Wizard World Portland 2015: Review, Photos, and Highlights

The Wizard World brand has begun to take over the America comic convention scene, which is growing sharply in attendance and overall popularity. Unlike many more traditional comic shows, Wizard World leans a little more in the direction of “general pop culture” and are not quite as comic book heavy. They have a large list of B-level celebrities you can meet for inflated prices, and, though they still have a sizeable list of comic creators, they tend to have fewer comic figures available. These issues were reflective of a relatively lack-luster Portland Wizard World 2015, which took place 1/23-1/25.

Wizard World is one of the most money defining brands in comics. Conventions, and really the comics and related “collectible” industries in general, are always about money. Variant covers, graded comics, specialized signatures, special events, etc., etc. This is an industry where rarity is manufactured and value abstracted, and they create a market to sell you items that would hold almost no importance to the rest of the world. Wizard World takes this to extremes, where even their website it built around the outrageous different “packages” you can purchase. They are also definted by the long list of celebrities, a word in this context that we are playing pretty fast and loose with. This year, Bruce Campbell was most likely the biggest celebrity there, but there were still smaller characters from shows like Walking Dead, Lou Farigno who is still semi-recognizable from the 1970s Hulk series, and the guy who played the Green Ranger on Power Rangers in the early 90s. Now he has full sleeve tattoos and a bad attitude. Big surprise.

When it came to comics creators, there were a number of pleasant additions. Kurt Busiek was there, as he often is at these Wizard World events, and as usual he is quietly signing books and talking to fans. This is a-typical at WW since many of the creators there are trying to sell you just about anything you could buy, from ridiculous prints of superheros to even photos with them. Neal Adams was there plying his trade, which in this case is charging $20 for his signature. Chris Claremont made a rare convention appearance, and was also charging, though $5 a book is much more reasonable. The rest of the list had few stand-outs, including Mike Zeck, Joelle Jones, Michael Avon Oeming, and others.

Panels were generally disappointing, which is a real point of departure between WW and more comics-centered conventions. Instead of having a lot of panels taking advantage of all the comics creators that are in the building, they have weird games and speed dating. There were very few panels that would have appealed to hard comics readers, though some highlights were Michael Avon Oeming’s discussion on the coming Powers TV show, the Saturday comics writing panel, and Kurt Busiek discussing Marvel’s history.

Publishers were also notably absent. Dark Horse was there in full form, which is to be expected because of its base in Portland. Zenescope made a surprising appearance, as well as NW Press. Beyond these, it was a lot of third-party comics retailers, many of which were outrageously pricing items and pushing gimmick products like exclusive variants and graded books. Three different comics grading companies were present, offering things like signature verification and preserved books. I find this a bit fun at times, but in general it is a business sham to inflate the price of books. It plays directly into the notion of comics as an investment, and feeds the money cycle that WW is built on. The exclusive variant cover for the weekend was a Walking Dead #1(surprise, surprise) from Steve Lieber, which, while fine, does nothing impressive and really just bating for popularity. Having the first issue of Walking Dead is incredibly common, there are dozens of variant covers for it now, most of which are from conventions. It makes sense since this is one of the few cross-over comics, and easy to attract people with.

The broad strokes on this one were that it was disappointing, but still enough there to have fun. I personally brought several dozen books with me to get signed, which is the fun I usually have at these cons. There were very few lines(outside of a massive one for the Arrow panel), and it was easy to breeze around and talk to creators. This one does, however, fall far beyond the locally run Rose City Comic Con, which is always going to take precedence in the area.

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