Wizard World Comic Con visited Portland, Oregon last weekend and they provided me an opportunity to attend. The experience had it’s good points and it’s bad which I will get into.
To start, it was much smaller an affair than I anticipated. I think back to Rose City Comic Con back in September, which utilized the entire Oregon Convention Center with the main hall and numerous meeting rooms for the various panels. Wizard World used the main hall as well as two sets of meeting rooms which made the event feel smaller. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, just an observation.
The line to get into the convention hall was long. The biggest problem I had with it was that the Wizard World staff utilized only one set of doors for the entrance. Everyone had to be scanned with a metal detector for weapons and had their bag searched. I get it. They have to be able to protect people from nut jobs that may show up to cause a problem. The issue with this setup was when people stepped out of the main hall to attend a panel, you had to go through this whole process again. There should have either been a system in place that allowed you to get a special tag to show you’ve already been patted down or simply set up security at a second entrance to cut down on lines getting back inside.
The celebrities for the event were stationed in the middle of the main hall. On the one hand that was nice. At times, folks were able to approach them, shake their hand, and ask a question or two before someone paying for an autograph came. Eric Estrada was especially friendly to all the ladies that passed by his booth. If I had half the charm he had, I’d have probably done the same.
The drawback of having them smack dab in the middle of the hall was that security got over aggressive with people for reacting the way they normally would. I understand that for these celebrities, signing autographs and taking photos is a way to make some money. By taking a snapshot from the distance, the average person is taking money from them. While some may say who cares, these folks are taking time from their very busy schedules to meet with fans. If we sneak a photo or two in, it can definitely lead to some of them questioning why they showed up.
Rose City Comic Con had the celebrities stationed off on the side of the main hall, where Wizard World held a video game tournament this year. That allowed the people who were there to pay for an autograph or picture to get what they paid for while allowing the celebrities in question the freedom of not having to deal with folks just walking up and demanding stuff for free. Now don’t get me wrong. Every celebrity I said hello to was quite gracious. I even got to shake Nichelle Nichols hand which was an honor. Yet this is a business for them and having them stationed in the middle of the hall caused a lot more problems than there needed to be.
Kato Kaelin was there as the host of a talent show near the entrance. Why? I couldn’t tell you. On Twitter, Portland native and writer of Power-Man and Iron Fist for Marvel and Shaft for Dynamite Comics David Walker stated that the folks at Wizard World did not offer him a chance to attend. And yet they had enough money to get Kato Kaelin? Kato tried telling jokes when he was on stage but his jokes were as good as his testimony in the OJ Simpson Murder Trial. He should not have been at this event.
Marv Wolfman and Danny Fingeroth had an interesting panel on Marv Wolfman’s career. I found out that Marv, writer of the comic classic Crises on Infinite Earth for DC Comics, published one of Stephen King’s first stories, I Was A Teenage Grave Robber. He told some fascinating stories about his times at both Marvel and DC through the years. He also said that he only visited the set of the first Blade movie simply because it was near his home. Blade is one of the characters Marv created as well as Nova. I found that interesting and a little sad. The DEADPOOL movie made every effort to welcome in the creator of the character into the whole process which I feel made for a better movie. It was sad to hear a comic book legend like Marv not get the respect he deserves from Hollywood.
Jason Mewes had a funny panel. He had an interesting scoop, which Kevin Smith confirmed which was covered in a previous article here on LRM, on why Clerks 3 never got off the ground. It seems an important male cast member did not want to do the movie. Jason never said who, which I didn’t expect him to, but it was interesting to hear some clarification as to why one of Kevin’s creative crown jewels won’t reach the silver screen.
John Barrowman stole the show with his panel. In a raunchy performance, he did everything from give sex advice to fans as well as taking a selfie of his crotch for a fan that asked if she could take a picture with him. One thing that kept popping into my head when I attended this panel was that bit on Family Guy when Stewie went to the Star Trek convention and tried asking a question but never got a chance to because everyone else was asking the actors questions that had nothing to do with Star Trek. Some of the questions asked of John and others during the convention really bordered on silly. Personally, I feel awkward asking questions because I want to make sure that anything I ask is going to be something that’s unique. If they heard a variation of it before, fine, but when someone puts some effort into their question, the response you get from the person you’re interviewing is just that much better.
On Saturday night, they had a special showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The movie was introduced by Barry Bostwick who was hilarious. He had a great bit where he talked about starting a new religion based around the film and that the audience should start calling him His Assholiness. (For folks who aren’t aware, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is notorious for the audience participation that goes along with the film. At one point, the audience calls Barry’s character in the film, Brad Majors, an asshole. Hence, His Assholiness.)
Security made their presence felt during this event. For one, the doors were supposed to open at 7:00 PM yet we didn’t get inside until well past 7:30 PM. What was worse was that as soon as you neared the doors, security was yelling at folks to have their wristbands out like we were being herded back to our cells in prison, not that we were taking our seats for a goofy musical. Again, security at an event this size needs to be present. They need to make sure people are safe. Yet I don’t think it’s asking too much to protect people as well as respect the paying patrons of your event.
The movie went off without a hitch. A local group, the Clinton Street Cabaret, performed during the movie. I really appreciated the fact that attention was made to make sure the movie screen was situated high enough above the performing Cabaret stars for people that just wanted to watch the movie. The Clinton Street Cabaret really set the mood for the evening, running through the audience, having fun on stage, and just hyping the crowd. So while I had my gripes, I had a fun time. The Clinton Street Cabaret performs the movie here in Portland so if you get a chance to see them, I strongly encourage it.
Overall, I see room for improvement for Wizard World next year. I think the layout of the hall left a lot to be desired in terms of audience control. I feel security was way over aggressive when they didn’t need to be. There weren’t a huge selection of big names in the comic industry there to give talks or sign autographs for people which, especially living in Portland where Brian Bendis, David Walker, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, Dave Marquez, and others live, is just unacceptable. We’re the home of Dark Horse Comics as well as Image Comics. Portland comic natives should have had more of a presence in the show.
What I will remember most of these past three days are the little things. I got to spend some time with a friend from my day job, Morah Hochstein (who helped with some of the photos), which was great. I feel it was a real bonding experience. Getting a chance to see stars like Nichelle Nichols and Lou Ferrigno was amazing. Those two were a valuable member of my childhood and getting a chance to see them was great. Seeing artists like Mark Kistler, who had a wonderful show on PBS when I was a kid called The Secret City was great. Getting a chance to tell him how great the show was and how it spurred my imagination as a kid was worth the time I spent there alone. Asking Barry Bostwick at his panel about working with Hal Needham on the set of Megaforce was great thanks to the story Barry told of Hal breaking his leg riding one of the dune buggies on set. Despite the issues I had with security and the lack of big name guests they secured, overall I have to say I had a good time at Wizard World Comic Con in Portland this year. While the layout of the convention and the demeanor of security are areas of improvement I hope they work to improve, getting a chance to spend some time enjoying a pop culture event like this was a fun experience, warts and all.