The Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (C2E2) returns April 6 through 8 at Chicago’s McCormick Place, and the organizers are expecting a record-breaking attendance – and have already expanded to include a additional hall over last year.
Last year, C2E2 had an announced attendance of 80,000, and event director Mike Armstrong tells Newsarama that he expects an even larger number this year based on early figures – even expecting to break 100,000 by 2020 and grow to the size of New York Comic Con.
But as someone who’s been to C2E2, NYCC, and the other big U.S. convention – Comic-Con International: San Diego – will tell you, C2E2 focuses more directly on comic books than those other two shows.
Newsarama spoke with Armstrong in-depth about this year’s convention, the planned improvements, and ReedPOP’s expectations for what’s to come.
Newsarama: Mike, thanks for talking to us. What are you most excited about for C2E2 this year?
Mike Armstrong: This will be my ninth C2E2 and I can easily say that this year will be the best we’ve had when it comes to great content and activations from the comic publisher community. DC, Marvel, and Image will all be on the show floor for the first time since year one, which is a big win for the city of Chicago. We’ve also got the likes of Dark Horse, Oni Press, Valiant, Lion Forge, BOOM! Studios, and others. That, along with the recent announcements of Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar make C2E2 one of the best shows in the country for comics.
Nrama: I noticed C2E2 is focus more heavily on comic books - and less on TV or movies - than New York Comic Con or other shows like Comic-Con International: San Diego. Why is that?
Armstrong: This is a matter of giving the people what they want. Every year, we do really extensive post-show research with our fans and we’re consistently told that they want this to be a show about comics. That doesn’t mean we don’t have great literary, anime, gaming or comedy content, we’re just always so focused on making this a great show for comics fans.
Nrama: Part of the selling point of C2E2 is the city of Chicago - what's your must-do while you're in Chicago prepping for and doing C2E2?
Armstrong: When I’m in the city leading up to the show, the one thing I always carve time out for is visiting some of the great retailers that Chicago is lucky to have. All of the shops have something special to offer. Visiting them, talking to the owners, talking to the customers… that’s where we get some of the best ideas for guests and content.
Nrama: We’ve had good experiences with Patrick over at Challengers Comics.
Do you work closely with those Chicago retailers, any other businesses, or the city itself, for C2E2? If so, can you tell us about that?
Armstrong: We’ve been working really closely over the past few years with Revolution Brewing, which has created the official C2E2 beer for quite some time. Their space is a great one for us to hold meet ups and we’re lucky to have such a tasty brew representing C2E2!
Nrama: C2E2 is the second major ReedPOP con of 2018, after Emerald City Comic Con last month. Any innovations people should be on the look out for?
Armstrong: I’m really excited by our partnership with Cards Against Humanity to create a three-day long panel room filled with live podcasts, improv and comedy shows. Over the past few years of research, we’ve seen lots of fans express their interest in a track of comedy programming and I can’t think of a better partner than CAH to create that.
Nrama: Last year C2E2 had a reported 80,000 attendees - first off, are you still in the same spaces at McCormick Place as last year?
Armstrong: Yes, we are still in the same part of McCormick. It’s nice to have some consistency and we’re in a part of the building where we can really see what growth will look like moving forward. I’m expecting that we’ll need an additional hall in the next couple of years so that we can maintain our exhibit floor and still create some new areas of the floor that our fans will love.
Nrama: Do you plan/hope for more than 80,000 this year?
Armstrong: Yes, based on early returns, we’re going to see a larger audience this year, which is obviously exciting. If we’re able to sustain this growth and crack six figures in the next two years, that’s when we’ll really start to see the content and activations level up to what we currently see at NYCC.
Nrama: Is there room for expansion at McCormick Place should C2E2 continue to grow like it has?
Armstrong: Yes, we have an additional hall on the other side of the grand concourse that we will be using this year for registration, but I would expect that we need it for fan experiences and activations next year.
Nrama: Security is always a concern at a public gathering of this many people - what can you say about ReedPOP's plans for C2E2 this year?
Armstrong: We never get too specific about our plans for security, but I can assure you that it’s our number one priority and we’ll be doing everything we can to create a safe and fun atmosphere. We work really closely with local and national agencies to make sure we can do just that.
Nrama: NYCC recently went to one-day passes - is C2E2 planning on keeping the multi-day passes available as an option?
Armstrong: We’ve got plenty of capacity at C2E2 so I don’t see us making that shift anytime in the future. We’re lucky because we have so much room to grow in McCormick Place.
Nrama: Do you have a wish list of things you want to do with C2e2 at some point - and can you share that with us?
Armstrong: Right now, I’m really focused on determining what other kinds of content our fans want and then doing everything that we can to deliver. I’d love to place some additional focus on our tabletop gaming area and then really build out our anime and manga content. There’s a really robust fan base for Japanese content in Chicago and I want to make sure that we’re doing it justice.
Nrama: Last question… what are you normally doing during C2E2, and where are you at then?
Armstrong: Normally I’m walking the show floor, talking with exhibitors and fans. We’ve also got some great exclusives in our own show store at the front of the hall so I’m fairly certain I’ll be called into action to man a register to keep up. I love interacting with the fans while walking Artist Alley and soliciting ideas and feedback. That’s where some of our best stuff comes from!