Wizard Entertainment's Big Cheese speaks

June 2, 2008 7:29:41 AM PDT
The Chairman and CEO of Wizard Entertainment spoke with 6abc.com about the Wizard World and more. Gareb Shamus, known as the Big Cheese to fellow employees, started Wizard over 17 years ago and is recently celebrating the 200th issue of Wizard Magazine.

6abc.com: What made you get into the comic?

Gareb: I grew up creating sports cards and comic books, and I have three brothers; we were always kind of into it. One thing led to another and when I graduated college, I became very good at MAC and Apple desktop publishing, and decided I wanted to start a magazine. Because while I was at school, I read the books, but I didn't know what was going on in the industry, and that's when I really wanted to start.

You knew what Wolverine, Batman, or Spider-Man was doing, but you didn't know what [Todd] McFarlane was doing, you didn't know what Jim Lee was working on, you didn't know what Marvel had in store 6 months from now, you didn't know what DC was working on. You didn't have that information about what was going on in the industry.

6abc.com: How has the industry changed since Wizard began in 1991?

Gareb: The way the industry has changed is that comic books, we always felt, was the seed that formed the pearl of the entertainment world and the world started to take notice of that and it has for the past couple of years, where you look at the big blockbuster summer films or TV shows or video games or toy line, they're all comic book character based or comic genre based.

That has been the mass global explosion out there. A lot of celebrities want to be a superhero or supervillain and it's really amazing how that's transformed our whole business.

6abc.com: Are movies a way to generate more interest in the comics?

Gareb: What's happened is the guys who grew up reading comic books are now the producers and directors of the film or TV show. That explosion brought a lot more interest in what's the next new comic book or what's next the new character we need to get into?

What we've done is not only have we branched out with the magazines, but we have live events, where we bring the people who have created these characters, plus we have our online site, Wizardworld.com.

6abc.com: Speaking of online, are online comics heating up?

Gareb: Even though there's a fanbase and even though there might be a lot people reading them, it's a very quiet voice, because it's somebody in their house reading it; it's not somebody going to the store on Wednesday to pick up their new book. When somebody has to physically leave and go, it's a very loud type of purchase. That's why an invent like this is a loud expression of what's going on in the industry where everybody can come together and see the passion and excitement, firsthand.

6abc.com: Back to the movies, do the comics featured in the movies get surges in their readership when their respective movie is out?

Gareb: What winds up happening is that a lot of the characters that might be in the movie, such as in the last Spider-Man movie, a lot of the early appearances of Venom [comics] increased in value, a lot of the early appearances of Sandman increased in value, so things like that start to happen. The first appearance of Iron Man starts going up in value. Those books become harder to find, there's a lot more interest in them.

6abc.com: When was Wizard World the convention conjured up?

Gareb: We started the Chicago show almost 12 years ago. It was our first event, where they had maybe 4,000 to 6,000 people, and now, we had close to 70,000 people last year. This show we had almost 30,000 people last year, so, it's just incredible of how many people are coming out and having a good time. There's so many great things to see here, so it's really transcended beyond comics. It's comic books, it's anime, it's Japanese toys, it's action figures, it's gaming, we have Guitar Hero, and a lot of celebrities like Katie Sackhoff from Battlestar Galactica. We've got tons of wrestlers, whether it's Kevin Nash or the Iron Sheik. There's really so much to see and do here.

6abc.com: What do you think it is about comic books that results in the masses coming to an event like this?

Gareb: It's the male version of a soap opera. So for guys who are interested in playing out the scenarios, it's a great connection between guys and fantasy, understanding characters and how they react to each other, and really have this superheroic quality about it. It's such a great visual media; there's so many great elements about it.

6abc.com: Newspaper readership is down, as a printed medium, is the comic book industry feeling those same effects?

Gareb: Not really. People still like to collect. They still like to feel it, hold it in their hands, read it, and when they're done, keep it because it might appreciate in value. There's so many elements that it's very hard to give up the physical component of what you have.

6abc.com: Celebrating your 200th issue, you had the top 200 comics from the birth of Wizard to the present. Wizard voted Y, The Last Man the number one comic. Why was this?

Gareb: It really epitomizes, the comic book industry, in the sense that it's a book that literally didn't exist years ago, and it's something you can only do in comic books. It was such an original concept. The artwork is fantastic. The story is great. It really kind of combined all the elements of really the American dream, with creating a book from scratch and have this amazing story to tell.

6abc.com: Wizard voted Marvel's Wolverine the number one comic book character in Wizard's history? What about Spidey?!

Gareb: Well, Spidey is amazing, but I think there's something about Wolverine, that's a little bit more mysterious, that I think people are really more attracted to. Also, he's got, kind of the bad side, in addition to the good side. Wolverine's captured the imagination of the fans.

6abc.com: Do you see crossover events like DC's Final Crisis and Marvel's Secret Invasion continuing for the foreseeable future?

Gareb: The event stories are great, because it gives people a chance that may not be reading their books a starting on point. The event marketing and promotions always work out very well. It will also get you to pick up a title that you haven't picked up before or you haven't seen in a while.

6abc.com: Why do you think superheroes and comics have lasted as long as they have?

Gareb: Superheroes and comics have lasted a long time because it really is a reflection of what's going on in the world, so when you look at a lot of these characters that have existed, like Superman, comics have reflected what goes on in society and that has stood the test of time. You have a lot of young creators, a lot of existing creators, that are constantly coming up with new stories and new characters, that involve what's going on in their lives and their stories. There's always something contemporary about what's going on in the comic book world.

6abc.com: Where do you see the comic book industry going in the next few years? Do you see it growing?

Gareb: The industry is already on that path where Hollywood and television and that world has taken notice in the greatest way possible. That's just going to keep accelerating. More interest is going to be put into the comic book world, more people are going to get into creating comic books and more people are going to be able to bring in more and better talent.

6abc.com: What would you tell somebody who has never been to Wizard World?

Gareb: Come out, come with their friends. They think they're going to spend a couple hours here, they're going to wind up spending all weekend here. It really is an amazing value to come out here because there's so much to see and buy and look at.