WELCOME BACK MY FRIENDS, TO THE SHOW THAT NEVER ENDS -- Among the great mysteries of life are, What is the meaning of life? Why do bad things happen to good people? and How the hell does Wizard stay in business? Last year's ChicagoCon was a hopeless disaster. I've seen bar fights better coordinated than that. And yet, here they are again, like a bad chili dog -- just when you think you have it down, it comes rumbling right back up again.
Now, yes, I would say this year was better. But after last year, almost anything would be better. There could have been nothing on the floor but Dan DiDio and Joe Quesada singing selections from "La Triviata," and not only would I have been glad to see them, I'd have paid the $100 to see them. I still heard grumbling from people, saying the floor layout was confusing. I can see that. The show was moved to a different part of the convention center. Usually, it's in the biggest convention hall. This year, it was moved to one of the side areas and split between two floors to hide how much it's contracted...I mean, to make organization easier (helping take up floor space were a couple of vendors Walmarting their stuff (selling their wares from more than one location), staking out each floor. Wizard did this themselves with booths for Wizard World merch). But the long and the short of it was that the lower ceilings and more concentrated presentations meant room characteristics for orientation were lost. Not only that, but it seems the placement of the booths was still haphazard. There were two or three different ones just for Robert Rodriguez and his projects, so if you weren't aware there was more than one, you might accidentally use the wrong one as a waypoint. I developed a good sense of the floor layout, and even I was taking wrong turns every once in a while or surprised to round a corner and find an outside wall.
So, two floors. Top floor was dealers and what publishers would come. Avatar, Zenescope, Lion Forge, Hound Comics, and Big Dog Ink (hi, Dirk Manning! Looking dapper as always. You and Ben Templesmith should start a clothier) were there. Also the various fan groups were ringed around the area. The crash pad that debuted last year was once again right in front of the main entrance. There was also a zombie shooting gallery towards the back of the hall.
The bottom floor was the Artist Alley and autograph area. I think the Artist Alley turnout was a smidge smaller than last year, but bunched up properly instead of spread across the back. Lots of attendees streamed through the area, but what exactly they were doing, I don't know. Lots of foot traffic and some cursory glances, but not a lot of sales. Lots of people carrying stuff they bought from vendors, but no real sales in the trenches – several people made table, but just barely. I heard a few people complaining that they were seeing little traffic in their aisles. It was actually kind of shocking to see Ethan Van Sciver without a crowd around him. I've never seen him with no one anxious to talk to him or collect some sigs, and there were huge stretches where he was sitting at his table like a wallflower at a school dance. Something is wrong somewhere.
Thursday preview night didn't give you any indication what would be going down in the autograph area, as only a couple of celebrities were signing that night and anyone that wasn't didn't even have a sign telling you who would be there. Tara Strong, for example, only got a little paper sign on a mic stand outside her area on Friday saying she would be there Saturday and Sunday, no big banner like the others were getting until she actually appeared. That is sooooo Wizard.
Getting between the floors could be interesting. On Thursday night, you had the main staircase area as the only way in or out to the convention floor, and a couple of narrow escalators to the right side of the hall took you to the lower level. Despite the Artist Alley being literally right fucking there by the door to the convention center lobby, it remained closed off when the Thursday preview night started. The area was practically dead, with several people in the trenches bitching about the isolation (and me getting a couple of my buddies to chant with me, "No way in! No way out!"). Wizard eventually noticed that people were not going downstairs, they thought the entire convention was on the upper floor, and finally opened the lower entrance at about 6PM, two hours before the show closed for the day. That is sooooo Wizard.
So, one set of doors on the front side of the hall you could take was staked out by guards saying the public wasn't allowed that way. Halfway through Preview Night, the secondary down escalator took a shit and broke down. The entire path was closed off, and people were directed to the door they had just been told was not for the public.
This path took you around the panel presentation rooms to the main escalator area. However, this was an area pretty much unused in the history of Wizard World. There were no guiding signs or indicators. I had to ask people as I went to make sure I was heading in the right direction. Wizard staffers just gave a general, “Go that way.” The folks from Print Ninja recognized me (they were heading for a small press panel) and guided me the rest of the way, and more accurately than the Wizard staffers. That is sooooo Wizard.
The line to get your tickets stretched out the hall with the booths, through the convention center lobby, and out the door where, on Thursday, it looped around on itself. Saturday? It actually went down the block before doubling back on itself. The line was still that long by 1PM, possibly later than that. I didn't think it could be worse than the final time I went to ACen and waited in line for two hours just to get my pass. I feel sorry for the people waiting outside in the sun and humidity, especially if they were wearing, say, Spartan armor. That is sooooo Wizard.
Wifi is still pay for play, Boingo Network for $10 a day. I asked about a press lounge. They didn't have one. That is sooooo Wizard.
THE PRICE IS WRONG, BITCH! -- $100 to get into Wizard World Chicago?!? What, do I get to make out with the cosplayer of my choice for that? (Opposite gender, same gender would probably be extra.)
For those who aren't that good at The Maths, that's a 25% increase in price from last year ($80), which was itself a 33% increase in price from the previous year ($60). $20 is quite a chunk of change. A Saturday only ticket was $70. And with all the stuff I was seeing people buy, I would guess the ones who felt the hit from the price increase were the folks in the Artist Alley.
MISSING IN ACTION – The biggest absence is in the convention center itself. There's a little alcove with a collection for Hummel figurines from the original Rosemont mayor's wife. That's been replaced with a Starbucks.
Wizard did update their web site to say certain big name celebrities would not make it. However, others didn't get so lucky. Brian Defferding is someone I've known a while and was hoping to run into. Not on the app, not on the list, not on the web site.
Tried to run down CosplayStars.com. Couldn't find them anywhere on the floor list, and even the guy at the info booth had no clue. He guessed they would be on the upper floor on the perimeter with the rest of the fan groups and cosplayers like Ivy Doomkitty. Found them downstairs in the autograph area instead. That is sooooo Wizard.
Kind of surprising was the absence was the Moys. I don't recall ever not seeing them at a Chicago convention. I always run across them, sometimes without even trying. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine in the Artist Alley needed to hit the can and asked me if I would stake out his table while he was gone. I said sure. As soon as I sat down, I found myself sitting right across from the Moys, who recognized me and just smirked. I promptly spread my arms and declared, “I drew all this or my name isn't Rob Granito!” (I'm such a bitch.) But there was no sign of them this time. Gene Ha I was also expecting to be there but I didn't see him.
Wizard holds its convention the same weekend as Flashback Weekend, an awesome classic B movie and horror film convention held at an adjacent hotel. One of the guests there was Betsy Russell. Russell was one of the guests for the Wizard World LA show a few years ago that was canceled about a month before it went down. I was half tempted to get her thoughts on the whole thing.
IF YOU'RE KINKY AND YOU KNOW IT, CRACK YOUR WHIP – If you like latex, you had quite a view this weekend. Thursday night, the woman at a booth saying it could turn anything into a music speaker was wearing a latex Sailor Moon costume. The Admiral Theater had some of their girls there, and each day they were sporting latex versions of Starfleet uniforms or superheroine costumes.
MODEL CITIZEN WITH ZERO DISCIPLINE – So I decided to try for a press pass for Wizard. After they checked my credentials, I was approved two weeks before the con started, and the PR rep said, if there was anybody I wanted to interview for the web site, let him know, he'd contact their agents, and we'd see what would happen.
“Uh, oh,” said a friend of mine who has a lot of experience working conventions.
Uh oh, what?
“I hope you aren't expecting an answer.”
Her statement was prophetic. I asked for four interviews – Wil Wheaton, CM Punk, Tara Strong, and Tera Patrick. I was told Wheaton was too busy, but he'd contact the others' agents and get back to me.
After a week, I sent a follow-up because I hadn't heard back from him.
“Of course, you didn't hear back from him,” my friend said. “It's Wizard.”
I was not only getting spammed with ads to buy a ticket to the show, I also got an invite to a Wednesday night meet and greet to get my press credentials early and hobnob with other inkslingers. But no response other than that.
Friday during the day, I check my messages and still have no response. As I am a renegade first, I decided to take my chances asking on my own. First target? CM Punk.
A little bumping around leads me to the Wizard reps right outside the photo op area. I ask there is someone from WWE that I can talk to about getting an interview.
“I don't know. Let me ask. Come back in a few minutes.”
I do. I'm told, “To set up an interview, you have to talk to Wizard's PR rep. Do you want his email address?”
So, no interviews with any of the names I sought. Sorry, gang.
WELCOME TO DANTE'S. WHAT LEVEL, PLEASE? -- Seen on the floor on Friday – an 8 year old girl cosplaying as the Halle Berry Catwoman.
I didn't get that good a look. I refused to get that good a look. I was too afraid of winding up on some sort of government watchlist. I kept thinking, No way that was what I thought it was. No way. Peter just had one to many vodka and Frescas and that was just a normal girl in a normal costume.
Nope. It was independently confirmed by at least five other people that I wasn't seeing things. There is a line where enough is enough and we have CLEARLY crossed it.
And fuck you to anyone asking if I got a picture.
MAKING SOLID BANK – If you want to know if Neal Adams drew any sort of crowd this weekend, here's all you need to know...on Friday, there was an ATM machine right next to his area. It wasn't there Thursday night.
CONFIDENTIAL TO THE GUY FOLLOWING THE FEMALE COSPLAYERS ALL WEEKEND -- Okay, your technique works. You walk along behind women and look like you are fiddling with your camera. 10 out of 10. However, it's pretty obvious you are taking pictures of their asses when you leave the flash enabled. Fuckin' derp.
CLIMB EVERY STAIRCASE – I'm waiting for someone in the trenches to create the first superhero from Rosemont, a character called “The Stairmaster.”
The escalators were not designed for the traffic the ChicagoCon got, and ate shit on a regular basis. The down escalator on the far side of the hall broke Thursday night. It was fixed Friday morning, then the up escalator broke. Later in the weekend, they both broke down at the same time. The main escalators in the lobby also were under strain, and the down one broke at least once. Wizard staffers were urging people to take the stairs to ease up the workload.
DIE JEALOUS, BITCHES! -- Tara Strong signed my Doctor Whooves fan comics. She also signed my Twilight Sparkle one shot and the original cover art page that I bought at C2E2. Swag!
COSPLAY CONFIDENTIAL – According to my highly unscientific survey, the most popular costumes of the con resulted in toss-ups for the men and the women.
After totally dominating both genders at C2E2, Fin from Adventure Time was reduced to more humble numbers. The two clear winners for the men were Doctor Who (lots of the Matt Smith incarnation) and Ash from Pokemon. Women? There was either an anthropomorphized TARDIS, or Sailor Moon. LOTS of Sailor Moon. A few of the other Sailor Scouts made appearances, but Moon carried the day.
Also roaming the floor were guys dressed as luchadores (Mexican wrestlers). Deadpool put up very impressive numbers, but not quite enough to take the crown. There was a girl there dressed as Domino, and when a Deadpool cosplayer came by as she was getting ready for a picture, magic happened.
There were a lot fewer MLP-FiM cosplayers this time. Although one person dressed as a cop had a Twilight Sparkle plushie wearing a sort of Batman costume that, depending on your point of view was either made of Win (my opinion) or just plain silly (the opinion of people with no taste).
The Hugh Jackman Wolverine put in a lot of appearances. One guy really got into it. You know how people make fun of cosplayers who...uh...their bodies don't quite fit the characters they are cosplaying as? Well, this guy was cut. And he knew it, going around the floor without a shirt and flashing very tanned abs (question: since a tan is a physical reaction to reduce the amount of sunlight absorbed by the skin, would Wolverine's healing factor prevent him from ever being tan in the first place?). This guy was REALLY popular with the ladies. No, I'm not going to make any comments. Guys salivate over the female cosplayers, and girls got needs, too.
I'm not sure if one guy I saw was trying to be Edward from Twilight or was just a really casual dresser.
My favorite was a toss-up between the woman as Sailor Jupiter and Mike Leaich, a local author who was just wandering through the lobby as I was getting off the escalator. He wore a black T-shirt, jeans, a duster, and was carrying a long tree limb. I didn't think anything of it until I saw the silver pentacle hanging around his neck.
I went from zero to geek in half a second. Harry Dresden!
He smiled at me and reached in his pocket to pull out a business card holder. Inside were Harry Dresden business cards reflecting the information from the books.
DE AGONY OF DE FEET -- Hey! Perfect segue!
On Saturday, my feet were really starting to throb. I can usually take more than that, but not this time.
On the lower floor almost right by the escalator was a familiar sight -- a massage area staffed by cosplayers. $15 for ten minutes of massage, feet or back. I decided to give it a shot.
I requested a massage and was told they had to finish with someone first, it would be a little bit, but I could wait right there. More time off my feet? Sounds like a winner to me. The first order of business was legal -- I had to sign a disclaimer for a foot massage. That out of the way, I took out my art supplies and started drawing to kill time, working on a cover for a Doctor Whooves fan comic.
The woman who would be giving me a foot massage was Lauren D. Camer, a local and licensed massage therapist. She noticed me and asked me what I was doing (you got your opposite gender -- they had a guy for any women looking for a massage as well). She quickly established a very casual rapport with me, and we talked a little bit about the business. I mentioned the cosplay thing and asked if that brought in any creeps looking to be handled by Lara Croft. They said no, the crowd is nice and respectful to them and they like geeks anyway. I mentioned they probably got a few smart asses who mentioned the TV series The Client List. Every last one of them rolled their eyes and nodded their heads, one of them wishing a meteor strike on the Lifetime Network corporate offices.
(Digression: it reminded me of one of the funniest jokes on the TV show Sledge Hammer! Detective Sledge Hammer and his partner had to find a businessman for questioning. The partner mentioned that every week at that time, he'd go for a massage. "Oh, great! We'll never find him in the city!" "No, he goes for a real massage." "Oh, there's only two or three of those.")
I felt a little self-conscious because my feet tend to sweat a lot and I worry about foot odor. Combine that with heredity (when it comes to foot odor, my dad has a set of feet that should be outlawed by the Geneva Convention), and all I could think was this was going to be a very bad idea. Not at all. First, she put on latex gloves and rubbed my feet down with Purell, then peppermint oil. Then she got to work. I didn't really notice her actions as we started talking about the art of creating comics and writing in particular. In fact, I didn't realize the progress being made until she switched feet.
So, did it work?
My feet never felt better.
So if you are thinking of getting a massage from this group, I highly recommend it. Just be a gentleman, and tip them well.
WHAD'YA KNOW? -- Onrie Kompan is remarkable. I've done shows with him. While people like me sit at our tables, Kompan stands in front of his table, working the crowd and making connections. It's working for him, with the first issue of his newest Yi Soon Shin comic getting an initial print run of over 5,000 copies. For a comic with no distribution, it's all him going to shows. He's a swell guy, too.
Kompan doesn't slow down at all. He has started a new web site to help people in the trenches. The site is Freedable Comics (http://www.freedablecomics.com). It is an advertiser supported site that lets people put their stuff up and actually track who is checking your stuff out, breaks down demographics, and other things to help you focus your efforts and reach your best possible audience.
CHASING DREAMS -- While the Artist Alley didn't have much, it did have some great stuff. The most noteworthy was Plush Action Toys (http://www.plushactiontoys.com). Custom made plushies, including My Little Pony plushies that are not only remarkably on model, but fully posable (the Twilight Sparkle comes with wings now thanks to the Season 3 finale). They are pricey, in the $500 or higher range, but I can honestly say you are getting your money's worth.
Also there was someone I meant to check out at ChicagoCon last year and C2E2 this year, Erika Swanson. She does a book series called Bellossoms (http://www.bellossoms.com) about anthropomorphic flowers exploring the world. The feel is reminiscent of the old Merry Melodies cartoons, which were about charm and a sense of wonder. I like the cute, and this is chock full of cute. A perfect story to read to your daughter.
Jim McClain was there, trying to spread awareness of his new series Solution Squad that he debuted at C2E2 this year. It's an all ages super team book, and if you are an autograph hound, the book features character sketches by George Perez, Jamal Igle, Ryan Otley, Jason Howard, and Carlo Barberi. His site is at http://www.solutionsquad.net Check it out.