Convention Report | C2E2 2010

A roundup and photo parade from the inaugural Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo.

 

 

 

From April 16th-18th, the Lakeside Center at McCormick Place played home to the inaugural Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo, a/k/a C2E2. A new convention in any large city will garner a lot of attention, but what made C2E2 one to watch was its position in the “con wars” between C2E2’s Reed Exhibitions (who also host the New York Comic Con, the second largest in the country) and Wizard, who have run the successful Wizard World Chicago (rechristened last year as “Chicago Comic-Con”) since 1997. Since the announcement of C2E2’s creation, Wizard entered into Reed’s territory by buying the Big Apple Comic Con, then tried to take the wind out of Reed’s sails by scheduling their Anaheim Comic-Con on the same weekend as C2E2.
 
But as they say, all politics are local, and what Midwesterners are concerned with is which Chicago con will meet their needs. Wizard’s convention, which takes place out in the suburb of Rosemont, has traded much of its comics focus to become a home to sci-fi actors, wrestlers, and vendors selling cheap back issues. But Reed chose a different tack, trying to create “The con Chicago needs, the con you deserve” by bringing in hordes of top-notch comics creators and locating in the heart of downtown Chicago, right on Lake Michigan. So how’d they do their first time out? Read on.
 
The Crowd
 
Given the competition with Wizard’s con, the big question, of course, is “how did the crowd compare to Wizard World?” If you were to strictly compare official attendance figures, it would appear Reed got blown out of the water: Reed announced a final tally of 27,500 attendees, just a bit below the 35-40,000 that Reed has projected and far below Wizard’s claim of 70,000 attendees for last year’s Chicago Comic-Con. But as someone who has been to every one of Wizard’s Chicago cons since 2000, the company’s ever-increasing numbers have always seemed wildly out of tune with reality, as attendance has been noticeably lighter there over the last three years.
 
But on the whole, yes, attendance felt a bit lighter at C2E2 than at Wizard’s con, especially on Friday. As one would expect from a convention in the heart of a big city, a lot of the locals clearly didn’t feel the pull enough to skip work on Friday (or wanted to merely sample the first year convention, and picked Saturday as their day to do that), and the cavernous convention hall felt quite empty for much of that day. Some of that feeling was amplified by the 3-hour “pros-only” period, which kept the full swarm of attendees from entering the hall until 1PM. By the time the place started to get crowded, the day felt half-over.
 
But of course, a picture is worth a thousand words, so here’s a few thousand words by way of comparison. (All photos by yours truly.)
 
 
This is a shot taken while entering into the main hall from the concessions area, around 5PM on Friday. Crowds are light, and made even lighter by the nice wide aisles. Those wide aisles would be much appreciated on Saturday.
 
 
This is a shot taken from the middle of the convention floor during the height of Saturday afternoon. By this point the convention was buzzing, but the spacious layout helped keep things from becoming a bogged down mess, as parts of the Rosemont convention center can sometimes be.
 
 
This is a shot of the convention floor around noon on Sunday. Crowds were heavier than they were on Friday, but followed the traditional Sunday curve of starting out busy as people hunt for last-day deals, then dying down as the day went on and flights/trains/carpools had to be caught.
 
In summary, while there was definitely a sizable crowd (one more than sizable enough to warrant another convention), the sheer size of the convention hall meant that the crowd rarely, if ever, made you feel crowded. There were exceptions of course, such as the costume contest, which brought a crowd so big that you couldn’t even see the elevated stage from its outer reaches.
 
The massive crowd for the costume contest, 4PM on Saturday.
 
And of course, it isn’t all about the crowd at the convention. Though the fact that C2E2 attendees stayed in a net of widely dispersed hotels in the middle of one of America’s finest cities definitely spread out the crowd, the bar at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place established itself as the official after-hours hangout, luring a tightly-packed crowd that included DC’s power trio Dan Didio, Jim Lee, and Geoff Johns, among others.
 
The bar at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place on Friday night. Despite the spacious crescent-shaped layout, most patrons congregated around the entrance.
 
 

On the whole, things hummed along nicely at C2E2. The crowd felt a bit lighter than it could have been, but for a first year con, Reed pulled in a generally sizable crowd and, most importantly, pleased that crowd. It didn’t even take a leading question to hear quotes like “I’m definitely coming back next year” or “This is so much better than Rosemont” from pretty much anybody at the convention. Reed may not be winning the attendance war yet, but they seem to be winning the war on hearts and minds already. The 2011 faceoff will, I think, be the true test. Turning all the people who gave the con a Saturday test run into full weekend attendees will be the next big step.

 

The Show
 
Seeing as how I’m putting the finishing touches on this report over a month after the convention took place, it seems silly to do a rundown of publishing news at this point, but if you’re interested in such things, I’d like to direct you to Robot 6’s thorough collection of news tidbits here, here, and here.
 
When I originally made my plans to attend C2E2, I had every intention of covering the various newsworthy panels of the weekend, but scheduling conflicts made that completely impossible. If you’re a fan of mainstream comics, odds are the two panels you want to be sure to catch are Marvel’s “Mondo Marvel” panel and DC’s “DC Nation,” but those two panels both took place on the same day (Friday) and overlapped by a half hour (Marvel’s ran 4-5PM, DC’s 4:30-5:30), so there was literally no way you could attend both. (To make matters worse, #3 publisher Image Comics’ panel ran at the exact same time as Marvel’s.) As a fan of works from both companies, it made me so annoyed that, not wanting to pick favorites, I just skipped both panels.
 
The next day, I did decide I should hit up at least one major panel to see how well they worked, and the lucky winner was DC’s Brightest Day panel, centering around DC’s yearlong biweekly event miniseries. Brightest Day follows a dozen heroes (including such DC stalwarts as Aquaman and Deadman) who were revived at the end of the Blackest Night event miniseries. The panel was run by editor Ian Sattler, and featured writers Peter Tomasi, Geoff Johns, Gail Simone, James Robinson, and JT Krul, as well as Brightest Day cover artist David Finch. While I won’t bore you with the details of month-old news (if you’re interested, you can find more here), I will say I was impressed with the way it was run. The room was large enough to handle the crowd (it was at probably 90% capacity when the panel started), the sound was good, and they managed the flow of questioners to the microphone to keep things running smoothly.
 
The panel itself was mostly Q&A, and thus was mostly made up of the standard awful questions that are begging for spoilers but instead elicit one-word or “we can’t tell you yet”-type answers. (That, or jokey questions like “Will we find out why Martian Manhunter has pants now?") But as they got deeper into the panel, the questions delved deeper (as Sattler joked, “This is not a 100-level class.”), peaking with a thoughtfully reasoned explanation from one fan on how disappointed he was with the death of Roy Harper’s daughter during the Robinson-penned Justice League of America: Cry for Justice miniseries. It was a heartfelt question that got right to the core of why it is people care about these characters and Robinson, obviously touched, told the fan “Because of the eloquence of your statement, in the next two years, you will see another hero or heroine have a child and have a normal relationship with that child.” It was amazing to see the spin melt away and hear a creator address a criticism from a fan so directly and so personally.
 
The only other panel I managed to attend in full that weekend was the “Visual Analysis” panel, the final presentation of the academic Comics Studies Conference. While I was interested in many of the topics in the conference, I ended up attending that one for purely personal reasons, as PLAYBACK:stl’s own Steve Higgins was a presenter on the panel. It ended up being a rather weird hodge-podge: the first half of the panel had nothing to do with visual analysis at all, and instead was a hard-sell presentation on Gotham City 14 Miles, an anthology of essays on “why the 1960s Batman TV series matters,” helmed by the book’s editor, Jim Beard. The panel featured comics writer Mark Waid, an Adam West-style Batman cosplayer, and generally had nothing to do with visual analysis at all. It was a weird transition, then, to move into Higgins’ presentation on visual imagery in Jason Lutes’ Jar of Fools, or his fellow panelist’s essay on decadence and aestheticism in Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Promethea, and Lost Girls. All of the presentations were interesting, they just didn’t gel together all that well.
 
 
The Gotham City 14 Miles panel. From left, Webster University professor Peter Coogan, comics writer Mark Waid, Batman cosplayer John Whitt, and contributing essayist Mike Johnson. Photo by Jason Green.

 

Here’s a photo parade of some of the other sights to see on the convention floor.
 
 
Marvel Studios offered up an auction of a number of authentic props from the then-impending film Iron Man 2, including this life-sized armor bust. Photo by Jason Green.
 
 
If you were willing to drop the cash, you could get your picture taken behind the wheel of the original 1960s Batmobile or the Delorean from Back to the Future. It’s a shame they didn’t let the Delorean out on the street, because I’m pretty sure at least one of my cabs made it to 88 miles-per-hour on Lakeside Drive, no problem. Photo by Jason Green.
 
 
The booths for Aspen and best-selling fantasy author Sherrilyn Kenyon (whose advertisements covered the convention shuttles) on Friday morning, before the doors opened to the public (hence the lack of foot traffic). Photo by Steve Higgins.
 
 
BOOM! Studios editor-in-chief Mark Waid readies the company’s booth for the oncoming hoard on Friday morning. Photo by Steve Higgins.
 
 
World War Z and Zombie Survival Guide author Max Brooks greets fans at the Avatar Press booth. Photo by Steve Higgins.
 
 
Echo/Strangers in Paradise creator Terry Moore sketches for a line of fans on Saturday. Photo by Jason Green.
 
 
(Left) Starman/Ex Machina artist Tony Harris signs at the DC Booth on Saturday. Photo by Steve Higgins. (Right) Sometimes, it takes a gimmick to stand out from the crowd in Artist’s Alley. Andy Kuhn’s unique sketch offer was my personal favorite. Photo by Jason Green.
 
 
An excited youngster prepares to get his picture taken with his pal Brobee from Yo Gabba Gabba! in front of the Oni Press booth. One of the bigger publishing announcements of the convention was that Oni had scored the license to publish comics based on the hit kids TV show. Photo by Jason Green. 

 

Doctor Who Screening

They may have only had one more day to wait to watch them on BBC America, but it’s no surprise that the diehard fans of the venerable British sci-fi series Doctor Who lined up early for the Friday night Doctor Who screening to catch their first glimpse at the first two episodes starring Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor and Karen Gillan as his companion Amy Pond. (Photo of the line at right by Steve Higgins)

The event also (naturally) brought out the Doctor Who cosplayers, including PLAYBACK:stl’s own Steve Higgins, who donned the question mark-laden sweatervest of the 7th Doctor, as immortalized by Sylvester McCoy. (Eleven meets Seven in the photo below, taken by a generous stranger.)

 

 

 

PopCultour
As you may have been able to tell from my pre-con write-up, the event I was most looking forward to was the PopCultour after-hours concert Saturday night at nearby Reggie’s Rock Club. I don’t know what I can say, really, other than it delivered exactly what I hoped it would: a night full of awesome, nerd-infused power pop that transformed into a wickedly weird art party afterwards. The crowd was a little light when Kirby Krackle took to the stage at 8PM, but steadily grew throughout their set. By the time the Fuglees wrapped and the scantily clad go-go dancers hopped on the bar, it was getting hard to move around the place. I’ll chalk that up as a success.
 
 
Kirby Krackle rocks out with a special guest, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada (second from right). Photo by Jason Green.
 
 
The self-described “world’s greatest band in the world,” the Fuglees. From left: Tom Knapp, Erich Anderson, and Firebreather artist Andy Kuhn. Photo by Jason Green.
 
 
The terrifying bathroom at Reggie’s Rock Club seemed to have transported in from the dearly departed Creepy Crawl. Photo by Jason Green.
 
 
The live art demo by Jim Mahfood, Mike Huddleston, and others, which also featured go-go dancers (not pictured…sorry!). Photo by Jason Green

 

Cosplay parade

Photos by Steve Higgins (1-8) and Jason Green (9-10).

 

In Summary
 
In general, the inaugural C2E2 was damn impressive. McCormick Place made for an environment very conducive to a comic con: aisles were roomy, un-crowded, and easy to navigate; the giant windows flooded the con floor with light, helping to fend off the general soul-crushing feeling that can come with spending three days inside of what feels like a giant warehouse; and the downtown location made it easy to experience the real Chicago. (When you get in a cab and ask to go to Giordano’s and the cabbie says “Which one?”, you know you’re really in Chicago.) The crowd may have been a little light, but the excitement and good vibes can only promise bigger and better things for next year. Wizard? Your move. | Jason Green

 

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