PeeGee might have a few extra vacation days to spare this year.
In 1991, I first attended the Chicago ComiCon. I have gone every year since. So I was there when it was bought by Wizard Entertainment and rebranded as a Wizard World show. And it was pretty much the only game in town. I have been there through some pretty lean years. The last few years, I've even wondered why I bother going. The show is pretty much a flea market now, only tangentally related to comics. But there are people that I only see there, and it's not that far a drive, so I keep going. But this year? I might not have a choice this year.
There is a distinct possibility there won't be a Wizard World Chicago in 2017. In fact, there might not be a Wizard World at all in 2017.
The past month has been fraught with portent. Wizard has tried to rebrand itself as a pop culture hub rather than just comics. And they have tried various things, and according to their SEC filings (I'm press for Bleeding Cool, so I get these things sent to me), the results can be hit and miss. They have warned of the possibility of not being profitable in various years. In fact, according to last years report, they lost $1 mil by the time all was said and done. That, however, included things like trying to launch ConTV, their streaming service, and organizing a Wizard World cruise. The entire time, I was frankly surprised Wizard was still around. Cons are practically a license to print money, and if you have 16 shows going on a year and still lose $1 mil, you're doing it wrong.
Then, the really bad news started in October. Wizard World was started by Gareb Shamus. Shortly after the company moved on from Wizard magazine and got itself listed on the stock market through a reverse merger, Gareb was shown the door. His brother Stephen was still there, though, which I thought would make for some awkward exchanges at the family Thanksgivings, but whatever. In October, Stephen was sacked from Wizard World. Not only that, but Wizard filed a lawsuit against Stephen, alleging that he brought in talent to Wizard World that Wizard would never break even on. Stephen would allegedly get some things of his own signed by the celebrities, then he and his partners would sell them on their own, basically sticking Wizard with the costs and them with the pure profits.
If this is true, it throws a new light on a lot of the shows. Wizard World Philly had a HUGE selection of people from the Marvel Cinematic Universe there. Chris Evans (Captain America), Hailey Atwell (Agent Carter), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), and one or two more that I don't remember off the top of my head were there. These are big Hollywood names, so the riders on the contracts had to be expensive. Not only that, but, IIRC Evans and Hiddleston weren't signing autographs for just anyone, you had to buy the special VIP pass to get their autos (Hemsworth was signing for $200 a pop). There was going to a LOT of demand with a stunning number of limitations. It would be the perfect environment to pull something like this.
Stephen responded to this shortly thereafter with his own lawsuit alleging wrongful termination and saying the alleged autograph operation was bullshit. So he's seeking money.
Now, with the set-up out of the way, here comes the crusher -- on November 22, Wizard filed its report with the SEC. By handing off some of the operations for ConTV, co-owning an app with Michel Rooker, and some other stuff, Wizard is looking to make a $150K profit this year. They say it could have been higher if they had more shows. That's the good news. The bad news, though, is they lack operating capital. The report says they have enough money to stay in operation until December 31, 2016. But they lack the funds for longterm operatiosn in 2017.
This isn't, they might have trouble being profitable. Wizard says they have NO MONEY.
This does explain a couple of observations. After spending the last two years hyping up the Bruce Campbell Horror Fest that runs concurrently with WWC, there is no mention of it this year. And usually, they start putting at least a few big names on the Wizard World Chicago page by now to get those early ticket buyers. Instead, other than a replica car for Apocalypse Of Enoch, there was nothing there. Recently, they updated it with one name, Lou Ferrigno. Don't get me wrong, Ferrigno is a swell guy, but he's not the kind of draw that, say, Matt Smith and Karen Gillan are. There's presently two comic people listed, Victor Dandridge from Vantage: Inhouse and Jason Metcalf from Zenescope. Besides the AoE car is a replica of the car from Supernatural. That's it. And it took a lot longer than usual just to get this up. Other shows aren't doing too much better. Philly only has Ferrigno, Barry Bostwick, Arthur Adams, and Joyce Chin listed under Featured Guests, Adams, Chin, Dandridge, Metcalf, and Rusty Giligan listed under Artists And Creators, and replica cars from Supernatural, Jurassic Park, and Batman '66. Other shows weeble back and forth, but Philly and Chicago are Wizard's biggest and most consistent money makers. Are they still searching for talent to come to the show? Or are they trying to minimize commitments in case they go under, the shows are cancelled, and they don't want to pay cancellation fees to the talent? I'm not sure.
The lawsuit from Stephen is the part I find the most interesting. If Wizard is truly going down, and he can get a judgment before it happens, he becomes one of the earliest creditors. That means that, when the assets of the company are liquidated, anyone owed money is prioritized and they get to pick over the remains until they get what they can. And part of that is, oftentimes, assets are free of previous commitments and contracts. It is possible that a Wizard bankruptcy would void existing venue agreements and such, and Stephen can pick up the Wizard brand and IP for a song, not only bringing it back into the family with Gareb, but free of obligations to things like the Rosemont Convention Center and such, meaning they can restart Wizard and its shows with a clean slate.
I need to get my vacation requests in by December 31 of this year. I am watching Wizard and the clock very very closely right now....