Be a Con-trarian: Go Against the Flow at Comic-Con

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San Diego Comic-Con, the largest popular culture festival in the U.S., is exciting, illuminating, and crowded. Very crowded. And it’s confusing. With so many overlapping events competing for an attendee’s time, planning your schedule and determining the optimal time to queue up for specific events requires the logic of a chess master. [See Knowledge@Wharton, San Diego Comic-Con: Best Laid Plans.]

While there is no corner Comic-Con that isn’t crammed with people, there are benefits to be gained from being a contrarian. Going against the flow can lead to wonderful moments and a less stressful con experience.

Preview Night: More than Exclusives

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George R. R. Martin hanging out on Preview Night in 2014.

For folks lucky enough to have a ticket for Preview Night, the evening is typically a mad dash for Comic-Con exclusives. Preview Night lets fans get first dibs on these only-at-Comic-Con action figures and souvenirs from companies like Hasbro, Funko, and Mattel. Yet the full show floor is open that first Wednesday evening. While crowds mob the vendor booths, the comic book creators in Artists’ Alley and the booths of many publishers are relatively quiet Wednesday night.

Last year I strolled past the Avatar Press booth to find George R. R. Martin quietly chatting with at fan. I walked right up, asked for a photo, and had a brief chat with famed Game of Thrones author. During the rest of Comic-Con, autograph sessions with Martin required waiting in a long line. Over in Artists’ Alley, creative couple Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner were goofing around and greeting fans who wandered over to the far end of the hall that houses Artists’ Alley. Many comic book creators were more relaxed and accessible during Preview Night than at any other time during the con.

Every Day is a Big Day in Hall H (and Elsewhere)

Friday and Saturday typically feature the most popular panels in Comic-Con’s infamous Hall H. Access to these events involves camping out for most of the night in order to secure a seat in the cavernous auditorium.

However, in recent years, after the morning crush for the best seats, Thursday has been a relatively easy “walk in” day in Hall H. You still needed to get in line and wind your way through the entry chutes under the tents, but by midday the line flows freely, providing access to the vaunted Hall H after only a short wait.

And while the Friday and Saturday panels feature the most popular panels, the Thursday and Sunday events are nevertheless always noteworthy.

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Even on a relatively “slow” day, Hall H has much to offer. Harrison Ford waves hello at SDCC 2013.

At the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con, Thursday included Harrison Ford on the Ender’s Game panel along with stars Asa Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld, writer/director Gavin Hood, and producer Roberto Orci. The day also included the Europa Report panel; “The Visionaries” session with Alfonso Cuarón, Marc Webb, and Edgar Wright; the Divergent panel with series novelist Veronica Roth, director Neil Burger, and many of the film’s actors including Shailene Woodley, Theo James, and Maggie Q.

In 2014, Thursday saw the first Comic-Con appearance of director Christopher Nolan for the Insterstellar segment of the Paramount Studios presentation, which also featured actor Matthew McConaughey. Both were a surprise — neither was mentioned in the Comic-Con Program Guide — and access to the hall was relatively easy that day.

Panels like these would be highlights at any other fan fest. Only at San Diego Comic-Con do sessions of this magnitude pale by comparison to the even bigger studio events on Friday and Saturday.

Although Hall H typically hosts the most high-profile events of the con, don’t judge the quality of a panel by the size of its venue. Outside of Hall H and Ballroom 20 are many fascinating presentations. The smaller room may mean a long line (or even the need to attend the preceding panel in order to get a seat), but these sacrifices are minor in comparison to camping on the grass all night to gain entrance to Hall H. And these smaller panels often bring great guests and compelling conversations. [See Comic-Con Movies: From Tentpole to Shoestring.]

Beyond the Convention Center: Offsites

As the crowds flood into the San Diego Convention Center, other events around town provide often less-crowded alternatives as well as viable options for days for which you don’t have a ticket for Comic-Con.

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Felicia Day greets fans at the Geek & Sundry offsite event in 2014.

As a fan of the work of Felicia Day and the team at Geek & Sundry, I typically stop by the offsite event for the annual meet-and-greet and autograph signing with Day. NerdHQ provides a full range of programming with each event ticketed separately in an intimate venue. The Petco Park Interactive Zone is filled with fun activities, such as last year’s Sleepy Hollow virtual reality experience. This year the San Diego Public Library presents an exhibition on The Art of Comic-Con. Other engaging marketing activities for movies and television programs are sprinkled throughout San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. [For a comprehensive look at offsite events at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, see the calendar at on the SDCC Unofficial Blog: http://sdccblog.com/events/2015-07/

Finally, don’t be afraid to abandon your carefully planned schedule and just wander around. Peruse the show floor, check out the cosplay in the Sails Pavilion (where the bright but diffuse sunlight makes for great photos), or stroll the activities and exhibits on the lawns adjacent to the Convention Center.

By resisting the gravitational pull of the most popular events, by not following the crowd and going your own way to smaller, equally interesting events, you can have a fun and less stressful Comic-Con.

 

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‘Apparition’: Haunted Guilt

Jody Quigley and Katrina Law in 'Apparition'.

Several of the most compelling horror films — from Robert Wise’s classic The Haunting to Jennifer Kent’s terrifying The Babadook — skate along an ambiguous boundary between psychological disintegration and truly supernatural horror. Apparition also explores this territory, with mixed success.

Directed by Quinn Saunders from a script by Pete Cafaro and Andrew Kayros, Apparition is a portrayal of the ravages of grief and guilt in the guise of a haunted house thriller. Structured around a clever narrative conceit that unfolds in the film’s final act, the story’s impact is muted by pacing and focus problems during much of the picture’s 100-minute running time. After a well-paced exposition in the first act, the long middle section meanders. The film then moves too hurriedly through the important final scenes that lead to the film’s climax.

A spooky opening — which literally begins on a dark and stormy night — establishes the film’s unsettling tone. Doug (Jody Quigley) and Lori (Katrina Law) are in love, engaged to be married, and planning to restore an old country farmhouse together. The appearance of Lori’s ex-lover at the couple’s engagement party triggers an angry response from Doug and leads to a tragic accident that takes Lori’s life. Consumed by grief, Doug vows to complete the couple’s planned work on the farmhouse as a way to assuage his guilt and pay homage to his lost love.

But the house is more than just a major rehabilitation project. It is also a place of past horrors.

We learn of the house’s history from that most hoary of horror movie tropes: the crazy old man at the bar who prophetically warns of the house’s evil. Fortunately, Thomas Roy’s juicy performance as Woody brings the right mix of creepiness and world-weariness to make the scene work.

Doug obsessively works alone in the house during the film’s second act. His mental state slowly deteriorates and he begins to sense a malevolent presence in the building. As he becomes more isolated, the house’s shadowy apparitions become more concrete, changing from a vague presence to a manifest appearance of his deceased fiancée that lets Doug regain a fantasy relationship with his former love.

While the film works well when portraying these phantasms of Doug’s ebbing sanity, the more supernatural expressions of the house’s evil history are less successful. We learn from creepy curmudgeon Woody that the house’s history includes not one, but two previous incidents of carnage, when one would have sufficed to support the movie’s plot. After Doug encounters a frightening specter from the house’s past, he starts awake to realize it was only a dream. While this provides a convenient jolt during the film’s lengthy middle section, it’s a technique that is not only overly used in the horror genre, it’s overly used in this film — occurring no less than three times.

Early in the film, Doug meets Jamie (Lili Bordán), an attractive neighbor in need of someone who knows how to change a tire, a role which Doug gladly fulfills. Jamie comes to the fore in the movie’s third act, offering Doug the opportunity for healing and redemption. Jamie has a history of relationships with damaged men, and Doug certainly fits that bill. Initially rejecting her overtures, Doug struggles with separating from his attachment with the phantasm of Lori to embrace Jamie’s affections.

While the movie’s middle section goes on for too long, the third act seems rushed. Accepting Doug’s growing closeness to Jamie is critical to the film’s denouement. Allowing the audience to become more deeply immersed in Doug’s apparent rehabilitation would have heightened the impact of the film’s conclusion.

Despite a clever narrative turn at the end and some effective creepiness, Apparition fails to escape the shackles of a routine horror film.

See a photo gallery of the premiere of Apparition at the County Theater in Doylestown, PA:

'Apparition' Premiere. Photos by Kendall Whitehouse

The image from Apparition is from a copyrighted film, the copyright for which is most likely owned by the film’s production company and/or distributor and possibly also by any actors appearing in the image. It is believed that the use of a web-resolution screenshot for identification and critical commentary on the film and its contents qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.

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Special Edition NYC 2015

Special Edition: NYC 2015.

ReedPop’s Spring Counterpart to New York Comic Con

If the current mania for pop culture is poised to plateau, there was no sign of it at this past weekend’s Special Edition: NYC.

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The waiting to enter Special Edition: NYC 2015 on a rainy Saturday morning.

On the first drizzly morning of the two-day event, the line to enter the comic book convention stretched far beyond the entrance at New York’s Pier 94, extending from 52nd street up to 58th street, wrapping under the Joe DiMaggio Highway, and heading back downtown again. Event hawkers were handing out flyers for other comics conventions, including upcoming events in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. Once inside the venue for Special Edition: NYC, many fans spent much the morning waiting in line once again, this time to purchase tickets for ReedPop’s fall event, New York Comic Con.

One week after the ReedPop division of Reed Elsevier brought the second annual BookCon to New York, the company hosted Special Edition: NYC, also in its second year. ReedPop, which hosts several large pop culture conventions including New York Comic Con and Chicago’s C2E2, launched Special Edition: NYC last year as a comics-focused festival in the spring to complement the company’s larger New York Comic Con in the fall.

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Comic book creators in Artist Alley at Special Edition: NYC 2015.

In its inaugural year, Special Edition: NYC was held in the Jacob Javits Center. This year the event moved further uptown to Pier 94. The location provided room for additional vendors of comic books and pop culture paraphernalia in addition to the extensive Artist Alley of comic book creators and two tracks of panel discussions. The expansion gave the event more of the vibe of a full-fledged Comic Con, while keeping the focus squarely on comic books rather than the larger universe of pop culture media.

The new venue presented a number of challenges. The two programming sessions were in curtained-off sections of the pier’s large, open venue. Sound leakage between the concurrent events was frequently distracting. The dim, diffuse lighting made photography more difficult than in the brightly illuminated north hall of the Javits Center that hosted the Artist Alley last year. Restrooms were in short supply, with long lines waiting for access.

As with last year, the centerpiece of Special Edition: NYC was Artist Alley where comic book creators met with fans, signed autographs, and sketched illustrations. A long, serpentine line waited to meet acclaimed writer Brian Bendis. Other noteworthy comics creators included Uncanny X-Men writer Chris Claremont, longtime comics artist Ken Bald, Batman: Eternal and Intersect artist/author Ray Fawkes, cartoonist and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic writer Katie Cook, and many others.

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After the morning rain, the area outside Pier 94 served as a stage for cosplayers.

This year’s event also attracted a number of cosplayers. Once the morning’s rain receded, the open space in front of the pier provided a convenient stage for costumed fans to pose and photographers to capture the moment.

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For a photo overview of this year’s event, see the Flickr album, Special Edition: NYC 2015.

Special Edition: NYC 2015.

Photo album: Special Edition: NYC 2015. [Click to view]

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BookCon: It’s Like Comic Con for Book Lovers

BookCon 2015

ReedPop’s BookCon 2015 Returns to the Javits Center

This past weekend the second annual BookCon, a conference and exhibition for book lovers, was held at the Jacob Javits Center in New York. The two-day event followed three days of Book Expo America, otherwise known as BEA, a long-running event for publishing industry insiders. Last year the ReedPop division of Reed Elsevier introduced BookCon as a consumer-focused addition to BEA.

ReedPop hosts several major comic book and pop culture conventions including New York Comic Con and the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (universally known as C2E2). Much of BookCon would seem familiar to anyone who has attended these Comic Cons. Like most Comic Cons, BookCon includes presentations and panel sessions, an exhibition floor filled with vendor booths, and autograph sessions giving fans the opportunity to meet their favorite writers.

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Comic books at BookCon.

In some instances, the parallels to Comic Con go even deeper. In addition to publishers of conventional books, the exhibition floor at BookCon featured a number of comic book publishers including Image Comics and IDW Publishing. With graphic novels providing a profitable niche for many bookstores, comics-related content was also conspicuous in the booths of some book publishers. Hachette, which distributes a number of Marvel Comics omnibus editions, gave away copies of Marvel’s Star Wars comic book — copies of which could also be picked up in the Disney booth.

Giveaways are a noteworthy feature of BookCon. Many publishers provided hardcover copies of new or forthcoming book titles, which can quickly accumulate to become a heavy load. Fortunately, many vendors also provided hefty cloth book bags for carrying weighty swag.

The BookCon exhibition hall was scaled down from the larger BEA exhibition, with workers dismantling booths from the previous day’s BEA exhibition visible through the partitions at the Javits Center.

While the show floor was generally bustling and the lines for presentations and autographs from popular writers were long, the event exhibited nothing of the sardine-like crowding of the New York or San Diego Comic Cons.

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Mindy Kaling in conversation with B.J. Novak.

As with Comic Con, Hollywood celebrities were also present, although in this case the TV and movies stars are also book authors. On Saturday, Mindy Kaling was interviewed by fellow cast member from The Office and writer B. J. Novak. While Kaling was in attendance to promote her upcoming book, “Why Not Me?”, the conversation and audience Q&A session covered her entire career as an actor, television writer, and author.

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Felicia Day discusses “You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost).”

Comic Con fan favorite Felicia Day was also a featured guest at BookCon. In conversation with The Mary Sue editor-in-chief Jill Pantozzi, Day discussed her forthcoming book “You’re Never Weird On the Internet (Almost)” and answered questions from audience members.

Novelist and comic book writer Brad Meltzer signed free copies of his upcoming thriller “The President’s Shadow.” I used the opportunity to briefly discuss his 2004 DC comic book series Identity Crisis. I mentioned that, while I liked the book, I know Meltzer received criticism over the book’s dark tone and killing off of characters beloved by some. As Meltzer noted, however, narratives need to have consequences for the stories to matter.

As pop culture becomes increasingly mainstream and comic book characters appear in everything from movies and TV shows to graphic novels, events like BookCon offer much for those who love both books and comics.

For the full gallery of photos from this year’s BookCon, see the Flickr photo album: BookCon 2015.

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Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con 2015: Recap and Photo Highlights

Wizard World Philly Comic Con 2015.

Wizard World, which hosts more than two dozen comic cons around the U.S. each year, returned to the Philadelphia Convention Center this past weekend with Philadelphia’s largest pop culture convention.

Wizard World doesn’t provide specific attendance numbers other than to say that Philadelphia Comic Con attendance was in the “tens of thousands,” positioning the event in the mid-range between large-scale mega-cons like Comic-Con International’s San Diego Comic-Con and ReedPop’s New York Comic Con, and the smaller, local events held throughout the U.S.

Lift-Off

Wizard World Philly Comic Con 2015. Photo by Kendall Whitehouse.

Wizard World CEO John Macaluso welcomes fans.

On Thursday afternoon, fans queued up in their respective lines — upstairs in the Convention Center hallway for those who purchased “VIP” badges, and downstairs in a less glamorous room for regular attendees. The opening of the exhibition hall floor was delayed roughly 20 minutes while attendees and Wizard World staff waited for Convention Center workers to remove a single remaining pallet from somewhere on the show floor. Once given the “all clear,” Wizard World CEO John Macaluso waved the line in and greeted the arriving fans.

Wizard World Philly Comic Con 2015. Photo by Kendall Whitehouse.

Lou Ferrigno cuts the ribbon to start the show.

A ribbon cutting ceremony officially opened the show. After remarks by actor Lou Ferrigno and CEO Macaluso, Ferrigno along with Michael Rooker, an actor portraying Benjamin Franklin, Philadelphia Eagles’ mascot Swoop, and members of the Eagles cheerleading squad, cut the ribbon to officially begin the festivities — although many fans were already excitedly roaming throughout the large showroom looking for pop culture tchotchkes, comic books, and autographs.

The Exhibition Hall: Vendors, Games, and Comics Creators

Wizard World Philly Comic Con 2015. Photo by Kendall Whitehouse.

LEGO Minifigures. (Only Antman is to actual scale.)

The exhibition hall floor included a large array of vendors selling pop culture products, from full-sized light sabers to tiny LEGO Minifigures of superheroes. The show floor was filled with booths offering back issues of comic books, pop culture T-shirts, and superhero action figures.

There were also a number of clever and quirky items for fans to admire or acquire. The Ink Whiskey booth was selling a flask in the form of a video game cartridge to hold your choice of imbibable liquid. Pop culture clothier Little Petal featured convertible dresses that echo the color schemes of well-known superhero costumes. Patents-R-Us.com offered reproductions of historical patent applications ranging from early Walt Disney drawings of Mickey Mouse to sketches of a scale model of Star Trek’s USS Enterprise. The Metalsouls booth featured handcrafted metal sculptures of the Alien Xenomorph,  Terminator T-800 Endoskeleton, Predator, and many others.

Wizard World Philly Comic Con 2015. Photo by Kendall Whitehouse.

Having trouble seeing all the pop culture goodness? Perhaps eye surgery will help.

As in previous years, there was also a contingent of seemingly unrelated products looking to ride the wave of the pop culture zeitgeist. This year’s anomalous vendor booths hawked products such as the Lasik Vision Institute eye surgery, Click Heaters heating pads, Big Game Meats‘ assortment of jerky, Bamboo Pillow headrests, 5-hour Energy drink, Power Home Remodeling, and State Farm insurance. Offering floor space to vendors of products unrelated to pop culture is a growing trend at a number of comic cons. [See Knowledge@Wharton, “Consumer Brands Go Geek at Comic Con” and “Philadelphia Comic Con: Batman, Buffy and … Bath Fitter?“] While one can imagine a rationale for featuring 5-hour Energy drink and Click Heaters’ pain relief products at a comic con — it can be a long, grueling day — the relevance of some of the others is less apparent.

Among the most entertaining booths on the exhibition hall floor were the marketing experiences promoting upcoming feature films.

In the booth for Columbia Pictures’ forthcoming film Pixels, a comedy about an alien attack of the earth using video game characters, fans could play some of the classic arcade games that inspired the film, including Pac-Man, Q*bert, Donkey Kong, and Centipede.

Wizard World Philly Comic Con 2015. Photo by Kendall Whitehouse.

Virtual reality lets fans experience Jurassic World.

The ability of virtual reality to create a compelling marketing experience — a trend apparent at last year’s San Diego Comic Con [See Knowledge@Wharton, “Marketing at Comic-Con: Virtual Reality Gets Real“] — was also in evidence at Wizard World Philadelphia. Legendary Pictures and Amblin Entertainment’s Jurassic World provided virtual reality headsets using Samsung’s Gear VR hardware powered by Oculus VR software to let fans briefly immerse themselves in the world of the film.

The exhibition floor was bounded on one end by a gaming pavilion, which allowed fans to compete against each other playing video games. At the other end of the hall were tables with comic book artists and writers, including artists Neal Adams and J. G. Jones, writer/editor Tom DeFalco, and many others.

Programming: Comics, Celebrities, and Filmmaking Auteurs

Programming sessions throughout the four days of the conference covered a broad range of pop culture topics and varied widely in attendance.

As with previous Wizard World events, much of the comic book programming was overseen by comic book writer and historian Danny Fingeroth.

Wizard World Philly Comic Con 2015. Photo by Kendall Whitehouse.

Dave Proch, Chris Stevens, Dean Haspiel and Danny Fingeroth.

Drawing on History, Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo Revisited” had a sparse audience in the unenviable time slot of late in the afternoon of first day of the convention. Danny Fingeroth moderated the session in which Locust Moon Comics producer Chris Stevens and artists Dean Haspiel and Dave Proch presented examples from Locust Moon’s book in celebration of McCay’s work, showing comparisons between McCay’s original pages and the new McCay-inspired artwork in Locust Moon’s recently published volume.

Riding on the wave of popularity of Marvel’s television and film franchises, the room was packed for Friday’s midday session “From Agent Carter to Avengers: Age of Ultron (and Groot!) Marvel Comics at 75″ with Danny Fingeroth in conversation with comic book historian Peter Sanderson.

Later on Friday Cartoonist Brad Guigar moderated a “WebComics Roundtable” panel with Dawn Griffin, Lee Cherolis, and Phil Kahn, who discussed techniques for promoting and marketing independently developed online comics.

The most popular programming sessions were the television and movie celebrities that packed the Convention Center’s Terrace Ballroom on Saturday.

The Doctor Who session with David Tennant and Billie Piper and moderated by Blastr editor-at-large Aaron Sagers opened Saturday’s programming with a capacity crowd in the Ballroom.

Sagers also moderated a series of celebrity Q&A sessions throughout the day:

Summer Glau.

Summer Glau. [Click to view photo gallery.]

Actor and Whedonverse fan favorite Summer Glau.

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Wizard World Philly Comic Con 2015. Photo by Kendall Whitehouse.

Lin Shaye. [Click to view photo gallery.]

Insidious actor Lin Shaye, who received an award from Sagers as “Godmother of Horror.”

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Wizard World Philly Comic Con 2015. Photo by Kendall Whitehouse.

Ben McKenzie. [Click to view photo gallery.]

Gotham lead actor Ben McKenzie.

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Wizard World Philly Comic Con 2015. Photo by Kendall Whitehouse.

Hayley Atwell. [Click to view photo gallery.]

Agent Carter lead actor Hayley Atwell, who recently received news that the series had been picked up for a second season.

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Wizard World Philly Comic Con 2015. Photo by Kendall Whitehouse.

Stephen Amell. [Click to view photo gallery.]

Arrow lead actor Stephen Amell.

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In addition to the comic book panel sessions and celebrity talks, the con was framed by talks by two major filmmakers from different generations.

Wizard World Philly Comic Con 2015. Photo by Kendall Whitehouse.

M. Night Shyamalan. [Click to view photo gallery.]

On Thursday evening, a room full of fans viewed a screening of the pilot episode of the upcoming Fox television series Wayward Pines. Following the screening, Aaron Sagers moderated a Q & A session with the series’ executive producer and director of the pilot episode, M. Night Shyamalan. When one fan commented on the Twin Peaks vibe of the series, Shyamalan acknowledged that Blake Crouch, the author of the original Wayward Pines trilogy, is a fan of David Lynch’s 1990s television series. Shyamalan also expressed his admiration for Lynch, and stated that while writing his current project, he keeps a copy of Lynch’s Blue Velvet close by on his desk for inspiration.

Wizard World Philly Comic Con 2015. Photo by Kendall Whitehouse.

Roger Corman. [Click to view photo gallery.]

Bookending Thursday’s Shyamalan talk, on Saturday evening Roger Corman, in conversation with Modern School of Film founder Robert Milazzo, regaled the audience with stories of his long history directing and producing films. Looking surprisingly spry at 89 years old, Corman recounted anecdotes from several of the roughly 400 films he has produced or directed over his long career. His wife, Julie Corman, was in the audience and added a few details about their most recent project. The session included a trailer for the forthcoming SyFy television feature Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf.

And… Cosplay

Wizard World Philly Comic Con 2015. Photo by Kendall Whitehouse.

Costumed fans. [Click to view photo gallery.]

In addition to the programming sessions and the vendor booths on the show floor, there were, of course, fans dressed in the costumes of their favorite superheroes and pop culture characters. From the simple to the elaborate, the playful to the bizarre, cosplay was visible throughout the Convention Center over the weekend.

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For a gallery of over 300 photos from the year’s event, see the Flickr photo album: Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con 2015.

Wizard World Philly Comic Con 2015. Photo by Kendall Whitehouse. Wizard World Philly Comic Con 2015. Photo by Kendall Whitehouse. Wizard World Philly Comic Con 2015. Photo by Kendall Whitehouse. Wizard World Philly Comic Con 2015. Photo by Kendall Whitehouse. Wizard World Philly Comic Con 2015. Photo by Kendall Whitehouse.
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New York Comic Con 2014: Bigger and Better

New York Comic Con

NYCC Features Big Numbers and Big-Name Celebrities

In the nine years of ReedPop’s New York Comic Con, the convention has become a major event in the popular culture landscape, challenging Comic Con International’s San Diego Comic Con as the preeminent pop culture event in the U.S.

Numbers and Numbers: Apples and Oranges

This year New York Comic reached a new attendance record with reported ticket sales of 151,000. This spurred some to speculate that New York Comic Con had exceeded the scale of San Diego Comic Con, which is traditionally recognized as the largest pop culture event in the U.S.

Whatever the actual numbers, New York Comic Con saw large crowds.

Without independent auditing, however, it’s difficult to know what the numbers measure and whether the two totals compare apples to apples. As the noted by the San Diego Comic-Con Unofficial Blog, the New York Times stated New York Comic Con sold 151,000 “tickets,” while Comic Book Resources cited the number as indicating 151,000 “unique individuals.”

A follow-up piece the San Diego Comic-Con Unofficial Blog quotes ReedPOP Senior Global Vice President Lance Fensterman as stating “If someone bought a single day Friday and single day Sunday that would be 2 tickets sold,” implying that the New York Comic Con figure is counting tickets, not individuals. Because of its member ID system, the San Diego event can calculate the number of individuals attending, regardless of the number of tickets sold, making any comparison between the two comic conventions dubious.

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Despite its size, New York’s Javits Center is significantly smaller than San Diego’s Convention Center.

Indeed, the sizes of the two venues make it doubtful that New York Comic Con has reached the scale of the San Diego event. As the SDCC Unofficial Blog notes, the San Diego Convention Center occupies 2,600,000 square feet while New York’s Javits Center has only 1,800,000 square feet. In addition, the official activities of the San Diego event spread far beyond the Convention Center, occupying large ballrooms and other areas in the adjacent Hilton and Marriott hotels.

Even if it’s spurious to directly compare the New York number with that of San Diego, presumably ReedPOP is consistent in how it tallies New York sales each year. The growth from last year’s 130,000 tickets to this year’s 151,000 is significant, and is further evidence of the continued growth of pop culture fandom.

Beyond the Numbers

Beyond the raw attendance numbers of a comic con, however, is the quality of the programming content. Most comic conventions that cover film and television include media celebrities. There is, however, a wide range in celebrity participation, not just in the magnitude of the stars, but also in the reasons they attend: Are they at the event to hawk autographs for money or are they brought by studios to promote major media properties? While the latter has always been a hallmark of San Diego Comic Con, this year New York Comic Con featured several high-profile media events.

The Walt Disney Studios’ panel promoted both Big Hero 6 and Tomorrowland. The latter included announced guests director Brad Bird and  screenwriter Damon Lindelof along with a surprise appearance by George Clooney — who visited the event straight from his honeymoon.

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The lead actors in Marvel’s Daredevil: Charlie Cox, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Deborah Ann Woll.

Michael Keaton and Edward Norton were on hand to promote Alejandro González Iñárritu’s upcoming film Birdman, about a fading superhero movie actor. Marvel’s Daredevil, the forthcoming Netflix series, announced new cast members, showed the first clips from the series, and brought lots of star power. The FX Networks series The Americans also brought several noteworthy cast members. And the powerhouse AMC TV series The Walking Dead made a return visit to NYCC with a raft of that program’s stars.

This is A-level talent and far removed from minor celebrities hawking autographs for $20 to $80 a pop. The fact that production companies now see New York Comic Con as a platform for major announcements and cast appearances may be more significant than the attendance numbers. These are the hallmarks of an influential pop culture event.

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On the show floor are a few vendors with a tenuous connection to popular culture themes.

Of course, New York Comic Con still has many paid autograph events with lines of fans waiting for a signature or a photo op with a celebrity. And, as in past years, there was a smattering of vendors unrelated to the general themes of pop culture. Chevrolet returned to New York Comic Con as a partner-level sponsor with multiple presences at the show. And GEICO, fresh from their appearance at Baltimore Comic Con, occupied a large booth in the exhibition hall. While the GEICO Gecko added a touch of cosplay, any other relationship with pop culture was illusive.

Recent years have seen an increased presence of vendors looking to leverage pop culture fandom to promote unrelated products and services at a number of major comic cons, including New York Comic Con and the Wizard World cons. (See “Philadelphia Comic Con: Batman, Buffy and … Bath Fitter?” and “Consumer Brands Go Geek at Comic Con.”) San Diego Comic-Con, run by the non-profit Comic Con International, remains relatively free of such tangential marketing, at least in the space held by the con proper. (Although the rest of San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter is awash in advertising all sorts.)

 Wristbands and Room Clearing

As the major comic cons struggle to accommodate their expanding audience, they are forced to explore new methods to manage the crowds.

This past year, in an attempt to curb line-cutting, San Diego Comic-Con distributed wristbands to those waiting to enter the Convention Center’s large Hall H. New York Comic Con followed suit this year with a wristband strategy, but went one step further. Unlike San Diego’s Hall H, which allows audience members to stay in the auditorium as long as they would like, the Javits Center’s Main Stage was cleared between each panel.

In general, fans seemed pleased with this approach. The SDCC Unofficial Blog has a summary of selected opinions pro and con. (See: “New York Comic Con: New Main Stage Wristband Policy Draws Both Fans & Critics.”)

The wristband line for Marvel’s Daredevil.

On Saturday, I targeted the Marvel’s Daredevil panel, and arrived in the wristband line roughly 15 minutes before the scheduled distribution time of 10:00 AM. The bands were given out sequentially for each of day’s lines, with the Daredevil line near the end, resulting for an hour wait to receive the band. I then arrived in the queue to enter the Main Stage about an hour before the session was scheduled to begin. I gained entry without a problem, although on entering the auditorium, the only seats available were in the rear of the room.

I thus experienced roughly a two-hour wait to see a single panel, but was unable to view any of the other sessions in on the Main Stage that day. Whether or not this is a good bargain depends largely on the breadth of your interest in the content across the day (and, of course, your willingness to tolerate long times waiting in line).

A key question is whether San Diego Comic-Con will follow suit and clear Hall H between panels. The issue is often raised in the Comic Con Talkback session that concludes each San Diego event.

Clearing the room solves the problem of people camping out in the auditorium waiting for a particular panel they want to see and, in doing so, occupying seats for earlier panels they are less interested in, taking seats away from fans who weren’t able to get in.

San Diego Comic Con’s John Rogers explains the downside of room clearing: fewer panels.

When the issue has been raised in the San Diego Talkback sessions, Comic Con International president John Rogers has pointed out that the disadvantage of this approach is it would reduce the number of sessions that could be held each day.

Indeed, New York Comic Con allowed an hour to clear to the auditorium in between most of the sessions on the Main Stage. By contrast, the Empire Stage, which was not cleared between sessions, scheduled sessions with only a 15-minute interview in between. On Saturday the Main Stage featured four panels and a concluding cosplay contest and Cirque du Soleil performance, while the Empire Stage offered eight hour-long panels.

Given the relative size of the two auditoria — San Diego’s Hall H is more than double the size of New York’s Main Stage — it would be difficult to imagine clearing and refilling the San Diego auditorium in less 90 minutes. This would, as Comic Con International’s Rogers predicts, nearly halve the amount of available content in the room.

Panels and People

At last year’s New York Comic Con, I skipped the panel sessions to focus on Artist Alley and the exhibition hall. This year, I was back in the panel rooms for presentations covering both entertainment and comic books.

On the entertainment side were the following sessions (click on the thumbnail images to view photo galleries of each):

The cast of Marvel’s Daredevil.

Head of Television Jeph Loeb unveiled new details of Marvel’s Daredevil, the first of five series from the company to be available exclusively on Netflix. In addition to cast members Charlie Cox as the lead character, Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk (a.k.a. Kingpin), and Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, the panel introduced new cast members Ayelet Zurer as Vanessa Marianna, Vondie Curtis-Hall as Ben Urich, Bob Gunton as Leland “The Owl” Owlsley, and Toby Leonard Moore as Wesley. Series showrunner Steven S. DeKnight completed the panel line up. The session also included the first clips from the show, which is placed in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, a location only blocks from the convention center that hosted the panel.

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The cast and producers of The Americans pose in their “Commie Con” T-shirts.

The panel for FX Network’s The Americans featured Producers Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields along with cast members Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Noah Emmerich, and Annet Mahendru, moderated by Andy Greenwald. The entire team was sporting their “Commie Con” T-shirts for the event.

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Head of Television Jeph Loeb presents previews of upcoming Marvel Animation features.

In the “Marvel Animation Presents” session Head of Television Jeph Loeb showed previews of Marvel’s Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. and other Marvel Animation titles.

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Yoshiki and the members of X Japan give a shout out to their fans.

In the Yoshiki panel the leader of X Japan and the rest of the band answered questions from their fan base a day prior to their concert performance in Madison Square Garden.

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The comic book panels included the following:

The “Marvel: House of Ideas Digital Panel.”

The “Marvel: House of Ideas Digital Panel” moderated by Marvel Digital Media Executive Editorial Director Ryan Penagos (a.k.a. Agent M) featured Axel Alonso, Ben Morse, Daniele Campbell, Sam Humphries, Tatiana Nahai, and C.B. Cebulski.

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The “Vertigo: Defy Conventions” panel.

In the “Vertigo: Defy Conventions” panel moderator John Cunningham spoke with Shelly Bond, Rafael Albuquerque, Scott Snyder, Meghan Hetrick, Caitlin Kittredge, Marley Zarcone, Gail Simone, and Greg Lockard.

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The “Image Comics: I is for Impact” panel.

The “Image Comics: I is for Impact” panel included Chip Zdarsky, Matt Fraction, Brian K. Vaughan, Roc Upchurch, Wes Craig, Steve Orlando, and James Robinson.

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The “Garth Ennis – Crossed DOA & the Future of Crossed” panel.

The Avatar Press panel “Garth Ennis – Crossed DOA & the Future of Crossed” featured writers Justin Jordan, Kieron Gillen, Si Spurrier, and Garth Ennis, and Avatar Press Editor-in-Chief William Christensen.

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The “Survivors of the First Comic Con” panel.

My favorite comics-related panel at the con, the “Survivors of the First Comic Con” panel, was moderated by Ethan Roberts and included several participants from the first comic con held in New York in 1964: Bernie Bubnis, Rick Bierman, Art Tripp, Flo Steinberg, Howard Rogofsky, and Len Wein. I showed Steinberg, who was Marvel Editor Stan Lee’s secretary during much of the 1960s, a card I received in response to a letter I sent to Marvel’s offices roughly 50 years earlier on which she had hand-written a response on behalf of “Stan & the Gang.” She seemed pleased to hear how much the note meant to me as a young lad..

Comic book creators at New York Comic Con 2014. [Click to View]

One of the highlights of New York Comic Con is the extensive Artist Alley, which ReedPOP claims is the largest of any comic con. Much of my time when not attending a panel session was spent speaking with the comic book writers and artists in Artist Alley and in publishers’ booths in the exhibition hall. Only at Comic Con will you see the president of Dark Horse Comics handing out free comic books to attendees.

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Cosplay at New York Comic Con 2014. [Click to View]

Finally, of course, are the cosplayers that give the con much of its flair. While I don’t focus on costumed characters as much some photographers, it’s always exciting to see someone dressed as a favorite character (particularly an obscure one) or acting the part while in costume. This year my favorite costumes included the Steve Ditko inspired Creeper costume and a well done Beetlejuice outfit.

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For the full gallery of photos from this year’s New York Comic Con, see the Flickr photo album: New York Comic Con 2014.

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Baltimore Comic-Con 2014: Recap and Photo Highlights

Baltimore Comic-Con 2014

Baltimore’s Comics-Focused Con Expands to Three Days

Baltimore Comic-Con occupies a middle ground between large pop culture events like Comic Con International’s San Diego Comic-Con or ReedPop’s New York Comic Con and smaller regional conventions like Asbury Park Comic Con and New York Comic Fest. Unlike many of the large comic cons, the Baltimore event is focused squarely on comic books.

Although the big two comic book publishers, Marvel Comics and DC Comics, didn’t have the booths on the show floor, representatives from both were present for panel sessions.  A number of smaller comics publishers, including Valiant Entertainment, Avatar Press, Top Shelf Productions, and Archie Comics, all had booth presences.

Comic book creators at Baltimore Comic-Con 2014.

Comic book creators at Baltimore Comic-Con. [Click to View]

In addition to the usual assortment of vendor booths featuring comic books, graphic novels, and related tchotchkes, the exhibition hall floor was filled with comic book creators. Tables where fans could have works signed by writers and artists extended well beyond the Artist Alley section to throughout the show floor, making Baltimore Comic-Con an ideal setting for interacting with comics creators.

The exhibition floor and panel sessions were largely devoid of content about movies, television shows, or video games. The only evidence of non-related businesses looking to ride the wave of pop culture fandom — an increasingly common site at some comic cons — was the Geico booth in one corner of the exhibition hall. While the Geico Gecko added a cosplay element to the company’s presence, no other relationship to comic books or popular culture was apparent.

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The line waiting to enter the exhibition hall Saturday morning.

This year the show expanded from two days to three, running from Friday afternoon through Sunday evening. Friday’s attendance appeared to be relatively modest. Saturday and Sunday drew larger crowds, with a long line waiting to enter the show on Saturday morning.

Vendors and artists I spoke with reported mixed results. A few vendors reported sluggish to moderate sales throughout the three days. Artists Brendon and Brian Fraim, on the other hand, said this was their most successful show in terms of sales and future commissions. One creator in Artist Alley reported that, sales notwithstanding, he valued the Baltimore event for the opportunity to network with other industry professionals.

The 27 Annual Harvey Awards

The Harvey Awards.

The 27th Annual Harvey Awards. [Click to View]

Since 2006, Baltimore Comic-Con has hosted the Harvey Awards, the industry’s longest-running awards ceremony recognizing excellence in comic books and graphic novels. While the dim mood lighting made the Harveys less camera-friendly than the somewhat more glamorous Eisner Awards held at San Diego Comic-Con, it was nonetheless an enjoyable evening. Michael Uslan served as host for the event, which featured a thoughtful keynote address by Gail Simone on gender roles in comics.

Many of the comics creators recognized at last month’s Eisners were repeat winners at the Harveys.

Image Comics’ Saga by writer Brian K. Vaughn and artist Fiona Staples was named Best Continuing or Limited Series, with Vaughn also receiving the award for Best Writer and Staples for both Best Artist and Best Cover Artist.

Dark Horse Comics’ The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story by writer Vivek Tiwary, artist Andrew Robinson, and cartoonist Kyle Baker received two awards: Best Original Graphic Album and Best Biographical, Historical, or Journalistic Presentation.

Image Comics’ Sex Criminals by writer Matt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky received the award for Best New Series. Zdarsky was also named Most Promising New Talent.

Veteran artist Herb Trimpe received the Hero Initiative Lifetime Achievement Award. For a complete rundown of Harvey Award winners and presentations, see the coverage by Bleeding Cool.

Panel Sessions

Baltimore Comic-Con’s programming schedule included four or five simultaneous panel sessions throughout the three days of the event. This year’s presentations included:

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Sexy or Sexualized?

The “Sexy or Sexualized?” panel with Gail Simone, Dave Gibbons, Marguerite Bennet, Paul Levitz, Adam Hughes, Christina Blanch, and Thom Zahler.

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Baltimore Comic-Con 2014

Walter & Louise Simonson Spotlight.

The “Walter & Louise Simonson Spotlight” session.

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Baltimore Comic-Con 2014: CBLDF: Tales from The Code – True Stories of Censorship

CBLDF: Tales from The Code – True Stories of Censorship.

“CBLDF: Tales from The Code – True Stories of Censorship” with Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Charles Brownstein in conversation with writer/artist Jim Starlin.

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The Marvel Universe.

The “Marvel Universe” panel with Tom Brevoort, Charles Soule, Jim Starlin, Mark Morales, and Mark Waid.

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Dave Gibbons Spotlight.

Dave Gibbons Spotlight.

The “Dave Gibbons Spotlight” session with Gibbons interviewed by artist Barry Kitson.

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The Making of The Fifth Beatle: The Beatles in Comics.

Writer and producer Vivek J. Tiwary speaking on “The Making of The Fifth Beatle: The Beatles in Comics.”

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Valiant Comics: Armor Hunters, The Valiant, and Beyond!

The “Valiant Comics: Armor Hunters, The Valiant, and Beyond!” panel with Hunter Gorinson, Dinesh Shamdasani, Laura Martin, Vivek J. Tiwary, Brian Reber, James Asmus, and Ray Fawkes.

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Creating Your Own Characters.

The panel session “Creating Your Own Characters” with Amy Chu, Jamal Igle, Christina Blanch, Dean Haspiel, and Sarah Vaughn.

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Matt Wagner Spotlight.

The “Matt Wagner Spotlight” session with Brennan Wagner and Matt Wagner.

 
Dynamite 10th Anniversary Celebration.

Dynamite 10th Anniversary Celebration.

The “Dynamite 10th Anniversary Celebration” panel with Duane Swierczynski, Gail Simone, Mark Waid, Christina Blanch, Molly Mahan, Frank Tieri, Garth Ennis, John Cassaday, and Bill Willingham.

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Pros: Spawns of Fanzines & Fandom.

The “Pros: Spawns of Fanzines & Fandom” panel with Aaron Caplan,  Mark Wheatley, Marc Hempel, Paul Levitz, Walt Simonson, and Rickey Shanklin.

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Baltimore Comic-Con 2014

Paul Pope Spotlight.

The “Paul Pope Spotlight” with writer/artist Paul Pope in conversation with Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Charles Brownstein.

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We Are BOOM!

The “We Are BOOM!” panel with Ross Richie, Filip Sablik, Matt Gagnon, James Tynion IV, Marguerite Bennett, and Mark Waid.

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Cosplay at Baltimore Comic-Con. [Click to View]

And, of course, cosplayers were evident throughout the event, strolling around the show floor and posing for photos. Sunday afternoon the con was capped by a large cosplay contest.

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For the full gallery of photos from Baltimore Comic-Con, see the Flickr photo album: Baltimore Comic-Con 2014.

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San Diego Comic-Con 2014: Recap and Photo Highlights

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Despite the explosive growth of pop culture conventions around the U.S., Comic-Con International’s San Diego Comic-Con remains the nation’s preeminent event for fans of comic books, sci-fi and fantasy movies and television shows, and video games. Although ReedPOP’s New York Comic Con last year reported attendance numbers approaching those of the San Diego event, San Diego Comic-Con still offers the largest and most eclectic array of activities for fans of all things pop culture.

With two-dozen simultaneous panel sessions, a large exhibition hall, movie screenings, and acres of media advertising — plus the myriad of independently-run offsite events — any attendee can only experience a small slice of array the pop culture festivities that take place over the extended weekend.

Here’s how Comic-Con International: San Diego 2014 looked from my perspective.

The Calm Before the Con

Rather than arriving midday Wednesday as I’ve done in past years, this year I flew into San Diego Tuesday night. Having Wednesday free to stroll around the Gaslamp Quarter provided the opportunity to see the offsite marketing installations and banners already in place or, in some cases, still being set up — like watching the unloading the iron throne for the Game of Thrones Experience. [For more on the marketing madness at Comic-Con, see below]

The Con then begins in earnest with badge pick-up and Preview Night.

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The crowd on Preview Night.

Reportedly there was a time when Preview Night was a modest affair that allowed relatively unencumbered access to vendor booths on the show floor. No longer. The exhibition hall on Preview Night is now jammed with attendees.

For most fans, Preview Night is the opportunity to get a first shot at the exclusive collectible items from companies like Hasbro, Mattel, and Funko. The collectible mania is one of the few aspects of Comic-Con that has yet to infect me. Contrarian that I am, I find Preview Night a better opportunity to visit Artist Alley to meet authors and comic book creators. Authors like George R. R. Martin and Robert Kirkman — who would be mobbed later during the Con — were relatively accessible during Preview Night.

At the close of the show floor on Preview Night, it was off to the second annual SDCC Unofficial Blog’s Enchantment Under the SDCC party at Henry’s Pub.

Panels and Offsite Events

Thursday morning began, as in past years, with a visit to the Geek & Sundry Lounge.

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Felicia Day at the Geek & Sundry Lounge. [Click to view]

With so many competing activities at Comic-Con proper, I typically forgo most offsite events. Yet, I’m intrigued by what Felicia Day and company are doing to develop a branded collection of online content, and I always look forward to hearing updates on their plans. (For more, see my 2013 interview with Day in Knowledge@Wharton:Felicia Day on Creativity and Building a Business on the Web.”)  In addition, the Geek & Sundry offsite event afforded a good Felicia Day photo op outside of the chaos of Con.

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Spotlight on Bill Finger, the Co-Creator of Batman.

Back at the Convention Center, the “Spotlight on Bill Finger, the Co-Creator of Batman” panel marked the first appearance at San Diego Comic-Con of the only living descendants of writer Bill Finger: his granddaughter, Althea Finger, and great-grandson, Ben. The panel session, moderated by Dr. Travis Langley, also included Lee Meriwether, Michael Uslan, Marc Tyler Nobleman, Mark Evanier, Jens Robinson, and Tom Andrae. Denny O’Neil, who was in the audience, eventually joined the other panelists to discuss the work of the prolific, but historically unheralded, co-creator of Batman.

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ComiXology: Ask Me Anything.

Later on Thursday, ComiXology co-founders David Steinberger and John D. Roberts hosted their traditional “ComiXology: Ask Me Anything” panel. The session opened with CEO Steinberger announcing the company will provide a DRM-free (without digital rights management controls) download option for content from participating publishers. Top Shelf, Image Comics, Dynamite, Monkeybrain, Zenescope and Thrillbent initially signed on to support the feature.

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Image Comics: I Is for…Inception.

My panel line-up on Friday began with “Image Comics: I Is for…Inception” with David Brothers moderating the panel with Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky, John Layman, Fiona Staples, Steve Seagle, Claire Gibson, and Marian Churchland.

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For Love or Money: Creating Personal and Professional Art.

The panel session “For Love or Money: Creating Personal and Professional Art” featured Mark Waid moderating a discussion with Mimi Pond, Ray Billingsley, Michael T. Gilbert, Jim Rugg, and David Lasky.

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The Future of Geek.

At the “The Future of Geek” panel Rob Salkowitz, Heidi MacDonald, and Tim Beyers, looked that the future of pop culture fandom, moderated by John Siuntres.

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Who Created Batman?

Following up on Thursday’s “Spotlight on Bill Finger, the Co-Creator of Batman” panel, Friday offered the “Who Created Batman?” panel with a number of the same panelists and several new additions: Dr. Travis Langley moderated the conversation with Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson, Marc Tyler Nobleman. Tom Andrae, Arlen Schumer, Jens Robinson, Athena Finger, Denny O’Neil, and Brad Ricca.

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Brands Gone Geek: How Media and Marketers Are Harnessing the Might of the Superfan.

Expanding on “The Future of Geek” panel earlier that day, the Friday afternoon panel “Brands Gone Geek: How Media and Marketers Are Harnessing the Might of the Superfan” featured Steve Rotterdam moderating a discussion with Carr D’Angelo, Mel Wilson, Filip Sablik, Ed Catto, Rob Salkowitz, Kris Longo, and Heidi MacDonald, on how brands are tapping into current pop culture trends.

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Spiritual Themes in Comics.

On Sunday morning I caught the end of the panel on “Spiritual Themes in Comics” with Eric Jansen (moderator), John Schafer, M. Scott Verne, and B. Dave Walters.

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The Bleeding Cool Magazine Top 100 Power List.

Following that panel, Bleeding Cool journalists Hannah Means-Shannon and Rich Johnston discussed the “Bleeding Cool Top 100 Power List” (for which I typically provide photography).

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Jack Kirby Tribute Panel.

The annual “Jack Kirby Tribute Panel” included, as always, Mark Evanier regaling the audience with his personal recollections of the great artist. This year Evanier was joined by Len Wein, Scott Shaw!, Paul S. Levine, and Charles Kochman. In the audience for the talk was the Kirby Museum’s Rand Hoppe and TwoMorrows Publishings’ John Morrow. Also in attendance was Barry Ira Geller, who worked with Kirby to design Science Fiction Land, a proposed theme park and research center, along with the planned movie Lord of Light, based on Roger Zelazny’s sci-fi novel. Neither project came to fruition, although the screenplay and Kirby-drawn designs for the film served as the basis of the CIA’s cover story to rescue six U.S. diplomatic personnel from the Canadian embassy in Iran in December 1979, events characterized in Ben Affleck’s 2012 film Argo.

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The Secret Origin of Good Readers.

The annual “Secret Origin of Good Readers” panel moderated by Mimi Cruz this year included a discussion with Frank Beddor, Anina Bennett, Dave Elliot, Karen Green, and Marjorie Liu.

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End Bullying! Responding to Cruelty in Our Culture.

Finally, I caught the beginning of the “End Bullying! Responding to Cruelty in Our Culture” panel hosted by Carrie Goldman and Chase Masterson before having to head out for the Comic-Con Talk Back (see below).

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Evening Events from A to Z: Awards and Zombies

Each year, Friday evening brings the Eisner Awards Ceremony, which provides an opportunity to connect with old friends and to celebrate the work of comic book artists, writers, and editors.

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The 2014 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards. [Click to view]

This year, Image Comics’ Saga garnered awards for Brian K. Vaughan for Best Writer, Fiona Staples for Best Painter/Multimedia Artist, and for both Vaughan and Staples for Best Continuing Series.

Another Image Comic’s title, Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky, received the award for Best New Series. Writer Fraction along with artist David Aja also received Eisner Awards for Best Single Issue (or One-Shot) for Marvel’s Hawkeye #11: “Pizza Is My Business.” Aja was also awarded Best Cover Artist for Marvel’s Hawkeye.

The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story, by Vivek J. Tiwary, Andrew C. Robinson, and Kyle Baker from M Press/Dark Horse, received the Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work.

Presenters during the evening included Anina Bennett, Kelly Hu, Sergio Aragonés, Mark Evanier, Orlando Jones, Tom Lennon, and the always wildly entertaining Jonathan Ross.

A complete list of the 2014 Eisner Award winners can be found on the Comic Con International website.

People camped out on Friday evening waiting for the doors to open on Saturday.

Heading back to the hotel following the Eisner Awards after-party, the line with fans camped out to enter the Convention Center Saturday morning stretched far down the walk, signaling the crush that would hit the convention on Saturday.

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Zombie Walk. [Click to view]

Each year, Saturday evening is occupied by the annual Zombie Walk. This year’s event was unfortunately marred by an incident during which a pedestrian was struck by a car. I was several blocks away from the accident and was unaware of it until I heard the news later that evening. From my perspective, the walk seemed to go as smoothly as in past years. Click the image for a gallery of photos from the event.

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Marketing Mania: Virtual and Real

Beyond the panels and the cosplay, San Diego Comic-Con is where major media companies pull out all the stops to attract the attention the hardcore fans in hopes of building buzz for upcoming movies, television shows, video games, and comic books.

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Advertising for TNT’s “Legends” covers the baggage carousel.

This year the marketing blitz that surrounds Comic-Con was evident before I picked up my luggage from the airport’s baggage carousel. TNT Network’s new drama Legends blanketed the airport with ads on the building columns, stairway railings, and the baggage carousel (providing anxious travelers something to gaze at as they desperately waited for their bags to appear.) The TNT advertising onslaught continued in town, with Legends banners covering one side of Marriott Marquis and a painted mural on the exterior walls of another downtown building. If there were such an award, Legends would take the prize for “most ubiquitous advertising campaign” at this year’s Comic-Con.

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The Kwik-E-Race at Simpsons World.

FXX dominated the space between the Convention Center the adjacent Hilton Hotel with “Simpsons World,” promoting the upcoming “Every Simpsons Ever” marathon on the network. The Homer Dome let vistors enter a large constructed head of Homor Simpson to view a giant video screen that displayed what’s on Homer’s mind. Other activities on the lawn included Marge’s Sweet Station, which offered free blue cotton candy, and the Kwik-E-Race game that let fans compete for prizes.

The most noteworthy marketing trend this year was the use of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset to place participants inside fully immersive 3-D environments. While the marketing highlights of last year’s Comic-Con were the large-scale walk-through environments environments constructed for promotions like the Godzilla Encounter and the Ender’s Game Experience (see Knowledge@Wharton, “Comic-Con Marketing: Experience the ‘Experiences’.”), the Oculus Rift allowed several immersive experiences to go entirely virtual this year.

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The X-Men Cerebro Experience.

On the show floor, Fox Home Entertainment’s X-Men Cerebro Experience let participants sit in the chair of Professor Charles Xavier and don the Oculus Rift VR headset to enter the Cerebro to search for shape-shifting mutant Mystique. Over in the Legandary Pictures booth, the Oculus Rift allowed fans to pilot the giant Jaeger mobile weapons from the film Pacific Rim.

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The “Sleepy Hollow” Oculus Rift Experience.

Outside the convention center, Fox Television used the Oculus Rift to place fans in the eerie hamlet of Sleepy Hollow. Once in the three-dimensional world, Ichabod Crane warns of the impending arrival of the headless horseman. After a few spooky bits of misdirection, the horseman in question arrives and lops off your head. It’s unnerving to experience your head plopping to the ground and then being lifted, sans body, by the horseman. After the 3D experience, each participant received a digital photo of his or her decapitated head lying on the ground.

In a nearby Omni Hotel, HBO’s “Survive the RealmGame of Thrones Oculus rift allowed people to virutally ascend to the top of the program’s 700-foot tall ice wall.

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Sailing down the Gotham zip line.

Not all the major marketing efforts were virtual, however. Several were quite real, offering fans thrill-ride type experiences. To advertise the upcoming Fox television show Gotham, participants could fly down a zip line in front of a large representation of Gotham City. To promote the Assassin’s Creed Unity video game, Ubisoft featured an obstacle course requiring participants to run, swing, duck and jump to avoid various impediments. Brave participants could also take a “Leap of Faith” by jumping from a 25-foot tower into an inflatable bag.

Whether real or virtual, Comic-Con is proving ground for the latest in entertainment marketing. For more on the marketing efforts at this year’s Comic-Con, see my article in Knowledge@Wharton, “Marketing at Comic-Con: Virtual Reality Gets Real.”

Talking Back and Wrapping Up

As in years past, my final official Comic-Con event is the Con’s Talk Back session, in which Comic Con International president John Rogers listens to a barrage of complaints, observations, suggestions about this year’s Comic-Con.

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Comic Con International president John Rogers faces the crowd in the Talk Back session.

While it’s logical that the Talk Back session occurs at the end of the four days, listening to the parade of gripes is a dour way to end the Con. Despite the gloom, I find the event revealing, not only of fans’ concerns, but of how Comic-Con International views its mission.

This year, among the parade of other complaints, one commentator requested, “Try to get the badges to fit into the badge holders next year.”

Comic Con International’s Rogers responded:

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John Rogers, president of Comic-Con International.

Ah, you’ve decided that something that is a feature is a bug. You’ll notice, if you look at your badge, there’s a hologram on it. That hologram is strategically placed over your barcode. Why? There are unscrupulous exhibitors that will take your barcode and your personal information without your permission. Putting the hologram over it prevents that from happening…. Now [suppose you say], Hey, I actually do want to give an exhibitor my barcode….” How do you get the badge out? If it’s flush with the plastic, I have to dig my fingers in and try to lever the darn thing out, and I tear it. So we said, “Hey, if we make it a little taller, you’ve got something to grip and lift.” So — you see it as a bug, we saw it as a feature.

It was a minor point, but Rogers’ reply was illustrative of much that occurs at Comic-Con. We often assume that things that go wrong or seem less than ideal are the result of poor planning or lack of insight. Yet, in many cases, they are conscious choices. Given the constraints of Comic-Con — the enormous scale, the number of people who want to attend, the scarcity of Conventional Center space and hotel rooms, and so on — the tradeoffs may be difficult, but they are seldom arbitrary.

To conclude this year’s Comic-Con on a more upbeat note, after the Talk Back, I dropped by the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fan party. Thus San Diego Comic-Con 2014 ended as it began after Preview Night, at Henry’s Pub and Restaurant.

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Comic book creators at San Diego Comic-Con 2014. [Click to view]

From Preview Night through closing, San Diego Comic-Con celebrates the men and women who create comic books, movies, television programs, and video games. Click the image to view a photo gallery of pop culture authors, illustrators, and industry executives.

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Cosplay at San Diego Comic-Con 2014. [Click to view]

And, of course, costumed cosplayers were prevalent throughout the four and a half days of the convention. Click image for a photo gallery.

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For a photo gallery of more than 700 images from San Diego Comic-Con 2014, see the Flickr photo album: San Diego Comic-Con 2014.

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Con-fusion: What’s in a Name — or a Hyphen?

San Diego Comic-Con Challenges Salt Lake Comic Con’s Right to “Comic Con”

It’s a common occurrence: I tell a friend I’m going to San Diego Comic-Con and receive the reply, “Oh, yeah. I went to the one in Philly.” Or New York, or Chicago, or Cleveland or any of dozens of other cities. It’s awkward explaining that yes, you went to a comic con, but not what is generally considered the comic con: Comic-Con International: San Diego, otherwise known as San Diego Comic-Con or simply SDCC.

The organization that runs the annual convention in San Diego for fans of comic books, movies, TV, and all things pop culture has taken legal action to clarify the confusion, at least in regard to one fan convention. A lawyer representing Comic-Con International: San Diego has sent a cease-and-desist letter to the organizers of Salt Lake Comic Con over their use of “Comic Con” in the name of the Utah convention, according to an Associated Press report. The issue may ultimately hinge on the difference — if any — between “comic-con” and “comic con.” (More on that pesky hyphen shortly.)

The Utah event, reported to be the third-largest comic con in the U.S. with an attendance of 72,000 people last year, is one of dozens of similar — and similarly named — activities around the globe run by different organizations. The ReedPop division of multinational publisher Reed Elsevier hosts New York Comic Con, an event that last year boasted attendance numbers on par with San Diego Comic-Con. Wizard World Inc. puts on two dozen Wizard World Comic Cons in cities around the U.S.  Smaller, regionally-focused comic cons are available in many other cities and towns.

Given the broad adoption of the term “comic con,” why would the organizers of San Diego Comic-Con go after Salt Lake Comic Con rather than the larger and longer-running New York Comic Con or the rapidly expanding Wizard World cons?

The immediate trigger of the legal move was a marketing ploy by the Salt Lake event at San Diego Comic-Con which included driving a car through downtown San Diego advertising the name and dates of the Utah fan fest.

Comic Con International may also believe it will be easier to prevail against Salt Lake Comic Con as a first step in tightening control of its brand image. According to the event’s website, Salt Lake Comic Con is a Dan Farr Production, produced in partnership with MediaOne of Utah — perhaps a less daunting opponent than Reed Elsevier or Wizard World.

In the AP report Bryan Brandenburg, a co-founder of the Salt Lake City event, asserts that San Diego Comic-Con “tried and failed to trademark ‘Comic Con’ in 1995.”

San Diego Comic Convention does, however, hold trademark Registration Number 3219568 for “COMIC-CON” (spelled with a hyphen) covering “Education and entertainment services, namely, organizing and conducting conventions in the fields of animation, comic books and popular art.” San Diego Comic Convention holds other trademarks related to the event, including SDCC and PREVIEW NIGHT, along with a number of trademarks for events that don’t currently exist under the names listed, including ANAHEIM COMIC-CON, SAN FRANCISCO COMIC-CON, and LOS ANGELES COMIC-CON. Even though Comic-Con International also runs WonderCon, an event nearly identical to their San Diego Comic-Con in all aspects other than its size, they don’t use the ‘Comic-Con’ name for that event.

Most of the non-San Diego fan conventions eschew using the hyphen in their names, opting — perhaps for legal reasons — to use “comic con” (with a space between the two words) or variant spellings such as comiccon or comicon. Ironically, among the trademarks held by San Diego Comic Convention are “COMIC CON INTERNATIONAL” and “SAN DIEGO COMIC CON INTERNATIONAL,” both without the hyphen.

Does a trademark on “COMIC-CON” cover “COMIC CON” — and perhaps COMICCON and COMICON as well? If the issue is eventually settled by the courts, it will be interesting to see how the law views the presence or absence of the hyphen in identically-sounding terms.

Update: 2014 Aug 8:

The dispute has now moved to the courts. Comic-Con International has filed a lawsuit against the organizers of Salt Lake Comic Con in the U.S. District Court in Southern California over the use of the name “Comic Con,” reports the Salt Lake Tribune.

 

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Wizard World Philadelphia: Bigger Than Ever

Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con 2014

Recap and Photo Highlights from Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con 2014

While the previous weekend was filled with two pop culture festivals focused squarely on comic books — New York Comic Fest and Special Edition: NYC — this past weekend Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con brought a broader spectrum of popular culture activities to the mid-Atlantic region. With an approach modeled after the large U.S. comic cons such as Comic-Con International’s San Diego Comic-Con and ReedPop’s New York Comic Con, the Wizard World event offered something for fans of everything from comic books to television shows, movies, video games, and more.

It also provided evidence that the current mania over all things pop culture shows no signs of slowing.

The general attendance line waiting to enter Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con

Fans lined up waiting for the show to open Friday morning.

The 14th annual Philadelphia Wizard World occupied twice the floor space of last year’s event, according to Wizard World Public Relations Manager Jerry Milani. Stepping into the main exhibit hall, the increase in scale was apparent, with vendor booths, artists’ tables, and autograph signing stations extending far across the Convention Center’s Halls A through D. In addition to the “VIP” lines for those who paid extra for early access to the show, the general audience line filled a large swath of the Convention Center’s cavernous Hall F.

Wizard Wold CEO John Macaluso

Wizard World CEO John Macaluso.

Of the 16 comic cons run by Wizard World, Philadelphia is now second only to the company’s Chicago show. This year’s Philly event was bigger than last year’s Wizard World Chicago, although Milani expects the upcoming 2014 Chicago event to leapfrog over Philadelphia.

Not only was the exhibition hall larger than last year, it was also more focused on matters of popular culture. There was little evidence of the type of vendors unrelated to fan culture that were scattered across the floor last year. (See: “Philadelphia Comic Con: Batman, Buffy and … Bath Fitter?“). Symantec made a return visit, again with a popular media tie-in (this year the X-Men in contrast to last year’s affiliation with Superman). And there were booths promoting conventional media, including the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, The City Paper, and the local Channel 6 ABC TV affiliate. In general, however, the vendor exhibits were largely aligned with the interests of pop culture fandom.

The show’s programming was also expanded from last year with 120 panels, presentations, film screenings, and fan events over the comic con’s four days. Saturday’s most popular panel sessions were held in the Convention Center’s Grand Ballroom, with a capacity of 3,000. The more popular panels, such as “Inside Firefly” with Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk — drew a strong crowd, yet seats were still available throughout the day — no camping out required (as with San Diego Comic Con’s infamous Hall H). While many of the panels featured television celebrities, a series of talks moderated by Danny Fingeroth and others provided coverage of comic book topics as well.

Photo Galleries from Panels and Presentations

Panels at Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con 2014 included the following. [Click the thumbnail images to view photo galleries]

'Inside Firefly' with Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk

Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk.

Inside Firefly” with Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk answering fan questions and performing their usual high jinks, along with the intrusion of a strange visitor on the stage.

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Eliza Dushku

Eliza Dushku.

A conversation with Eliza Dushku, who arrived on stage with her pet dog Max Factor.

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Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg.

A conversation with Whoopi Goldberg.

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Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan

Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan.

Marvel’s Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan.

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Guardians of the Galaxy

Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, and Karen Gillan.

Three of the stars of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, and Karen Gillan.

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Cast members from 'The Walking Dead'

Scott Wilson, Sarah Wayne Callies, and Jon Bernthal.

Former cast members from The Walking Dead: Scott Wilson, Sarah Wayne Callies, and Jon Bernthal.

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David Boreanaz

David Boreanaz.

A conversation with David Boreanaz.

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Curtis Armstrong and Brian Tochi

Curtis Armstrong and Brian Tochi.

A reunion with Revenge of the Nerds actors Curtis Armstrong and Brian Tochi.

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Troma Entertainment and AMC TV's Comic Book Men

Lloyd Kaufman, Men Ming Chen, Bryan Johnson, and Mike Zapcic.

Troma Entertainment co-founder Lloyd Kaufman with AMC TV’s Comic Book Men Ming Chen, Bryan Johnson, and Mike Zapcic.

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Eddie McClintock

Eddie McClintock.

A conversation with Eddie McClintock.

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Peter Sanderson and  Danny Fingeroth

Peter Sanderson and Danny Fingeroth.

Comic book historians Peter Sanderson and Danny Fingeroth on the history of Marvel in “Marvel Comics at 75.”

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The Science Channel's 'Oddities'

The Science Channel’s ‘Oddities’.

Science Channel’s Oddities.

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Bryan Tillman

Bryan Tillman.

Bryan Tillman discussing “Creative Character Design.”

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Elsewhere at the Con: Comics Creators and Cosplayers

Outside the panel rooms, the show floor offered more than vendors selling comics, posters, and pop culture trinkets.

Comic Book Creators

Comic book creators and industry professionals.

Despite the general emphasis on television and movie properties, Artist Alley hosted a number of comic book creators, including artist Greg Capullo, writer Marv Wolfman, and artist J. G. Jones.

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Cosplay

Costumed fans.

And, throughout all four days of the con, costumed cosplayers roamed the halls and posed for photos.

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At some point, the current pop culture craze will hit saturation and the growth of fan conventions will slow or begin to decline. The current trend, however, is still markedly upward. Wizard World alone increased their footprint in the U.S. by expanding from eight shows last year to 16 this year with more to be announced, according to Wizard World’s Milani. At least in the short run, it seems the sky is the limit for pop culture fandom.

For a gallery of over 350 photos from three days of the comic con, see the Flickr photo album: Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con 2014.

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