Wizard World proves Madison is a comic book town
The annual convention celebrating comic books, TV, movies, video games, and more returns to Madison for the third year with some big-time guests.
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Plenty of real-life colorful characters already call Madison home, but with Wizard World Comic Con making its third trip to the city, the odds are high that you might see Batman, Iron Man, stormtroopers, or any number of other popular characters from comics, movies, and video games wandering the streets Sept. 22–24.
Before you roll your eyes, it’s important to understand that comics and the related entertainment properties and industries are a big business — not just globally or nationally, but also locally.
According to the Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau, last year’s Wizard World Madison event brought in approximately 10,000 attendees, and direct spending as a result of that audience in town was $993,521.
“Comics are by far at a point where they are more socially accepted than they have ever been,” notes John Robinson, co-owner of Graham Crackers Comics, which has 11 locations in Illinois and Wisconsin, including a Madison store at 2831 E. Washington Ave. “As a kid I used to dream of comics being spoken about in newspaper articles. [Back then] very few people knew what a comic convention was or had heard of most of the characters.”
On the flip side, Robinson says, while comics are more publicly accepted than ever before, they also have their smallest readership. Comics, like TV, movies, books, and just about every form of entertainment, have more competition than ever before.
The industry is fighting back in a unique way — not by creating new characters whole cloth to appeal to a modern audience, but by relaunching existing characters and titles with a fresh spin to reach new (and old) readers who might otherwise be turned off at the prospect of jumping into a character’s story decades into his or her existence.
“At the end of May 2016, DC Comics re-launched its entire line with an event called DC Rebirth, and that has been very popular among fans,” says Bob Moreau, manager of the west side Westfield Comics on Mineral Point Road in High Point Center. “At the end of this month —Sept. 27 to be exact — Marvel Comics is doing a similar event called Marvel Legacy that will begin with a special 50-page one-shot that is engineered to be a good starting point for new and lapsed readers.”
Moreau says there are a lot of other publishers besides industry stalwarts Marvel and DC that are currently offering something for everyone. Image Comics especially seems to be the current go-to publisher for readers looking for something different, such as characters without super powers, he says.
And Moreau notes the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe, as well as other media like Marvel’s Netflix and DC’s CW superhero shows, are definitely making the general public more aware of the characters.
“Just as long as [the public] realizes that they’ve been having adventures on the printed page for years!” quips Moreau.
Robinson says Graham Crackers sees new readers and collectors discovering the store in Madison every week and being overwhelmed with how much material is actually available beyond and including the popular characters that everyone knows. “Is there a good following here?” he asks. “Yes, and growing!”
Moreau adds that Madison is a great city for fans of, well, you name it.
“Being a college town always creates a melting pot of interests and helps bring together fans of all types, along with open minds ripe for discovering something that’s been around for years, as well as whatever’s the next ‘big thing,’” Moreau explains. “Since we’ve been in business, there’s always been strong followings for Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly/Serenity, Doctor Who, manga/anime, and just about anything else you can think of.”
Fans may have to dig deep for this bit of trivia, but Madison was at one time home to Capital City Distribution, a comic book distributor that operated from 1980 to 1996 when rival Diamond Comic Distributors acquired it. Under the name Capital Comics, it also published comics from 1981 to 1984.
During the Capital Comics days, Mike Baron, a local comic book writer, created the character Badger, and set many of his titular character’s exploits right here in Madison.