Gareb Shamus might be recognized for being one of the old guards of the comic con business, but he's hoping to bring new life to that facet of the comics industry as he and his brother Stephen begin their new venture, ACE Universe.
Announced today, the new company plans to host 'ACE Comic Cons' that approach the events from a different perspective - namely, making each gathering into an arena-based, highly immersive, live-streamed event that's themed and, as they put it, "curated" around the talent who will be appearing.
Gareb Shamus is best known to comic book fans as the founder of Wizard Entertainment, the organization that operates Wizard World conventions and once published Wizard: The Comics Magazine and several news magazines covering pop culture. But he's also an artist and gallery owner, which might explain his use of the word "curated" to describe his new approach to comic conventions.
His brother Stephen Shamus served as an executive with Wizard for 25 years, most recently as its chief marketing officer. (And although he and Wizard didn't part on the best of terms in 2016, Shamus and the company have since settled their differences.)
Now the two brothers are using their convention and geek-culture know-how to launch ACE Universe. And with the company's first event just over two months away, Newsarama talked to Gareb Shamus to find out why he thinks this new approach fits modern audiences better than the comic cons he helped establish in the past.
Newsarama: Gareb, how would you describe this new "immersive approach" that ACE Universe will be applying to comic cons? And why do you think this approach fits better with today's fans?
Gareb Shamus: When we started the comic con business back in the day, we were looking for acceptance. Right? Because you had this whole world who didn't believe necessarily in superheroes or the whole geek/nerd culture.
But now we have a whole world where it's very accepting. It's actually normal. Now we're trying to create an event that embraces everybody around the world who would be interested - you know, this kind of superhero generation.
What we're doing is, we're creating a more curated and immersive type of event. And someone who's interested in superheroes - whether they're a beginner or they're in advanced stages of knowledge - they'll be able to come to the event and be incredibly engaged in the experience of it and being a part of it.
We're switching the venue. Typically, comic cons occur in convention centers. We're going to be in arenas.
That creates a much more intimate space for people. And also, when you go to our arena, you feel like you're going to an event. People typically go there for sporting events or concerts … and when they go there, they have this level of excitement that being in an arena creates. We're going to be totally taking advantage of that aura of feeling that people have.
It also gives us a chance to re-think how we want people to engage in this world. So rather than saying that we're going to have these huge open floors where we have this obligation to fill up the space, we're creating a much more curated environment.
We can have people who are the best at what they do, or they're a lot more related to the types of talent that we have, or the themes that we have, or the superhero genre that we pick.
Nrama: Give me an example of what you mean by curated and themed.
Shamus: Yeah, the first event is going to have five members of the Justice League there. That's going to give us a chance to do a lot with the comic books and the talent and people who have had influence in the Justice League universe, as well as a lot of stuff comic book related of course.
So we'll be able to theme it towards not just superheroes, but then all the different products and people associated with it.
And because there's a Jumbotron in the arena, we're going to be able to have people, no matter where they are throughout the arena, be able to view the content. So many of the complaints that you hear are related to there being a panel going on, but you're waiting in line and can't see it, but you wanted to be a part of it.
But when you're in an arena, they simulcast throughout the arena, wherever you are, whether you're picking up food, waiting in a line, or talking to vendors. You're going to be able to see what's going on there.
Nrama: So it's less of a hodgepodge and maybe something that's more targeted toward one corner of the culture. It's almost more like an event.
Shamus: Yeah, that's exactly the type of feeling and aura that we want to create - but when people are going, they're not just going to see something, they're going to be a part of something. And they're going to be a part of this community that we're going to create around the world.
So many of the things we're doing are about participating. It's not just about viewing.
Even all the panels we're going to do have way more fan participation or demonstrations or have elements to them that aren't just listening to people talk about what they've done.
We want to be able to engage the fans in ways that they haven't been able to engage before, because sometimes these shows either get too big or they might be so all over the place that it's hard to get immersed in that experience.
We're making it so that the whole event itself is engaging.
Nrama: And where is that first event?
Shamus: It's going to be at the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, New York, on December 8-10.
They just completely redid the event center, and it's beautiful. When you go there, it's all new. They have so many different areas for us to be able to create programming. There are going to be opportunities to meet with vendors, artists, writers - people of that nature. So we're going to have almost the whole rung of the corridor lined with vendors and artists and writers.
We're going to be able to put booths on the floor of the arena, so we'll be able to have not just people selling stuff, but people being able to display and show some pretty extraordinary material that people have not been able to see before.
When you think about a concert and they set up a stage and they play to 80 to 90 percent of the bowl – we're going to be reversing that. You'll have the stage, but it will be playing out to, like, an amphitheater, where they'll be a few thousand seats, so that anybody can sit in a seat and watch and see what's going on.
We're going to be using a lot of the VIP suites and VIP areas for programming.
We're using the arena in a way that it hasn't been used typically, and certainly not the way comic cons have worked in the past.
Nrama: It's difficult to imagine a comic convention in an arena, but it immediately sounds a little more upscale.
Shamus: Yeah, these arenas are new and they've really stepped it up. Even the food selection's going to be better.
The other component to it is the technology side. We'll be bringing technology in in a very big way into what we're doing.
We want people there to have an amazing time, but we also want to set it up so that no matter where you are around the world, you feel like you can participate in it. I mean, certainly, you're not going to be able to meet the celebrities, because you're not physically there, and you're not physically there to meet with the exhibitors and the dealers and participate in all the cool programming we have.
But we'll be live streaming the event to everyone in the world for free.
Nrama: OK, let's go back to that word "curated." I take it this is not a tour. Like, you're not taking the Justice League actors on a tour?
Shamus: When it comes to the talent, they're so busy these days that the opportunity to put them together might happen only once. It doesn't mean that we might not get one or two of them again down the road, but when they're filming or they've got their lives ahead of them, it's so rare to get them in one place at the same time.
So that's why, literally every show that we put together is a very, very curated experience, because it may not ever happen again. Especially with the first show that we have, to be able to get Gal Gadot and Henry Cavill in a room together three weeks after the Justice League movie, with Jason Momoa and Ezra Miller and Ray Fisher - to put those five in one place at one time is a very, very difficult task.
That's why so much of what we do is going to be curated. When you have comic cons, in the past, you've gotten a date and then that's your date every year, year after year. For us, we engineered it around working with the talent, figuring out when they're available. Then we can build events around that.
Nrama: What is the event called? Are they still called comic cons?
Shamus: The company's called ACE Universe. The events are going to be called ACE Comic Cons.
Nrama: And the live streaming will be available on social media?
Shamus: Yeah, we'll be on all the major steaming platforms, whether it's Facebook Live or YouTube or the others that people like to frequent. We're going to be distributing the content free everywhere all the time, for people to be able to access us. That's the goal. That's what our purpose is, to bring this global superhero community together.
My brother and I have, our entire lives, we've created products for people on a global basis - when we were publishing the magazines, we were in about 75 countries and in many languages. So we've worked with and dealt with so many amazing people around the world. Here's our chance now to put on an event and stream it around the world and bring this community together in one place at one time.
Nrama: We talked about this feeling upscale compared to other comic cons, and it sounds like it will take a lot of money to produce. Attending comic cons is already a little pricey, and you're adding the chance to meet actors and participate in these hands-on events. Is this going to have a bigger price tag as well?
Shamus: Yeah, the real answer is that yes, this is not a cheap endeavor. We want to create the highest quality experience for people. So we don't want to do something just for the sake of doing it. We want to make sure it's something that people will love.
We pioneered the comic con space back in the day, and we're bringing in our background in media, not only working with the talent in the comic book industry but working with the movie studios and the television networks. We've had a chance now to rethink how we can be pioneering again in this space and do something like what we would want today, and to be able to make it very, very accessible to people because we have the access. We want to be able to bring that access to people.
So it's not an inexpensive endeavor at all. But when you look at, today in the experience world, people want and desire a much more engaging experience. We want to bring that level of engagement that people expect into this industry in a way that it hasn't seen before.
Nrama: On the personal side of this, Gareb, how does it feel to reinvent the business after all these years? I guess the old dog can not only learn new tricks, but come up with a few new tricks of his own?
Shamus: Here's the thing. I think you're never too old to start something and you're never too old to learn something new. My brothers and I have lived in this industry for a very, very long time. Now we're able to take our 175 comic cons that we've produced and the 20-25 years of experience that we have, and now we can start something new without any legacy issues, able to start fresh.
We don't have to do things the old way. We don't need to satisfy some old demands. We can take our knowledge and use our access that we have and bring it to an audience on a global basis.
Our goal is to be very innovative. We want people, when they have thoughts about something new that they want to try, they come to us first. We always want to be on the furthest edge of providing that new and exciting experience for people.
One other thing - it's so great to be working with my brother again. We're best friends, so to get the opportunity to work with him is really exciting. We both come to the business in a different way, yet we're so complementary in what we do. And we share a desire to give the audience a new experience and to keep pushing the boundaries of engaging them in new ways.