Wizard World Philadelphia: A First Timer’s Experience

Wizard World Philadelphia ran from May 7-May 9 this year, held in the Philadelphia Convention Center. Some of this year’s big-name guests included Nathan Fillion, Summer Glau, Haley Atwell, David Tennant, Stephen Amell, and Burt Reynolds. Plus, there were cosplay contests and concerts, and a solid supply of panels. I attended Wizard World on Saturday, May 9 this year, and it was a nice little adventure! I was excited to attend a large convention so close to home, and plan to return next year for a day or two. (I probably won’t go the whole weekend unless there are particular guests I want to see).

For some frame of reference, the only other conventions I have attended have been PAX East in Boston (for three years), and New York Comic Con in 2013.  I found Wizard World to be far less crowded, pushy, and overloading of the senses than either of those other conventions. Which was a big pro to me, because while a rush-and-crush crowd can be fun and invigorating, after a few hours it makes me wants to punch people. It was nice to be in a convention center large enough to fit the entire crowd, though it also made the event feel a little underwhelming.

The Floor

The show floor was certainly smaller than either of floors at PAX East or NYCC. There did not seem to be a designated “Artists Alley” area, like NYCC has, though one segment towards the farthest end of the floor appeared to be a little more focused on original art and prints than the others, but it did not appear to be an intentional setup. The autograph and photo op areas were in the same hall as the booths, which seemed unusual to me after attending NYCC where these sections are kept separate, and a very small food court was also in the hall (vegetarians beware: there is nothing for you there but mediocre pretzels and, if you do dairy, overly salty nachos).

My feet and stomach certainly appreciated the close proximity of the shopping and eating areas to each other. Additionally, it should be noted that I did not once have to wait in line for the bathrooms in the main hall (or anywhere that day!), and the small floor made the end-of-the-day dash through the merch booths to buy everything I had been eyeing way easier and faster than I expected.

Yours truly with a super sweet Bilbo! I want his coat.

Yours truly with a super sweet Bilbo! I want his coat.

The Panels

The panels I attended were fun, interactive, and well attended- though there was plenty of room at the start of each, they seemed to fill up rapidly once the panel began. Staff did not clear rooms between panels, so it was nice to waltz into each one without having to wait in a long line. My friend and I made it to three panels, though none of them were in the large main room  (Terrace Ballroom), so I cannot testify what the crowds were like for the big celebrity events (I am pretty bummed to have missed Haley Atwell’s panel, but I assume I would have needed to wait a long time for that one, for example). I attended the panels “Cosplay Props on a Budget,” “Crafty Thinking: Making Money Doing What You Love,” and the 2+ Comedy show, as well as the evening concert and most of the cosplay contest.

This Hawkgirl was FIERCE. Check out her mace! 

This Hawkgirl was FIERCE. Check out her mace! 

Each panel was very enjoyable, and I’d gladly attend similar ones next year. I found the panelists at both the cosplay props and the crafty thinking panels to be incredibly engaging with the audience, and useful. Similar panels I’ve attended at PAX East, for example, tend to offer few pieces of advice I haven’t already read a thousand times online, or learned first hand. This panel passed around thrift-assembled props which were inspiring and great for reference (my favorite was an arc reactor made entirely from dollar store finds). The crafty thinking panel provided a very helpful audience Q&A for attendees hoping to start their own businesses, with advice on everything from filing taxes to avoiding copyright infringement.

The 2+ Comedy Show was a fun time for everyone in attendance. The local comedians who performed were Vegas Lancaster, Will Liam, and Noah Houlihan, and this was their group’s second year performing at Wizard World Philly. They each did their own sets based around various geek life experiences and opinions, and ended the show with a laid-back Q&A session in which they offered to provide their answers to the audiences game or comic related questions (“Who would win in a fight, Sonic or Mario?”). If you live in the Philadelphia area, I definitely recommend keeping an eye out for any of these performers to check them out!

Concert & Cosplay

I ended the day by attending the evening concert and cosplay contest. The concert featured the band Critical Hit, founded and conducted by Jason Hayes, a composer for Blizzard (best known for his work on World of Warcraft). They were an incredibly talented group, though I have a particular soft spot for electric string instruments (the violinist and cellist where so cool!). If you like video-game tribute music, these guys are definitely worth looking into.

Critical Hit, rocking out.

Critical Hit, rocking out.

These women look amazing, but unfortunately Mo Lightning seemed to be focused on Drogon’s exposed skin instead the amazing craftsmanship.

These women look amazing, but unfortunately Mo Lightning seemed to be focused on Drogon’s exposed skin instead the amazing craftsmanship.

After the show was the cosplay contest, which I had been looking forward to. This was the first contest I have attended, so certainly take my opinions with a grain of salt… but I was immensely disappointed by the hosts. The contest was hosted by two men named Billy Paterson and Mo Lightning, neither of whom I was familiar with prior to that day. They had dressed in intentionally goofy, ill-fitting Hulk (Paterson) and Black Widow (Lightning) cosplays, and seemed to care more about hearing their own voices than moving the contest along. The big issue I have, however, lies with Mo Lightning. I found him to be incredibly disrespectful towards some of the female contestants: for example, I was immensely frustrated to hear him comment how he’d “like to finish her, if you know what I mean!” about a gender-bent Subzero contestant. Similar remarks were made about a gender-bent Loki, a woman dressed as Drogon from Game of Thrones, and other women with skin exposed or dresses with a high slits in the skirts. I was proud that the audience audibly groaned and bristled at many of Mo Lightning’s lewd comments, and I truly hope that Wizard World reconsiders hiring him as a host for future events.

On the bright side, the contestants were overall lovely; there were some really neat costumes, such as a ball gown-ified Serenity from Firefly and many fun iterations of Deadpool. There were several children who participated, which was predictably adorable, and a father-son duo dressed as Indiana Jones and his father. I even saw my first IRL convention-wedding proposal (and I read another happened after I left)! Plus, there was a great turnout of Steven Universe-based cosplays at the con overall, which was really awesome, and at least two Amethysts competed in the contest, which made me quite happy.

An Adventure Time/Steven Universe cross over episode needs to happen.

An Adventure Time/Steven Universe cross over episode needs to happen.

Overall…

I had a wonderful time at Wizard World Philadelphia this year, and plan to attend again in 2016. It was far less crowded than other large conventions I have attended, and I appreciated the ease with which we found nearby parking. This year there was a nice selection of panels to attend and some really cool guests, and I hope that next year sees a return of useful panels for cosplayers and professionals. Though the convention may not be worth a very long journey to attend, due mostly to the relatively small show floor, I definitely recommend that anyone in the area take the time to check it out for at least a day.