Friday, August 22, 2003

For the next two weeks, Zadzooks focuses his mighty, omniscient eye on the Wizard World Convention, held minutes from Chicago.

Rosemont, Ill. — The three-day Wizard World Convention found a record number of comic-book lovers and pop-culture enthusiasts gathered at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center to meet their heroes and spend lots of cash while consuming such regional cuisine as cheese fries, stuffed pizza and Italian beef sandwiches.

To be more exact, at least 48,000 people visited booths featuring such multimedia powerhouses as DC Comics, Hasbro, Sony Computer Entertainment and Dreamworks Films, bought collectibles from more than 150 dealers and met the guests of honor, artist Jim Lee (currently of Batman); filmmaker Kevin Smith, the world’s most famous comic-book geek; and painter Alex Ross.

As usual, I walked the convention floor every day to observe carefully and craft some concise observations on the state of the show and why comic books are the coolest form of entertainment.

• Hey, art connoisseurs: Imagine the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Picasso hanging out behind folding tables, willing to do a sketch for a mere pittance or sign a couple of books featuring their work for free. Now replace the classic names with modern-day sequential-art legends such as Ray Lago, Bo Hampton, Greg Horn, David Mack, Sheldon Moldoff and Greg Land to understand why so many comic-book fans packed the convention. Readers who have

never been to a large show of this type would find the bubbling of creativity and inspiration overwhelming.

• The infinitely entertaining writer-director-editor Kevin Smith held court Saturday afternoon by taking on a wide range of questions from a field of mental midgets and Jason Mewes clones for 90 minutes of mayhem. Among his answers: 1. He called the last three minutes of the film “Unbreakable” disappointing. (He actually used another word, but he could not understand why a superhero would tattle on the archvillain.) 2. He says good buddy Ben Affleck thinks he’s Rich Little, mocked the film “Gigli” at least 20 times, mentioned that he loves to read Ultimate Spider-Man and carefully explained why Jason Lee will never be in the prequel to “Fletch.” Audience members included Black Cat, a very authentic looking Tusken Raider from Tattooine and lots of poorly dressed guys with beards.

• Once again, Marvel dominated the Wizard Fan Awards as the House of Ideas took 14 of 19 categories, including favorite writer (Brian Michael Bendis), favorite editor (Axel Alonso), favorite hero (Spider-Man) and comic’s greatest moment for 2002 (Ultimate Cap drops the Hulk from Ultimates No. 5).

• Arlington native Steve Conley really amazed me with his creative tenacity. The artist-writer who by day designs Web sites but the rest of the time tries to push the life of his favorite — five-years-in-the-making space ranger Argosy Smith — has spent the past year personally giving away issues of Astonishing Space Tales to visitors of major conventions (i.e., San Diego Comic-Con International, Wizard World Philadelphia, Orlando’s MegaCon). With his printing costs covered by some slim advertising support, Mr. Conley got 8,000 comics into the hands of potential readers at this year’s Wizard World Chicago show. “I decided I was much better at giving away stuff than selling it,” Mr. Conley says.

Hey, would somebody at least offer to buy a book from this guy when you see him at the Baltimore Comic-Con next month?

• Dealers pushing a ridiculous range of pop-culture stuff cleaned up with such precious items as 8-inch Marilyn Manson action figures, original Masters of the Universe animation cels (from the 1980s) and a Parker Brothers’ Six Million Dollar Man board game tempting the humans with a rebate check to burn.

Next week: Do not gaze upon Samwise Gamgee, but feel free to spend $200 to meet a Dark Lord of the Sith.

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016; fax 202/269-1853; e-mail; or write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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