Convention Report | Wizard World Chicago 2006

A look at the Midwest's largest comics convention.

 

The Wizard Bunny and Galactus, Devourer of Worlds, welcome attendees to Wizard World Chicago '06 

The largest comic book convention in the midwest, Wizard World Chicago recently celebrated its tenth anniversary with a big milestone, breaking its own attendance record with 58,000 convention-goers, nearly 2000 more than the amount that showed up in 2005. This figure was questioned almost as soon as it was announced by many in attendance, who noted the con floor seemed much less tightly packed than it had in recent years. Newarama reported that less than a week after the convention, Wizard Entertainment Group had fired two senior convention staffers, a move seen by many as confirmation that the attendance numbers were not quite as reported.

Regardless of the attendance figures, Wizard World Chicago was still a massive event, with many attendees turning out to see Wizard's Guest of Honor, Jeph Loeb, who, along with Smallville star Erica Durance, auctioned off the art for Superman/Batman #26, a tribute issue to Loeb's son, Sam, who passed away in 2005. The auction was a great success as the pair raised over $72,000 for the Sam Loeb scholarship fund. Still many others made the trip to meet superstar director and sometimes comic writer Kevin Smith, who hosted the weekend's most attended panel, a Saturday afternoon Q&A. The panel was the only event where fans needed a ticket to get in, and they were all distributed Saturday morning, only moments after the opening of the show for the day.

Kristen Bell, TV's Veronica Mars, signs autographs for fans on Sunday.Most of the other famous convention guests highlighted the new focus of Wizard World — all-inclusive media, not just comic books, but movies and television as well – to coincide with Wizard's new tagline as "The Magazine of Comics, Entertainment and Pop Culture." Very few superstar comic creators made the trip. Instead, the celebrity guests that were advertised the most were Smith, who is only a comics creator on the side, Kristen Bell (TV's Veronica Mars), and actor Thomas Jane – who, as the star of The Punisher movie adaptation and co-writer of the Image Comics series Bad Planet, at least has some comics connection. Even Loeb's credits in the convention program more heavily stressed his career as a writer and producer for Lost and Smallville over his work in comics.

The main showroom contained much of the same. Wrestling fans could swing by the TNA booth for a picture or autograph with Raven and AMW, among others. Fans of mixed martial arts could meet legends Pat Miletich, Bas Rutten and Renzo Gracie at the booth of Wizard founder Gareb Shamus' company, the International Fight League. The comics area of the showroom, however, was absolutely hurt by the lack of an Image comics booth, which is usually a welcome and active presence in the showroom. While the expanded and sharp Dark Horse setup made up for it somewhat, hopefully Image Comics will make their return to Chicago in 2007. Fortunately, the ever-present dealer area was left completely intact, and seemed to have more of a modern focus this year, as opposed to past years, where many of the dealers hawked only Golden and Silver age comics.

The Spike TV booth was vacant much of the weekend, despite its position just inside the convention center's front entranceEven though it remained in its normal location, the setup of Artist's Alley seemed to reflect poor planning. As always, there were quite a few big names in the area, including Paul Jenkins, Peter David, Tony Moore, Phil Hester, Ryan Ottley, Skottie Young and Jim Starlin. Unfortunately, all of the big names were placed in one row, and most of them in one corner, sending most of the browsing public to that area. In past years, the bigger names were more spread out in an effort to mix them in with some of the lesser-known artists. In fact, many would say that the discovery and support of new talent is what drives the comic industry. In addition, this year, an annex to Artist's Alley separate from the main area contained none of the stars and very few creators with any major credits. This negatively affected the amount of people browsing this area, and as an effect, the sales of the books of these unknown artists.

The panels seemed to support the notion that comics were not the singular focus of the con anymore. The two most attended panels were Kevin Smith's, which was geared more towards his movies (specifically the recently released Clerks 2), and the art auction, which featured Erica Durance's only appearance of the weekend. In past years, many comic publishers used the convention as a platform to reveal big news and push new comics, but this year, the lack of announcements was very noticeable. This was likely due to the fact that the San Diego Comic Con International had occurred only two weeks before and attracted twice the number of convention goers. Marvel did have a few choice tidbits, however, as they announced that Jeph Loeb would be writing two major releases, Onslaught Reborn with Rob Liefeld, and Ultimate Wolverine, with Michael Turner. Beyond that, Marvel revealed almost nothing and seemed to make light of this at their panel highlighting their current explosive crossover Civil War. This panel lead off with only around five minutes of planned discussion by the leaders, Tom Brevoort and Joe Quesada, and the question and answer session, they laughingly answered most questions in the same way: "We can't tell you yet."

A mohawk-ed Spider-Man busts some moves on a halfpipeThe Vertigo panel, however, was the exact opposite, as they came extremely prepared to show off a few interesting projects they had in the pipeline. Judging the reactions of the fans at the panel, the biggest hit of these projects was Absolute Sandman Vol. 1, the next collection in the Absolute series containing the first twenty issues of the Neil Gaiman classic. Other books the Vertigo team proudly previewed were Brian K. Vaughan's new graphic novel Pride of Baghdad, about a pride of lions released from a zoo in Baghdad after an American bombing, and The Other Side, a new book by Jason Aaron & Cameron Stewart about the Vietnam War told from the perspective of soldiers on opposing sides of the war. Vertigo's preparation allowed them to hype exactly what they wanted to regarding their books, and set the fans in attendance out to grab them.

Some traditions, however, Wizard didn't shy from, as their 13th Annual Fan Awards again highlighted their readers' choice for the best and the brightest work of the year. The winning books were hardly shocking, especially in DC's case, as all of their wins were related to their highly successful Infinite Crisis storyline. Specifically, Countdown to Infinite Crisis, highlighting the Blue Beetle, took home the award for favorite one-shot, while the best mini-series of the year according to the fans was another Infinite Crisis tie-in, Villains United. Finally, one of the masterminds behind Infinite Crisis, Geoff Johns, took home writer of the year. Marvel Comics took home the award for favorite publisher, but most of their awards seemed to follow a theme, in this case, Astonishing X-Men. The smash hit took home four awards, including favorite ongoing series, favorite penciller (John Cassaday), favorite colorist (Laura Martin) and favorite heroine (Kitty Pride). Other significant winners included Allan Heinberg as favorite break-out talent, Captain America for favorite hero, the Winter Soldier for favorite villain, and Batman Begins as both favorite comic movie project and favorite DVD release.

A special get well card for Green Lantern creator Martin Nodell. Photo courtesy Franchesco!This year, Artist's Alley was buzzing with the news that Martin Nodell, the 90-year-old creator of the Golden Age Green Lantern and a frequent visitor to Wizard World Chicago, had been admitted to the hospital a few days prior to the con and would be unable to attend. Upon hearing the news, a special get-well card featuring art from several Artist's Alley creators was created to pass along to the aging comics great. (A photo of the final pin-up, courtesy of She-Dragon artist Franchesco!, appears at the right. Click the thumbnail for a larger image.) Despite the flashy "pop culture" event Wizard had constructed, the convention was still, at its heart, a gathering of a tight-knit community brought together by the love of comics.

She-Dragon artist Franchesco! reported a busy weekend.

Additional reporting and all photographs by Comics Editor Jason Green except as noted.

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