“Let’s hear you cheer! We’re gonna be in Tulsa next week but we wanna still be thinking about Columbus!” Kicking off the Saturday night costume contest, those words made something very clear: The 2014 Wizard Entertainment Brand Wizard World Ohio Comic Con was the arena rock show of comic conventions. It was overpriced, impersonal and utterly out of touch with its roots.


Held Oct. 31st through Nov. 2nd at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, Wizard World Ohio Comic Con (and let’s just call it Wizard World from here on out, because that’s much more accurate than anything with the words “Ohio” or “Comic”) was just another stop on the Wizard Entertainment Road Show. Despite calling itself a comic convention, Wizard World really existed to trot out people still trying to make a living off that one role they had in Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers 20 years ago so they could shill for paid autographs and expensive meet-and-greets. For a con that’s technically the descendant of Mid-Ohio Con it was shamefully devoid of featured guests who had anything to do with comics, much less the sort of exciting up-and-comers and foundational creators the old show used to host.


In addition to the arena rock vibe, it also had the feel of a circus sideshow. Big colorful banners on the booths announced the wonders on display, but instead of a dollar to see The World’s Smallest Man it was fifty to have your picture taken with The Man Who Played Freddy Krueger. It felt like an event designed to separate fools from their money. Unlike the older incarnation of the show, it was almost impossible to interact with the guests in any way that didn’t involve money changing hands — even press interviews were jealously guarded and in most cases not provided at all. Panels were included with admission, but one could cynically see those as commercials for their paid services.


It was telling that nearly half of the center’s massive Exhibit Hall D was taken up by these autograph-and-photo-op booths rather than vendor tables where the small businesses that have been the cornerstone of geek culture could sell comics, toys and other collectibles. Jason Williams, owner of the Short North’s Big Fun Toy Store, provided some insight on what kept local businesses away: It’s the cost. “The prices are pretty expensive for us,” Jason revealed. “We're a ma-and-pa shop and we were quoted $1400 last year for a table, and that's a LOT of money. We pay $50 a table at the Columbus Toy Show. We're two blocks north, so we pass out fliers - and we try to be courteous about passing out fliers.”


And with a $50-a-day admission fee and equally steep charges for autographs and photo ops, one has to wonder how much money attendees had left to spend at those $1400 dealer tables. Several of them weren’t even occupied by collectible sellers. Teleperformance had a booth there, as well as Time Warner Cable and the owners of a chat app that must have paid Wizard Entertainment piles of money to be their constantly-plugged Official Social App.


With locally-run shows like Origins and Ohayocon boasting panel and social event schedules that require elaborate, multi-page spreadsheets, Wizard World’s panel schedule was pathetic. The few panels that were held were good — I particularly enjoyed hearing Tom Cook talk about his time as an animator on He-Man and She-Ra — but there was precious little to account for that $50 admission fee. Between the anemic panel schedule and the too-small dealer space, it felt like they were charging $50 for the privilege of paying them even more for the guest add-ons.


Since Wizard Entertainment purchased Mid-Ohio Con in 2010, there have been a lot of complaints about the shift in the show’s culture. They’re all completely warranted. Wizard Entertainment took a good local show and turned it into a symbol of the harm gross corporatization can do to geek communities.

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