Leading up to this weekend I really wasn’t sure if either my wallet or my comic book geek lovin’ heart could handle yet another comic convention. But that’s what the folks from pop culture magazine Wizard were offering up to the city of Toronto – Wizard World Toronto, aka Toronto Comic-Con. My first question when I heard about this announcement so many months ago was, “do we really need another comic convention in this city?” Every summer Hobby Star’s Fan Expo takes over the Metro Toronto Convention Centre with a combined Comic/Sci-Fi/Horror/Gaming/Anime festival that’s literally the geek highlight of my year. Rows of dealers, genre celebs, costumed characters, along with insightful lectures from the folks at DC and Marvel, all make for an incredibly fun time. Not to mention successful – last year’s Fan Expo brought in 59,000 over the course of three days. Could Wizard World compete? With their successful cons running across the United States (three of us made the trip to Chicago Comic-Con back in June 2008 and it was an amazing time), you’d think they had a chance. But you may have thought wrong.
The first shot against Wizard World was location. Their inaugural effort was stationed at the Direct Energy Centre at the Canadian National Exhibition. While it is accessible via street car, with plenty of parking on offer, I can tell you trekking to this particular venue in March isn’t exactly a treat. It’s borderline inconvenient. Then there’s the fact that the convention’s original main draw, Eliza Dushku of Buffy and Dollhouse fame, whose visage had been posted all over the website and initial handouts for the months leading up to the convention, silently disappeared from any promotion not long before the actual convention began. I started to wonder if Wizard World Toronto would be anything resembling a success. Would it remotely compare to the amazing experience I had at the Chicago convention, or my annual Fan Expo fun?
I arrived at the Direct Energy Centre on Friday night at around 6pm, six hours after the doors had opened. I walked in with my mouth agape. The floor was virtually barren. The logical part of me thought that this made sense. A bad location. A ridiculous start time. Little in the way of compelling programming. What could anybody expect? Had the proper thought been put into the event, the doors would have opened at 4 or 5pm, and stayed open until 9. I think that more people would have likely arrived and your dealers and celebs wouldn’t have been sitting around all day dealing with sparse crowds.
As I wandered the hall easily (at Fan Expo, like it or not, there’s always a crowd), I noticed a few things. From the comic perspective, there wasn’t an overwhelming amount of retailers on display. Iconic Toronto comic shop Silver Snail didn’t have a display, while 1,000,000 Comics (another T.O. comic landmark) didn’t have the same massive presence that they usually set up at Fan Expo. Of the retailer’s that were on hand, a few of them did offer up the deals I’d be looking for, so that was a plus.
Another plus for me, yet surely a minus for everyone else involved, was that, because of the low turnout, I could walk up to the celebs I had an interest in saying hi to without dealing with any sort of line-ups. That meant I chatted with TNA wrestler Kevin Nash for a few moments about the state of the industry. When I congratulated him for TNA’s move to Monday nights to go head to head at 9pm against WWE and Monday Night Raw, Nash thanked me, but stated “I wish we were on unopposed from 8-10”, an honest and unexpected admission from one of the smartest guys in the business which I didn’t expect to hear.
I also chatted for a while with David Richmond-Peck, who plays resistance member Georgie on the new V. I mentioned to him right off the top that I was enjoying the series and I hadn’t been sure if I would, being such a die hard fan of the original back in the day. From there we talked about the high production values of the new series and the likelihood of V getting picked up for a second season once the final 8 episodes air. David was an incredibly friendly guy (we Canadians are like that) and I enjoyed talking with him.
Walking out of the venue on Friday night (I saw Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka as I was leaving, who had a big smile on his face when I thanked him for the memories), I wondered how anyone could have been happy with the turnout. Granted, I was there at the end of the day, but from what I gathered talking to a few volunteers and vendors, the day was ominously quiet. Expectations were higher for Saturday to deliver the people and to a certain extent those expectations were correct. Saturday morning myself and BBP contributor JP walked the floor together, and while there were certainly more people than the night before, it was far from what you would call crowded. There were a few more celebs on hand to be sure, which meant I spent about a minute staring at Adrienne Curry, while complimenting Battlestar Galactica’s Kandyse McClure on her death scene. But this was far from the packed to the gills Saturday one can expect from a Fan Expo Saturday.
Sunday I was back for more, this time with The Queen on my arm (or I was on hers, depending on your outlook). This was Kids Day and there were indeed quite a few more children wandering the aisles. But one of my favourite things to do, the last day of a Con haggling, just wasn’t happening. I did manage to say hi to a few creators (including Batman and Robin’s Cameron Stewart, Ty Templeton, and The Dark Tower’s Richard Isanove, who told me how he listened to all 7 Dark Tower audio books in preparation of his drawing the recently completed DT miniseries, The Fall Of Gilead) . I was even given a hug by Doug Jones after I told him how much I enjoyed his performance as the Silver Surfer. That was awkward but sweet.
At the end of the first Wizard World Toronto convention, I was left feeling somewhat blah about the whole event. I didn’t ever feel any sort of buzz the way that I do at the Fan Expo every year. Seeing kids walking around on the Sunday was great and the less than capacity crowd meant you could have some decent moments to chat with artists and guests, but that sort of interaction may not be what the organizers were hoping for. Should Wizard come to town next year, I’ll surely go again, but for the full blown geek experience, Fan Expo has got me covered, hands down.