OP/ED: My Chicago Con Experience

Wizardworld 2008 Coverage Guide

On a weekend that’s seen me personally contend with technical problems, automobile problems (bless you, AAA), sinus problems, and other assorted craziness, it’s with some amazement that I report that I was still able to enjoy the Chicago Comic-con.  To be honest, it took me a while to get into the groove of this show.

Part of that stems from the fact that this show is very, very different from Chicago’s past.  The lack of publisher booths from DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Top Cow, and others changed the complexion of the floor and the landscape of the con.  Whereas in the past you would enter down the steps and see the big companies right up front, this year the expanded celebrity autograph area was the first thing that you saw.  The con tried to amp the wattage a bit here, recruiting as they did genre faves like Edward James Olmos, Michelle Rodriguez , several Twilight cast members, and more.  The professional wrestling presence, always somewhat of a draw, was also increased in terms of the number of stars (though while many of them are still active on various circuits, not all of them currently appear on television).

The most head-scratchingly bizarre occupant of that section was ‘80s songstress Taylor Dane.  Yes, she did have a number of big hits, like “Tell It To My Heart” and “Love Will Lead You Back”.  On the other hand, it’s just strange to see her there with an abject lack of booth activity.  The younger fans likely didn’t know who she was, and it’s my sense that fans in my age group (I’m 35) and older would have rather paid for a signature from Olmos or Billy Dee Williams.

The truth of the con is this: if you were there for the biggest and best comic news, then you were probably let down.  With Comic-con International: San Diego not that far behind us, the really big announcements had been made.  I spoke to a couple of publishers that indicated that they had to sit on announcements until October or after, meaning that the timing of this show was just unfortunate in that regard.  So, with the lack of publisher booth presence added in the mix, it did make a difference.  On the plus side, the panels I attended were great fun, particularly when Mark Millar showed roughly 20 minutes of Kick-Ass.  The DC Nation was a light and lively panel, with Ian Sattler bringing some good humor to the hosting stand.  There were a few company booths, with one notable bright spot being Avatar; they appeared to be busy when I was there, and I hope they remained so, as they’re putting out some great books (like Gravel).

If you came to Chicago this year to shop, then you were in luck.  The retailer floor was huge, and it was, for the most part, a buyer’s market.   Insane back issue deals abounded.  A pretty full scope of collectibles could be found.  My one gripe on this score came from the insistence of a number of retailers at pricing the latest DC Universe Classics wave of figures at around $30 each; these are just hitting Toys R Us in force for around $10 each, and haven’t even made a full-scale Wal-Mart and Target arrival yet.   That’s asking too much on a floor that was packed with bargains.

Artist’s Alley was pretty cool, but a bit of a mixed bag.  There were a lot of interesting looking books, and a lot of big name pros (J. Scott Campbell included) elected to make their homes there for the weekend, instead of being at booth signings and panels.  One thing that I didn’t like was the big jump in the number of straight pin-up artists that weren’t necessarily comic affiliated.  It’s one thing buying sketches from someone trying to promote their book.  It’s another thing to only come to the con to sell sketches of other people’s characters; I think that this is fine in limited doses, but I think there were about two dozen occupants doing this.

As a parent, I have to mention that I was happy to see so many kids here this year.  My kids aren’t quite old enough for the full con experience, but those that were seemed to be having a great time.   I saw a number of little ones in costume, often with dressed-up parents.  And they ALL looked to be having fun.  I saw two boys of about nine talked excitedly about some Marvel Legends figures, happy to find the elusive piece of Galactus that they needed for that build-a-figure from a few years back.

One friend of mine noted that the lesson to be learned from the big Saturday crowd is that the con doesn’t necessarily need the big publisher booths for people to have a good time; his belief is that most people come to shop.  I think there’s some truth to that.  However, I think that the full spectacle that con-goers (especially long-time attendees) expect does involve those booths.

As far as the publishers in attendance and other guests were concerned, this was a GREAT show.  Top Shelf’s Chris Staros said, “Surprisingly, it was the best Chicago for us in about three or four years.”  Staros noted that the absence of some of the big guns may have freed up fans to give other publishers a look.  He said, “It turned out to be a really good event . . . we’ll definitely be coming back next year.”

Mike Wolfer, co-writer of Avatar Press’s Gravel, echoed those sentiments.   “It’s been a fantastic show,” he said.  His impression was that Avatar was experiencing a upswing, with “a lot of new readers and people picking things up for the first time.”  Wolfer continued that Avatar books were selling very well during the show, and summed it up succinctly with a smile and a pronouncement:  “I’m happy.”

Reaching over to the celebrity side of things, wrestling legend Jerry “The King” Lawler also had a great time.  Lawler actually had a dual-purpose for the show; not only was he there among other wrestling greats, he was promoting some of his comic art work.  Lawler, long known as an artist to his fans, contributed covers to the wrestling series Headlocked and will be responsible for a cover on an upcoming issue of Dynamite Entertainment’s Zorro.  Lawler said that he “really enjoyed” the show, going on to say he met “a lot of great fans”.  If there was a problem, it was this:  “My only regret is that I didn’t get to walk the floor [due to being so busy at his booth], because I’m a fan of this too.”

Tony Digerolamo, creator of web-and-print comic Super Frat, also saw an influx of interested parties in his Artist’s Alley location.  He said, “We made a lot of money . . . the flow of the [layout] was very advantageous.”  Like several others, he thought that the absence of the larger booths may have helped the other vendors; however, he did sound a note of caution.  Digerolamo said, “However, I don’t know if people will [continue to] come back, knowing that the Big Guns aren’t here.”

Overall, despite some of the problems that I’ve had personally, this turned out to be a fun show.  I expect that there will be various opinions on opposing sides of the spectrum, but it wouldn’t be comics if we all agreed all the time.  I think that the Chicago Comic-Con provided a decent, mostly family-friendly event (though $2 for a can of coke in a machine is ridiculous), but I believe that there should be some consideration given to luring back the publishers in the future.  Still, it’s hard to argue with full Artist’s Alley walkways and dozens of readers walking away with new material for the first time.  I’ll given Chicago Comic-Con a solid B for being an unexpected pleasure, but tack on an asterisk to remember the lessons of this year.

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