Over the past couple of years, we here at PoP! have built an amazing relationship with the good people at Superfly Comics and Games in Yellow Spring, Ohio. We host the Superfly Podcast every week and we’ve picked up some great writing talent as well. former co-owner Thacher E. Cleveland writes Back in the Game every week here on PoP! and the current manager Jared Whitaker pens Game Changer. both of our respective crews were at Mid-Ohio Con 2010. As the newly Wizard-run Mid-Ohio con 2011 approached, the staff of Superfly Comics and Games was contacted directly by Wizard as to why they were not attending the convention this year. Parts of this story were originally discussed on the Superfly Podcast, but we felt it deserved a bit more visibility. To that end, both Jared and current Superfly Czar Tony Barry agreed to tell us what has transpired with the staff of Wizard/Mid-Ohio Con.
PoP!: You guys were at Mid-Ohio Con last year. Was it a good show for you?
Tony: Mid-Ohio was the first two-day show that Super-Fly had attended and was one that I’ve previously eagerly anticipated. Last year was our third Mid-Ohio Con experience, and both financially and sportingly it was our best yet. Last year, I felt comfortable enough with our sales at the show that I was able to purchase tables for the following Gem City con on the spot. It was also my first opportunity to meet many of the Panels on Pages regulars – a bit of networking that has dramatically broadened my customer base as well as my ability to network with the industry (big thanks for that, by the way).
Jared- Last year was my first Mid-Ohio show. The year before, I was a little green, so I manned the storefront while Tony and Tad went to the show. It was a fun time, like most shows. I got to meet a lot of the members of the Pop! Family and meet some artists and comic pros that I like Tony Moore and Dirk Manning.
PoP!: We were there that weekend, too, and remember the mood going rather somber on Sunday as the news came down that it would be a Wizard show this year. What was your initial reaction?
Jared: I got the initial news. A gentleman in a argyle sweater vest and a fauxhawk walked up to the booth and talked to me about how Wizard had bought the show this year and would be putting the show on the following year. Being new to working cons at the time, this really didn’t mean anything to me. But, as far as he knew, I was someone in some kind of charge. He gave me the papers with the information and prices. He made it a point to tell me that the prices on the paper were just a standard form that they use for all their shows and that they don’t represent the prices for the show next year.
Tony: I wasn’t really sure how to feel at first. I suppose my most immediate reaction was disappointment. I’d worked Wizard cons with other stores in the past feel like I’ve got a pretty good grasp on what a Wizard show is like in-front-of and behind-the-scenes. I don’t mean to suggest that I think Wizard shows are completely awful; but I had developed a feeling that they’re a touch overly proud in some unquantifiable way. In my conversations with other vendors who’ve been in the game for much longer than I, I’ve noted a general lack of enthusiasm for the Wizard branding as well as the direction of Wizard shows. When pressed, the most description any of these folks have been able to give me regarding this is the feeling of a ‘general trend downward.’ While I certainly cannot claim that this feeling is pandemic, I can certainly vouch for at least one group of perhaps 10-15 long-term vendors who all more or less share that same sense (for propriety’s sake I’m not naming names here – I’ve a feeling that the events leading to this article may end in Super-Fly not being welcome at any Wizard shows in the future – and it would be in poor taste to drag other people’s names into it).
Knowing this beforehand, and then learning that the group steering this feeling of (for lack of a better word) entropy had purchased this show did not give me a positive feeling in the slightest. When I first looked at the paperwork and noted the prices had skyrocketed, Jared (who had been the first contact with the Wizard representative who’d informed all of the dealers of the purchase) told me that the representative had said that these prices where hastily thrown together and would be adjusted before the convention actually arrived. My immediate reaction to that was “they’d f***ing better!”
Cost of the 10′x10′ corner booth at Mid-Ohio Con 2010: $450
Cost of the 10′x10′ corner booth at Mid-Ohio Con 2011 according to this initial paperwork: $1245 with an additional $1/square foot after Nov 1st 2010, additional $2/square foot if after Dec 1st 2010.
By the end of the day I was noting vendors who’d been present for years posting signs reading “RIP Mid-Ohio Con.” Now, I’ve only been in the convention circuit for about 8 years, but these were some dudes who’ve been in the game for 15+ years. This wasn’t simple disheartening, this was outright objection. Now, I realize that we in the comics industry can tend to be a reactionary bunch, but even so, a reaction like this on as wide of a scale as it seemed means something. It is my understanding that at least one big-name artist publicly announced that he’d no longer be in attendance at this show that very night.
PoP!: What was it that made you decide not to go this year?
Tony: Without question, our initial decision was based entirely on price. While I typically don’t like to discuss the specifics of store finances publicly (because it can be pretty difficult to interpret properly without full context of everything else that’s going on in the shop – and I don’t typically like the idea of people knowing how much I spend on things or earn on things because it has a high potential for people begging for discounts they think I can afford but really can’t or offering unwelcome and uninformed business advice or things of that nature) I kind of feel like this situation begs an exception. Last year we paid $450 for the booth space. We also paid about $50 for gas for the entire weekend. Plus our payroll costs were increased by approximately $150. Thus, the total cost of going to the show was approximately $650 – almost $700 once meals and on-site purchases were covered. I mentioned earlier that I also purchased tables for Gem City while there – another almost $300. Grand total cost at this point: $1000.
At the show our grand-total sales were in the vicinity of $1200. This leaves us with a net increase of $200. Obviously, once you figure in the cost of product, the show ended at a bit of a loss to the business long-term. BUT out of it we a) cycled out dead stock into spendable money, b) networked like crazy, and c) paid forward to the next convention and still ended with $200 extra in-pocket. Not a phenomenal surplus for the amount of work a convention requires, but enough that once all factors were considered it was worthwhile.
Wizard’s initial offer of $1245 for the same space was at base-line more than we’d earned at the previous show. While it is possible that our presence at this show would have earned us profits in that same multiple, but with the show direction being so shook up, and with the community’s general lack of enthusiasm (at best), it simply seemed like too big of a risk given our current financial situation.
This was, of course, deeply saddening, since we as a store have been growing increasingly proud of our ability to attend conventions like this and our growing presence in the convention circuit in general.
PoP!: So you’re basically resigned to not going due to the cost. That seems perfectly reasonable. At what point were you contacted directly by Wizard about coming to Mid-Ohio Con 2011?
Tony: On August 19th we received an email from Peter Katz, Vice President of Business Affairs and Development of Wizard World, Inc. In the email he indicated that “tickets for this show are selling at an extremely high rate and with the robust guest list and programming that we currently have we certainly don’t want you to miss out on this opportunity“ and “please note that because there are very few booths left we’ll be raising the retailer rates on August 26, 2011 by an additional $150 so it is critical that you get your registration forms in asap.”
Jared: The first contact for me was October 5th. We were getting ready to open the store when I got the call. The gentleman did say that he was with Wizard and did notice that we were not going to Mid-Ohio this year. I laid out the reasons that we weren’t going to the show. He then went into the “points”: That Mid-Ohio was under new management and that the show would be run differently this year. He then said the most amazing lie he could have told. He floated the idea that Mid-Ohio this year would “have as many people in attendance as New York Comic Con.” He backed this up by saying that “people in the mid-west area want to go to NYCC, but won’t be about to make it there, so they will end up going to Mid-Ohio.” I was offended because it’s mathematically impossible for Mid-Ohio’s attendance to have those kinds of numbers in one year. Mid-Ohio is a mid-level comic con. It’s bigger than most local and regional shows, but it’s in no way, as big as a NYCC and it’s going to be anytime in the near future, let alone in ONE YEAR of Wizard, or anyone else for that matter, taking control and organizing any show.
After that, it seemed like he was looking for a chink in my armor: “It’s a local show, so you should make it out. He talked up an alternate area for us to set up at, (in which he misinformed me about the price of said area. I didn’t find out about this until after Tony talked to the rep later) everything. He even informed me that they were allowing “booth babes” this year as a selling point. I assumed that he was trying to play on the stereotype that people involved in the comic industry doesn’t get the opportunity to see breasts often. I assured him that I, in fact, have been involved with breasts before and after my involvement in the comics industry.
PoP!: What was their initial offer?
Tony: That same email had attached forms indicating a $700/booth cost – with no indication of the price for corner booths. At this point I do have to admit that I erroneously believed until just a few days ago that this was the same amount that had been on the initial paperwork – and had been decrying that they’d not changed the pricing at all despite that they’d said they would. Apparently I was wrong about that point and I’m willing to eat some crow on that.
That point aside, this was still a substantial increase from the previous year – since the new paperwork didn’t indicate what the price increase would be for a corner booth, I’m forced to assume that it remains the $150 increase as advertised in the initial paperwork. In that case, that meant the same space we purchased last year would now cost $850 as opposed to $450. Add to that the thought that the prices would increase $150 if I didn’t respond within the week. This was also different from when the original paperwork had said the price changes would take place – and was the first time we’d actually heard the quoted prices or timetable.
PoP!: What reasoning was given for the price hike?
Tony: At this particular juncture, none was given at all; just the assumed “well, Wizard will run a better show, right?” mentality that had come with the original pitch at last year’s show. Later when we were receiving phone calls regarding the matter this exact sentiment was verbalized. They also explained that Adam West and Billy Dee Williams would be there and that the quality performance and guest list that Wizard brings to the table are expensive. Remembering my conversations with other retailers, I wasn’t completely swayed by the ‘branding sells itself’ argument – and as for my opinion regarding the celebrity guests, I’m certain that they’re great pulls for Wizard and won’t argue that they certainly increase attendance. However, in my experience, largely the people who come in for autographs most often already have the merch that they’re trying to get signed or are going to buy it directly from the aforementioned celebrity and then, given how much those folks had to pay for their own tables, will have often spent the majority of their funding with those celebrities and have that little left for my booth. Not that I begrudge the presence of celebrity presence, but I simply don’t have a lot of faith that being in the same room as Adam West is by definition going to double my sales – which is realistically what I need to see if I’m going to pay double booth prices.
As an alternative, they did offer an outlet section for $350. One of these tables would be in a different area of the show completely removed from the other vendors, and forbade the use of backdrops, fixtures, of any real signage as well as forbidding the sale of any items that cost over $25. While I do appreciate that they’re trying to provide options with that plan I also felt that biting on that deal would be useless for our purposes. We have too much stock variety to limit our sales like that and we’re too local to go to a show like this and not advertise like crazy (read: put up signage and fixtures). While I’m not saying that people who purchased these tables are stupid, I do feel like it would have been stupid for us.
PoP!: You declined the invite, and what happened next?
Tony: I wrote back to this original email inquiry that unfortunately the prices for this show had gone from last year’s ‘tight but affordable’ to a current ‘definitely not affordable.’ We received no response to this email and I figured the matter dropped. I even felt that I’d perhaps been ruder than necessary in my response – but frankly, I was a little miffed that I didn’t feel like this show was affordable anymore. Either way it seemed to be over.
PoP!: How many times were you contacted by Wizard in an effort to get you to come to Mid-Ohio con?
Tony: This month (October for those of you keeping score at home) we’ve received four phone calls and two more emails requesting our presence. Each time we ended up responding slightly more strongly.
PoP!: Why is that?
Tony: At first in the beginning of the month (knowing that the convention was on the 22nd of the month and was rapidly approaching) we were willing to listen to their pitch – and they did seem willing to negotiate prices a bit. I was asked to name what price point I’d be comfortable with in order to attend. I said that if they got get us in the vicinity of last year’s numbers I could consider it. When pressed for an exact number, I said if they could get me a corner booth for $500, then the show would be reasonable for me to attend. Otherwise, I simply didn’t have the blind faith that the Wizard branding was worth the increased risk. The caller responded the lowest he could reasonably go was $700 for an in-line booth (which would decrease my face-out space by half). We both then agreed that since that was more money than I was comfortable spending and that since it was a non-optimal booth space for us anyway and that fact that the store already had an event planned for that Saturday night – it didn’t look like a good fit. This was actually the second phone call from this caller. The previous having been the previous day when Jared had been told that this show was a) going to be as big as NYCC and b) would have chicks there (Chicks, dude, chicks! What’re you? A fag?)
A week to the day later he called again. He indicated that he was now able to drop the prices a little further, and once again stressed that booths were almost sold out and my opportunities were running slim. I told him that at that point, the convention being less than two weeks away, it simply wasn’t feasible. If he’d agreed to my price point the previous week – or had responded with a reasonable counter-offer I probably would have bit – but at this point it was simply too short notice. He began to question my motives: “What’s holding you back? Is it a staffing issue? Or–” At which point I cut him off and told him firmly that now the single biggest reason that we wouldn’t be attending was the fact the they couldn’t take “no” for an answer. They’d already been told “no” four times and I’d had enough – and I wasn’t particularly filled with confidence that the claims of being almost sold-out were true if they were being this persistent this close to the convention. After hanging up on him I again felt that perhaps I’d overreacted. Perhaps I’d been ruder than necessary. But I also didn’t really want to have to tell Wizard that we wouldn’t be going to their show every day until the show and I wanted to make sure that my position was clear.
Apparently it wasn’t because on the 17th we received another email from Peter Katz, VP etc. He said that he wanted to touch base and that in case we’d forgotten there were still a few tables left and if we wanted in we still could go. At my wits end, I drafted a four-page email explaining in great detail a) why we weren’t attending, b) their persistence was unwelcome and in fact offensive, and c) the extreme frustration I faced in feeling like I had to write this email in the first place. I explained in detail why it simply wasn’t feasible for us to attend this show, how frustrated I’d become with their sales practices, and went so far as to accuse them of greedy corporate expansionism. In short, I was thorough on every level I could think of. And I feel pretty confident that anybody who reads that particular email should be pretty clear on my stance. Seriously, misunderstanding my point in that particular email is not possible.
PoP!: Jared was kind enough to upload a dramatic reading of that email to YouTube. It seemed pretty clear.
Tony: The response I received was a short paragraph which nominally apologized for the caller’s persistence, ignored all of my other arguments and complaints, and invited me to come to the show so he could apologize in person. This point must be emphasized: I spent well over an hour writing a manifesto, a grand and bold statement proclaiming loudly and firmly that there was 0% chance of our attendance (and once again I felt that perhaps I’d gone too far, perhaps I’d been too rude and/or petty) – and the response was to invite me to the show.
Once again, in simpler terms;
Me: “I’m not going to your show, and I now kind of hate you”
Peter Katz: “That’s too bad, but I know how to fix it! Come to the show!”
The following morning while I was still in bed my cell phone rang: “Hello, this is James Henry from Mid-Ohio Con and I’m just calling because they asked me reach out to the retailers and -” This was the point where I completely snapped. It was less than twenty-four hours later and these jerks were waking me up to ask again! I cursed him out in as grand a method as I could possibly imagine. And I felt particularly bad about this because I remember James Henry from previous years. He’s one of the folks who used to organize the show that Wizard must have kept on staff. I’ve largely had positive experiences with him – and now here I am waking up screaming at him. This was altogether unpleasant. And I’d like to apologize to him, as I feel he was mostly thrown under the bus by his supervisors in this situation, but I’m not at all convinced that I’m capable of having a rational conversation with him about the matter anymore. That ship has sailed.
Tony: Very. This year is the third annual Yellow Springs Zombie Walk for charity, and while we’re not the main driving business behind it (for that you can thank the folks at the Import House), we are tangentially involved. Obviously the subject matter is right in our wheelhouse, and Jared has obligations to be involved as his band is performing at the end of the event. There’s a lot of organization that goes into something like this both physically and mentally – and that added distraction of having to plan a high-risk convention in the middle of it all did not seem like an altogether glorious idea. Again, if we’d been able to negotiate a mutually beneficial price earlier it might have been a possibility, but less than two weeks away it simply wasn’t going to happen.
This was mentioned in all three of the phone calls the store received as well as the four-page treatise I’d written.
Jared: The fact that we had something else going on that weekend of Mid-Ohio kind of made it a done deal. I wasn’t sure why after hearing this, why they would continue to push for us to completely abandoning our current plans to go to their event. It seems pretty irresponsible to me. But as long as people go to Wizard shows, it’s fine.
PoP!: Have you contacted other stores in the area to see if they’ve had similar experiences?
Tony: Yes. To a very upsetting end. Again, to protect the innocent I’m not naming names but:
- One store (that had not been in attendance last year) I spoke to didn’t even know the show was this weekend.
- Another store (that had not been in attendance last year) knew the show was happening but had not been approached.
- Another store (that had been in attendance in previous years) was not attending this year (for largely the same reasons), but had only been contacted twice. And neither of those times had been this month.
I really don’t know how to process this information. I didn’t really think I could get more upset about their blatant lack of professional respect – until I discovered that for some reason we were being singled out.
And this is a thing that I really don’t understand; while I’m very proud of Super-Fly, and what we’ve done in the four years we’ve been open, I’m also under no false illusions that we’re some mighty monolith store whose presence or lack-thereof will make or break this show. In the grand scheme, I’m afraid that we’re awfully small potatoes. So why, then, six increasingly desperate invitations/requests? We’ve speculated that it’s perhaps that we’ve been to Reed shows, or perhaps it’s our connection to PoP! (either in that it’s a comics news site or in that it’s populated by a bunch of ex-Wizard freelancers), but that’s complete speculation.
All I’ve been able to gather is that for some bizarre reason, Wizard has targeted Super-Fly for attendance at this show and is prepared to do what it takes to get us there… except offer reasonable price points or to stop harassing us when asked directly to stop harassing us.
PoP!: Well, I do legitimately hope we’re not in any way responsible for what you’re going through. But regardless, where do you stand now with Mid-Ohio con and Wizard in general, looking ahead?
Tony: It’s like this: originally I was prepared to sit this year out and consider next year based on what the numbers looked like and how accurate Wizard’s claims were. At this point, I’ve found myself in the position where I felt I had no other options than filing a Better Business Bureau complaint and threatening legal action. And this is just my experience with them trying to get me in the door – god knows what might go down on the show floor…
Added to this is the fact that we still cannot find any kind of vendors list to tell us who is going to be there (and you’d better believe that if I’m paying $700 for a booth I’m expecting you to advertise that I’m going to be there), and the fact that when talking to my customers about this ordeal almost none of them even knew the show was this weekend. Bonus points: I actively searched for ads for this show and could not find one. I looked in the local free paper. I looked on Newsarama, Bleeding Cool, Comics Alliance, and Panels on Pages and could not find a single ad. In fact, the only place online outside of Wizard’s own website that I found any mention of the convention at all (on a casual search – not a full in-depth search) was a website titled conventionscene.com
Now, if I’m paying $700 to come to your show to sell my wares, you’d better damn well expect that I expect you to advertise it at all.
I’m greatly saddened by this whole ordeal. It has forced me out of a local show that I really liked. It has forced me to be ruder than I want to be towards anybody multiple times. It has forced me to file my first ever BBB complaint. It has forced me to threaten legal action against a company that I previously had respected. And finally it has forced into a position where I feel I’ve no choice but to discuss this openly and publicly and quite possibly land myself on a Wizard blacklist for all of their future shows.
But in the end, if this is their continued attitude – I cannot think of any reason why I would want to give them any money ever.
Jared: While Tony was writing his first email response, we briefly contemplated if we were taking things too far. My stance was “What were they going to do: Ban us from going to the show they are begging us to go to? I personally don’t worry about any blackballing from Wizard, if that is in fact a real thing that happens in real life, simply because I don’t think Wizard can afford to exclude anyone from what they’ve shown me with their strong-arm tactics. Tony summed the whole thing up the best with a question we’ve been asking people in the store: “How many times do you need to be told ‘No’ before you get the picture?”
PoP!: We’re in a similar boat. We’ve had good times at Wizard shows in the past and I’d hate to think that telling this story could put us on a blacklist, but it’s a story I think people should hear about. Thanks for sharing it with us and good luck with the Zombie Walk this weekend.
Thanks again to Tony and Jared for sharing their story. If you’re at the show this weekend, we hope you had a great time. If not, check out the Zombie Walk. I hear there are some fine retailers setting up shop.