A few summational thoughts on the Chicago branch of the Magical Comical Tour

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airbender 700x523 1 A few summational thoughts on the Chicago branch of the Magical Comical Tour
Since my Spring convention schedule wrapped up on Monday, I’ve been trying to just sit quietly on the porch with my eyes closed, but I had some links and thoughts and thingies about the just passed C2E2 that I wanted to express for the big wrap-up before I slide into a puddle of my own drool. Now, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a much longer, bigger and more maudlin write-up of all of the travels and adventures of the past two months awaiting, with pictures and more pictures….but I need to work up to it.

As most of you have seen by now, attendance for the first C2E2 was announced at 27,500, a little below projections but still a good-sized show. It never looked crowded, but the giant, giant facility tended to make everything look small, like an ant’s wagon train crossing your living room floor. In the link above, showrunner Lance Fensterman addresses some of the problems with the size of the show, but overall, the online reaction — and the in person response I heard — was overwhelmingly positive. A few links:

Johanna Draper Carlson

Michael May pointed out the attention given to webcomics:

The show seemed to run pretty smoothly. Everyone seemed happy, although I heard a few complaints about the high price of this or that — standard stuff for anything in a convention center. (Also: It’s far from the center of town and the food was overpriced.) Brad Guigar was particularly pleased — he always thinks Reed Exhibitions do well by webcomics people, he said, but this show was the best so far. As he spoke, he looked out over the webcomics pavilion, which was filled with creators of big-name comics (Cyanide & Happiness, Love & Capes) and their fans.

¶ DC’s Rickey Purdin thought the show was pretty much the BEST EVAH, and summed up much of the local charm

10. ARCHITECTURE – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a city as beautiful as Chicago when it comes to layout and buildings. Downtown, the buildings are a mix of glass and metal next door to classical brick and mortar. Some even combine the two for a nu-classical style all while sitting right next to Lake Michigan, a sprawling city park, a serious public transit rail with its girder support-beam legs clomping down side avenues (see above), and a spread-out feel I’ve never seen before. The city is dripping with a character I wish I was close friends with, and that’s a fact that extends out to neighborhoods like Wicker Park’s East Village feel and Wrigleyville’s frat-powered bar scene. I wanna live here!

¶ Local media was also positive, as Christopher Borrelli at the Chicago Trib writes:

Contrary to popular impression, it is not there just for the casual comic book fans or even the hardcore nerd constituency C2E2 drew (an estimated 27,500 attended over three days, according to Reed Exhibitions). It is there for found bits of joy and understanding. For instance, ducking into a panel led by Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs, we overheard him ask fellow geeks, with sincerity, “So, who do you guys believe is the best — no, the most evil — villain?” We watched a man drag a suitcase across the convention floor so full of comics and collectible statues the zipper would not close and wheels would not roll. We listened to Marvel Comics editor Nate Cosby explain his Gorilla-Man book: “The problem is, see, he killed a gorilla and became a gorilla. Now there are other people who want to kill him to become a gorilla. & We were going to call it — Hit Monkey.'”

This link sorta sums up the “new frontier” spirit of the show — which prevailed despite the fact that the “new” frontier is really an “old” frontier. The original Chicago ComiCon, which flourished in the ’80s-’90s, was one of the pillars of comics fandom, and represented a very, very strong strain of Midwest fandom, primarily superhero-focused. The eldest Chicago cons were held at the Pick-Congress…now the Congress, where a few C2E2 folk stayed — although we heard it had seen much, much better days.

Based on the comments we heard, the show in Rosemont has generally frittered away the pure comics fandom in favor of a more entertainment-focused crowd, and their takeaway has not always been joyful. That suspicion definitely crossed over to some of the expectations for C2E2. As one person put it succinctly, a lot of the fans just didn’t know what to expect from the show. Once they got there, they seemed to get it, and the word-of-mouth was strong, but perhaps this was partially to blame for the slow sales reported from several people — folks just didn’t bring money to spend.

The turnout of costumed con-goers that have made comic-cons around the world a photographer’s paradise was also low — manga was almost nonexistent at C2E2 and there was almost no cosplay. A few people attributed this to an essential element of the Midwest character. At WonderCon, one got the impression that the people strutting in their spandex — male and female — roll out of bed and put on their Black Cat outfits to go to work at the juice bar. Not so in Chicago. It’s a more conformist society — not inhibited, just more cautious about letting the freak flag fly.

The Media Panel that I put together got a lot of write-ups, because there is nothing the media loves as much as itself! Johanna has her thoughts here. Michael May here, and Matt Brady here. I believe I’ve already linked to Noah Berlatsky’s thoughts. I thought Berlatsky seemed like a nice guy at the dinner afterward, and I specifically asked him to be on the panel knowing that he would probably disagree with much of the rest of the panel, but if his “So what, it’s comics” attitude was a person, I would put on my steel toed boots and kick it into a bloody pulp. Not to be too much of an old fart, but this whole topic was buried in an unmarked grave back when The Comics Journal was numbered in the early 30s and 40s. Using it as a shield seems to be just an excuse to allow self-indulgence where possible rather than any kind of critical stance. Berlatsky’s laissez-faire towards any concept of craft in the comments to his post make me wonder why he even bothered to critique The Comics Journal website — unless it was just to be bitchy.

But why ask why: Jamie Coville has audio of the whole thing up here, minus the part where I was bitching about fan feedback and the mike started giving me electro-feedback. Listen for yourselves and draw your own conclusions.

Overall, C2E2 was a pretty fine time for ‘most everybody. I admit, this being my fourth show in six weeks, I was pretty punchy by the end, part of a rolling tour of comics and movies and cartoons and rock bands and coffee and microbrews in Hyatt bars across the country. Did I really see Stephen Christy every weekend for two months? It seems that way. Other people just blended into one big conversation. The barcon at the Hyatt in Chicago every night was pretty good — drinks were cheaper than at the Marriott in SF, and people really wanted to hang out. Team Beat was staying at a hotel on Michigan, on the park, but it was about a $7 cab ride home, so not too inconvenient to get around. I didn’t get to go to Wicker Park for any of the events that were held there, despite my best intentions, but I heard those were fun too. Chicago is a city that is improved by having car access, however, although parking and cabs add up quickly. Anyway, seeing people from so many different companies hanging out in the bar gave a nice feeling of being in this together, and I even got to meet some folks new to me who bring their own fun to the party, like Halo-8’s Matt Pizzolo and Jesse Blaze Snider, whose mohawk with paisley fade was unmissable.

There was even a cat rescue at C2E2; it was that kind of show and everyone expects next year to be bigger and better — maybe a little better branded with the word “comics,” but people seemed to dig it.

FINALLY, the video evidence:


Joe Quesada jamming with Kirby Krackle.

And a C2E2 Time Lapse by Anna Faltermeier via Comics Alliance, which is just like being there. Faltermeier should do this for every show from now on!

Comments

  1. Hey Heidi. Thanks for the additional link.

    I criticized TCJ because I want them to have an audience, and I’m on the site. It’s mostly self-interested — and partially because I do have affection for tcj, and would like them to succeed.

    Pointing out marketing problems and/or content problems in a “this isn’t going to work” way is a bit different than slanging people for lack of professionalism per se. I also think you’re misreading me a little when you say I’m not interested in craft. I just think there can be different kinds of writing about comics, and that drawing lines in the sand about what kind is professional and what kind is not is kind of silly. But I had this argument with Ed Sizemore in the comments, and I suppose people can click over if they’re interested…..

  2. michael says:

    that vimeo vid was awesome! :)

    and yeah, from what I’ve read, it seems that the convention hall wasn’t exactly the easiest place to reach, even if you lived in the city, therefore the random foottraffick was nil and people there are used to the long running Wizard convention already there.

    But hopefully that changes in the future.

  3. Mikael says:

    The fact that Reed is giving their numbers BELOW their expectations goes a long way to show that they aren’t in this for bragging rights. Like the first NYCC, they’ll learn from any missteps and they’ll be open to hearing from the public about any problems they might have had. For instance, I heard from many of the VIPs and the first 100 ticket buyers that the incentives were so-so at best. If they write a well thought out letter they might get a good response from Reed just like they did after the first NYCC con.

    It’s a good position to be in to have a show that can only get bigger and better. I had a great time and I’m far more interested in supporting this show than the so called competition.

  4. I had no problems getting around because I got a 3 day transit pass for just under $15 and took the bus. All you had to do was ask the bus driver (or other people at the stop) and they’d steer you straight.

  5. Torsten Adair says:

    Maybe not next year, but I expect C2E2 to eventually move to the West Hall, right across the street from the Hyatt and easier to navigate. Lots of meeting rooms to handle a variety of tracks, a big ballroom for media events, and connection to the Hyatt.

    Here’s what surprised me:
    * an academic conference on comics and art
    * vending machines! and they take credit cards! And there’s a McDonalds in the Center!
    * the massive patio outdoors, just waiting for some autograph tents, cosplaying photos, and furniture.
    * the waterfront a short walk away, for those who like to meditate before or during the show.
    * the Arie Theater. Much better than ballroom seating.
    * the ease of grabbing a shuttle bus. The ease of using a Chicago Card to ride trains and buses.
    * the massive and spacious Artists Alley, treated just like another part of the convention (sans carpet).
    * The amazing amount of talent in the exhibition hall! DC’s signing lineup could have been a regular convention by itself!

    Reed will improve. I’m expecting it to take over the entire Center in 15 years, possibly anchoring the show to Holy Week to maximize attendance on Friday.

    I did two cons in a row (MoCCA and C2E2) and I was wrecked (and broke). Heidi, you are a comics warrior! If you have time, go read “John Henry Days” by Whitehead. It’s fiction about junket journalism and how myths affect people.

    Now to relax until BEA…

  6. Bill Cooper says:

    I’m not sure anyone in their right mind would WANT a more crowded floor and denser crowds. Certainly the thousands of people attending the show have no desire to be packed in tight, forced to navigate throngs of unmoving people, packed aisles, and the always wonderful lack of social skills cons bring to the fore. More breathing room makes for a more enjoyable experience. Why we’re asking for the opposite, I can’t imagine.

  7. Ben Boyd says:

    I wasn’t there but I would have to agree with Bill here. Terry Moore over on his SIP blog said something about liking the space & room to navigate the floor for a change.

  8. I just talked to a friend who lives in Chicago, he had not heard about the show until a friend of his told him about it right before. He was confused by the name, he thought it should have Comic Con in the title. He is just a casual fan but he said he had fun and would go back again next year.

  9. Jim Caldwell says:

    The turnout of costumed con-goers that have made comic-cons around the world a photographer’s paradise was also low — manga was almost nonexistent at C2E2 and there was almost no cosplay. A few people attributed this to an essential element of the Midwest character.

    There was much less cosplay than at any of the last few Rosemont shows. The last two Rosemont shows were thick with cosplayers – a costume parade/contest last year filled the lobby area – sure many were taking pictures. Every year at Rosemont, the number of cosplayers has been increasing to the point that last year I felt like I’d come to a costume party in street clothes.

    Why the cosplay was so greatly reduced at C2E2, I can only speculate (and it’d be irresponsible not to speculate!), but I don’t think the “Midwest Character” is what was holding us back. Wild speculation: Many cosplayers would rather spend the balance of the $19 parking fee on their costuming, or were reticent to travel on the CTA in costume.

  10. There were a few “costumes” on the #3 bus to the convention center. The bus wasn’t packed like they are to Javits.

    There was a changing area for cosplay on the second floor.

  11. Black Bolt Bob says:

    I have to agree with Bill Cooper. Why on Earth would anyone ask for a con to be MORE crowded? C2E2 was a joy, because it was large and exciting and yet, clean, orderly and easy to navigate. Now, I wonder: Are we all going to be cramped next year, because so many people are going online and complaining about the open space? Honestly, it was nice to flip through back issues without being bumped and elbowed in the face. Who on Earth is missing that?

    I’m also disappointed, Heidi, in your comment about “conformist” Midwesterners. I detect a bit of East Coast snobbery there. Just fyi, Chicago is the third largest city in the country (larger than San Diego, as a matter of fact), and there’s plenty of diversity there. I could also add that I saw quite a few people in costume, myself. If there were a dearth of cosplayers, then I personally didn’t notice it (and yes, I do travel outside the Midwest upon occasion.).

  12. Maybe New Yorkers like to be jammed in like sardines but C2E2 was literally the best, nicest, biggest con I’ve been to in decades. I really don’t want an over-crowded mess like SDCC or any of the Wizardworld cons. I vowed last year I’d never be going back to Wizardworld Chicago. If they change the venue next year of C2E2 next year or change it up too much, I probably won’t go. Saturday was plenty crowded but not horrifically so.

  13. True, I didn’t see too many people in costume, but the few costumes there certainly excited people: i think the crowd for the costume contest was the biggest single crowd I saw all weekend. Seriously, it was like 2000 people…I couldn’t even see the stage.

  14. Black Bolt Bob, trying not to offend — the “conformist” theory was one offered up by a local. It goes without saying that Chicago is a fantastic, arts-loving city. Anyway I throw it open for discussion.

  15. Lawson says:

    I’ve gotta agree with Black Bolt Bob. I understand the con organizers wanting great turnout, but as a fan, I hate the way some cons are packed wall-to-wall and you have to “swim” through the masses to get anywhere.

    I didn’t go to Chicago this year, alas, but if it drew a good turnout but still felt roomy, I’d say it hit the sweet spot.

  16. Great C2E2 reporting, Heidi! As a non-attendee, I’ve enjoyed your commnets and observations on this inaugural ‘Con that Chicago Deserves'; and being the first, it’s also historical: it’ll be interesting to reread these observations after 2,3,4 of them are done… and to see what developemnts have happened since, what REED changes made.

    I wonder if the I’m so glad C2E2 wasn’t crowded! sentiment will still be in play next year or two, as the expected uptick in attendees play out. And whether or not will REED willingly raise the Con bridge and stop Hollywood and Gaming exhibiotrs from sullying the McCormick Floor— ie, will REED keep Chicago as the COMICS-focused sibling to the (more) Pop Culture-oriented New York? Or will the barriers come down and C2E2 just becomes a smaller and more-manageable brother-con to NYCC— ie, a “WonderCon” to NYCC’s “SDCC”?

    And being primarily an Indie comics fan, I’ve been interested in reading the Beat’s coverage on how Indie creators and companies are represented in such ‘Big Tent’ Cons. Over the years, I’ve read the Beat’s voicing of concern on jsut how SDCC has evolved to the detriment of those Indie exhibitors… and I’ve read Heidi’s wistful wrap-up of that first NYCC as a potential lost in not embracing local Indie artists for exhibiting… and am somewhat surprised that this topic wasn’t even raised in discussing C2E2. Is it because Chicago is traditionally/historically a MARVEL/DC kind of town [Chicago is] that it was given those Indies are gonna be underrepresented in McCormick? Or has the battle for Indie presence in ‘Big Tent’ Cons a losing one— and Chicago is not friendly territory to stake such a spot on the Exhibition Floor? (Don’t think Dan Clowes will return to his hometown soon.) But, at least there’s SPACE nearby for area Indies…

    Oh, and found this to present a differing view on REED by an attending local exhibitor:
    http://centuryguild.wordpress.com/2010/04/22/c2e2-2010/ IF true, a little dispiriting in the light of the “Con Wars!”— seems to be positively “WIZARD”-like?

  17. I can reassure you that my post is in fact accurate, and I am certainly not a fan of the Wizard show in Chicago- in fact, no one was looking more forward to this show than I was, or promoted it harder, but to say that the response was “overwhelmingly positive” has to be realistically seen as being rooted not in facts but in optimism- which I love!

    Anyone who knows me- or has ever worked with me- knows that I always try to find the positive aspects of every little thing, and even at the end of the show when asked how things went I was mum on my disappointments, as I was scanning my mind, trying to find the upside. So far I’ve come up with: (1) had a great time seeing a lot of friends, (2) was thrilled that Chicago had a reason to celebrate comics culture, and… um, that’s it so far. Every artist I spoke to was optimistic as well, but certainly not celebratory, and more than one of the top guests at the show voiced mild displeasure at the way they were handled. Even one of the organizers of this event told one of my employees, “San Diego is known for bending over backwards for exhibitors” followed by a shrug of the shoulders. Isn’t Reed a company one hundred times the size of Comic-Con International? Why make a statement like that, and then NOT strive to top it????

    On a devastatingly sad note for me: while we did well, only 1 in ten dealers that I ran across during tear-down would ever do the show again, which leads to me commenting: How could the response truly be “overwhelmingly positive”?

    One artist I saw signed books sitting on the floor on Friday; admittedly, the table wasn’t ordered until Wednesday… so Reed didn’t bring one to the booth until Saturday. Have you ever seen that happen before, anywhere? And by “the world’s largest” convention company? All I’m saying is, hey, things DO happen, and I get that. But it would have been nice for it to seem during the show as though someone- ANYone- cared. And then… for someone to have fixed it.

    My intention is not to complain for the sake of complaining, but it’s because I DO love Chicago so much that I believe that next year Reed needs to not try to bury this event in propaganda and patting each other on the back. Few of us on the floor were ever approached by event staff during the weekend, and a great many of the glitches that did occur were easily avoidable. It was insulting to those of us who spent money and time to set up there that- aside from any massaging they might have done for companies like Marvel and DC- the “behind-the-curtains” stuff felt like kids running their first show in a gymnasium.

    (Speaking of shows in gymnasiums, the Windy City Comic Con last Fall was run infinitely better and with- and I can’t stress this enough- an amount of genuine love and caring for their event that eclipsed the attitude of the Reed employees.)

    That being said, had I been a spectator, I would have ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT. One of the greatest amounts of talent in one room, ever. Awesome. As a visitor, I would have loved that the lines to meet artists were so short (and in some cases non-existent). The only caveat there, to those who have said “Why would we want a con any more crowded?” is that with fewer people attending, it’s important that they spend more money to pick up the slack. Shows like this are not easy or inexpensive to produce.

    Would Century Guild ever exhibit at this show again? I loved bringing the Dave McKean paintings and all, and the fan reaction was off the hook, but… no. Probably not. We tried Wizard some years back and were equally displeased, so for the time being we will just have to settle for what San Diego Comic Con and Wondercon consider acceptable from an administrative point of view to be, for the moment, an unrealistic goal for any other show in Chicago.

    Except, now that I’m thinking about it, Windy City Comic Con…

  18. Windy City Comicon may not be offer an alternative. Although this hasn’t moved much beyond word of mouth from what I can tell, the show is down for this year. Organizers are talking about coming back in 2011.

  19. Mr. Negovan— Sorry for the aspersion on your report on being badly treated by REED at C2E2. Yours came as such a stark contrast to the post-Con wrap-ups here and on other Comics-related sites where the Artists and Exhibitors interviewed ALL uniformly sang the praises of the organisation… that I was surprised that someone could NOT. So none of these Comics sites interviewed you for your C2E2 reactions?

    I’ve seen your layout at SDCC, and was shocked at the sizes of those Mucha and McKean artworks— wow, didn’t know the originals were that LARGE! They were a nice contrast in visual offering after the 4-color
    blasts of the MARVEL/DC booths there, and I look forward to seeing your presence at SDCC again this year…

    Any responses from REED since?

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