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If you ask an average non-comic book reader to name a comic convention, they will probably answer, “comic con,” meaning the San Diego Comic Con (SDCC). For years, that convention has been so large and influential that many people assume that any use of the term “comic con” is referring to that convention. Recently, the New York Comic Con (NYCC) has become a very big convention, both in terms of attendance and influence. However, there are disadvantages of these conventions and that’s why smaller comic conventions can actually be more enjoyable, depending on what you’re after.
The most recent comic convention I attended was Wizard World Philadelphia, held at the Philadelphia Convention Center between May 7th and 10th. In many ways, it was very different from some of the largest conventions. However, there are some constants that are true of almost any convention, and they were present for the Wizard World Comic Con in Philly.
One obvious thing that you can count on at any comic con is comics. A staple of all comic conventions, large or small, is comic book dealers. Many of the dealers spend a good portion of the year traveling around the country from convention to convention. So the dealers at smaller cons around the country might be the same ones you’d find at SDCC or NYCC. It’s a similar situation for related merchandise. If you’re looking for comic, sci-fi and fantasy T-shirts, posters, toys and similar items, there will be vendors selling these items at nearly every con.
If you are a fan who is primarily looking for comics, graphic novels, shirts, toy or other items to buy, you will be able to find items at any comic con, even small ones. At Wizard World Philadelphia (which while not as large as the biggest conventions in the country is still pretty large), there were many places to look for these items. The reason why small and mid-size cons can actually be better is that they are much less crowded.
A typical day at NYCC is spent squeezing through masses of humanity no matter which aisle you walk down. Trying to move quickly across the show floor is nearly impossible. Similarly, there are crowds when looking at comics and other merchandise, making the process at times frustrating. By contrast, Wizard World Philadelphia was well attended but still did not feel crowded. It was easy to move from aisle to aisle, to get from one section of the floor to another, and to use the restrooms without long lines.
So why do people still attend the largest cons like SDCC and NYCC? There are fans who are looking for something beyond back issues and graphic novel deals at a con. For some fans, comic cons are about attending panels, getting publisher exclusives, hearing about breaking news, catching sneak-peeks of upcoming films/TV shows, and meeting some of their favorite creators. There are areas where the largest cons have the most appeal. At NYCC and SDCC, nearly all of the publishers are present, there are countless panels with big news, and there are frequently previews of projects from TV and the movies. At last year’s NYCC, for example, I attended a panel about the Daredevil TV show from Netflix and a number of clips were shown about six months before the show premiered.
Wizard World Philadelphia, as a mid-sized con, is somewhere in between. None of the major publishers had large booths, and consequently there was not a lot of official panels and breaking news. However, WW Philly still brought in a number of notable guests, like Stephen Amell, Nathan Fillion, David Tennant, Hayley Atwell, Katie Cassidy, Kevin Conroy, Summer Glau and many others. Similarly, there were a number of artists offering sketches and commissions. There was also a sizeable section of the show floor just devoted to table-top game. This appears at other cons, but the area tends to compressed or not at the main show floor.
Ultimately, as a fan, it’s worth thinking about what you want out of a convention. If you want to be the first to hear breaking news, see previews of projects that won’t come out for months and countless celebrities and comic creators, you may want to try to attend a big convention. Try being an important word – it is notoriously difficult to get tickets for SDCC and last week’s snafus for purchasing tickets for this fall’s NYCC show that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to score tickets for that show as well. Still, some fans crave the excitement that comes from these large events, even with the crowds and stress.
On the other hand, are you looking to get good deals on comic-related products, dress up, and meet other fans, all with a pretty low level of stress? If so, a small or mid-size convention might be a better fit. There are also more and more conventions appearing around the country, too, so if you don’t live on one of the coasts, there are more options for cons in your region. So there’s good news if you want to attend a comic con, even if it’s not “Comic Con.”