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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
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08/16/2004 Archived Entry: "An interview with the founder of Wizard Entertainment"

In an interview with LHLS, Gareb Shamus, the founder and chairman of Wizard Entertainment spoke of the comic book industry's need to continuously "re-invent" itself, in order to grow, attract new talent, and bring new readers into the fold.

The comic book industry may be small compared to other media concerns, and people like Joss Whedon and Kevin Smith, guests at WizardWorld Chicago, are "not doing it for the money, that's for sure, especially with the kind of dollars they can get outside this industry." But with that comes a certain credibility. "So they can come into this world and do comic books, because you know they love it, you know they want to do it."

Mr. Shamus estimated that the number of regular buyers of comic books falls in the range of two to three million people. "The way I look at [comic book sales], it's the sea that forms the pearl. Even though the industry itself might be a three to five hundred million dollar a year business, there are multi-billion dollar businesses that have been created around the use of a character."

The tension between the tried-and-true, and the necessity of (re)invention surfaced in Mr. Shamus' thoughts on the challenges of attracting new readers, and female readers in particular. "It's tough, it's tough. Not a lot of women shop in comic book shops. If you're a company and you want to create a product with the widest audience, the biggest audience, you're [creating] for someone who is male. If you're going to create a product that's just for women, it's a tough sale out there. There's clearly not as many women out there to sell to."

Bringing new readers and talent into the comic book industry involves several factors, from finding a compelling character or story, perhaps from seeing a movie based on a comic book, like Hellboy, or from marketing creators like WizardWorld Chicago's Guest of Honor, Joss Whedon. "When you've got a guy like Joss Whedon, who created Buffy, there are a lot of Buffy fans out there who are going to go, 'Hey, I loved his stuff on television, I'm going to give his stuff a try, in comic books.'"

Mr. Shamus points to his company, and his magazines as offering a solution to the problem of giving new readers a starting point. "You can go to a Wizard and say "Oh, this interesting, I really like that guy's artwork," rather than trying to look at a shelf of a hundred books, and try to figure out which one you think you're going to like."

Also playing a role is the gradual expansion of comic books into new distribution channels, such as bookstores. "Comics books before were a very difficult product to sell, as stand-alone issues on the newstand, and you had people trying to sell the material who didn't know anything about it. Well, now they're available in collected editions; the companies aren't collecting stuff that didn't sell, or stuff that people didn't like, so we send our best material into the bookstores."

And despite the risks of developing new material without a proven audience, there are new kinds of comics being created and finding an audience that challenges the stereotypical image of the comic book marketplace. "That's why you need things out there like ... Terry Moore [Strangers in Paradise], and Frank Cho [Liberty Meadows], guys that can produce books that women will like, and on top of that material like manga that can bring in female readers as well." Mr. Shamus said, "There's a lot more themes that are covered in the Japanese material that aren't covered here, like love, and relationships, and those kinds of things that are attracting a lot of female readers."

According to a press release from Wizard Entertainment, the just-concluded WizardWorld Chicago Convention attracted over 54,000 attendees, up from 48,000 in 2003.

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