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Casting a Spell Over The City of Brotherly Love

Our Senior Editor offers a brief overview of the recent new comic convention, Wizard World East

By Arnold T. Blumberg     May 20, 2002


The successful new G.I. Joe comic book series by Devil's Due also had a presence at the Wizard World East Comicon.
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About a week or so ago, on May 10-12, Wizard World debuted its brand-new comic book convention at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in downtown Philadelphia. Wizard World East was, as most comic insiders know, the work of WIZARD Magazine, one of the hobby's primary periodicals. Often characterized as the ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY of the comic book world, WIZARD has established itself as a powerful voice in this community, both in covering the entertainment and personality aspects of the industry as well as offering its opinion on the valuation of many comic books themselves through a monthly price guide that appears in every issue. For some time, Wizard World has been focused in Chicago, where the company has been running the traditional Chicago Comicon for years. Now it has set its sights on expanding the franchise and offering an east coast alternative for comic fans and professionals alike, presumably because the west coast has long since been locked up by the folks at the San Diego Comicon.

CrossGen's "Stonehenge"-like booth dominated the front and center of the Wizard World East dealers' room.

Walking into this first-ever Philadelphia Wizard World con, one can't help but be struck by the impressive array of dealers and publishers on hand to make the event as lively as possible. Granted, this is a far smaller show than San Diego or even Chicago, but chalk it up to Wizard's clout in the business that when they call for a new comic convention to spring up overnight, Marvel and DC are there to lend a hand. The "Big Two" were indeed present at the show, with an enormous central kiosk given over to CrossGen Comics, the relative newcomers in the field who nevertheless managed to make themselves look like a very strong Number Three (with Image represented only by Top Cow in a much smaller booth). Beyond the publisher's booths, the rest of the main room was taken up by a refreshingly large number of comic book dealers, with toys and other paraphernalia accounting for a much smaller percentage of the room than at other cons. The message, deliberate or not, was quite clear - this was a show about comics, and not the new stuff either. Silver and Bronze Age back issues were the order of the day.

Fans found plenty of comic book dealers on hand to offer a variety of four-color alternatives.

Unfortunately, so were bootlegged video and DVD movies. Some dealers were already expressing concern on Friday that the show had allowed so many bootleggers into the room, but the attendees didn't seem to care, and when they weren't attending the small number of scheduled panels offered in the other convention rooms, or eagerly awaiting special tickets to witness comic book and film icon Kevin Smith holding court or watch Ray "Darth Maul" Park demonstrate his Sith fighting skills, they were mobbing the dealer room and laying down cash for comics.

As with other cons, there were a few hardy souls who dared to walk the aisles in full costume, but most dressed down for this first-ever Wizard World East and just immersed themselves in the fun. While living legend Lou Ferrigno, the TV Hulk himself, drew a modest crowd, the real fan adulation was reserved for the likes of Marvel's Editor-in-Chief, Joe Quesada, as well as the many creators who sat patiently and signed countless comics at booths around the room. If these creators weren't working with the big boys at the front, they nevertheless had a chance to hawk their wares in the Artists' Alley section at the back of the room, where creators like Rich Henn of TIMESPELL and J.C. Vaughn of McCANDLESS AND COMPANY vied for their share of the spotlight.

The Wizard World East con drew its share of odd creatures, many of them comic book fans.

Throughout the room the presence of CGC was also apparent. The certified grading company took the industry by storm several years ago, and has now made itself an integral part of the back issue market for high-end collectors. While many dealers displayed non-slabbed books ("slabbing" referring to the method of hermetic encapsulation offered by CGC), there was no doubt that CGC was a force for everyone there, and the service was itself set up at a booth and taking comics for certification throughout the weekend.

By the end of the con, it was certain that the show would return. Dates have already been set for next year, so Wizard World East is here to stay. Many dealers did, however, express concern that they might not make their financial goals for the weekend, and although there was a general understanding that this was a first-time show and subject to all manner of uncertainties, there was some trepidation about the results. But with the folks at WIZARD behind the scenes, and the support of Marvel, DC, CrossGen and the many dealers for whom these shows are their bread and butter, Wizard World East looks set to quickly establish itself as a vital part of the comic book industry's convention season.

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