“Wizard World: a Conversion Story” by Wesley Sun
I’m an unusual geek.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved comic books, video games, RPGs, movies, and dressing up in costumes. I still have the first comic I ever owned: an old, beat up copy of Web of Spider-Man where he fights the Molten Man. As I type this article, I can see that comic framed on the wall of Nerdhaven (that’s what I call the TV room in my apartment), opposite an Army of Darkness movie poster (27″ x 40″, obviously) and a shrine to Magic: the Gathering.
Having these sorts of collectibles is pretty typical for geeky types like myself and I’m pretty sure everything in Nerdhaven is standard fair. But here’s what sets me apart from so many others like me: I don’t like comic book conventions. You’d think that given my interests and passions, I’d love a good comic con … but I don’t. Or at least I didn’t until recently.
As a natural introvert, I find these conventions overwhelming. To be at a comic con is to have all your senses assaulted at all times. Everyone and everything is competing for your attention: trying to impress you, or sell you something, or convince you to do something—sign up for a newsletter, watch a trailer, Smell Like an Avenger, etc.
And the onslaught never ends.
Booth babes, vendors, and fans always seem to be shouting at me. Music blares, camera flashes go off, and I have to bump into a dozen guys dressed like Deadpool just to find my way to a bargain bin full of action figures. And amidst all the chaos, there is always and forever the drifting aroma of greasy (overpriced) pizza and sweaty nerds mingling together across the showroom floor. It’s all very overstimulating and exhausting. So it should come as little surprise that I’ve more or less avoided the con scene my whole life.
Being a comics fan was never enough to make me a fan of comics conventions. But now that I’m a comics creator? Well, that’s a completely different story.
If Chinatown is going to have any chance of success, then we’re gonna have to sell it. And if we’re gonna have to sell it, then we’re gonna have to exhibit at conventions. And not just a few cons here and there, but all of them. All of them. C2E2, CAKE, Zine Fest, Southside Comic Con, and of course, Wizard World—just to name a few. And suddenly, as a fan going pro, I face the frighteningly intimidating prospect of trying to compete with everyone else. Of all the sights, smells, and sounds bombaring every fan at every comic con … how am I supposed to convince you to pick up this book and read it?
I believe in our art. I believe in us as storytellers. And if you picked up our work and flipped through it, I believe you would want to read more. But what does it matter if you never stop by our table?
So even though the Sun Bros won’t be rolling out our book ’til later this year, I dragged myself to Wizard World last weekend. Why? Recon. Market research. Networking. I went to scope out the other displays, get ideas for our own future booths, and size up the competition. And although I strutted into the joint with a strong, single-minded business agenda, I soon found I was going about it all wrong.
After spending just a few hours at Comic Con … I got it.
I see what all the fuss is about. Yes, everything I thought about cons is still true. It’s still a barrage on the senses and it’s still a tough market to compete in. But whether you’re a fan or a creator (or both), that’s not the reason to go to Comic Con, at least not for me. Yes, I did get some market research done and yeah, I gave out a lot of business cards. But that’s not what the con is all about. Of course it’s exhausting and a little chaotic—but try and name a good party that isn’t. So what happened? What changed my mind? After all this, why do I love going to comic con?
One word: relationships.
Fundamentally, reading comics is a solitary exercise. As it turns out, so is writing comics. By its nature, there’s nothing about comics that’s inherently relational. And I, as a comics creator, run the risk of missing out on some really amazing relationships with some really amazing people if I’m not careful.
I’m lucky to have my brother as both co-writer and artist on our projects. I can only imagine how alienating this work would be without being able to call him up to collaborate, bounce ideas, or just go out and have a good time. Now that Wizard World has come and gone, I see how important that is.
So for me, that’s what cons are about. Relationships. Meeting folks. Getting to know people. Hearing about their passions and how they pursue them. Congratulating vendors for taking a chance on their art, and encouraging each other through the hard work of getting it out there. It’s about stopping someone in an awesome costume—not just to snap a quick picture and move on, but to tell them how great they look and how much you appreciate everything that went into it. It’s about talking long after a panel is over—geeking out and sharing what ideas it stirred up in you.
What I’ve found out this year—after hitting up Zine Fest, C2E2, and now Wizard World—is that cons are less about pursuing what you already love and more about connecting with folks who can show you something different, something you’ve never seen before.
Would I have gone to a geek-themed burlesque show if I hadn’t met the gals from Gorilla Tango? Unlikely. Would I have bought a platter of plush sushi if I didn’t take the time to chat with Emily from Eee Bee Dee? Doubtful. At these conventions, I get the supreme privilege of meeting the creative people who pour everything they’ve got into what they love. And even if what they love is vastly different from my own interests, I still feel connected to their craft—and their expertise.
When I see con attendees rifling through boxes for hours on end, it makes me sad. Doggedly examining each book with their heads down, never making eye contact with anyone, and only muttering a few words when they reach for their wallet—it seems like a real shame to me.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with searching for what you love. And believe me—I understand the thrill of treasure hunting. So if that makes them happy, I’m all for it. But I just can’t shake the feeling that these folks might be missing out on the chance to really connect with each other.
I think to myself, did we really just spend hundreds of dollars on admission, travel costs, hotel accomodations, and convention food just to save a few bucks on 50% trades? Is that really why we’re here?
And then I realize that I was doing the same thing in my own way: head down, single-minded, and in dogged pursuit—not of TPB’s maybe, but I was certainly missing out on plenty. Looking back now, I’m pretty amazed at all the people I met. And I’m still connecting with them by sharing pictures on Facebook and Twitter—and checking out the panels I missed on YouTube.
So that’s my conversion story. Looking back, my little epiphany seems pretty obvious to me now, but it’s really been quite a journey. Comic fandom wasn’t quite enough to get me to Comic Con. Professional ambition eventually got me through the door. And after spending a convention season steeped in geek culture, costumes—and yes, greasy (overpriced) pizza—I’ve finally learned to love it. I’ve gained a lot of colleagues, made some new friends, and I’m looking forward to getting to know more of you—both through your art and by actually sitting down and having a chat at the next con.
Who knows? Maybe next year I’ll even try Sci Fi Speed Dating.