by David Fairbanks
[Ed's note: here's an alternate take on this year's C2E2 convention, by a Beat contributor.]
I have attended the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo every year since its inception in 2010, when it killed Windy City Comic Con in its crib. The first year of C2E2 felt like a breath of fresh air into a comics scene where the most attended cons were the glorified swap meets of Wizard World, and while that first year felt like a big budget replacement for Windy City, the years since have seen C2E2 descend from a potentially unique con experience into yet another routine celebration of consumerism.
While Torsten Adair has predictions of C2E2 potentially surpassing SDCC in size, his suggestion of dispersing the crowds to panels to account for the overcrowding of the showroom floor precisely underscores the problems I have with a convention like C2E2. While cons like Emerald City Comicon have panels that are hosted by journalists or industry pros that draw significant attendance, I sat in many panel rooms that were less than half full, with only the biggest media concerns or announcements by Marvel/DC coming close to having notable attendance.
Representation from non-mainstream publishers has dwindled noticeably, with Oni Press shrinking from a near Marvel-sized booth to nothing in under five years. Top Shelf brought out some of their top talent for the first few years, but this year Jeffrey Brown—a Chicago native and New York Times Best-Selling Author—was only at their booth on Sunday of the con. Archaia went from an incredible booth with amazing sales and a streamlined and creator-filled signing schedule to a much smaller booth—shared with Boom. The only smaller publishers that seemed to have reasonably-sized booths this year were those that trade in some of the worst stereotypes of mainstream comics, focusing on gratuitous covers and scantily-clad women to sell their books (more so than Marvel and DC do).
Instead of having the show dominated by comics and comics publishers, it has become dominated by merch. No longer a showcase for what’s coming next, the ever-growing showroom floor that Adair presents as a sign of progress is instead a celebration of the consumer culture surrounding comics. Maybe C2E2 is on its way to becoming the next NYCC or SDCC, but considering how much of SDCC is dominated by Hollywood and television announcements, I have to wonder why it is a comics fan would be too eager to have C2E2 slide further away from its unique beginnings, further away from a celebration of the medium.
The strength of C2E2 is based around its location in a city that has an incredible comics scene, and while you can see that on display in Artist’s Alley, you don’t see it much of anywhere else. Well, not anywhere else at C2E2. Thankfully, the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (CAKE) is coming up on its third year, serving as a spiritual successor to the short-lived Windy City Comicon and focusing on the medium more than the merch.
[Who wore it best? Torsten or David? Sound off in the comments.]