Holy ravioli, Batman! The geeks have inherited the Earth!
Gone are the days of secret comic book collections and hiding your fluency in Klingon and Elvish. Now nerds of all stripes are free to share their enthusiasm online and in person, and assemble in huge numbers at events such as the Wizard World convention in New Orleans from Friday through Sunday .
John Maatta is CEO of Wizard World, making him the Willy Wonka in this equation. His conventions invite fans to break free of the confines of their computer screens and celebrate their favorite fictional worlds together in the real one.
“I love the community experience, and I love to see all the cosplayers and fans enjoying themselves. That’s what’s gratifying to me. … Here, it’s a real collective energy and I love it,” Maatta said.
Maatta said he wants Wizard World conventions to appeal to a wide spectrum of fans: hardcore collectors, "cosplayers" (those who costume as favorite characters), autograph-hunters and families.
“My intention is to keep improving the fan experience. …We notice that a lot of families come, and in the past, there was nothing that was directed at the kids," Maatta said. "We try to have live entertainment, local acts, local music … so it becomes more of something for everyone and a better fan experience.”
Wizard World conventions bridge the gap between colossal cons like the one in San Diego and more niche “mom and pop” events by offering a show that caters specifically to fans but still manages to bring the shiniest names in geekdom to your hometown.
“What we try to do is to bring the biggest stars that we can, international stars, into the local community," Maatta said. "So instead of having to travel to California or New York, we try to bring the biggest, the best and the local into your backyard.”
Big-name celebrities such as Stan Lee, David Tennant, of "Doctor Who," and Jason Momoa, of "Justice League," draw in lots of fans, but Maatta said he knows the bedrock of the comic convention universe are local artists, and he makes sure they always have a place at his conventions.
“Talent is where you find it, whether you’re in Des Moines or Richmond," he said. "I think we’ve got a mandate to provide an opportunity for local artists to have a platform. … It’s a really important part of the community. It’s a symbiosis.”
Wizard World also offers educational panels on topics ranging from prop design to social media branding strategies, so whether you’re looking to be a better nerd or a better business owner (or both), they have you covered.
“We do everything we can to put on panels we think the fans will like," Maatta said. "Because the universe of fandom is so broad, having a panel on cosplay makeup or how to sew may not appeal to everybody, but it is important to some of the fans. So we try to be extremely eclectic with the panels we put on.”
Entertaining audiences from a distance is one thing, but nothing compares to seeing a whole convention center full of people laughing, having fun and sharing their pop culture obsessions with one another.
“What I really like is the personal connection," Maatta said. "The closest I got to fans for all those years I was in television was when I’d get the Nielsen ratings every morning. … So now I try to meet as many fans as I can when I go to the shows. I want the fan experience to be perfect, and really earn their attendance.”
What: Wizard World Convention
Where: Ernest N. Morial Convention Center
Admission: Starts at $39.95 per day/$79.95 for three days