This past weekend, September 20-22, the Greater Columbus Convention Center was host to what is now known as Ohio Comic Con, formerly Mid-Ohio Con. The list of Featured Guests for the show is an impressive who's-who of pop culture, including Star Trek's William Shatner, The Lord of the Rings' Sean Astin, Ghostbusters' Ernie Hudson, and even some WWE professional wrestlers. If you look through the whole list you might actually find the one Featured Guest who has ever had anything to do with creating a comic book: Stan Lee, who has the co-creation of most of the Marvel Universe to his name.
And while Stan Lee, who more recently has been known for cameos in every movie based on Marvel's characters, is quite an impressive draw, the fact that he's the only comic creator among the top-billed guests is a sign of something that's become a chronic problem at comic book conventions across the country: A focus on celebrities who have nothing to do with comic books.
It's become such a problem at San Diego Comic Con, the nation's largest with over 130,000 annual attendees, that many hardcore comics fans consider the show to be more about movies and television than comics. In recent years the most talked-about panels in San Diego have been for things like the Twilight movie series and the Doctor Who television show which have only the most tenuous connection to the comic book industry. This year there was far more buzz generated by the Marvel movie panel, where Tom Hiddleston dropped by in full costume and full character as Loki from Thor and Marvel's The Avengers, than there was by their actual comic book panel. To many news outlets and even fans, Marvel's movie panel WAS “the Marvel panel.”
Even before it was bought out by Wizard Entertainment in 2010, Mid-Ohio Con was starting down the path of featuring general pop-culture as well as comic books, but comic book creators still received top billing. Though guest lists throughout the 2000s included some television stars, local comic creators like Bone's Jeff Smith, Sandman's P. Craig Russell and The Waiting Place and Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane's Sean McKeever were honored guests. Since being taken over by Wizard, a company that runs 12 other comic conventions across the country, local creators have been brushed aside. Though a push for more webcomics creators brought a new set of locals such as Dumbing of Age's David Willis to the Artists' Alley tables for Ohio's first Wizard World show, other regular guests from Central Ohio were left out, and the sting of it has never left the community here.
It seems the only place you're sure to find comics at today's comic conventions is the dealer room. Shops still bring new and old comics as well as shelves of graphic novels to the show and the Artists' Alley is still full of professionals both established and up-and-coming. The difference is the professionals are now rarely guests. They're just another way for the convention organizers to make money. And for many, the rising cost of tables in the Artists' Alley has made it less and less profitable to attend.
But fear not, comics fans! Columbus still plays host to S.P.A.C.E., the Small Press & Alternative Comics Expo. With a focus on small press and creator-owned work, Central Ohio's only remaining locally-owned comic con will return April 12 & 13, 2014.