Gennadius reviews this year’s Wizard World Comic Con Las Vegas
A few weeks ago, I was privileged enough to be able to attend the Wizard World Las Vegas Comic Con as a representative of VegasBright. I had personally never been to one of these events, whether in Las Vegas or elsewhere, but that was more a matter of me never really making the time to attend one rather than a lack of desire. For those that don’t know, the Wizard World Comic Con is about much more than comics, it is a gathering covering a wide variety of genres, allowing attendees to meet, shop, and interact with celebrities, artists, and exhibitors. Many of these items are captured in the image gallery below, as well as displayed throughout the article.
The company originally started out as a magazine publishing shop that specialized in comics and other related pop-culture elements focusing on young adult males. In the late 90’s, as the internet started to radically impact the print publishing business, they transitioned into the convention and trade-show business to keep their business model alive. Building on the growing popularity of many genres that used to be much more niche in their appeal, (such as science fiction, fantasy, anime, video games, cosplay, and of course, comics) it grew from purchasing a few existing large conventions, to opening their own in several cities. With that growth came the ability to pull together big guest lists that include major authors and artists, as well as actors and actresses from related movies and shows.
Wizard World expanded to include a convention in Las Vegas in 2015, hosting it at the Las Vegas Convention Center, and this year they continued to build on what was a good start last year. While not nearly as large as some other well-established cons across the country, the 2nd incarnation of Wizard World’s product continued to grow, drawing nearly 5,000 attendees and a large number of celebrities doing meet and greets, pictures, and panels. There were also around 70 exhibitors to fill the vendor space with their wares and an equal or greater number of artists and artisans showcasing their skills.
As I walked into the convention center through the north entrance, the large lobby area contained the main Wizard World show administrative area, a food court type space off in the distance, many places for people to mingle and hang out, and the main registration area. The registration area had spaces for registered attendees and VIP-level paying guests to pick up their swag and credentials that took up all of one side. The other side consisted of a few more attendee spaces, will call, and then spaces for press, special guests, exhibitors, and artists to pick up their credentials.
The basic credential consisted of a wristband that was good for the whole weekend. It was waterproof and designed not to be removed for the whole weekend. All attendees, including press and exhibitors, had variations of these wristbands. Those that purchased VIP level access received an additional lanyard and badge with their chosen celebrity on it.
The main convention hall itself was just to the right of the entrance of the convention center, across from the registration and administration areas. The layout of the hall was very well done, with major elements grouped together, and with aisles clearly labeled and spaced well enough that it never felt like one had to fight to get through an area.
As one entered the convention hall, the very first booth that one sees as they enter is the Wizard World store, which welcomes attendees to the con and allows them to purchase con-specific shirts. Just to the left of this was something unique to the Las Vegas con, a large booth dedicated to the Cirque Du Soleil show, KA. Here they had presenters that could answer questions about the show while handing out a KA comic book that consisted of all three issues of the Marvel adaptation of the show. There were interactive displays where one could learn all about the various aspects of the show, including story, stunts, the stage, and production.
As is to be expected at a genre mingling event like this, there were a lot of t-shirt vendors that were selling custom made shirts, some of which are unique to the convention circuit. What is pretty interesting about some of these shirts are how they cut across different aspects of culture, often blending pop references with science fiction or video games.
Many of the other major vendors were selling collectibles such as unique LEGOs, themed toys and models, comics, action figures, and board games. All of these are typically associated with one of the major comics or other big story franchises. Star Wars and Star Trek for science fiction, Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones for fantasy, Captain America and Ironman for comics, as examples.
There were also many booths focused on selling items that could help with a cosplayer’s costume. Cosplay itself is a hobby that has really taken off regarding how much publicity it gets in the mainstream media compared to the past. A cosplayer is someone who dresses up as a character from a movie, TV show, book, comic, etc. There are people that are paid by the convention to come in and put in appearances, and they are usually fairly professional and very accurate to the source material. Beyond that, con attendees also take the opportunity dress up on their own, and seeing the product of all the time and effort that people put into their creations is one of the things that really draws con attendees together. There are usually contests and cosplay-centric events, but also a lot of spontaneous photo shoots and impromptu posing, as the cosplayers themselves gather and meet. It really is a unique thing to see in person.
One type of vendor booth that seemed to be more prevalent than the others was geared both towards cosplayers as well as regular collectors and enthusiasts. These booths sold all manner of replica weapons, again, cutting across the different genres, including shields and swords, modern projectile guns, superhero specific gear, and futuristic blasters.
Off to the right of the main vendor space was another new area for this 2016 Comic Con, a huge video gaming space that contained both arcade booths and various consoles hooked up to monitors that allowed people to kick back and play for a while. This area was also used to host events during the course of the convention, including tournaments, and featured new games such as SFV and Dark Souls III, as well as more classic titles such as Mario Kart and Super Smash Brothers.
Beyond the vendors was a large area where artists, craft makers, artisans, and other specialty groups were set up, appropriately named Artist Alley. The artists and craft makers were usually focused on one of the major genres or tying pop culture references into those same genres. A lot of the artwork was really well done, either very accurate to the source material or bringing a unique take to the source. Some of these artists were almost exclusively convention vendors, with no way to purchase their works unless you were at one of the many conventions that they attend.
There was a section devoted to craft makers and artisans that were showing off unique items like themed jewelry; custom made clothing, laser etched glassware and small sculptures. All of the artists and artisans were very friendly, they were willing to sit and talk about their work with you, and they were more than happy to let people take pictures.
In talking to some of the vendors, I found that while some were convention pros, basically going to many different conventions; there were quite a few that were local to Las Vegas and were very happy that Wizard World had brought a new convention to town. Some of these vendors were even handing out flyers and had related promos.
Another strong local connection to Las Vegas involved some of the cosplay and demonstration groups that had booths along the perimeter as well. Participating groups included, but were not limited to, the UNLV Society of Lightsaber Duelists, who were sometimes giving demos and performances, The Ghostbusters of Las Vegas, and The Neon City Garrison of the 501st Legion, which is the Las Vegas branch of the world wide Imperial Stormtrooper costuming organization.
Beyond all the vendors and artists, there was a space set up as many individual booths with room for lines in front of each one. This was where the major invited guests set up camp. If they were not participating in a panel, doing photo ops, or performing other convention related duties, they were typically at their booth and available to meet with convention attendees. In order to get autographs or photos, there were packages for each celebrity available for purchase either online before the convention, or on site on the day you wanted to see the celebrity. As mentioned earlier, special VIP packages were also available for certain celebrities. These cost a bit more, but it came with some additional swag like a lithograph, badge, lanyard, custom bag, and the ability to use the VIP lines for that particular celebrity. Photo taking was handled off in a separate part of the convention area, while the autograph signing was handled in the individual guest’s booth. In both of those cases, VIP lines were served first before the general admission lines.
Depending on the time of day, and the specific artist, the lines to interact with them could get fairly long. The line in the picture below goes around the corner to the right, and the portion closer to me is extending back into the audience seating for the show stage where the Q/A panels were being held.
Behind this autograph area, taking up the rest of the convention’s floor space, was a large seating area with a stage up in front. This seating area was where the panels were held, and seating was usually on a first come basis except for artists that had a celebrity package. In those cases, the first few rows of seats were reserved for those that had purchased that specific VIP package.
The two panels that I sat in on were very well attended, as they were also two of the bigger draws in terms of guests. Elizabeth Henstridge and Brett Dalton were the first ones up, from the hit show, “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD”. They portray the characters Jemma Simmons and Grant Ward, respectively. There were some really good introductory questions posed by the moderator, allowing both of the artists to talk a bit about themselves and their roles. The last 25 minutes or so were given over to the audience so that they could ask questions. The interaction of the two artists with the audience was very natural, and it was obvious that they both really enjoyed being there and relished their roles in the show. It was also very clear from seeing them interact, and from the stories that they told, that the cast of their show is a very tight-knit group that really has bonded well as a team. This closeness is reflected in their performance on the show as well.
The other panel I sat in on was Jewel Staite’s. Since she was a guest that had a VIP package, the front few rows were cleared of all people, and only VIP purchasers were able to use those seats to get an up close and unobstructed view of the stage. Jewel is a veteran, having been in many shows and a few movies. Most people at this con most likely knew her for her performance as Kaylee Frye, the bubbly engineer for the space ship Serenity in the TV show “Firefly”. That show was unfortunately very short lived, due to some sabotaging by the company that had ordered it originally. However the single season that was produced, as well as the single follow up movie, “Serenity”, have grown quite a large following due in no small part to the actors and how well they played their roles.
Jewel spent a lot of her time discussing her experiences with “Firefly” and how the cast, much like what Henstridge and Dalton described with “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD,” grew to be very tight and great friends. She talked about how even with such a short run, she could see that the “Firefly” cast was unique in how well it operated together and in the quality of the performances that they put out.
Being a con veteran for well over a decade, she also answered a lot of questions from the audience about her other con experiences and other roles, but most of them seemed to focus on her Firefly or Stargate roles. Like the previous panel, it was very plain to see that Jewel enjoyed being there and truly did love interacting with her fans.
After the panel had finished up, I went back to wandering around the con and focused a bit more on talking with some of the cosplayers. There were not as many as I thought there would be, but there was still a decent number. The ones I talked to were predominantly from either LA or Las Vegas, but there were a few that were from out of town like we were. Most of them said that the Las Vegas convention was better this year compared to last and that they enjoyed the improvements and the increase in size. The locals really liked how there was a bit of a focus in some areas on the local scene, including some of the clubs or groups that practice locally.
There was a lot of genuine pride and enjoyment in the answers that I got when I asked why they were participating in cosplay. One of the common themes from those I talked to was that they most enjoy the aspect of putting their costume together. A lot of their pleasure and pride comes in trying to find new and creative ways to accurately replicate a character or costume, and the convention gives them a reason to go ahead and do that, as well as a place to also show it off once they have a completed product.
Overall, it was a very enlightening and fun experience at the comic con. I did get to see, and purchase, some very unique art and collectibles, I got to see a lot of good cosplay, and enjoyed being able to see how the guests interacted with their fans during the panels and question and answer sessions. I was also very impressed with some of the Las Vegas specific ties that the convention tried to incorporate. I believe that my brother, Ralph, and our good friend, Joe, also felt the same way. We would all definitely recommend attending one of these events, especially if you are already a fan of the subject material. Beyond that, if you get a chance to attend it in Las Vegas, then all the better, as it fits very well into the theme of what we are all going to Vegas to do. Get away from reality for a bit.
Special thanks to Ralph and Joe for helping me out with some pictures and a recounting of their VIP experience, so I could also describe that aspect of the convention to all of you.