Thoughts on Wizard World Chicago

We’re back from the Windy City & I must say I’m still reeling from my fist time at an industrial sized gi-norm-i-con. I’ve made a pledge to use this forum to talk about things I like, but this might be a mixed bag. Not that I see this taking a negative turn, but my experiences there have provided quite a bit of fodder for rumination.

The trip begins

Jeff, Sarah & I arrived Friday night so we could join David (who had been there since Thursday) for an early start on Saturday. Sarah opted to yield to siren song of the Ikea store, so Jeff, David, the very charming Andie & I strolled through the doors around 8:30. Even during this “quiet” pre-opening time it was still bustling.

The DC booth was is the supreme attention grabbing spot – it was the first thing you saw the minute you entered & impossible to miss. “Booth” is an understatement too. Let’s call it the DC industrial complex. There were MANY tables & stations with different themes, give-a-ways & promotional events.

The front section near the door was devoted to several of these oversized corporate booths. Past them were the normal sized retailer & publisher booths. Then, over hill & dale, artist’s alley was all the way in the back.

Everyone drifted in separate directions. I thought I’d do a quick lap to get my bearings before the crowd descended. It was a good thing I said “hi” to some people early because I never found their tables again. That is either a comment on how Habi-trail like it was in there or on what a wretched sense of direction I have.

The announcement was made that the con was open for business and, in a flash, a jaw dropping mass of people flooded the hall & quickly formed a line of which I could see neither the beginning nor the end. This was the start of a game I played all day – “What’s everybody lined up for?”

Taking it all in

As a newbie tourist to the whole con scene this was a fascinating phenomenon to me. I imagine this was what it must have been like in the Communism’s heyday. People wandering around asking people in line what they were waiting for & hoping the end of the wait held that for which they were looking.

Seriously, I can’t imagine how anybody figured out how to get ANYTHING at this con. Here’s my first bit of commentary. This is only based on this one experience mind you – but WW Chicago overall seemed hopelessly disorganized. Oh, there were pockets of organization. There were several gentlemen at the DC booth who were consistently helpful, but overall I don’t know how the average visitor would have any idea when & where con events were occurring.

Thank goodness for David. He’s been to so many of these things he knows how to find out where to be & what the drill is. I feel sorry for anyone who goes to an event like this for the first time without a tour guide. I’m certain I would have missed out on all the signings without his guidance. At least at the smaller cons I found information easier to come by, event times & locations better marked & the staff much more informative & helpful.

Okay that was too close to negative for my tastes – let’s get back to the fun, cool stuff that happened. J. Scott Campbell…Eeeeeeee! That was my girl-squeal of excitement that I got to meet him.

My first ventures into buying comics were utterly random. J. Scott’s work was the first that I could actually pick out over other artists (no big surprise that Jim Lee was next) & awakened me to the idea of appreciating the individual creators. So meeting him was a huge deal for me.

The morning passed quickly with the majority of activity centered on getting to meet J. Scott. First we got wristbands that permitted us to line up to meet him. Yes, we waited in one line for the privilege of waiting in a second line – another big-con concept that was lost on me. I get that it keeps things orderly, but it was still weird.

We were close to the front of the second line so we got there fairly quickly. I gushed about how fabulous he was & asked him to sign two Danger Girls issues & a copy of his sketchbook that David had miraculously procured for me. The sketchbook was AWSOME! I read the thing like it was a novel – pouring over every page. It was a great experience. Good gosh I love his work!

As excited as I was it was nearly as much fun to step back & watch Jeff take his turn. Jeff can be an enigma. He’s a big goofy kid when you get to know him – but it takes some time & effort to get past his “coolness”. It was DELIGHTFUL to see him chatting so animatedly with this guy whose work we both admire. I got to witness a Jeff fan-boy moment – priceless.

How the time flies

Meeting J. Scott was truly about the only thing we accomplished before noon. David & Andie went to procure lunch & left Jeff & me to wander aimlessly – and that is a pretty accurate description of what I did. The sensory overload was mind numbing.

Even when I made my way out of the retail areas & to artist’s alley I had trouble finding folks because there was so much to see. I visited with some of my favorite guys.

Now hold onto you hats – I’m going to go all subjective here.

I got the feeling that a lot of these artists were as worn-out & (for lack of a better word) “shell-shocked” as I was. Take for example – I stopped by to chat with Stuart Sayger (Shiver in the Dark), Art Balthazar (Patrick the Wolfboy) & Bill Wilkison (Wha? & S.O.S). (Go give them money – they are marvelous!)

Based on past interaction, these three in particular are exceptionally funny, dynamic & I’d even go for flat out charming. All of them seemed more subdued than I recall and they weren’t alone. A lot of the creators had the whole penned veal aura about them.

And this is absolutely no reflection on the talented artists who were there – it seemed like a WW phenomenon. Here’s what a gleaned from my table to table chit chatting.

The atmosphere was the cause for many social behaviors

First, people were not spending. I can back that up. For me – it was a simple matter of it being back-to-school time so I brought almost nothing to spend. But that didn’t account for everyone. The crowded, cluttered environment was not at all conducive to shopping and browsing.

Case in point – Jeff was off agonizing about getting a fair trade on the books he brought so I told him I was going across the aisle to look at toys. That lasted all of ten seconds. The sizeable crowd made it difficult to navigate toward the booth. Then when I did make it near, the swirling sea of humanity that continued to ebb & flow on all sides made it nearly impossible to hold ground long enough to examine anything.

And if the experience of other attendees was similar to mine – I lost the whole morning to meeting one (fabulous, incredible) guy. That doesn’t leave much time for perusing.

The second hurdle for the artists was what appeared to be utter apathy from WW about taking care of them. I’m puzzling how to do this without sounding gossipy. The two common themes I heard were – disorganized & unhelpful.

It seems as though lack of information from WW made it difficult to find the right table in some cases. People were in the wrong spot, double booked or just giving up & setting up randomly. And without going into too much detail – WW’s treatment of Adam Hughes was nothing short of disgraceful.

The final drawback was competition for attention – there was so much to see that conversely there was so much to overlook. It was inadvertent, of course. I consider myself to be very disciplined, but even I felt all ADD. I couldn’t make it continuously down any aisle in a straight line, so I am certain there were many things I missed.

Continuing with the day

Well, enough of that – this grows over-long; let me round out the day. I stopped by the Desperado booth several times to visit their ever delightful creative director, April Doster. I also picked up the second issue of “The Atheist” which was probably my favorite title that I initially picked up from Desperado in Charlotte .

This book is penciled by John McCrea & written by the incomparable Phil Hestor. The writing in this is phenomenal. I’m already totally intrigued with the titular character. The story is smart & engaging. Oh & I can’t wait for issue two of Stardust Kid – another Desperado title that caught my interest.

Later in the afternoon we managed to snag wristbands that allowed us to stand in line to meet Alex Ross. I was completely unprepared too! I didn’t expect to have the opportunity to meet him. David came to the rescue once again with a cool Alex Ross postcard for him to sign. Mr. Ross was the perfect gentleman – very polite & gracious. I’m so glad we had the opportunity to meet him.

Then a mere 15 minutes before we were about to leave I ran across Eric Adams’ table – proving once again how crazy it was in there. I probably walked by that same space countless time & didn’t even notice his prominent banners until the crowd thinned a bit. But now I have issues 2 and 3 of “Lackluster World” – Yeah! I love the bold artwork & the cutting satire. I can’t wait for issue 4.

We rounded out the day with a leisurely dinner at a steakhouse across the street. It was nice to unwind after a packed day of activity.

So – overall impressions…

In retrospect, I can see that one day is probably not enough to see everything I wanted to see at a con this size. Next time I’d be curious to see if attending two or three days would dilute the feeling of being overwhelmed & the nagging sensation that I didn’t accomplish much of anything.

I think the keys words though are “next time”. I guess there will be a next time. Even though the smaller cons attract guys I idolize, I must reluctantly concede that playing on Wizard’s turf still may be the only venue I have for seeing some of the big name “stars” of the industry.

So I’m not totally keen on the idea – but I believe I will give it another go before I completely pass judgment. After all it WAS a comic convention – how can you not have some fun. It’s always a pleasure to have an opportunity to make new friends and interact with the nice folks we’ve already met.

It was so much easier to write about other cons I’ve attended this year. I cannot WAIT to go back to Mid-Ohio or Heroes con! But I think a little Wizard World is going to go a long way for me.

Maybe I’m biased too – I’m always rooting for the little guy. So I’ll probably be saving my time & money to support them over them over this leviathan of a con.

Thanks for listening!

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