Welcome to Wizard World 

Fingers crossed that this event holds true to inclusive spirit of comic book culture

After months of anticipation, it's finally here: This weekend, Feb. 20 to 22, the Cleveland Convention Center (300 Lakeside Ave.) is transforming into Wizard World Cleveland. For the first time, Cleveland is hosting a large-scale, nationally recognized convention celebrating comics and just about everything else pop culture-related. However, there is undoubtedly someone reading this thinking, "What's a Wizard World?" with thoughts of hundreds of men in robes with beards and pointy hats, wielding sticks and shouting "Expelliarmus."

Sorry, no wizards here. Well, maybe a few Harry Potter or Gandalf cosplayers. Wizard World is a brand of pop culture and comics-themed conventions held throughout the country. Wizard World is a celebration of pop culture, movies, graphic novels, cosplay, comics, television, sci-fi, toys, gaming, original art, collectibles and more. With celebrities, artists, vendors, panels and more, there's plenty to be excited about.

The list of celebrities and comics creators is too long to list here, but highlights include celebrities like William Shatner, Bruce Campbell, Ian Somerhalder, Billy Boyd, Karen Gillian, Joey Lauren Adams, James Marsters, Corey Feldman, Seth Gilliam, Michael Rowe, Jason David Frank and the WWE's Paige and Cleveland's own Dolph Ziggler.

The convention will also feature dozens of independent and mainstream comic creators, as well as special effects legend Robert Kurtzman (Predator, Army of Darkness, From Dusk Till Dawn, Austin Powers in Goldmember). This year's Artist Alley includes Eisner Award Hall of Famer Neal Adams (Batman, Superman, X-Men), Rob Liefeld (Deadpool, Youngblood), Michael Golden (Daredevil, Hulk), Arthur Suydam (Marvel Zombies, Army of Darkness), Renee Witterstaetter (She-Hulk, Avengers), Tom Cook (He-Man, She-Ra) and many more.

Some guests only appear on certain days of the convention.

The first 150 kids (16 and under) to stop by the booth of "Zombie King" Arthur Suydam will receive a free sketch on Sunday. Suydam has created covers for Deadpool, Batman, Wolverine, X-Men and many more. Additionally, all full-price attendees will receive an exclusive, limited edition, variant cover of The Walking Dead #1 drawn by Greg Horn (Elektra). Horn will be on hand throughout the weekend to sign copies (additional fees may apply).

"Greg has one of the largest followings of all our touring Wizard World artists, and his table is always among the brightest and busiest," said John Macaluso, Wizard World CEO. "His work on this limited edition issue reflects that bold, colorful style and it's a great addition to this popular The Walking Dead #1 series."

Despite the excitement, there are some outspoken insiders with legitimate concerns about Cleveland's first Wizard World event. John Dudas, owner of Cleveland's favorite comic shop, Carol & John's Comic Book Shop (17462 Lorain Ave.), fears that the convention is more interested in profits than comics.

"I really hope they succeed, but I worry that some of their policies might not resonate with Cleveland's work ethic," says Dudas. "A family of four supports the event early on and buys tickets at full price, only to see them slashed in half on Groupon and Living Social a few weeks before the event. Then a local artist pays hundreds upon hundreds of dollars to buy a table, only to have his friends offered tables for free at the last moment. It might be business as usual but it's still dirty pool. I wish they invested more of themselves into the community like Reed Pop does (c2E2 and New York Comicon), and came off less like carpet baggers. Cleveland tends to like things that are homegrown and not part of a franchise. Really, these things have very little to do with the hobby of comic collecting anymore, and I don't like the circus-like cash grab to be associated with the hobby."

On Saturday, Feb. 21, Carol & John's is sponsoring Pulp Panel Pin-Ups: A Collection of Comic Book Inspired Pin Up Art. The exhibition will be the final show at Lakewood's Breakneck Gallery (17020 Madison Ave.). Many of the participating artists have worked with Dudas on various projects at Carol & John's over the years, and have helped Dudas use comics to make a profound impact on our community. Wizard World would be wise to listen to Dudas. He has used his comic book shop as a catalyst for community engagement with recent events including an anti-bullying campaign, a Batman 75th Anniversary event and one of the best Free Comic Book Day events in the country.

It's no secret that Cleveland has a rich history of comics and cartooning. While Wizard World organizers have yet to release information regarding their programming, including panel discussions and Q & A sessions, it doesn't appear that Wizard World is doing a lot to promote Cleveland's unique role — or the numerous comics-based movies filmed in Cleveland. The convention is exciting for the city; it's a celebration of something near-and-dear to a lot of hearts. Hopefully next year will be a celebration of Cleveland as well.

Wizard World isn't cheap, but your overall cost will depend on how "rich" of an experience you want. Three-day passes have sold out. Admission is $35 on Friday from 3 to 8 p.m., $45 on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and $40 on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Autographs from this year's top celebrity guests range from $30 for Michael Rowe to $80 for Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner. Want a photo? Those range from $40 to $85, with additional fees for extra prints or digital downloads. VIP tickets and special packages are available at premium prices.

The full experience is definitely going to cost you but, for some, it may be priceless.

See Wizard World's website, wizardworld.com/home-cleveland, for more info.

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