Wizard World Inc.: A roving comic con looks to corner the geek market

Wizard World Inc.: A roving comic con looks to corner the geek market
Jon Gitchoff

At first glance, the Hulk seems to be someone to fear as he lumbers down the convention-center aisle — kelly green like the Wicked Witch of the West, heavy on his feet, fists as thick as paint cans. A transfixed child sees something deeper, though. Slipping quietly away from his mother, the seven-year-old boy tiptoes over to the green beast, who has dropped his backpack onto the floor so he can stretch out his arms a bit. The tyke watches for a moment before approaching his hero, unintimidated by the character's bulging muscles and tattered clothing. Noticing the boy, the Hulk grins broadly and extends one hand downward, high-fiving the dazzled kid.

"'Nerd' is a good word today. If you're not a nerd or a geek, you're on the outside now. It's the truth."

Nearby, a man in a grubby duster jacket flicks playing cards at passersby, while a woman with flowing auburn hair — save for a shock of white near her bangs — contentedly rests her head on his shoulder. Even the guy serving hot dogs from a post across the convention-center floor can see that, just as they are in X-Men, Gambit and Rogue truly are in love, barely registering the constant flashes from cell-phone cameras in the crowd.

In the next aisle, a line snakes back and forth eight times until it reaches a table where actor and heartthrob Norman Reedus leans in to sign an autograph for a middle-aged woman. Though the sign out front says that there's a two-hour wait to reach the terminus, the fans in line don't mind; they're content to discuss The Walking Dead star's best moments until it's their turn with "Daryl Dixon."

Brian Spath screens his Web series Comic Geeks around the country at conventions like Wizard World.
Jon Gitchoff
Brian Spath screens his Web series Comic Geeks around the country at conventions like Wizard World.
Star Trek's William Shatner is one of many celebrities slated to appear at Wizard World St. Louis. John Macaluso stands at right.
Courtesy of Wizard World
Star Trek's William Shatner is one of many celebrities slated to appear at Wizard World St. Louis. John Macaluso stands at right.

These are John Macaluso's people — the nerds, the geeks, the moms, the kids, the cosplayers, the celebrities, the moviegoers, the TV-watchers and the comics junkies. As the CEO of Wizard World, a company focused on bringing comic-book-rooted pop culture to the masses, Macaluso is Santa Claus for today's crop of fanboys and fangirls, giving everyday devotees opportunities to meet — and sometimes to be — their favorite characters. It's a very different life from the one he led for two decades as an apparel entrepreneur.

"I tell you, I was just with someone yesterday, and I told them I'm having the absolute greatest time of my working career running this company," says the 57-year-old Macaluso.

Under Macaluso's watch for the past two years, Wizard World has more than doubled its number of traveling comic cons, expanded its cadre of A-list celebrity guests and has become one of the most talked-about productions in the comics and entertainment business.

And there's no signs of slowing down. It's a new era for the company, one that makes Macaluso proud, and one that will be on display this weekend at the America's Center in downtown St. Louis when Wizard World brings in stars from Star Trek, Batman and other pop-culture media for a three-day geekfest. Wizard World then moves to Minneapolis and more than ten other cities. Indeed, as a traveling regional convention, Wizard World particularly has upped its game by adding more shows in the Midwest and South, such as those in Louisville, Tulsa and Atlanta — the setting for the popular comic-book and TV series The Walking Dead.

Yet for all its growth in recent years, there are people who remember when Wizard World placed most of its emphasis on comic books. For some of those fans, the company has veered off course by chasing celebrities and attempting to be all things to a disparate number of pop-culture junkies. Just because someone is really into zombie films and wrestling heroes doesn't mean that they're also going to have an appreciation for early issue Marvel Comics, does it?

Macaluso argues otherwise. Broad appeal is the core of Wizard World's new strategy, and to Macaluso, there's more than enough room under his big top for all fans — no matter how general or obscure their interests. Besides, there is strength — and dollars — in numbers.

"'Nerd' is a good word today," Macaluso notes. "If you're not a nerd or a geek, you're on the outside now. It's the truth."


Today, one can wear a Batman or Star Wars shirt without taking flack for it, but that's a relatively new phenomenon. Comic books and related nerdy pursuits — video games, anime, strategy board games — used to be underground interests, something to be brought out only among very close, like-minded friends. Even vampires and zombies, which are so popular in literature and visual arts these days, were once relegated to horror movies and pulpy reads.

But over the past few decades, that attitude has slowly changed.

"Postmodernism is the reason why popular culture exists," says Rebecca Housel, a regular Wizard World speaker and author of a series of books about how X-Men, Twilight and other "geek lit" intersects with philosophy. "It started around 1950, and by the time we got to the '70s, we began to see things like civil rights and women's liberation evolve socially.

"And that's why pop culture began to emerge — because it wasn't just high and low culture anymore, it was popular," Housel continues. "It didn't matter if you were rich or poor; everybody that liked something should have access to it and would. By the time we got to the '90s, we began to see the social attitude begin to change where it didn't matter if you were a geek or a dude who likes to wear lipstick. We didn't care anymore. You're an individual. You have value."

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8 comments
VeraC
VeraC

That's the problem, Wizard World is looking at it like a market. I have been to many conventions around the country, and Wizard World is horrible to it's fans. Did you know that all the local geek groups used to have tables set up where locals can connect with local clubs, they now charge those non-profit, charitable groups $600 for a booth? They also charge more for autographs for the same celebs that attend different cons. Basically it's like attending an overpriced flea market. Dragon*Con is a convention 10 times larger than WW cons, and yet it costs the same to get in. They have tables for the fan groups, activities to do, panels, parades, and more reasonably priced autographs. WW doesn't care about the fans, and the only way to send them a message is to stop giving them money. 


Join the boycott and look here for more info: https://www.facebook.com/BoycottWizardWorldConventions

scarbelly857
scarbelly857

Went last year. Paid $40 to get in and walk around for an hour. After that there was pretty much nothing else to do. It's just a flea market with a huge entry fee. Would not recommend.

Darla Cook
Darla Cook

They nickle and dime you to death. Pay to get in, pay to get an autograph, pay for food, pay to park, soon I expect you'll have to pay to get in to event room too. You will, because I no longer go.

Ray Thomas
Ray Thomas

is this where all the nerdy chicks walk around with their boobs out

Big Damn Heroes
Big Damn Heroes

One of the days we will play Wizard World St. Louis Comic Con if it's the last thing we do...

Mark Correira
Mark Correira

Great Article...Be sure to stop by Booth #801 and visit The Zocalo Connection and toysofouryouth.com for an awesome selection of Comic, Sci-Fi, Pop Culture collectibles and Retro Toys and Retro Video Gaming. Please come support us and other local dealers.

jch1962
jch1962

Thanks for the look into Wizard World. Incidental takeaway: Spiderman appeared first in summer of '62.  I had thought he was older than that.

 
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