Interview: Gareb Shamus of ACE Comic Con

Ace Comic Con is one of the newest hot topics in the comic and entertainment convention world. Conventions come and go all the time, many of them failing. The founders, Gareb and Stephen Shamus, are what makes this convention stand out from the rest.

The Shamus brothers are well known in the comic con business as they are considered, by many, as the forerunners to today’s comic con model.
Gareb is probably best known in the comic world as the founder of Wizard Entertainment, the current owners of the Wizard World conventions and the former publisher of Wizard: The Comics Magazine. Stephen Shamus served as an executive with Wizard World for many years. Together, the brothers have decades worth of experience in the comic con industry.

The brothers have combined their knowledge, contacts and experience to form ACE Universe, which has recently announced two separate conventions. One in New York with the cast of Justice League and one in Arizona.

PopCultHQ had the opportunity to interview Gareb regarding these new conventions.

PopCultHQ – I guess I will start with this new convention, Ace Comic Con. What makes it different from the other conventions that are out there?

The thing that we wanted to do most was to reinvent the way people experience superheros. And we wanted to be able to rethink the way the business was done, in a way that kind of brings it into the future. And because we have done the most, virtually out of everyone, my brother and I combined have done 175 different comic cons out there, we kind of pioneered the business, pioneered the model. [We] created the business model for it and that hasn’t changed since the day we started. It’s gotten much bigger, but it really hasn’t changed. And for us it was, if we were to start the business today, which we are, how do we create something that is taking this superhero and character based business, that we love and creating a much more engaging experience.

And we kind of set about from the ground up. What are the things about the event business that we love? What are some of the things that we didn’t like? What are some of the things that consumers loved about it? What are some of the issues we’ve had over the years and how do we solve them? And ultimately, from a producers stand point, what are the things that will make it easy for us, but also better?

But it all started with the premise of “How do we get the fans more engaged and how do we fill the global community so that when people come to our events or experience anything we do, they feel like they are a part of something bigger?” and we set out with that purpose.

PopCultHQ – Why the name ACE?

We wanted to do something that when you hear that word it has different meanings for different people, but it always kind of centers around something that means either number one or something that people are looking to achieve, or the best or something that people are always on the hunt for. We just wanted something that was quick, inviting and really kind of embodied what we wanted to say.

PopCultHQ You are talking superheroes and you call it ACE Comic Con. So how much of it will be truly comic-related and how much just fan-based with TV stars and such?

So everything we are going to do as a comic con are going to be character-based so for us it doesn’t matter which world or which media the characters exist in, they are going to be welcome in what we do. When you look at how people have come to love the character in this world, so many of them have come from different media, so whether people have come to appreciate the actors, or the celebrities, or the characters themselves – what have you. Whatever media that people have engaged with them as a first way in, we are going to be working with them. So whether it’s the comic books or the movies to the television or the toys or the gaming or virtually any other way, especially in the future where its coming in through augmented reality and virtual reality any single possible way that people engage with these characters and these superheroes we will be working with it.

PopCultHQ – I notice that you have a lot of big names already scheduled for New York and a few hints for the other event. How much will be comics? Will you have an artists alley?

So what we launched with, we are going to have kind of rolling announcements as to all the amazing things we are going to have at the events, so there is no question that we are going to have some really amazing talented artists and writers there. We are going to have people that are [a] facet in every aspect of how these superheros have changed the lives of people around the world. So, it’s not just people that have created the characters or created some of their identities over the years, but also other people that have had a really significant impact on how we view these characters. So when you look at people who have been instrumental in their design for movies or television or toys or gaming, you are talking about people that have spent careers helping to develop a look, a feel, a voice or interactivity that engaged fans. And those are the type of things that we want to be able to do and as we’ve gotten started already and as we progress we are going to start being able to show and bring those type of people along for our audiences to be able to meet and greet, and experience.

ACE Universe logo (PRNewsfoto/ACE Universe)

PopCultHQ – So you are sort of keeping the same format, you are just trying to make it more interactive?

Yeah, so a lot of what we are doing is first being a lot more curated about it. So because of the nature of the venue we are in and by sheer size it is not unlimited space, so what we are doing is figuring out how to bring in a much more specific type of whatever we do…whether it’s the panels that we are going to do, or the talent that we are bringing in, or the artists, or the illustrator, or writers, or anybody of any nature that we are bringing in especially the vendors. We want to be able to have the right types of people there that fans are going to want to meet at that time. So it’s going to be a way more curated experience and then as well for us it’s all about engaging fans and having them feel like they are a part of it as opposed to being  a spectator. Our goal is for someone when they come to our show to feel like they are part of it and that they were a part of making it as great and extraordinary as it was.

PopCultHQ – Why did you decide to do two of them in the first year, seeing as yes, you have been doing conventions forever, but you are basically starting at the ground again?

Well the thing is that even though this is what some people traditionally call a start-up, the reality is that we really did a lot to popularize and build comic cons all over the place, so we really have a lot of built-in resources and connections and relationships and all the types of things. When you want to go [with a start-up] you wouldn’t have all those type of things already in place. Because my brother and I have been doing this our whole lives, when we wanted to start this we knew all the right people we wanted to bring in. We said to ourselves we want to do VIP packages and we have the best person working on VIP packages, and we wanted someone that was dealing with the arenas and we got the best person dealing with that, and we wanted someone dealing with all the artists and writers and we got the best person dealing with that.

And [that is] what we’ve got, people to do right from the start because we don’t have any legacy issues. Because it’s not as if we have been working with someone for a really long time and now we have this obligation. We were able to site down and say if we were to have the best person working with us on this who would that be? And we know who that person is, and we found them and they are working with us and we’ve had a near 100% rate at which the people we wanted to work with us, are working with us now. And some of them come from this industry and a lot of them don’t and  we were able to bring a lot of fresh perspective, and a fresh set of eyes, and fresh blood into an industry that is pretty mature

So when people look at this company, even though it is a start up it is almost as if we had been operating for 10-15 years together. So that is number 1 and number 2 is that is that one of the core aspects of what we are doing and how we are doing it is that we want to be able to [do what we want.]

When you do a convention show, the first thing you do is that you try to get the dates. Because these convention centers are so busy it is important to lock down your date.and write it in stone and that is going to be your date forever. You can’t move, you can’t change, if you don’t take it, you are going to lose it. And we didn’t want to get locked into that. And also once you do that, that’s when you have to figure out, “okay, well this is our date, who’s available?”

We are taking the opposite approach, we are saying to ourselves, okay this is our show and we want to know who is available first. And especially because the celebrity talent has gotten so big, and so global, and so famous, that it takes a long time to be able to work out the opportunity to bring those types of people to the event. So for us, it was try to lock down the talent and then we can build an event around them. And in the case with us getting started we were working on quite a number of  big name celebrity talent and we were able to secure some pretty amazing celebrities. And we announced the first event in Long Island with the cast of Justice League- Gal Gadot and, Henry Cavil and Jason Momoa, and Ezra Miller. So we were able to get some pretty extraordinary celebrities for that event and it just so happened that some of the other celebrities that we were talking to were also available, just not at the same time. At a different time so we were able to set up a second event for them. Which we’ve announce a place and time we just haven’t announced what the talent is going to be yet for that, which we will hopefully doing soon.

But our goal is to be able to put on events as we start locking up the extraordinary talent we are going to be able to create events around them. It gives us a chance where we aren’t locked in. if we get great talent we do a show…if we don’t, we don’t

So we are never in a position where we are putting something together just for the sake of putting it together. We are always putting something together because we have a purpose and we have a drive. We have a franchise, we have a theme, we have something that will drive a lot of the excitement and interest for what we want to do. And not do it just because the date on the calendar is coming up and we either do it, or we lose it.

PopCultHQ – And then you are scrambling at the last minute because there are film cancellations or whatever.

Right. With the talent we are doing. They are such big talent. We literally have to work with every aspect of their lives to make sure that they carve out that time and create that part of their calendar where we are part of their calendar. And also taking it even further with celebrities, as you have seen with Henry Cavill. I don’t know if you have seen it or not, but he posted on Instagram and tagged his other fellow celebrities.

So we are even trying as much as possible to get the celebrities themselves engaged with what they are doing and get them excited about it and get their fans excited about it so that is also something that has been very very challenging in the past to do. But because of the nature of what we are doing and how we are doing it, even the talent themselves are super exited about doing it, about participating in it.

PopCultHQ – Probably giving my age away here, but I remember when all conventions were small and held in hotel conference rooms and back rooms of comic stores and such. Besides size, what do think are the biggest things that have changed about conventions over the years.

I think just the size and how many there are, you know. I know I think people thought it was almost like the gold rush, where they could take any open space, call it a comic con add a couple of celebrities, a few artists and writers, sell a few dealer tables  and all of a sudden they have themselves a comic con. And it was that proliferation of it that was surprising. I think what was the biggest part of it.

And I think San Diego has just done such an extraordinary job. I also think that when people think of comic cons, that is the one that comes to mind and then they almost project that all [the] others are like that, when in fact there is only one San Diego. Its extraordinary what they have done and how they have succeeded and year after year produced a new and exciting event.

But for us it is about doing something different. I mean now what we are doing is we are trying to create a much more engaging, a much more curated experience. Something that is much more intimate because we don’t have unlimited space. We want to make sure that everybody that wants to be there is going to be there and that everybody that is there is going to be involved, and that they are going to participate, and they are going to have a great time. They are going to come with their friends and they are going to feel like they are part of something bigger. And then on top of that..at the very core aspect of what we are we are going to be…. global live-streaming the event everywhere. And we are doing that for free. So that everyone, whether they are there or not there  will feel like they are part of the event as well, so that is also a very big aspect of it for us. My brother and I over the years have created such a phenomenon for people all over the world and we want to be able to continue to share that with people. No matter why they are there. If they want to be able to see Gal Gadot we are going to try and get them as close to her as they physically can without actually being there. And the same thing we are going to do with everything that is going on at the event

PopCultHQ – Along the lines of intimacy with photos ops and such…A lot of the bigger cons have it set up as a cattle call. You walk in, get your photo and you are gone. You don’t get to interact with the celebrity at all. Are you going to slow that process down? Make it more intimate? Perhaps limit the ops?

There is no question that the talent can only meet so many people while they are there. So the goal is to meet as many as they can while they are there, so there is no question that a big part of doing this for them is that they are not going to get out and see their fans in this particularly structured way that often. So this is a great opportunity for them to meet as many of their fans in this type of setting as possible.

The difference also is that when you are at a lot of other shows, because it is a convention center, if you are in one place, you can’t be in a second place at the same time. And we are going to be making it so that we have pretty short windows in terms of how long people have to wait because they will be time stamped so that  they are not going to have to wait in a long line. And because of the nature of the arena itself people can sit down while they are waiting and then also because of the nature of the arena we will be able to lower the jumbo-tron so that no matter where you are you can watch the programming going on. So whether you are in line for a celebrity or talking to a vendor or you’re out getting food, when you look at the way they simulcast events while you are there. If you are out getting a pretzel during a concert, they are simulcasting the concert while you are in line getting a pretzel. So we are going to go do the same thing, so that no matter where you are, you are not going to feel like If I wait in line for a celebrity then I’m not going to get to the programming that’s going on.

We are setting it up in a such a way that you can, that you can access the programming that is going on.

PopCultHQ – I think a lot of people will appreciate that because that is a very big thing. You miss a panel because you are waiting for a celebrity or your miss your celebrity because you were watching your panel.

And that is what we wanted to do we wanted to be able to listen to what people have been saying throughout the years. But you really couldn’t solve the problems, even though people were saying it . and you’d try to come up with solutions, there were no solutions to that. But because of the way the arenas are set up.  That solves a very big issue that fans have had for very many years

PopCultHQ – You were talking about the live streaming. Will it be recorded so it can be watched later?

Yes. It’s not going to be a “you don’t watch it you will miss it.” It will be recorded. There is going to be some stuff that might be time limited but in general if you can’t watch it while it is happening live, you should be able to watch it afterwards.

PopCultHQ – Speaking of celebrities, which one celebrity living or dead would you give anything to have at one of your shows that you haven’t been able to?

There is definitely a couple. I would probably say there is one in particular, Harrison Ford is one of them. I did have the chance to meet him on a movie set once and spoke to him for probably ten minutes and it was just awesome to be able to talk to him and it was just me and him and to be able to take that experience and hopefully be able to maybe one day share it with the world will be pretty cool.

PopCultHQ – I think that is all the questions I have I really appreciate you talking to me. Thank you and I wish you the best of luck in this new venture.

 

 

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