When it comes to pop culture and comics-related experiences in the Seattle area, Emerald City Comic Con (ECCC) and PAX have served geeks well for years. And regular MoPOP exhibits or neighborhood retail shops such as Golden Age Collectables and Comics Dungeon do their job filling in the gaps.
But comic books are nothing without rivals and competition, villains and confrontation.
This summer, ACE Comic Con will throw down in the city from June 22-24 at the WaMu Theater & CenturyLink Field Event Center. The venue choice provides a perspective on this con’s differentiation strategy: create big-name stadium experiences with plenty of paid opportunities to interact with celebrities.
On the heels of Marvel’s “Avengers: Infinity War,” opening in theaters later this month, the ACE starting lineup will include actors Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), and Tom Hiddleston (Loki).
ACE Universe’s ACE Comic Con is the latest venture from Gareb Shamus, the founder of Wizard Entertainment, which produced the Wizard World conventions after buying Chicago Comicon in 1996.
Gareb’s brother Stephen was chief marketing officer at Wizard World until 2016, when he parted ways with the company amid a cloud of allegations and threats of legal action. Stephen Shamus and Wizard World settled their lawsuits and countersuits in early 2017 and he now serves as ACE Universe president.
Before Gareb Shamus left Wizard World in 2011, he started a face-off with ReedPOP, the events company that now owns ECCC and the PAX family of shows, in New York. Wizard World owned Big Apple Comic Con and ReedPOP produced New York Comic Con. Two years after Shamus’s departure, Wizard World ended its relationship with Big Apple, conceding New York to ReedPOP. (Big Apple Comic Con continues independently).
Shamus is not new to Seattle and has established relationships in the city.
“The Pacific Northwest is a vibrant market where we’ve run events before and have had a lot of success,” Shamus said in an email to GeekWire. “For many years we’ve worked with the greatest companies there including Wizards of the Coast, Microsoft, Nintendo, and Amazon, and the comic book publishers Dark Horse, Image and Oni.”
Seattle poses a unique opportunity for a show like ACE. Rob Salkowitz, a Seattle-based convention expert and author of “Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture” points out that ECCC, the region’s largest convention and one of the biggest in the country, does not make celebrity guests a main focus.
“The ECCC brand is strong enough that they can sell out the Convention Center for four days on the strength of their reputation and the fan experience,” Salkowitz said. “They don’t want or need the biggest name celebrities, so they don’t spend the money.”
Other regional cons are too small to deliver A-list firepower like Chris Evans or Gal Gadot. Salkowitz said that leaves an opening for a show like ACE, which caters to fans looking primarily for photo-ops, autographs and celebrity-oriented programming.
Shamus acknowledged that approach in a Sept. 24 interview with the hobby industry trade publication ICv2 where he said, “We decided to … bring in the franchise of what the core essence of what the event is going to be about, and then build an event around that. What we’re doing is we’re going after a lot of the talent and the celebrities, the top artists, and things like that first.”
Salkowitz sees Seattle as a top-tier market for all kinds of geek culture events, given the big-name technology companies who call it home, along with the hundreds of thousands of employees — many of whom enjoy comics, games and genre entertainment. Creation Entertainment, a convention company that focuses on show-specific events also sees Seattle as a good market. Previous Seattle Star Trek conventions have been joined by a March 2018 Supernatural convention in Bellevue, and a “Vampire Diaries” convention coming up in September 2018.
And because you can never have too many super heroes, MoPOP is staging its largest exhibit ever when “Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes” opens at the Seattle museum on April 21.
Meanwhile, ReedPOP has reaffirmed its commitment to Seattle.
“As Emerald City Comic Con enters its 17th year in Seattle, we remain as focused as ever on delivering our fans a well-rounded event with both content and guests reaching across every fandom,” ReedPOP events director Mike Armstrong said via email. “Our commitment to creating an amazing fan experience at the show and fostering fan communities throughout the year across the Pacific Northwest continues to be our top priority. The more we celebrate pop culture, comics and fandom in a market, the better it energizes a community, and we’ve seen this in Seattle, which has some of the best, most passionate fans in the world.”
Shamus believes his team knows the community well, too. And that fans in Seattle will appreciate a premium VIP experience. Furthermore, a West Coast event will be the most convenient for many of ACE’s international fans in the Asia-Pacific region.
Even as their city is swirling in a popular culture vortex, Seattleites are sure to accommodate everyone.
Perhaps it’s one of our superpowers.