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October 24, 2017

How Keystone Comic Con will compare to NYC, Cali

For Comic Con lovers in the area, one or two conventions was just not enough

As comic books, superheroes and other nerd-adjacent entertainment have slowly taken over popular culture in the last few years, “Comic-Con” has assumed something of a cultural ubiquity, as a series of events in which fans celebrate their favorite characters, meet their heroes, and even dress in costume as them.

But in reality, there are quite a few different Comic-Cons, all over the world, which don’t necessarily have anything to do with one another.

The big one is San Diego Comic-Con International (SDCC), which was founded in 1970 as a small conference for comic book enthusiasts, but has grown into a colossus, attracting the participation of most major movie studios and regular visits from A-listers. It’s held on the West Coast each July. There’s also New York Comic-Con (NYCC), held each fall at the Javits Center in New York City. It's huge in its own right, although completely unrelated to the San Diego event.

While many Philadelphia enthusiasts have long made the trek up to Manhattan each year for NYCC, Philadelphia has its own events of that kind, most notably Wizard World Philadelphia, held for the 17th time this past year in June at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Presented by Wizard World, Inc., the event is sometimes colloquially called “Comic Con,” and it even has "Comicon" in its URL. 

Yet Wizard World is not to be confused with another event, the Great Philadelphia Comic Con, which was held last April at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, Pa.

Now, the Philly Comic-Con circuit is getting even bigger, with the announcement in early October that ReedPop, the organizer of New York Comic-Con, will launch a new event in Philadelphia in 2018 called Keystone Comic-Con. The event, scheduled for September 14-16 of next year at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, is set to feature “an all-star lineup of comic and pop culture guests, engaging panels and best in class exhibitors,” according to the announcement.

The event is just three weeks prior to the scheduled dates for next year’s NYCC.

Meanwhile, Wizard World has set its dates for May 17-20, also at the convention center. The Great Philadelphia Comic-Con has not announced 2018 dates as of yet.

The events are somewhat different in their focuses. 

While both, of course, feature lots of cosplay, Wizard World has traditionally focused on appearances by actors and other celebrities, without many panels or newsmaking events; 2017’s event featured Chuck Norris, Barry Bostwick and original Star Trek cast member Nichelle Nichols. Meanwhile, ReedPop’s Comic-Con shows have placed more emphasis on comic books, while also hosting panels. With the shows four months apart, attending won’t necessarily represent an either/or proposition for local enthusiasts.

PhillyVoice talked to the organizers of these events about their plans, what differentiates them and what we can expect in 2018.

According to Mike Armstrong, the event director for ReedPop (organizer of the September Keystone Comic-Con,) Philadelphia was a natural spot for a Comic-Con convention because it’s “a top seven market for comic book and graphic novel sales. It’s a big city that we feel has been underserved, and we’re excited to dig into it.”

Armstrong said that the Keystone Comic-Con will “start with the basics,” while also following the convention cultural custom of giving fans what they want. 

“The base of every show should start with the original medium, and then it starts to build out,” he said.

A vibrant Artist Alley, featuring comic book authors, will be a big aspect in year one, he said.

Local partnerships are planned as well, including the possibility of engaging a local brewery to produce a specialty beer for the event. They are also planning to engage the Philadelphia Public Library.

[Philly] is a top seven market for comic book and graphic novel sales. It’s a big city that we feel has been underserved, and we’re excited to dig into it.”

“We need to sit and listen to people, and listen to what they want and listen to how they want their city represented, because we don’t want this to be a cookie cutter event by any means – we want this to be an event that people in the city can be proud of,” Armstrong said.

What does Keystone Comic-Con think about their existing local competition?

“We want to make sure there’s something for everybody. We don’t lean too heavy on one leg of the chair. We’re not looking to replace. We’re looking to differentiate ourselves,” Armstrong said. 

“This is a great event. If you like comics, if you like movies, if you like anime, if you are collecting Gold and Silver Age stuff, if you’re looking for new stuff, we hope to create an event for everybody.”

We also asked Wizard World’s organizers about the arrival of their new competitor.

“Philadelphia has always been a great market for pop culture events,” Wizard World spokesman Jerry Milani wrote in an e-mail. 

“We are excited about our 18th Wizard World Comic Con, May 17-20, and we recognize that the presence of other events in the region is a testament to fans' strong appetite for top flight conventions.”

The organizers of the Great Philadelphia Comic Con did not reply to a request for comment.

The Keystone Comic-Con will likely make some announcements about attendees and guests by the end of 2017, Armstrong said, with tickets going on sale in early 2018. Wizard World’s tickets are on sale “soon,” according to the event’s website.