This weekend’s Wizard World in Tulsa was my third and possibly last con. Judging by the crowd this Saturday afternoon, it may be Tulsa’s last one as well.
Tulsa is a mid-sized city deep in the heart of fly-over country. It's never gonna get the big-named celebrities that a San Diego or London Con will get. J.J. Abrams is never gonna fly out to show us a never-before-seen clip of his new Star Wars movie. We’re small potatoes. Always will be.
What we do get is some interesting, decently famous celebrities giving talks, answering fan questions, and posing for photos (for a price). We get non-celebrity panels on all sorts of pop-cultural topics. Then there are the booths selling a smorgasbord of nerd-related products and of course cosplaying fans posing for pictures.
All of this is super cool, great, and fun. I’ve enjoyed my time going to Wizard World over the last few years (I missed last year's as it moved to Oklahoma City), but at some point (and that some point appears to be appearance number three for me), it all starts to feel a little too same-y. The celebrity talks have alway been the big draw for me and while they can be very enjoyable to listen to, they also tend to feel a bit perfunctory for the celebrities. Look up any celebrity talking at any con and you will find them telling the same stories over and over. I don’t blame them for it; there are surely only a certain number of stories they have to tell, find the ones the fans enjoy the most, and give it to them. It just tends to feel like a night time talk show to me after awhile and I stopped watching talk shows decades ago.
I suppose there are interesting pop-culture talks at these things, but I’ve never found them. Whenever I’ve tried one, it's always been the most awkward speaker blathering on incessantly like that guy at the video store who can’t stop talking about the new Star Trek series when all you want to do is rent the latest Coen Brothers film. I do enjoy the vendors and I always try to find some cool stuff from independent artist. This year I scored some really cool-looking Studio Ghibli posters for a real good price. The cosplay is also always enjoyable. I eternally stand in awe of folks who make their own costumes, especially when they get really inventive by mixing up their characters into interesting mashes. This is where Tulsa failed me this year. The crowds were really sparse. I came on Saturday afternoon which should be the most crowded time for any con. The previous two times I’ve gone at the same time and it was wall-to-wall people. This time I could have danced a jig on the main floor and not bumped into anyone.
I had planned to come all day, but my kid got sick and I was feeling guilty leaving my wife home alone with her so I skipped the morning activities and made it with just enough time to walk the vendor floor before the Ryan Hurst and Ron Perlman talk. I expected this to be overcrowded and really lively. I was wrong on both accounts. I’ve seen interviews with Perlman before and they were always fascinating and really entertaining. Today, he seemed bored. I’m sure it didn’t help that the auditorium wasn’t even half full. He mumbled most of his answers and rarely said more than half a sentence in response to any question. When asked about his impressions of Tulsa (he just finished shooting a movie here), he made a crack about how dead downtown was after work hours and changed the subject. Hurst had a bit more energy, and you could at least understand what he was saying, but he wasn’t exactly lighting the place up.
My plans were to listen to Billy Boyd talk about his time in Middle Earth but after a text from my wife indicating she was going a bit stir crazy and the lackluster talk from Hurst and Perlman, I decided to cut my losses and head home.
I don’t know why the crowds were so small this year. The celebrity roster was a little thin - others making appearances included Charisma Carpenter, Brianna Hildebrand, Holly Marie Combs, Kane Hodder, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Nichelle Nichols (who didn’t give a talk but was available for photos and autographs), Brian Kraus, Drew Fuller, and Hale Appleman. That’s not a knock-out list but it ought to have brought in more folks through the doors. I’d blame in on the small Tulsa market but the Chicago con was equally thinned out. Maybe there are just too many cons happening these days (I know of at least two more coming to the Tulsa area this year). Maybe the price is too high (it will set you back at least $50 just to walk in the door, not including any autographs you may seek or toys you may desire). Or maybe it's something else.
For me, it's just not that exciting anymore. Unless they get a celebrity that I really love, or find some other way to liven things up, I’ll likely be skipping the event next year (that is, if they even have it in Tulsa again).
I don't want to end on a sour note. Wizard World brought what they always do - celebrities, nerds, cool gifts, and costumes. No doubt many who came had a wonderful time. If you are looking for a fun con and you don’t want to fly to the coast to do it, then Wizard World will bring the fun to you. But for me, next time I think I'll stay home, pop in a Blu-ray, and hope for a sale at my local comic shop.