Well, here we are in Chicago, Illinois, home of great food, bad sports teams, and dead people who somehow still vote. It is the third annual C2E2 convention from Reed, held on the shores of Lake Michigan at McCormick Place. Unlike Wizard World in Rosemont, there's no tolls to get here and the bathrooms are generally cleaner. However, my car won't go faster than 96 MPH, so I had to stay out of the passing lane (thank you, I'll be here all week!). I went in with a wallet of twenties, comic books to sign, my netbook and my tablet (yeah, I dual wield). Want a worm's eye view of the con? Jump down here in the trenches, and I'll tell you all about it....
THE MARKETPLACE OF IDEAS – One of the things I like about Reed and C2E2 is that Reed has shown a desire to learn from their mistakes and get their con to a point where it truly is “The con Chicago needs, the con you deserve.” The first year, they picked the biggest floor space but overestimated the attendance. Next year, they went to a smaller hall, changed their advertising campaign, and let kids in free on Sunday. This year, they were in the mid-size building, where the down escalators take you right to the McDonald's and Connie's Pizza without having to traverse the odd layout of the buildings that make up McCormick Place and limiting your exposure to the godawful carpet designs in the other buildings.
They seem to have found the right way to reach people. Lots of people in the Artist Alley made table, and several booths made back their costs. Some people were complaining that no one was buying their stuff, but it seemed like, if you had stuff that appealed to the demographic Reed targeted, you practically had a license to print money. Hopefully, this pulls in even more dealers and continues to expand the attendance and the con itself.
ZIGGY SAYS THERE'S A 99% CHANCE THE ARTIST IS ON THIS SIDE OF THE ROOM -- The C2E2 app is actually quite nice, although there is something about it that would make it better.
The convention program and web site lists where the individual artists will be in Artist Alley, but the app doesn't (and the app auto updates every time you start it up). You tap the artist on the app, you get a bio, but no information where they will be on the AA grid. Just saying it would be nice, especially in the event that the artist has to switch locations for some reason.
THE WAVE OF THE FUTURE HASN'T GOTTEN HERE YET -- Can someone explain to me why we can get 14Kbps from Mars but I can't get a handshake from the convention floor?!?
While McCormick Place is being nice by providing free wifi from the convention floor (for the first year of C2E2, they were charging $40 a day for use), it really can be hit or miss. And it wasn't just me. Some people in Artist Alley had attachments for their iPads that enabled them to swipe credit cards, but there would be long stretches where they couldn't connect, and I saw a couple of them doing the Dance To The Wifi Gods where they move the devices up and down, turn in circles, or sometimes go down several tables in hopes of completing the transaction. If you are going to do that, you might be better off tethering your device to a cell phone – 3G worked like a charm in there.
YOU BRING DA NOISE, I'LL BRING DA FUNK – This year, instead of the Rock Band stage (I guess those Venture Brothers cosplayers who slaughtered Bohemian Rhapsody scarred everyone worse than I thought), they had a DJ spinning. It was nice to take a break from walking around and just sit outside the convention floor, listening to him fuck shit up old skool (no dubstep, thank Elvis for that), but Rock Band was more fun.
I also noticed that there wasn't a stage set up in the main attendee congregation area for filkers and geek-centric comedy troops to play. Just noticing.
OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD...WELL, MAYBE NOT – Joe McPhee is a great guy who runs Chicago-based Xigency Studios, a small indie studio trying to keep on keeping on in the increasingly constrictive comic book world. While talking with him, I asked if his group was going to be at Wizard World Chicago, and he said he wasn't sure.
According to him, just before C2E2, he got an email from Wizard (Wizard recently upped the cost of their Artist Alley tables from $300 to $400) saying that they were offering him a small press booth for $600. This booth would be in the back by Artist Alley, a.k.a. Siberia. However, they were offering him the chance to get a “Premiere Small Press” booth. It would be stationed towards the front by the celebrities there to sign autographs. The price? $1200.
No small presser sells that much during a convention. And ask anyone who has ever had a table next to a major draw. Lots of foot traffic, but everyone pretty much ignores you in favor of the person they are there to see, so it actually hurts your sales.
With the regime change at Wizard, I had hopes that they would be taking steps to rebuild the bridges burned with comic publishers (I have heard, but haven't confirmed, that Marvel and DC will supposedly be there this year). But this, if true, does not bode well.
MAKING AN APPOINTMENT TO SEE THE DOCTOR – The first year of C2E2, there was a Doctor Who panel that showed not only the first Matt Smith episode (running later than night on BBC America), but the second episode before it even ran in the UK. The hall was jampacked and enthusiastic. But for some reason, C2E2 hasn't done anything Who-centric since. Given that Chicago is one of the hotbeds of Who fandom, and probably the biggest in the US, you'd think it would be a no-brainer. Unless that first year ruined that thought forever.
The first year during the panel, they brought out a show runner from England to intro the episode, and he got a first-hand look at how dedicated Chicago Whovians are. Smith's first episode hadn't even run yet, and his sonic screwdriver replica was not supposed to be available. But a dealer on the floor imported a buttload of them and was selling them like hotcakes. That night, the panel started. They had darkened the room a bit so the monitors could be seen. The show runner came out and said, “Are you ready?” Everyone with a sonic screwdriver held it up and activated it. Smith's sonic screwdriver has a green light, and at least a third of the lights were green instead of blue. The show runner's jaw dropped and he said, “How did you get those already?!?” I just shook my head and thought, Welcome to Chicago, buddy. I imagine he went back to England and said, “All those stories you've heard about Chicago? They're true.”
COSPLAY CONFIDENTIAL – I noticed an interesting trend among cosplayers, sort of the logical conclusion to how things have been going.
For a while, you had people trying different things with the cosplay such as the Summer Fun Stormtrooper that pops up once in a while. Now, the pendulum is swinging the other way with a significant number of costumes that are barely costumes.
Now, this does not apply to some costumes where all you need to do is rummage in your closet and you can produce something (blue jean shorts, red suspenders, yellow T-shirt == Misty from Pokemon, appearing as House M.D. like one guy did). A couple of guys ran the floor in normal clothes but with boxes on their heads. The boxes were styled like the robot dancer from LMAO's “Party Rock Athem” video. One woman was undercover Black Widow from Iron Man 2 – if you didn't notice her clipboard said, “Stark Enterprises,” you would have just thought she was sharply dressed. Another woman had sort of a Witchblade costume – arm and face coverings of aluminum foil, but wearing a silver club bustier and grey jeans – just remove the wings and she looks trendy instead. Is it really a costume or is it just accessorizing? One girl wore an Asuka from NGE costume that consisted of a redhead wig, the two things in her hair, a small penguin plush, and that was it, the rest was casual wear, not even close to anything Asuka wore on the show. I'm not saying you have to bust your butt, but put a little effort into it or at least try for something witty. (And this is especially true of “zombies” who just smear some dirty makeup on their faces or people who just put a green diamond above their heads. Yeah. The Sims. I get it. Next?)
Quite a few costumes anthropomorphized. There were at least three people cosplaying as the TARDIS, not wearing a police box, but wearing blue clothing with a light on top of their heads. Daleks, My Little Ponies, quite a bit of this.
Most popular costume of the con – according to my unscientific analysis (I automatically disallow Stormtroopers, Ghostbusters, and this year added steampunk to the exclude file), the eleventh Doctor was once again the runaway favorite (you had him with a fez, a stetson, or no hat. And to those of you who say putting on a fez means you are the Doctor but just wearing different clothes, no, you're not), although Batman put up good solid numbers and was in the lead until about halfway through Saturday. For the gals, Poison Ivy was the runaway favorite, followed closely by various incarnations of Harley Quinn. Curiously, I saw all sorts of Harley Quinns except for the New52 version.
I like getting the unusual pictures of cosplayers. I got an Ambush Bug, the Drizzle and Mr. Mister, Sho 'Nuff from Barry Gordy's The Last Dragon, and Linguini from Rattatouie.
DRAWING INSPIRATION – One of the things being talked about on the Internet was the Gary Friedrich ruling and if it would put a freeze on convention sketches for fear of some publisher putting the screws to the artists. This is not an unreasonable fear – a couple of years ago at Wizard World Chicago, an artist set up his table with a ton of sketch cards. Within an hour, convention security informed him that the rights holders were saying he couldn't sell them and he had to take them down, basically killing his chances of making table that weekend (that's one I know of, I suspect it happens a bit more often than that). This would effectively be the first major con since the ruling, so what would happen?
The results are sort of mixed. The fan art had a lot more diversity this year, such as anime and MLP-FiM, and a conspicuous decrease in Marvel sketches on display to show the artists' skill. However, I'm unaware of anyone refusing to draw something owned by Marvel. The Moys were selling their hentai doujinshi of Kei and Yuri from the Dirty Pair getting it on, although the price was slashed (you should pardon the expression) to five bucks. And there were plenty of questionable sexualized images, including one guy selling prints of Supergirl, who is supposed to be 16, pleasuring herself.
Conclusion? Pretty much business as usual.
ALWAYS ROOM FOR ONE MORE – The convention area didn't take up the entire floor, there was plenty of room curtained off.
Which is what made the floor layout disappointing.
Getting around the outer perimeter on Saturday, it was jam packed, probably the worst I've seen since the last time I tried navigating the aisles at ACen. People couldn't really move. It's the first time I've seen Chicago pedestrians move slower than rush hour traffic. It wasn't helped by the occasional cosplayer getting their picture taken, and the position of them and the photographer completely blocked the aisle (please take that to a more open area). Plenty of people at the con with crutches or wheelchairs, and I couldn't imagine them ever getting through (and, in fact, saw a couple of them having to hold still for people blocking them). After about five minutes and only making it down one intersection, I was ready to start throwing elbows. Other aisles were far wider, forcing me to just avoid any dealers on the rim for good chunks of the day. Given that one side was right by where the area was curtained off from disuse, I would have liked them to scoot things out just a few feet to alleviate the crunch.
In the interest of being fair, Reed did put a wide open space between down the middle of the Artist Alley area. It was the easiest place to score cosplay pics. Although a couple did say they usually had better luck getting their pictures taken if they were with other cosplayers, not a lot of solo action. I kept expecting to hear people calling out, “LOOKING FOR GROUP!”
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY – Several libraries and literacy groups were there to drum up support, and they came up with a damn fun idea – a scavenger hunt among the booths. You wound up touring the floor, meeting everyone, and having a lot of fun. At least, those doing it said it was fun. All I could think was, Why didn't I hear about this sooner?!?
LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING – One of the things I was aiming for was to get as many signatures as possible on my first twelve issues of Power Girl. I already had Amanda Conner sign the first ten with variants and Adam Hughes sign his covers. Paul Mounts and Jimmy Palmiotti were going to be there, and I wanted to get them done.
Mounts looked in surprise as I pulled the books out of their bag and boards. On the upper right corner of the bag, I will put a little 2X4 label that has any pertinent information about the book (title, which series, printing, publisher, synopsis, anything else special like signed or first appearances or whatever). Apparently, I'm the only person who does this.
Palmiotti spent time talking about the creation process with people as he signed, and when he started signing my books, I mentioned that the one where Power Girl goes on the date with the guy from space was one of the funniest books I'd read that year and was a favorite of mine, and I'm betting Conner's experiences in the dating field informed a significant part of the story. He mentioned that the editors didn't like the book because they thought it was too jokey.
From a company that lets Keith Giffen write the Justice League?
He shrugged at that.
I firmly believe that, had the editor been female, she would have read the book, and not only have instantly approved the book, but would have been calling people saying, “You want to revisit some bad memories?”
GIVE THE PUBLIC WHAT THEY WANT – For the last couple of years, I have been recruiting people to write CBS and request a bobblehead of DeNozzo from NCIS (that way, when you smack it in the back of the head....).
A seller there had an Abby bobblehead.
Okay, time to refocus efforts.....
COLLABORATIVE EFFORTS – Comic writer Russell Lissau was there for Reading With Pictures, a group working to expand awareness of comics and graphic novels among parents, schools, and libraries. Lissau was at Wizard World Chicago last year just as APE's miniseries Strawberry Shortcake (the first issue had a scartch and sniff cover) was starting. Lissau was there with his daughter, who helped him write one of the stories in the issue, and they were both signing copies. He said he took the gig so that he could work with his daughter on something. Awwwwww....
There's another Strawberry Shortcake mini coming later this year. Lissau said the origin of how he got into it was interesting. APE contacted him about writing, but Lissau not only had no ideas, he was pretty much through with Strawberry Shortcake. So he asked his daughter, “They want me to write more, I have no ideas, can you come up with a story?”
His daughter immediately starting coming up with an idea where Strawberry loses her recipe book and needs her friends help to run the shop. And they could also include recipes for snacks in the issue as well. And she started coming up with how the plot would go.
I said, This sounds like the female version of Axe Cop.
Lissau said, “You're not the first person who's told me that.”
His daughter pegged it. APE was thinking about including recipes in the books as well, and they loved the whole thing, and Lissau and his daughter are working on it again. Awwwwww....
A QUICK MESSAGE TO THE MAKERS OF 5 HOUR ENERGY – It was very nice of you to offer me free bottles of your product. But after all that walking this weekend, I'd rather have aspirin instead of caffiene.
AND SPEAKING OF CAFFIENATED DRINKS – Right outside the convention hall was a Starbucks. On Saturday night, I figured I needed a little pick me up and went to get an iced chai latte.
1) There were only two people working there at the time, as opposed to Sunday afternoon, when there were seven.
2) They ran out of supplies, leaving only coffee and tea drinks and nothing else.
DIVERSITY IS KEY -- Joe Robinson Currie, the longtime head of Strictly Underground, was there, splitting his time between helping his buddies at Xigency and helping his buddies at Pyroglyphic. Currie and I have known each other since about 1997 (I think, I'm not sure). We talked about how his miniseries, Prodigy, is going to finish and the start of his new series Punx Of Rage. Both issues will be available at Wizard World Chicago, and I told him I couldn't wait to pick them up.
JUST BUY THE FILKIN' THING – One of the things I was looking forward to was stopping by the Panels On Pages booth and grabbing a copy of the album Wiztory – Rock To Reinstate Gareb Shamus As The One True CEO Of Wizard Entertainment. I knew the proceeds from the sale were no longer going to Hero Initiative, and wanted to see who was getting the support.
I get there and ask about the album. They show me a bunch of burned discs. Turns out the album had been available as a free download on the POP site all this time and the requested donation was $5 for the CBLDF, one of my favorites. They gave me a disc and a large print of the “album cover”, with the understanding that I, on my honor, had to stop by the CBLDF booth and give them a fiver. I made a beeline for it, and got a button from them, which I returned to the POP booth with and showed them to validate their faith in me.
The only drawback was I was hoping to score some signatures from the creators and artists, if not on the disc (since it's just a CD-R in a paper sleeve), then on the print. Oh, well. Hopefully, if he makes it to Wizard World Chicago again this year, I can get Ethan Van Sciver to sign the print, since he wrote one of the songs. I know Van Sciver has his detractors, but anybody that draws a character in a comic with a Lethargic Lad poster on his wall is okay in my book.
THIS IS IT! THE CROSSOVER YOU'VE BEEN WAITING FOR! -- Yeah, Star Trek meets Doctor Who is nice. But when can I see Doctor Who meets Buckaroo Banzai? And what would Banzai's sonic screwdriver look like? I mean, you know he'd build one after seeing it.
And I'll let everyone know if I hear anything from First or Valiant, I promise.