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Many things can be and have been said about Gareb Shamus, founder and CEO of Wizard Entertainment, but “he lacks chutzpah” isn’t one of them: As reported by Comic Book Resources, Shamus has pitted his recently purchased Big Apple Comic Con head-to-head against Reed Exhibitions’ New York Comic Con. Both shows will take place in Manhattan on Oct. 8-10, 2010, with Big Apple starting a day earlier on Oct. 7.
Shamus is no stranger to aggressive scheduling and positioning against rival comic conventions. Word surfaced in 2005 that he’d planned a potential Wizard World Atlanta against regional staple Heroes Con; though company spokespeople quickly backpedaled in the face of withering industry criticism and the Atlanta show never materialized, the increasingly crowded convention scene saw this year’s Heroes Con once again overlap with Shamus’ rebranded Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con.
Shamus also responded to convention powerhouse Reed’s announcement of the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo, a rival show to his Chicago Comic Con (formerly Wizard World Chicago), by creating the Anaheim Comic Con and scheduling it directly against C2E2’s debut. He also waded into one of the most acrimonious con feuds in North America by purchasing the Paradise Toronto Comicon, which itself has a history of disputes with the larger, more pop culture-focused Fan Expo Canada. Shamus’ convention organization has also been quite aggressive in fending off a perceived challenge from the nascent Long Beach Comic-Con, created and staffed in large part by former Wizard employees, going so far as to ban LBCC’s Steve Hoveke from Wizard’s Philadelphia show despite having okayed him as an exhibitor.
However, scheduling a show not just on the same weekend or in the same city but both on the same weekend and in the same city is a whole new level of aggressiveness. It’s also a move that comes after a long string of public relations black eyes for Shamus and Wizard. A years-long string of layoffs and magazine closings has seen many former Wizard employees land at other industry outlets and given the impression that the publishing, convention and retail empire is less than healthy. The IFL, Shamus’s mixed martial arts venture, went under during this time, while 2008’s holiday season saw Wizard’s online retail component slammed with customer complaints. On the convention front, shows have been canceled or placed on indefinite hiatus (Atlanta, Boston, Texas, Los Angeles), attendance figures have been viewed as exaggerated, and announced guests have pulled out (including at least one who was never actually booked at all). Meanwhile, major publishers like Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and Image have ceased to have official exhibitor presences at Wizard shows, though their support for San Diego and Reed’s shows has simultaneously all but increased. This has led to an increased non-comics presence at Shamus’ shows: This weekend’s debut installment of the Shamus-owned Big Apple Comic Con is heavy on sports and wrestling stars, for example, although Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada and WildStorm Editorial Director Jim Lee are guests of honor.
Moreover, Big Apple’s impending smackdown with NYCC comes as Shamus has slowly moved away from the Wizard brand by purchasing the Big Apple and Toronto shows in his own name rather than Wizard’s and dropping “Wizard World” from the names of all of his shows save Philly (where a Philadelphia Comic Con already exists). This latter move does make sense, given the well-publicized size and success of San Diego’s Comic-Con International and Reed’s New York Comic Con — the general public likely has a sense of what they’d get from a “comic con,” while a “Wizard World” is a largely unknown quantity. Meanwhile, just today Shamus officially launched an e-newsletter called Geek Chic Daily, which contains no Wizard branding whatsoever; back-doored in this announcement was the news that former FHM Editor-in-Chief Scott Gramling has been moved from heading up Wizard’s magazine line to EIC of GCD.
These moves have not been without controversy in the industry, either: Marvel Talent Coordinator C.B. Cebulski’s angrily tweeted thoughts and declarations of support for Reed’s shows are (so far) the most public manifestation of displeasure with Wizard by industry power players. But Shamus’ move against NYCC clearly indicates he’s playing to win.