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Con vs. Con

Wizard World Moves into Portland's Crowded Nerdscape

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A RUNNING Portland joke is that roughly two-thirds of the comics industry lives here, wants to live here, or is sending their work here to sell it to the half-million customers still spooning money into the mouth of an industry that hasn't recovered from the debilitating stroke it suffered in the '90s (thanks, Rob Liefeld).

So why is Wizard World—one of the biggest names in the Nerd Prom game, hosting giant conventions year-round in multiple states—having such a problem getting people excited about their first Portland convention this weekend? They've had to Groupon (can you verb that? I guess I just did. Technically one of those days is a Google Offer.) admission to two out of their three days, and many of Portland's best-known artists, writers, and vendors are nowhere to be seen in Wizard's list of exhibitors and panelists.

Surely some of this can be chalked up to Portland provincialism rearing its precious head. The city hosts a laundry list of pop-culture parties: Stumptown Comics Fest, Wonder Northwest, the Portland Retro Gaming Expo, OryCon, and more, all home-grown. (There's something admirable about that, even if you're amazed by the multiple generations of grown adults who have dedicated much of their time to chasing their evergreen adolescence deep into their 40s.)

Wizard's timing didn't help, either. They announced their show in September, two days before the inaugural installment of the Rose City Comic Con, a venture providing a more traditional con experience than the Stumptown Comics Fest's indie-focused warm-and-fuzzy-fest. And Wizard scheduled their show one weekend before Seattle's Emerald City convention, one of the fastest-growing geek celebrations in the entire country. Suddenly, this felt less like an opportunity, and more like opportunism: Wizard upstages a new convention and siphons off Seattle's audience in one swoop. It comes off like the comics equivalent of dropping a Walmart directly between two local grocers.

But this weekend could still be a win-win for PDX's pop-culture addicts: Those who don't give a damn about behind-the-scenes comics politics still get to queue up for Dean Cain's autograph, take pictures with audacious cosplayers, sit in on MTV's Real World panel, and maybe get verbally berated by Bruce Campbell. Those who do give a damn: The powers behind Emerald City and Rose City are teaming up to help each other with programming future conventions, allowing conscientious nerds to get their con on without any undue consumer guilt. Except for when they buy Orson Scott Card stuff at those cons. They should feel bad about that.

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