ROGUE ELEMENT #60: Welcome Back Home to my Heart, Wizard World Chicago!
By Avril Brown
This past weekend Rosemont, IL once again opened its arms to Wizard World Chicago, Chicago’s oldest non-Chicago based comic convention. Taking place in the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center ‘conveniently’ located off of the Rosemont stop on the CTA Blue line, WWC has come under heat from many comic book fans in the past few years. Too many random celebrities and not enough comic flavor, aspiring artists and major publishers are several of the loudest complaints, and while most of these objections have yet to be tended to, I personally had an absolutely tremendous time wandering the Wizard World and cannot wait for next year.
For me, comic conventions are synonymous with taking a trip to Narnia. Once I walk through those doors I am transported into a universe outside reality where comic book characters come to life in the form of cosplayers, the faces behind many fantasy personas are smiling for pictures and gracefully dealing with fans, and thousands of long boxes are patiently waiting to be thumbed through and picked clean by bargain hunting bookworms. In other words, everyone and anyone can feel like a hero.
Though I was admittedly somewhat dismayed at the lack of fan fervor surrounding Wizard World Chicago last year, not to mention the glaring hole on the convention floor left by the absence of the most prominent publishers of graphic stories (which was just as noticeable this year), I still had a skip in my step as I commuted on over to Rosemont. My veteran friends in the business consistently reassure me I will not always approach Cons with such ardent enthusiasm and one day I will find myself as jaded and bitter about comics and conventions as they claim to be, yet I honestly cannot imagine arriving at a Con, any Con, and not feeling a tingling in my nerdy nethers.
After ducking out of work early due to a sudden and uncontrollable urge to spend as much time at the Con as possible, I stepped off the train platform into the sticky Chicago humidity and made my way over to the party. More populous than I was expecting yet not as crowded as last year (thanks to widened aisles), I was pleased to find my favorite local talents seated comfortably in Artist’s Alley, keeping busy and chatting up potential customers. My wanderings were sporadic thanks to the familiar faces I kept running into and I couldn’t have been happier to have been halted in my progress. Besides, I had all weekend, and the advantage of attending a smaller Con is that it is smaller, meaning there is less surface area to cover (it took me at least twenty to thirty minutes to walk the San Diego Con WITHOUT pausing to peruse various shops and portfolios).
Artist’s Alley was loaded with local and commuting talent. Independent books were for sale at bargain prices, web comics were being advertised, a handful of industry names were present for sketches and blasts from the past were back and better than ever (an artist who specializes in raunchy depictions of famous cartoons and film characters, whom I recognized from my very first WWC, was there with a gem of a sketch: the original core Star Wars crew, with shocked expressions, are surrounding Princess Leia who just gave birth…to a baby Wookie. On the left side of the picture is Chewbacca hauling ass towards the exit. I laughed until I cried).
Several shops were open for business, including classic comic retailers selling bagged and boarded Golden or Silver Age comics, as well as a few new faces, one of which was selling a baby onesie I simply have to acquire for my forthcoming niece or nephew (you will have to wait and be surprised, my beloved preggers sister). I purchased several new nerdy pins to proudly display on my messenger bag (major points go to those who understand the turquoise pin with three white seashells on it, or the black and red one which reads: ‘Back off man, I’m a scientist.’), several trade paperbacks and a few cards with the likeness of my Doctor (Nine aka Christopher Eccleston). I was also gifted with several independent comics, a few cocktails and a vintage sex novel from the 1960’s (“Left of Sex” – ‘Most girls are heterosexual. A shocking number are homosexual. And some – to their shame – are bisexual.’ I cannot WAIT to read this book).
No comic con can be complete without a healthy array of cosplayers (people who dress in costume). Many classic comic characters, such as Captain America, Wolverine, Rogue and Batman made a spectacular appearance (some even donned their outfits to the bars after the Con; total immersion, baby). There were many a Star Wars Stormtrooper, several Hit-Girls, and a guy (un)dressed as the recent pop culture commercial favorite, the Old Spice Guy, all of whom kept the cameras flashing and people smiling.
Of course, the entire weekend was not all happiness and nerd-a-licious goodness. The presence of recently impeached former Governor Rod Blagojevich was a blight on Saturday’s festivities and caused quite a traffic jam at the front entrance as people bottlenecked in an effort to get a shaky digital picture. I got it straight from the Wizard brothers’ mouth (the gentlemen who own and operate Wizard World): they approached him with the idea of appearing at WWC. Though local he and many of the attendees may be, my fellow Conners did not disappoint in their warm welcome of G-Rod:
PA System – “Attention Wizard World Convention goers: If you wish to receive an autograph or photograph of Rod Blagojevich, please begin lining up near the front entrance…”
Wizard World Convention Goers – “BOOOOOOO!!!!!!!”
Yea, that’s how we roll. Well, some of us, anyways. There was quite a crowd of people gathered to spend good money on an up close and personal photo with Blago and his hair. I’d accidentally wandered near his signing/photo area when trying to make a call on my cell and was quickly banished from the area by the violently waving arms of a dedicated volunteer who was determined to let no one sneak a side shot. A recently made acquaintance, who also happens to be a freelance writer for the Wall Street Journal, was able to snag an interview with the infamous peacock of politics, which can be enjoyed here.
I soaked up as much nerd essence as possible, frequently meandering through the celebrity aisles in hopes of finding a short line waiting for Nicholas Brendon (aka Xander from ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’), who told me after an eavesdropped telephone interview with fellow CWRer and Chicago Red Eye columnist Elliott Serrano that I could pop by for a greeting. The only time he had a short line I had yet to grow a set of cojones, and despite reassurances from people I could pull this off, I could not bring myself to bypass the line to say a hasty ‘hello.’ I believe that was my natural survival instinct reminding me to never try and cut in line in front of people willing to wait hours to exchange a few words with a celeb. They may cut you.
Yet as the weekend progressed it was not difficult to pinpoint the true reason for my elation: People. Nerdy, intelligent, creative, hysterical and all around good people. I spent the entire weekend consistently surrounded by a wide variety of dyed in the wool comic book folk, some I just met but many of which I was already lucky enough to call friend. The most accomplished plastic surgeon would be hard pressed to wipe the smile off my face as I spent the entire weekend nattering on and laughing with some truly divine dorks. We walked the aisles together, mostly window shopping and exchanging drive-by commentary. We threw back drinks at overpriced hotel bars and lame Con parties (the WWC ‘after hours’ affair began at 9:30PM). We talked comics, movies, embarrassing moments and inspiring ideas. We snuck around the bowels of the Hyatt and did NOT act our age. We had a freakish amount of fun.
Though the shops, artists and generally uplifting atmosphere to the Con would doubtlessly have been plenty to keep me elated and ecstatic, in the end it’s all about who you know, and I know some damn cool people. My endless thanks go out to those individuals; y’all know who you are. You let me into your comic circle of craziness, and what resulted was an unpredictable and highly gratifying vacation from actuality, which was exactly what the Doctor from Gallifrey ordered. I bid thee a fond farewell, my comic-y comrades, and will count the days until next year.