizard to see if we were for sale or absorption. I told them that given the fundamental structural differences in our respective organizations, that probably wouldn’t be possible. But we’d be happy to help their efforts in establishing a presence here.” Postiglione didn’t hear back from Wizard. And he had no idea that “they actually intended to land right on top of us.”

What About Other Dates? And What About FCBD?

Free Comic Book Day at The Source in  Roseville, MN 

Free Comic Book Day at The Source in Roseville, MN 

One of the largest points of contention has been how close Wizard World scheduled Wizard World to SpringCon (Wizard World Comic Con hit Minneapolis two weeks before SpringCon, which is scheduled for the weekend of May 17). Wizard World further annoyed the local geek scene by scheduling Wizard World Comic Con for the same weekend as Free Comic Book Day (May 3) -- an annual event instrumental in pulling new readers and new blood into local comic shops (the very same demographic often attracted to conventions). Andrew Toth, owner of local shop Mind’s Eye Comic described the dilemma to Minneapolis newspaper CityPages more succinctly: “That’s two dick moves in one, forcing fans to choose between the new con and the established con, and between going to Wizard World and attending FCBD at their favorite local store."

Wizard World responded to this criticism by claiming that they had no choice. PR director Jerry Milani told CityPages that "Wizard World schedules its events based on the available dates on a convention center's calendar and how that fits into the rest of our schedule.” In order to check the validity of this story, geeks called the convention center and saw that other dates were indeed available.  Postiglione goes further, telling CityPages: “They tell us, 'Well, it was the only weekend we had.' One of my best friends is a traffic manager at the Convention Center, and he says that is absolutely not true.”

Wizard World Comic Con 2014:

Wizard World Comic Con arrived here in Minneapolis on May 2 -- and guess what? The fans made it great. Waves of geeks poured through the doors of the Minneapolis Convention center donned in costumes and eager to see the handful of pop-culture idols who’d flown in for the event. As to not ignore the efforts of FCBD a handful of local shops opted-out of Wizard World Comic Con and held events for local fans that featured local artists. Given the strong gravitational pull of Wizard World I would guess that most fans who attended WC weren’t even aware of the so-called "Con Wars" -- they were just there for the spectacle and Wizard World Comic Con absolutely delivered.

SpringCon 2014:

SpringCon 2014 will kick-off THIS WEEKEND, with doors opening on Saturday, May 17 at 10am. While the show still promises to deliver some of the con staples that geeks have come to expect from cons (artists alley, costumes contests, and creator panels), the event will also be low-key, with a special emphasis on local shops and local community. For those of you who’ve ever seen SpringCon in action, the relatively mellow feel of this weekend will highlight the quasi-absurdity of this whole “conflict.” The events are *so* different that it’s kinda like Wizard World is an orange picking a fight with an apple.

In Short:

When it comes to the local con scene some hardcore anti-establishment geeks want nothing less than the overthrow of Wizard World. And, to some extent, I can see the merit to this argument given that Wizard World’s first instinct is not to coexist, but co-opt. That said, when it comes to a scene like Minneapolis, where the local con has refused to be absorbed, the real question morphs to this: is coexistence possible? Too bad this doesn’t seem to be a question Wizard World seems interested in answering. Rather, they just want to stomp the competition -- and this stomping, I feel, reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the market Wizard World is trying to break into. Simply put, Wizard World Comic Con is sizzle, while SpringCon is steak. And if these events were scheduled further apart, or if Wizard World had actually decided to take Postiglione up on his offer to collaborate, then fans could get the best of both worlds. Instead, Wizard World’s lack of imagination -- and quest to dominate the market -- has fabricated a conflict that shouldn’t even exists.

What You Can Do:

Well, yes, cons are about community but they’re also about money. And while Wizard World might have made its name by creating a space where geeks can gather, the real goal is not connection. It’s cash. So, if there’s a next step here, it’s this: be mindful about how you spend that cash. If you like your local con scene, support it. If you’re in Minneapolis this weekend, go hit SpringCon. It may not have all the bells and whistles of Wizard World Comic Con, but it’s got more heart.