I have only been to one previous Wizard World show, and that was in 1999 when I was 15 and had never attended a major convention before. (See here for my report, which I’m too embarrassed to read now). So I didn’t have any prior knowledge of what to expect from Wizard World Atlanta. But red flags started to appear when I read the programming schedule, which contained nothing of any interest to me at all, and the guest list, which was dominated by actors and included almost no comic book artists whose names I recognized. Local comics creators who I would have expected to attend, like Andy Runton, Tony Harris and Van Jensen, were not listed (Van was there but not in an official capacity). Even worse was the exhibitor list. One major reason I go to conventions is to shop for old comic books, and there were only like five or six exhibitors with “comics” in their name. So I decided to go on Friday anyway, but with low expectations, and I only bought a one-day pass because I didn’t know if it would be worth going back.
It was as bad as I expected. In fact, it was easily the worst comic convention I’ve ever attended, to the extent that it even deserves to be labeled as such. The convention took place in one rather small exhibit hall which wasn’t even completely full, and only about a third of the hall was taken up with exhibit booths. Even then, there were way too many booths selling things that were not comic books, and not nearly enough of the other kind. Of the people who were selling comic books, there were only a few that offered cheap comics. I only saw one booth with quarter boxes (which were terrible) and two with dollar boxes. $2 and $5 boxes were slightly more common. I did end up buying some stuff — I spent around $100, much of which was for $5 or $6 comics, including some ’70s Batmans and two Claremont/Byrne X-Men. But I didn’t buy nearly as much stuff as I would have bought at one of the local one-day conventions, where I need to take a suitcase to carry my purchases. This was especially annoying since Wizard World Atlanta was held in lieu of the Atlanta Comic Convention that would usually take place at this time of year. Even though Wizard World Atlanta took place in a much larger space and lasted two days longer, it had significantly fewer comic book dealers, which speaks to the lack of emphasis on comics at this show.
This, in turn, is perhaps the biggest problem with the convention. As suggested above, the publicity for the show mostly emphasized all the media guests they were bringing, and ignored the comic book guests. It seems like Wizard wanted this to be a media-focused convention with a relatively small comics component. The trouble is that this is a perfect description of DragonCon, and Wizard World Atlanta is clearly not interested in putting in the level of effort that would be required to seriously compete with DragonCon. (And yet they chose to charge as much for admission as DragonCon does, despite having a vastly inferior guest list and slate of programming). I am fine with the lack of comics programming at DragonCon because there is so much else to do. But at Wizard World Atlanta, there was hardly anything else to do besides shop for comics and talk to the very few guests I was interested in seeing. Overall, I honestly don’t know why Wizard bothered putting on this show, or who their target audience was, because so little effort seems to have gone into it.
The state of Georgia has a large comics fan base and a vibrant community of artists, especially due to the presence of SCAD. The Atlanta Comic Convention used to be a much larger event, and its founder, Wes Tillander, is still active in promoting conventions. I think Atlanta can support a national-caliber comic convention. Unfortunately, Wizard World Atlanta is only a poor substitute.