This past weekend, Wizard World Comic Con returned to Philadelphia with a show geared to expanding the audience beyond the usual comic book and superhero crowd. This year’s celebrity headliners were drawn from a wider array of fandom than the usual superhero and science fiction movies and TV shows. And, new this year, Wizard World partnered with Bloody Disgusting to present the Wizard World Horror Fest as an addition to the Philadelphia pop culture convention.
At Wizard World Philadelphia 2016, newly-ensconced Wizard World CEO John Maatta stated his plan to “amp it up” with “better marketing and more content creation.” After expanding from 17 comic conventions in 2014 to 25 shows in 2015, Wizard World scaled back to 16 conventions in 2016. While originally announcing a slate of 16 shows for 2017, when I spoke with him at this year’s Philadelphia show, Maatta stated that announcements of additional dates — perhaps has many as ten — may be forthcoming.
While smaller markets may not have the audience of Wizard World’s largest shows in Chicago and Philadelphia, Maatta sees benefit in these venues “because the fans are so appreciative.” In his view there is less advantage in moving into a saturated market like Los Angeles.
Regardless of the number of cons, the content of the Philadelphia show seemed designed to appeal to a broad audience with appearances by performers outside the usual comic book and sci-fi realm. Jesse Eisenberg, who played Lex Luther in Batman v Superman (but is perhaps better remembered as portraying Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network) was a featured celebrity. A popular panel featured the cast of the CW’s Riverdale. And Wizard World regular Michael Rooker from Guardians of the Galaxy was also in attendance. However, many of the other featured celebrities were drawn from other realms of pop culture, including KISS front man Gene Simmons and actors Chuck Norris and John Cusack.
While casting a wider net for celebrity appearances, this year’s crop seemed to offer a bit less star wattage. The “stars aligned last year” to bring a slate of A-list talent Maatta told me. And, indeed, last year’s Wizard World Philadelphia included top flight talent including Civil War‘s “Team Cap” of Chris Evans, Sebastian Stan, and Anthony Mackie; Arrow’s Stephen Amell; Thor‘s Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston; the entire Back to the Future cast; David Duchovny, Mitch Pileggi, and William B. Davis from The X-Files; and Agent Carter actors Hayley Atwell and Dominic Cooper. That year’s headliners appeared in the Philadelphia Convention Center’s 4,300-seat Terrace Ballroom, which was packed for many of the events. This year, the largest panels were in the 2,500-seat Ballroom AB, which had ample seating available throughout the show.
While it’s tempting to view this year’s celebrity roster as an attempt to reduce booking fees for top tier talent, it may be more happenstance than intention. Maatta told me they company has offers out to major stars of current DC/Warner Bros. and other films this year. Maatta indicated his plan is to keep the show’s traditional core comic focus with artists and comics creators while expanding to a broader range of interests.
Maatta also highlighted the company’s aim of adding more entertainment to the show. An Entertainment Stage on the floor of the exhibition hall featured an eclectic array of acts, including musicians, magicians, and a hypnotist. The stage’s master of ceremonies was Kato Kaelin who, despite his unusual rise to fame as the world’s best known house guest, did a deft job of entertaining the crowd throughout each day of the show.
In addition, Wizard World Philadelphia introduced a new initiative, the Wizard World Hall of Legends, to celebrate “the artists, writers, and insiders” who have contributed to the industry. The inaugural award went to writer/artist Rob Liefeld in a ceremony with CEO Maatta hosted by Aaron Sagers.
“We’re here to please the fans,” CEO Maatta told me at the show. Time will tell whether these format changes keep the core audience pleased while also expanding to bring in a broader range of fans.
Here are highlights from Philadelphia Wizard World Comic Con 2017, with links to more extensive photo galleries for each:
All four of the principal cast members in the CW’s Riverdale — KJ Apa (Archie), Lili Reinhart (Bettie), Camila Mendes (Veronica), and Cole Sprouse (Jughead) — interviewed by CBS 3 Philadelphia’s Meisha Johnson.
Jesse Eisenberg discussed his roles in Batman v Superman, The Social Network, and other films with Aaron Sagers.
Famke Janssen talked about her many popular portrayals — including Jean Grey in the X-Men movies; Xenia Onatopp in Goldeneye; and roles in Game of Thrones, all three Taken films, the Netflix original series Hemlock Grove, and ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder — with Aaron Sagers.
John Cusack spoke with Aaron Sagers about his many film roles from Say Anything…, and High Fidelity to Being John Malkovich, and 1408.
Wizard World favorite Michael Rooker regaled the audience with tales of his roles in Guardians of the Galaxy, The Walking Dead, and Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer. To get through everyone on line waiting to ask a question, Rooker left the stage and went one–by–one down the line to spend a moment with each fan.
KISS front man Gene Simmons hosted an interactive session with the audience and offered his advice on achieving success and profit. “Being selfish is good,” Simmons stated. “Think: Me, first,” noting that airlines’ safety procedures require passengers to first apply their own oxygen mask before helping others. Simmons also demonstrated how to gain personal power when greeting others. When another audience member asked “Is it ever enough?” Simmons unabashedly replied “It’s never enough.”
Chuck Norris and wife Gena O’Kelley discussed the actor’s long career with Aaron Sagers.
Aaron Sagers also hosted a conversation with Doctor Who companions Billie Piper and Pearl Mackie.
Kristy Swanson hosted a Q&A session following a screening of her 1992 film, Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The “Indie Comics Creators Power Hour” panel hosted by Danny Fingeroth initially featured Fabrice Sapolsky, Dean Haspiel, and Josh O’Neill, but became an interactive session with comics creators from the audience Kathleen Kralowec, Christine Cassano, and CS Jones joining the panel.
Danny Fingeroth also gave an overview of the entire history of Marvel Comics in the panel, “From the Golden Age to Guardians of the Galaxy: Marvel at 75.”
The Exhibition Hall included the expected assortment of vendors offering comic books and pop culture collectibles. The show floor also included a number of surprising booths, including live tarantulas and large insects at the Philadelphia Insectarium & Butterfly Pavilion booth, snake skeletons and mounted creatures from Darwin and Wallace, and both real and reproduction human skulls from RealHumanSkull.com. As has now become common, there was also the usual array of non-pop culture vendors. In addition to the usual booths by Geico insurance and an array of telecom providers including Verizon, T-Mobile, and Comcast/Xfinity, the show floor included a surprising number of health related booths, aimed as easing aches and pains which, given the rigors of a long day on the con floor, could be viewed as relevant to the event. The relevance of the booth from Risqué Boutiques with more intimate personal products was less clear.
Comics artists and writers and were also available to chat with fans, autograph their works, or create original artwork.
And, of course, there was cosplay in evidence throughout the show, from both fans and featured performers like Britt Bliss.
For 300+ photos from Wizard World Philadelphia 2017, see the Flickr photo album “Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con 2017“: