One of the things I’ve missed out on by living in China is the glory of comic conventions. I went to the San Diego con — biggest in America, a number of times. I used to go to small ones in Cincinnati. Buy discount bundles of comics, get some signed by artists and writers. In San Diego, of course, many big-time celebrities to gawk at. Pretty much the funnest thing there is to do.
I did go to an animation festival in Shenzhen a few years back, and it was fun. Students making CGI films, Japanese manga translated into Chinese. But no Western comics.
With the popularity of the Marvel films all over the world, Wizard World — and I’d gone to a Wizard World in Chicago back in the day — decided to host their first convention in China at the nearby city of Guangzhou. Imagine my pleasure at hearing this!
Then imagine my extreme disappointment when I went last month and it was an abyssmal failure. 😦
Now, I didn’t expect much. Wizard World Guangzhou was beaten by the Shanghai comic con, and the reviews weren’t great. Just a bit of cosplay, toys to buy, and very little actual comics to purchase but apparently at least a few. As Marta Lives in China had written about: https://martalivesinchina.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/shanghai-comic-con/
What a long story the failure of the Guangzhou con. Where to even start?
Only a few days before schedule I’d suddenly heard that they changed venues. Guangzhou, host city of the large scale international Canton Fair, should know how to do big events. China has trade conventions all the time; I’ve been to many. Yet the new venue was suspiciously small. Apparently they built a big tent or something.
We arrived Saturday in the afternoon, and heard from friends that they’d been waiting in line in the scorching heat for several hours. Two Americans in China has more details here: http://www.twoamericansinchina.com/2015/05/the-big-con-nightmare-guangzhou-comic-con.html
Nothing but long lines. Hours and hours of this. We decided to go eat nearby, in no hurry to join the lines and wait, and gather some intel.
Finally, after hours of walking in circles just wondering if the line was even moving, the story had been pieced together. Turned out the the original venue had backed out. There were rumors they wanted to overcharge the westerners at the last minute, and/or they double-booked. Probably another stupid boring trade show about cell phone parts or something. Gosh forbid they do an exhibition with some culture.
Fanstang, the incompetent Chinese-based organization working with Wizard World (and Wizard bears responsibility too), only had time for this very small alternative location. Seemed all the vendors were cancelled. Couldn’t even buy a dang T-shirt. I never did get to see the inside, but a few others had and said it was extremely disappointing.
The only discernible point of this thing was to look at a few celebrities.
I felt silly taking pics with the crowd, but what else was there to do?
This guy is Stefon from Vampire Diaries, so I’m told. Paul Wesley.
The bald guy walking away is, believe it or not, is Dominic Purcell the older brother from Prison Break.
And this girl on the right walking away is Skye from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which I don’t watch. Actress Chloe Bennet.
And that is unfortunately all I got.
The biggest name was Lee Pace, Thranduil from the Hobbit and Ronan from Guardians of the Galaxy. Whatever.
I took these pictures when the celebrities were leaving. It was scheduled until 6:00, I figured the last hour or so could be enjoyed there, but at 4:00 the stars got fed up and left. It was over.
The remaining crowds were not happy. It was very difficult to get a straight answer about refunds. Finally, an American in charge told me the rest of the story. The police wouldn’t let the people in, as there were something like 7000 tickets sold but the venue could only hold several hundred people. Yes, that big a discrepancy. Only “VIP” tickets would be let in the next day, which cost 500 yuan, and absolutely not worth it. They were still figuring out details on regular-priced ticket refunds and sending signed autographs or something.
In the end, what a clusterfuck. An epic China fail if ever there was one.
What bothers me the most is how much it embarrasses China. Talk about losing face. All these celebrities, who have much social capital, are left with a terrible impression of doing business in China. These people are not impressed with Guanghzou. If this worked it could have been a lot of fun for fans and opened up Western pop culture to this grand country. Instead, it reinforced the worst examples of how China is not quite yet ready to be a modern country. I’m very sorry about that, but what other conclusion can be drawn? It’s true.
The lesson is to tread carefully in China, and don’t have high expectations.
That said, with my low expectations we still had some fun in China.