Wizard World visits Steel City for first time

By Craig Taylor | the Duquesne Duke

The Incredible Hulk himself made a stop in Pittsburgh last weekend, visiting the Wizard World comic convention. Gone are his days of smashing and layers of green body paint. Instead, famed bodybuilder and actor Lou Ferrigno resigns to meeting dedicated fans and seeing his hard work pay off.

Aaron Warnick | the Duquesne Duke Mayor Bill Peduto cuts the ribbon to the first Pittsburgh Wizard World comic convention, flanked on his right by “The Incredible Hulk” star Lou Ferrigno

Aaron Warnick | the Duquesne Duke
Mayor Bill Peduto cuts the ribbon to the first Pittsburgh Wizard World comic convention, flanked on his right by “The Incredible Hulk” star Lou Ferrigno

“Coming here is instant gratification,” Ferrigno said. “People come up to me, women and children, with Hulk tattoos with my signature on them. It’s great.”

Originally based in San Francisco, Wizard World now holds conventions across the country. This year, the company brought the show to Pittsburgh for the first time. Attendees had the opportunity to celebrate their favorite movies and television shows by purchasing merchandise, unique art and mint condition rare comics.

A number of panels were also held throughout the day. Discussions ranged from the legitimacy of UFO contact on earth, to a talk with stars of the cult hit television series “Firefly,” to a conversation about free speech and political cartoonists featuring Duquesne’s own Dr. Mike Dillon.

Another opportunity available to Wizard World attendees was the chance to meet celebrities from across the pop culture spectrum. Featured at the event were William Shatner from “Star Trek,” David Duchovny from “X-Files” and Ernie Hudson from “Ghostbusters,” among others.

While some fans enjoyed purchasing merchandise and meeting a few stars, not everyone was satisfied with how the event came together. Michael Duli, a University of Pittsburgh student who visited Wizard World Pittsburgh on Friday, said the ticket price is too high for what fans are getting.

“I feel like the only interesting thing to do is buy stuff,” Duli said. “It costs $35 to get in, and it seems like I’m paying $35 just to pay more money.”

Even the biggest cons are experiencing a stagnation in sales. Despite the popularity of comic book movies and television continuing to balloon, attendance at pop culture conventions has only increased marginally.

San Diego Comic Con, one of the biggest comic book conventions in the world, has seen a plateau in attendance in the past several years. According to the website Nerdist, from 2003-2006, attendance nearly doubled from 60,000 unique guests to 120,000. But since then, turnout has floated around 130,000 attendees.

Deon Smith, a vendor for Encounter Comics and Games at Wizard World Pittsburgh, said he doesn’t believe the boom in comic book media is driving new audiences to these conventions.
“It’s mostly parents and their kids,” Smith said, regarding the new comic book readership. “This is what their parents did, and now they bring their kids.”

Despite this, conventions like Wizard World carry on, with the convention planning on visiting seven more cities before the end of the year, with 17 more visits planned already for next year. Only time will tell whether Wizard World returns to Pittsburgh next year or not and what changes or improvements to the con will be seen until then.

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