Interview: ACE Comic Con Founder Gareb Shamus Talks Conventions, Fandoms, and More!
We are just three days away from the comic convention event of the year. With one of the most exclusive line-ups, never-before-seen celebrities, and an array of vendors, exhibitors, artists, and cosplayers, ACE Comic Con Midwest is shaping up to be the highlight of the year. We have the honor of covering the event as press and will have several writers and photographers at the event! Leading up to the con, we’ve already interviewed two artists (check out our interviews here and here!), but adding even more to that, we had the exclusive opportunity to talk to Gareb Shamus, who is one of the founders of ACE Comic Con.
Nerds And Beyond: Could you introduce yourself to our site?
Gareb Shamus: Hi, I’m Gareb Shamus…CEO and one of the founders of ACE Universe, a live experience and media company founded by my brother, Stephen, and me. Together we’ve produced over 180 Comic Con events over the past 25 years and created a global community of superhero fans!
Nerds And Beyond: When did you start working in the convention business, and what made you pursue this career?
Gareb Shamus: When we started back in the mid-90s, it was really just meant to be a party to help celebrate the magazines I published, and for the people that had a passion for comic books. So many people showed up that it blew us away. A big part of our life was built around being accepted, because we were the “nerds” and the “geeks” and the outsiders. It was incredible to see the number of people who came out to those initial shows and shared this deep passion for these characters. When we recognized the ability to come together and celebrate these characters and their stories, we knew we wanted to build an even larger platform for people to gather and develop a community built on this culture.
Nerds And Beyond: When did you decide to found ACE and why?
Gareb Shamus: With the success of the superhero genre and its injection into mainstream pop culture, we really wanted to reinvent the comic con business and whole comic con experience. We had worked to popularize it for so many years, and my brother and I wanted to get back into the business and give fans a new and exciting way to experience it. The landscape for conventions got bigger, but it hasn’t changed. When we first started, you were considered a “geek” or “nerd” for liking comic books. Now, these characters are some of the most culturally significant figures around the world. So we knew that we had to fundamentally change the way people experience conventions and aim to make ACE an inclusive and welcoming environment that was built on what was driving the industry’s booming popularity: the global movie and television franchises.
Nerds And Beyond: What do you think makes ACE different from other conventions, as you manage to book celebrity guests who are not known for doing many conventions or doing conventions at all?
Gareb Shamus: We knew we wanted to bring out the biggest celebrities in the world and create once-in-a-lifetime experiences. When fans get to meet these celebrities, they feel like they are meeting real-life superheroes, and that is a rare experience that we are trying to make more available — and not just for fans that attend. We really try and make these stars as accessible as possible, and that is why all attendees are provided access to the panels with our headliners. We also live stream all our panels to fans around the world, an unprecedented move that is aimed at giving everyone a chance to see these blockbuster actors and actresses.
Nerds And Beyond: How do you choose who you contact for appearances?
Gareb Shamus: Well, as fans of these franchises ourselves, we look for the heroes and villains that we get excited about and would want to meet. I grew up with these characters and getting to interact with the individuals who portray these iconic superheroes in film and television is incredible. We look to give fans that experience each time they come to ACE.
Nerds And Beyond: As the founder and organizer, what is your goal for each event?
Gareb Shamus: It’s all about acceptance. We want to make sure that anyone that is here, and even those that join us through social media or by watching our live-streamed panels, feel included. We have a very open-door mindset. We want to make sure everyone feels welcomed and has access to the best in the business. We curate each show, bringing in the biggest names from across the industry. Whether you grew up in your local comic book shop or are learning about the characters through their films and shows, there is a place for you here.
Nerds And Beyond: What is the most difficult/challenging part of the convention business?
Gareb Shamus: At ACE we welcome everyone, no matter how you were introduced to the characters. A majority of our attendees have learned to love these characters through films and television, but there is also a legacy fanbase that grew up reading the comics. When you are creating an event for all of these individuals, this can sometimes create a particular challenge of balancing the interests of different fans. With ACE, we’ve aimed to make an inclusive event and build a global community of fans, no matter how you have been adopted into geek culture.
Nerds And Beyond: Do you feel there has been a shift in the con business that has moved from a vendor oriented to more experience/panel oriented?
Gareb Shamus: In some ways yes, because the shows are so driven by the celebrity component. These big name celebrities are a huge draw for people and a large part of the reason they come from around the world to join us. But at the same time, we still have hundreds of great exhibitors and vendors that come to ACE and are bringing the best in the business. You have to be able to create a unique experience for fans, or you’ll be like everyone else. Our goal was to be different by making all our fans feel like VIPs.
Nerds And Beyond: If you’ve attended conventions as a fan, what was your favorite part of them?
Gareb Shamus: When I was younger, I would go to these small hotel shows that were so tiny, but you could spend the whole day flipping through back issues or checking out those rare first appearances. As a kid, it was the most exciting thing I could be doing, especially having grown up reading comics. As adults, my brother and I were in a position where we wanted, and could, bring the top artists, writers, and vendors under one roof and celebrate this shared love of comics, superheroes, and all things nerdy.
Nerds And Beyond: Do you have any advice for a first-timer at a convention in general, or a first-time ACE visitor?
Gareb Shamus: My advice would be to not hesitate to come out. All are welcome. I think people can get intimidated by the idea of attending a comic con for the first time thinking they need to have a collection of comic books or need to know the history of the character, but that isn’t the case at ACE. This is an inclusive environment where all are welcome. And when you get here, you are going to find thousands of other fans that share the same passion.
Nerds And Beyond: What’s the feedback/response from the (high profile) celebrity guests about your events like?
Gareb Shamus: They really appreciate the genuine fan interaction. They see that we are putting guests first and creating these incredible experiences around the characters they portray, and they want to be a part of that. We’ve worked really hard, and we’ve been lucky enough to introduce several of these stars to the Comic Con scene. They come out because they know we are going to do things the right way, both by them and the fans. And at the end of the day, we want to make this a fun experience for them as they interact with fans.
Nerds And Beyond: What’s your goal for your company in the future? Are there any aspects not part of the con that you would like to add or change in the future?
Gareb Shamus: With ACE’s focus on inclusiveness, our attention turns to bringing in the companies that produce so many great products, allowing them to reach fans and audiences on a global scale. We also want to expand our franchise on the movies and television side. For our upcoming Midwest show, we have a great collection of stars from across the industry. We have the biggest names that represent the future of the MCU with Brie Larson, Tom Holland, and Chris Hemsworth. We have some of the biggest names on television with Norman Reedus and Kit Harington. And then we’ve brought in the stars of one of Netflix’s most popular shows, [Chilling Adventures of] Sabrina with Kiernan Shipka and Ross Lynch. We want to continue to bring out those stars that fans get excited about.
Nerds And Beyond: Which region would you like your events to expand to?
Gareb Shamus: We have several great locations that we are eyeing for future shows, including new venues that we have never been to before. Regardless of where we go, the fans have been incredible, coming in from literally around the world to come to our shows. The fans get to meet their favorite superheroes, and we know they will continue to follow us wherever we go next, because ACE brings a truly unique experience to fans that they will never be able to find anywhere else.
Nerds And Beyond: Since we’re a “nerdy” site, we always ask some nerdy questions in our interviews:
– What do you get nerdy about?
Comic book art. [I’ve] been a collector since I’ve been a kid and really appreciate it.
– Who’s your favorite superhero?
– What color would your lightsaber be?
Black. That would be cool.
– What was your first fandom?
The Six Million Dollar Man. I’d literally jump off the curb in slow motion.