A road trip to Wizard World Chicago used to be an annual tradition for me and my buddies Karen and John. But for various reasons, I haven't gone since 2008. This year, our schedules fell into place and we decided to make a whirlwind trip, driving up god-awfully early on Saturday morning and coming back Sunday evening. I was curious to see how things had changed since the last time I was there.
The drive up was mostly uneventful. One of Karen's co-workers had given her a route meant to avoid the heavy construction and the dreaded Dan Ryan Expressway (which is always packed at the best of times). It worked out for the most part, although we did get off-course once near the end of the trip, and had to use the GPS on Karen's phone to get us back on track (that's one big change since our last road trip -- I can think of many times in past years we could've used "Siri"'s help to navigate).
In many ways, it's still the same show, in the same venue (the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont). Things have expanded a bit, and they were using more of the available space...there was a horror-themed section upstairs that I didn't visit. A couple of interesting additions: They had set up a bunch of mini ATM kiosks at various points on the show floor, which was a smart idea, since in past years the one ATM in the con center usually ran out of money early in the day. Another new thing I noticed was a couple of booths that were serving alcohol, which seemed like asking for trouble to me, but I trust they were diligent about "carding" people before serving them.
The publishers' booths that used to dominate the front section of the con were conspicuously absent. I guess with so many more conventions popping up across the country, Marvel, DC, and co. are being more choosy about where they set up. Which consequently meant there weren't nearly as many mainstream creators in attendance, though there were a few familiar faces set up in Artist's Alley, like Neal Adams, Art Adams, Mike Zeck, and Michael Golden (I got to shake Golden's hand and tell him I'd been a fan since way back...he joked that I could have left off the "way back" part, since it just reminded him how old he is!).
Speaking of Artist's Alley, one big disappointment was the lack of indy/self-publishing cartoonists. There used to be a sizeable contingent of aspiring creators hawking their minicomics, and webcartoonists selling collections of their online strips, but not this year. The vast majority of tables were artists selling prints of familiar characters (Marvel, DC, anime, movies, etc.) instead of any kind of original work. Again, I suspect that the proliferation of conventions has diluted the pool of exhibitors -- Chicago used to be THE big show in this part of the country, but now there are dozens, including some that cater specifically to indy comics (for instance, the Small Press Expo is coming up in September). But it's a shame to lose that potential for cross-polinization...fans coming to the show for the mainstream stuff, and then discovering the indy scene.
Another more welcome change was the increased number of women attending. This trend had already started back when I was a regular attendee, and this year it was nearly a 50/50 split between males and females. Many of them came in costume (including some of the guys) -- there were a ton of Harley Quinns walking around, and a lot of Deadpools. Characters from Avengers (especially Black Widow), Star Wars, and Steven Universe were also popular (at one point, I saw "Rose Quartz" and "Pearl" cuddling in the corner, which no doubt would've pleased the shippers). I think Karen took some photos...I'll try to get copies and post them later.
Best t-shirt I saw all weekend: "My ideal weight is Tom Hiddleston on top of me". Karen approved of the sentiment.
There were also the usual high-profile media guests from various geeky movies and tv shows: Jeremy Renner, Michael Rooker, Bruce Campbell, etc. And Burt Reynolds, for some reason. Meh. Not that I'm not a fan of some of these people, but you usually had to pay extra and stand in long lines just for the privilege of getting an autograph. Not my thing.
I was there for the comics, and there were plenty to be had. Especially on Sunday, when many of the dealers put out boxes of $1.00 books to clear out their extra inventory. A lot of this was junk from the overhyped '90s/'00s, but some diligent digging found plenty of worn-but-readable gems from my beloved 1970s. I picked up a few book collections too, but even with some dealers offering 20%-50% off, some of those high-end hardcovers were still too rich for my blood. As John pointed out to me, in many cases you can get better deals online. But I was happy with my haul (see the list of my purchases at the end of the post).
It was a fun, if tiring, trip (my aching bod on Sunday morning reminded me I'm not 20 years old anymore, and walking all day and bending over countless back-issue boxes takes a toll). If we do it again next year, I'd like to find a show that has both mainstream and indy representation, if such a thing even exists anymore.
Battling Boy by Paul Pope
Dangerous Curves by Michael Golden
Empowered Vol. 3 by Adam Warren
Girl Comics (a Marvel anthology with all women creators)
Mr. X - Extinction and Other Stories by Dean Motter
Saga vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Scooter Girl by Chynna Clugston-Major
Vampire Tales Vol. 3 (collects the old Marvel b&w magazine)
The Webcomics Handbook by Brad Guigar
Amazing Adventures #4, 9 (Inhumans and Black Widow)
Beowulf #3, 4
Brave and the Bold #51 (Aquaman & Hawkman), 59 (Batman & Green Lantern)
Creatures on the Loose #16, 17 (Gullivar Jones), 27 (Thongor)
DC Special #20 (Green Lantern)
DC Special Series #11 (Flash Spectacular)
Detective Comics #481 (the first "Batman Family"-themed issue. Been looking for an affordable copy of this for years, and got it here for 4 bucks)
Hercules Unbound #4
Hulk #185, 187, 189
Hulk Annual #6
Jimmy Olsen #151, 152
Marvel Chillers #2 (Modred the Mystic)
Marvel Premiere #43 (Paladin)
Marvel Spotlight #26 (Scarecrow)
Master of Kung Fu #17
Rima the Jungle Girl #7
Sub-Mariner #51, 52
Superboy #192, 207
Super Friends #31
Superman #255, 256, 290
Superman Family #184, 218
Swamp Thing #21, 23
Tomb of Dracula #66
Wanted, The World's Most Dangerous Villains #3, 9
Weird Wonder Tales #22 (Dr. Druid)