Scene report: Wizard World Chicago Comicon — Not Every Day is like Sunday

by Rob Cave

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There’s always been something a bit disappointing about Sundays. It’s like on a primal level every part of our body understands that workaday Monday is round the corner. Fun is coming to an end. And what little fun there remains is overshadowed by the infinite promise of Friday and Saturday just gone. That is certainly the reputation they have at conventions. By Sunday, the hardcore attendees, the exhibitors and guests have already been there a day or two. The enthusiasm they started with has met with the reality of spending an extended period of time in what is effectively a large warehouse-type space, and perhaps also the reality staying up a little past their respective bedtimes. Any big announcements there might have been have all been made, and most attendees have already spent most of the money they planned to spend. Indeed, when I told Heidi I’d be at Wizard World Chicago on a Sunday she did remind me “Sunday is probably the quietest day…”

So it was with this in mind, and the fact that I had unavoidable family commitments earlier in the weekend, that I paid in advance for my ticket (not cheap – $40 for one day, including the processing charge) and made my way to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center on the day in question for the 2012 incarnation of Wizard World Chicago. I’d been to the same event a few years back, attending on a Saturday if I recall correctly. I listened to Jessica Abel and Matt Madden, my partner picked up some cool books from Chris Staros at Top Shelf’s table and I had been wowed by the flashy displays hawking the latest videogames. This time there were fewer comics publishers (Though Devil’s Due were there, eager to impress with Mercy Sparx) and no-one promoting the latest videogame releases that I could see – the biggest game on the floor was an cabinet from ArcadeDLX, a company that custom-builds arcade machines.

I’m not sure what the crowd had been like on previous days, (organizers are often loath to disclose such figures) but the crowd of con-goers I joined as I shuffled through the main hall, included families of all shapes, sizes and compositions seemed just right to me – it was neither so overcrowded that you were always bumping into people, nor so sparsely populated that you felt at risk of being jumped by cash/attention-starved exhibitors. There were no massive queues to get our wristbands (though there might have been earlier in the weekend for all I knew) and everyone moved about freely. I was soon wandering round the hall, rummaging through the capacious back-issue and graphic novel bins of the various comics retailers and gawping in wonder at the other stuff, from wooden swords to hand-crafted plushies on display. I’m glad to report, maybe as a result of it being a Sunday, that there were plenty of bargains to be had.

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There were plenty of actors from cult film and TV, to pose with for photograph and autograph purposes. However, none of these performers could compete with Stan Lee for popularity – he still had a substantial queue when I eventually left around 4 PM. I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to chat with various comic creators of all stripes: Jim Calafiore, who was keen to talk about Leaving Megalopolis, his Kickstarter project With Gail Simone, Archie’s Dan Parent and Batman Inc.’s Chris Burnham, and while I was sorry to miss Geof Darrow, the drawing left at his table (penned, I am so hoping, by the artist, himself) made me laugh out loud.

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While Geek Girl Con was going on at the same time in Seattle, Chicago’s geek girls were not about to let the side down, with Sugar Gamers actively recruiting likeminded individuals from their table and around the hall. Plenty of cosplay, always popular at cons, was much in evidence, and the Sabbath certainly didn’t dissuade folk from dressing up as their favourite characters to the delight of children of all ages. My personal highlight was a little girl who had made her own yellow Dalek costume and was proceeding to drive it around the convention hall under with guidance from Mom, who was justifiably proud of her daughter’s construction skills (although rather less keen to acquiesce to her offspring’s pleading to let her buy a sword).

And in many ways that helped form my lasting impression of the day – of a Sunday that was all about family. It wasn’t fussy or hectic, there was little spectacle, but the event was no less enjoyable for that. It was simply a gathering of people who like cult films, TV, toys and comics coming together to enjoy the stuff they love. And as I write this, I can see on the Wizard World website the company are already advertising for their next Chicago con. If I’m in town I’ll most likely check it out. It is still a great way to spend a Sunday.

Comments

  1. That’s an awesome picture of Geof Darrow’s table. Sundays are bitter sweet but easier to deal with if it’s in your hometown. Great article.

  2. Al™ says:

    Nice account of one of the lesser covered topics.. Sundays at the con. I wonder if prices come down??

  3. likefunbutnot says:

    Wizard’s Chicago con is utter shit. It might as well be a flea market, but with more former professional wrestlers.

    I’m under the impression that other Wizard cons aren’t any better.

  4. Wizard World is made of concrete and despair. I had to go this year (comp ticket and an obligation) but never again. It’s worse each year, although I didn’t go last year. But i was there in 2010 when the newly convicted Rod Blagojevich was a much-hyped guest. Way to be classy, Wizard.

    For the sake of the kids who might think this is what comic-cons (or even pop-culture cons) are supposed to be, please skip this in the future, Rob Cave, and attend C2E2 in the spring instead.

  5. Wizard comped me a booth at Wizard World Philadelphia and I would still never go back. No carpeting, huge unused areas, a total crap fest of vendors, and overpriced tickets. This is the worst side of the con business.

  6. Snikt Snakt says:

    I was there in ’05, when Frank Miller & Jim Lee were hawking ALL-STAR BATMAN & ROBIN.

    It was a great con overall and I had a BLAST.

    Its a shame to see it slowly go down the tubes over the years…

  7. So Rob Cave liked the show and lots of you didn’t care for it. I was disappointed in some areas and loved others. This was my 25th year of attending this show. I missed one in the late 80s when San Diego changed their date to the 4th of July weekend and it caused the Chicago show to change their date—can’t have a con if all the talent is in another show. I remember showing up to the Ramada Inn in Rosemont and asking the front desk where the convention was and she said it was a couple weeks earlier. I was a kid and just assumed it was every 4th of July. I didn’t even check the newspaper. Anyway, I’ve attended 25 out of the last 26.

    Those early shows were awesome. Much more intimate…I think I used to hit every vendor at least twice and I think I went through every quarter bin at least once. Meeting people like Stan Lee wasn’t a very big deal and the “hot” artists were people like Wendy and Richard Pini. In the old days, the big two were out in force but that meant bodies, not so much huge displays. The best you could expect in terms of swag would be a free spider-man pin.

    Over the years, the convention grew and eventually was purchased and moved to the convention center across the street and down the road (now the Donald E. Stephens convention center. What kind of douche bag mayor renames the convention center after himself while he’s still in office?)

    In the last 10 years I’ve seen the show change quite a bit. About 10 years ago was the first time I’d ever seen a wrestling ring at a show. It was also the first time I recall all of the B-list celebrities attending. From around 2000 to about 2005, you could walk up to the celebs, chat a few minutes, pay for a glossy 8×10 or a movie still and they would sign it for you at no charge since you just spent 5 or 10 dollars on the photo. Want to take a photo with me? Sure, no problem. Today, it seems everything is about making money. Allow me to get on my soap box for a minute… I know people are in business to make money and that show business is a business first but I call bullshit! I believe comic conventions used to be sacred cows for creators, publishers, attendees and even the few celebs that were there. If people made some money, all the better but the reality is that everyone was showing up to pray at the same alter. To meet and greet, to talk with heroes and fans and that was the brass ring. If memory serves, the only “product” that was really a “hard sell” at the shows were the comic books themselves. Maybe that’s because comic dealers were the only real businesses at the shows that HAD to turn a profit…no art schools or comic storage systems or fancy galleries selling gicliees and canvas prints, no tattoo parlors, t-shirt mega marts or massive celebrity areas with giant signs and staff members telling everyone, “NO PHOTOS IN THIS AREA”, in short, no vendors selling anything that was completely unrelated to comics or original art.

    This year I was only able to attend on Friday. Typically I go Friday and Sunday…skipping Saturday to avoid “amateur day.” Friday was always for the hardcore fans because so few people take a day off work and most of the artists are much more available for sketches and chatting. Sunday was all about buying bargains. I thought the comics vendors at the show this year were pretty decent. There were definitely a lot of them…more than in previous years I think. The celebrities were so-so. The Buffy contingent was there with Amber Benson, James Marsters, Juliet Landau (who was pure awesome) and a couple of the “monster actors” that were covered in prosthetics when on screen. I always feel bad for those guys that sit there and watch their more famous counterparts with fans lined up around the corner while they have nobody looking to meet them. I get over it pretty quickly.

    The real disappointment for this years show was the lack of panel programming. Granted, I was only there on Friday however, “light saber training and bootcamp” is not acceptable as the must-see event for a convention charging $45 for a single day’s entrance.

    When you can’t get anyone from Marvel or DC to show up, you know you’re doing something wrong. Then again, I remember a few years ago a little kid asked Joe Quesada a question about why they keep rebooting The Punisher because he couldn’t keep track. Joe replied that the reason they keep renumbering titles is to get a little sales pop. For me, that moment was the end of an era. F*ck you for that Joe Quesada.

    As for the other big change, in the last few years it seems the number of cosplayers has gone through the roof. I think it’s great but it makes me wonder how long before the whole genre is played out. I think a huge number of the cosplayers are just looking for an excuse to show a little skin to get ogled. Not that I’m complaining about that but it seems kind of….hollow. Maybe soulless is a better way to say it. Whatever the adjective, it seems to have lost the spirit of what started the genre, a love of the character. And maybe that’s true of the whole con scene or maybe I’m just getting old.

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