Saturday, January 29, 2011

What Lurks in the Longbox? #5

Convention Wrap-Up 2010! (Part 3)

In the final part of my “Convention Wrap-Up 2010” report, I head back to a couple local shows, including one in the town where I grew up, and finish out the year with the grand return of one of the oldest conventions in the industry, a final “year-end” convention that more than made up for any of the year’s earlier disappointments. 

July:  Metro Detroit Conventions, helmed by local comic dealer Mike DeSantis, started a new show in my old hometown of Roseville at the VFW Hall on Gratiot Avenue.  This was a much needed local show that helped fill in the gap left by the departure of the bi-monthly St. Clair Shores comic show run by Airborne Comics during 2009.  The show featured a nice mix of comics and vintage toys, and had great deals as well as friendly dealers.  According to Promoter Mike DeSantis, the first show had about 170 in attendance, which was a great start for this new event.   One of the toy dealers gave us a nice deal on a vintage Lego set with carrying case.  My son was thrilled to add a more “collectible” item to compliment his ever-growing collection of Lego toys.  The most memorable purchase for myself personally was a very reasonably priced Dell Lone Ranger comic from 1965 that was printed in Spanish!  Admission to this show was only $2, and half of all admission proceeds (as well as all concession sales) went directly to support the VFW Post. 

September:  The Durand Fantasy Expo returned for its second year, and once again featured a nice diversity of science fiction & fantasy authors, comic dealers, and publishers.  Some of the guests included Tom Sullivan, Randy Zimmerman, Dan Mishkin, Jim Hines, Dark Elf Designs, Star Wars artist Rachel Kaiser, and even the 501st Legion.  Admission was $5, with kids 10 and under getting in for free.  One of the best aspects of this show was that I had the opportunity to visit with several Facebook friends in person, including: Randy Zimmerman of Flint Comix; Brian Germain of Dark Elf Designs; Eric Mullarky, the publisher of New Baby Productions; Steve Jencks, the owner and artist of “Lost Highway’s B-Movie” classic movie posters; and of course Promoter Jeffrey Decker.

My friend Jim Waggoner had never been at any kind of comic or collectibles show, but when I informed him that his favorite fantasy author Jim Hines would be appearing, he quickly decided to give himself a birthday present and meet the author.  In addition to the Expo, the town of Durand had its 21st annual “Cruisin to the end of Summer” car show going on at the same time, which featured several city blocks of vehicles from the early part of the 20th century all the way to more recent models, including a car devoted to the popular Pixar movie Cars.  Both of our families spent the day together checking out cars and listening to 50’s tunes played by the local radio station that was promoting the event.  The Durand Memorial Library also hosted a writer workshop with DC Comics writer John Ostrander.  Promoter Jeffrey Decker is making plans for Year 3 in 2011, with updates expected in the near future. 

October:  Unlike the previous two years, when our “convention season” ended with Mid-Ohio Con, this year’s convention experiences wrapped up with the “return” of Detroit FanFare.  Billed as being “45 years in the making” on the front of the program book, the show was held at the Hyatt Regency in Dearborn, Michigan.  I use the word “return” even though it was technically the first show, because FanFare was a celebration of the glory days of the Detroit Triple Fanfare.  The DTF was one of the earliest comic conventions, originating in the late 1960’s and forever marking Detroit as a significant player in the early days of comic conventions.  

Admission was $10 for the weekend, although many of the attendees never paid a single penny of that admission cost.  The show’s organizers experimented with a new promotional idea that ended up helping to make the show an absolute hit.  With almost 100% participation from comic retailers throughout the Metro Detroit area, convention “vouchers” were provided to comic shops, so that any purchase at a participating store earned that customer a “ticket” that could be redeemed on the show’s website for free weekend admission.  With a convention featuring none other than Stan Lee, along with a long list of Bronze and Modern Age creators, comic dealers, and tons of great panels, getting into the show for free was quite a perk that perhaps no other convention could match.  Of course the Stan Lee package itself was not quite free.  The $125 “VIP Package” included the morning Q&A session with Stan (which was huge fun), an autograph on any item of your choice, and a photo opportunity.  Kudos goes to the organizers of this package deal.  I anticipated being in line for several hours with someone as huge as “The Man,” but the lines for both the autograph and photo moved along much quicker than I ever could have anticipated. 

As many attendees know, during the period in which Detroit FanFare was promoting their show, the organizers of Motor City Con scheduled a fall show (their first in several years) on the same weekend as FanFare.  Perhaps in a repeat of the Wizard World/Heroes Con conflict of 2006, there was a severe backlash by fans, artists and dealers over the conflicting events.  To some, it appeared to be a hostile move by Motor City to prevent the success of what many saw as the feisty underdog:  Detroit FanFare.  Similar to what happened with Wizard in 2006, Motor City did not anticipate this backlash and was first forced to move the dates of their Fall show, and then cancel it altogether.  The reasons for cancellation have been the subject of much online speculation.  Some believe it was directly related to Detroit FanFare, while others feel it was just the result of poor last-minute planning and the inability to gather a strong list of media guests with the short lead time available.  In any case, planning is already in full swing for Detroit FanFare 2011, which is being moved to the larger venue of Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit during the weekend of September 24th-25th, 2011. 

With the premiere of the Amazing Arizona Comic Convention earlier this month, the term “Convention Season” may become obsolete in 2011.  Convention Season is now year-round, with large comic and media events taking place during all four seasons.  2011 promises to be an interesting year for the industry for many reasons, most notably the massive increase in competition which has caused conflicting dates that will force fans to decide between conventions.  Of particular note are the aggressive moves taken by Wizard World to increase their market share this year.  First, they have added many new locations for their shows (such as Cincinnati, Nashville and New Orleans), which may affect smaller comic shows that did not previously have serious competition in those cities.  Secondly, Wizard has pursued the acquisition of several independently owned conventions, such as Nola Con, Central Canada Con, and most recently, the announcement that they were taking ownership of Mid-Ohio Con.  Online opinions from fans seem divided on whether or not a “corporate takeover” of their favorite con will actually be to fans’ benefit or not.  However, one fact remains clear:  There will be no shortage of comic book and collectible shows for fans to choose from in 2011. 

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