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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
“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:
Actor and Whedonverse fan favorite Summer Glau.
Insidious actor Lin Shaye, who received an award from Sagers as “Godmother of Horror.”
Gotham lead actor Ben McKenzie.
Agent Carter lead actor Hayley Atwell, who recently received news that the series had been picked up for a second season.
Arrow lead actor Stephen Amell.
In addition to the comic book panel sessions and celebrity talks, the con was framed by talks by two major filmmakers from different generations.
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.
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.
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.
For a gallery of over 300 photos from the year’s event, see the Flickr photo album: Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con 2015.