The Pop-Up Disruptor Con

ACE Comic Con heads to Seattle this week with a stripped down, star-focused model. Will it work?

If we’re being honest, ACE Comic Con is a misnomer. While there will be a handful of comic-book creators at the event that takes over CenturyLink Field Event Center and WaMu Theater this weekend (June 22–24), the festivities aren’t about digging through box after box searching for an old issue of The Fantastic Four or anything like that. ACE isn’t a convention focused on comics, but the superheros that arose from those pages. And in the modern era that means one thing: blockbuster movies.

ACE’s calling card is star power, and it’s got plenty. In the most-ambitious crossover event since … well … Avengers: Infinity War, the con brings Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Vision (Paul Bettany), The Flash (Grant Gustin), writer/director Kevin Smith, weirdly some World Wrestling Entertainment superstars (Shinsuke Nakamura and Becky Lynch), and more to Seattle for days of panels and photo ops.

Created by Wizard magazine founder Gareb Shamus, ACE Comic Con launched last December as a sporadic traveling event, and Seattle is the third incarnation (after previous stops in Long Island and Glendale, Ariz.). Will the con be a star-studded superhero dream for fans, or will it lack the communal feeling of more traditional comic cons? Only time will tell.

To get a sense of what ACE Comic Con might have to offer, we chatted with Shamus about ACE’s origins, cons versus “experiences” (his favorite word), and what fans can expect.

SW: What led to the creation of ACE Comic Cons?

Shamus: My brother and I had been in the business a very long time. At the time when we started [Wizard], there were only maybe 10 to 20,000 people going to these comic cons. We really pioneered the way in which we brought the whole culture into that world, because we had been working with all the movie studios, television networks, and toy companies.

Back then it was about being accepted. Being a geek or a nerd was like being an outcast, a loser, or a loner. So now when we cut to today—now that we’ve been accepted—it’s all about building community. That was really at the heart of what we were thinking about when we decided to [start ACE]. How do we make the entire superhero world feel like they’re part of one global community?

Once we started with that theme, we said, “OK, how can we reinvent the comic-con space?” We started thinking about all the things that we did that were great: all the new things that were coming out, all the new technology, all the new ways of engaging audiences, while taking away things that we felt like were the old model.

We developed a plan where we can bring in the biggest celebrities in the world and let the audience have access to them in a way that they’ve never had access before. We also wanted to make it so that [the experience] is not just for the people there, but for anybody anywhere. So that’s why we said we’re going to livestream these panels and open it up so fans themselves can bring in their phones and stream it to their Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, however they want to share their experience with their friends. We really wanted to create that very inclusive experience for people, because oftentimes these things become very exclusive. That was kind of the genesis of it.

What elements of the old con model have you outright rejected?

Well the first theory was that we wanted to not be a convention, we wanted to be an experience. When you think of a convention, it’s almost like a supermarket—where you’re going aisle to aisle. So much energy and resources went towards big convention spaces, and unions, and shipping, and personnel.

The second thing was creating a lot more of a curated experience. A lot of these conventions have turned into a big mishmash of stuff: You have artists, writers, retailers, celebrities, and so much of everything in every genre, in every facet. What we wanted to do was say, “We’re going to curate the talent. And because of that, we’re going to curate all the artists, writers, and people that had an impact on the people that we’re featuring. We’re going to bring in retailers and dealers that have material that’s a lot more curated to the talent we’re bringing into the show.” Because we don’t have a lot of space for the dealer booths or every single artist or writer that wants to participate.

It’s definitely been a little bit of a mind-shift in terms of how the fans think about what they’re going to be experiencing. Because a lot of people have gone to comic cons before, so they come in with a certain level of expectation. And we want to change people’s perception of the way it’s going to work. So we definitely ask people to have an open mind. The other part of that is because of the nature of talent that we have, we’re getting a lot of people that have never been to these things before.

We kind of look at ourselves as more of a superhero show than a comic-book show. We want to be able to celebrate these people that have had an impact on these superheroes that we love, not just about the people that created the comic books that we love.

Is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to at the Seattle ACE?

We have Kevin Smith coming on Friday night to host one of his talks, and then we’re going to have Kevin host two of the panels: the Tom Holland panel and the Vision and Scarlet Witch panel. So that’s going to be a real treat for people. It’s offering something to our audience that they would never normally be able to get. It’s our dream to make that happen. If we can’t wait for it for it to happen, then we really can’t wait for our fans to see it.

ACE Comic Con

June 22–24 | CenturyLink Field Event Center & WaMu Theater | $46–$96

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