Geek-centric and geek-approverd though they may be, Wizard world and the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention are becoming shopping malls. But fear not! I can fix this problem that plagues our foremost geek gatherings for I’ve thought longer and harder about this issue than I imagined I would. So here are a few directives that will add needed energy and spontaneity to the conventions.
Dear Wizard World and ECBACC:
The Philadelphia Convention Center was awash in tights, capes and fanciful tapestry as Wizard World 2015 descended on the city last month, bringing with it four-color treasures of the past and boldly shaped harbingers of the future. Comic books. Anime. “Lord of the Rings” and “Game of Thrones.” Ewoks and tribbles. All were hailed and well met in the city’s annual celebration of geek culture.
— Kendall Whitehouse (@kwhitehouse) May 17, 2015
The month of May also brought us the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (ECBACC), held at The Enterprise Center in West Philadelphia and arguably the pre-eminent gathering of black comic book professionals in the country.
— derpygurl (@derpygurlny) May 21, 2015
Each event presents the usual sights and sounds of comic convention lore — artist alleys filled with the up-and-coming and the legendary alike, signing copies of their past works and lining up new commissions for those fallow days between issues; table upon table of vendors selling trinkets drenched in geek kitsch; cosplayers cosplaying aplenty.
— Kevin D Cosplay (@KevinDCosplay) May 21, 2015
It’s a sight not to be missed, and many convene in these social gatherings only for the chance to snap a picture of “Lisa from Kensington” in a straight-from-the-DVD-cover Catwoman suit à la Michelle Pfeiffer. Past-their-prime celebrities surround the convention floor behind cattle lines of fans paying for the opportunity to press the flesh of the star of that show/movie/team (Allen Iverson?) they loved way back when.
There’s something for everyone to see, enjoy and buy as they wind their way through the aisles. The first time, see. Second time, enjoy. Third time, buy. After that, as far as many are concerned, the festivities are over and it’s time to adjourn to one of Center City’s scrumptious diners to gaze upon the comic book booty.
And that’s the problem with both conventions. While the smaller size helps ECBACC maintain a congenial social atmosphere, it inevitably becomes what Wizard World is as soon as it opens its doors on VIP Thursday afternoon: a mall. Geekcentric, yes. Geek-approved, yes. But still a mall; complete with an overpriced food court. Never mind that the SEPTA-convenient locations are the only prominent features that are unmistakably Philadelphia.
But fear not! I can fix this problem that plagues our foremost geek gatherings (which I’m sure they had no idea existed until I pointed it out in this blog; you’re welcome!) for I’ve thought longer and harder about this issue than I imagined I would. So here are a few directives that will add needed energy and spontaneity to the conventions, starting with the most obvious, which will fill the most egregious omission …
1. Embrace Philadelphia
Wizard World should be smothered in Philly flavor. Aisles should become popular neighborhoods such as Germantown, Wynnfield and Roxborough. Artist Alley becomes Avenue of the Arts, which wraps into the celebrity booths, rechristened Jeweler’s Row (every star’s a diamond!).
If cars can fit in the convention center for the Auto Show, then so can food trucks for Wizard World. Let four or five of our famous food mobiles set up shop right on the convention floor!
Let the brilliant actors of Historic Philadelphia show these cosplayers how it’s done by creating Revolutionary War versions of the popular superheroes of today. Did that lightning strike signal electricity to Benjamin Franklin — or did it awaken his dormant super-speed genes, turning the statesman into The Flash? Imagine an actor playing Ben Franklin who has just become The Flash, and he is our ambassador for Wizard World.
George Washington is Superman; John Henry is Luke Cage, the Power Man. It writes itself! A bit of creativity added to the presentation will turn the con into a destination spot.
2. Let the cosplayers play
Every comic book or anime convention has a cosplay competition. It’s a guaranteed packed audience, no doubt. And several stars of the craft, such as Eric “Smoke” Moran, get comps or stipends for their labors of love. Yet any cosplayer will tell you that the best part of dressing up as their favorite character is participating in the cool mash-up group photos being snapped all over the place.
— #CosplayinAmericaV2 (@cosplayamerica) May 12, 2015
Think of how doubly cool it would be to have an original story playing out right on the convention floor. Superman and Thor sparring at separate ends of the hall for their big title fight scheduled for 3:00 p.m., right after Doctor Who and the Hulk do a mock-up of Young Frankenstein’s “Puttin’ On The Ritz.” All the cosplayers on the floor are polled for their take on the fight! A betting line can be seen on the big screens above!
By embracing Philadelphia, the convention gets a local writer salivating for the chance to pen a mini-series acted in the aisles before the spectators’ eyes. You’ll never know when you’ll find yourself caught within an action packed living comic book panel.
3. Give the artists some
Artist Alley is peppered with creators from every era, from ’70s phenom Neal Adams (Batman) to ’90s wunderkind Rob Liefeld (Youngblood) to independent webcomic superstar Brad Guigar (Evil Inc.). Interspersed among the legends are the Joi Washingtons of the genre — local freelancers grinding out commissions and projects because they love what they do.
What if you had the “young guns” do their own interpretation of a classic Neal Adams cover over the eight hours of Friday’s show? Then what if the master himself judges the covers for a winner on Saturday? Then what if the winning cover, plus the original, are blown up and signed then auctioned on Sunday with proceeds split between the artists and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF)?
Now what if this all takes place on the convention floor with cameras capturing the live art for screens all around the floor? Now … make it so.
4. I want to meet a superhero
It’s not hard to imagine that Lou Ferrigno might be a big fan of Wonder Woman. (Lynda Carter’s legendary series preceded CBS’ “The Incredible Hulk” on Fridays, you know.) Let’s get Lou and an especially well conceived Wonder Woman cosplayer to pose for some action shots on the floor, playing with vendor props. Forget the stage; let the photo op just happen on the floor unannounced, and let the buzz fill the hall. Five minutes later, the photo op ends until the next one happens some time later, again unannounced. Find out the characters that light a fire for the celebrities and get the cosplayers to make their dreams come true.
5. Express your Glyph
All of the above can be modified slightly to fit the structure of ECBACC, but the African-American convention has one thing that sets it apart from Wizard World, as well as the other black comic book conventions on the circuit. It has its own award show.
— Carrie Tupper (@mermaidshells) May 22, 2015
The Glyph Awards, created in 2005 by journalist Rich Watson, honor the best in comics made by, for, and about people of color. The award ceremony has been ECBACC’s Friday night kickoff event since 2007. Unfortunately the ceremony lacks any pomp and circumstance to separate itself from the low-key convention on Saturday as a noteworthy event. This has to change.
The event should be a formal affair with catered hors-d’oeuvres and bartenders serving non-alcoholic cocktails. (I think that’s how ECBACC rolls. If not, let’s pop the bubbly!) Guests should be encouraged to attend in their finest attire. Displays of all the nominees should blanket the walls with a program highlighting each individual achievement. Past winners should be invited to network with the new candidates of their exclusive club.
An ECBACC backdrop should be setup for red carpet photos. A classy party atmosphere should fill the room; a live Afrofuturist performer would be lovely at such an event.
Budget concerns can be offset by program sponsorships and a modest cover charge. If it’s special, people will come. Trust me.
I have more; tons more. But that’s enough to get you started. Let’s see you conventions come correct in 2016.
With warmest regards,BatTribble
Each month, Philadelphia’s prolific podcasters, the Black Tribbles (winners of the 2014 Streaming Project of the Year award), visit Speak Easy with special reports on everything sci-fi, comic books, movies, video games, cartoons, and other stuff that every nerd needs to know.
Tribble Nation is a new monthly podcast focusing on the geek in every color imaginable, from scientist to author, from comic book artist to comic book collector. Each episode features an interview with a special guest and a review of current topics within his or her field of geek interest.