Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is everywhere at his first-ever Silicon Valley Comic Con, held March 18-20 at the San Jose Convention Center. He peers down at me as I enter the venue, his smiling face covered by circuitry that expands off the edge of a billboard-sized banner.
An hour later, the Woz, as he’s more affectionately known, is led to the stage by a platoon of Star Wars stormtroopers for the convention’s opening ceremony in the venue’s biggest conference room. Sending mixed messages, Wozniak is clad in brown Jedi robes at the time, but he’s no prisoner of these imperial guards. It’s more like the Woz has performed a Jedi mind-trick on Vader’s troops. Steve is in total control.
The night before, the Woz was there for a ribbon cutting with Marvel Comics icon Stan Lee. The Woz and Lee are also scheduled to give a closing address late on Sunday afternoon.
And if there wasn’t already enough Woz to go around, there are two of him at the opening ceremony (not to be confused with the ribbon cutting). The big moment here is when Madame Tussauds unveils the new Wozniak statue that will take its place next to Steve Jobs at the San Francisco Wax Museum at Fisherman’s Wharf.
During the build-up to the unveiling, Madame Tussauds General Manager Chris Cooper tells us that the Woz took “over 60 percent” of the vote for which tech innovator to add to their collection. Take that Elon Musk.
Cooper goes on to encourage “not just selfies” but “touching and feeling” of the lifelike statue of the Woz.
“This is a family show!” Wozniak’s business partner Rick White exclaims in feigned outrage.
Just as things seem like they’re about to go off the rails, the veil finally comes down and the real Wozniak is there posing next to his waxy likeness. Thousands of nerds gasp in surprise, but then let out a collective laugh. Wozniak holds the stock-still pose as long as his 65-year-old body can stand it.
“I’ve always wanted to be in a wax museum,” Wozniak says as he once again moves about the stage.
As the ceremony goes on, Wozniak and his coterie tell us that they are giving San Jose its “first comic con,” but they’re being a bit disingenuous here. I’ve been meeting artists and buying back issues at comic book conventions held in this same convention center for nearly a decade now.
Back in 2007, San Jose’s comic con was called Super Con, and it was held in a stifling tent on the convention center grounds. It was later renamed the Big Wow Comicfest and moved into the main convention hall that now houses Wozniak’s new con. So what Wozniak has really given us is a much-needed rebranding, something the current execs of the company that Woz still refers to as “Apple Computer” understand all too well.
And Wozniak’s rebranding is a staggering success with a record-setting number of fan boys and geek girls crowding the halls hoping for selfies with William Shatner or Michael J. Fox (or cosplayers dressed like them). A part of me still misses that old tent though, where I could move about freely to buy stacks of old comic books.
Every month in “Shattering Conventions,” author Bob Calhoun crashes a new tradeshow, convention or conference looking for a way to fit in—even when he doesn't always belong. Calhoun is the author of "Shattering Conventions: Commerce, Cosplay and Conflict on the Expo Floor." You can follow him on Twitter at @bob_calhoun.