Rave : 2007 : My Wizard World Chicago Experience

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We're in the dog days of summer – a time for beaches, blockbuster movies, barbecues, and comic book conventions! Comic book conventions are a blast to attend. You can do anything from meeting your favorite writer/artist to tracking down that long-lost issue of Amazing Spider-Man for your collection. Spiderfan.org was gracious enough to allow me to write a report on one of the biggest conventions of the summer, Wizard World Chicago.

In terms of size, Wizard World Chicago is probably only surpassed by the San Diego Comic-Con. Nearly every important comic book publisher comes to Chicago. The attendee list runs from the big (Marvel) to the small (self- published books on display in the Artists' Alley.) Attending a convention can be a lot of fun. However, you have to be prepared for the sheer size of the event. It is easy to get sidetracked and miss that all important panel or exclusive you were looking forward to for months. This report is for you, whether you are a veteran of the con season or someone looking to attend for the first time. So without further ado, here are some tips for the convention season and my observations from the floor of Wizard World Chicago.

Getting there:

Most conventions are not within walking distance of the public. In most cases you're going to have a long drive or even take a plane. Out-of-towners will also have to book a hotel for the weekend stay. Fortunately, Wizard World Chicago is only about 40 minutes away from where I live. Here are some tips for those of you who aren't as close:

  • Bring friends along – They can help you drive as well as providing some entertainment instead of looking at the 4th car to contain an Alaska license plate. Friends are also essential to having a great con experience.
  • Reserve a hotel room a few months in advance – Convention season is a busy (and profitable time) for hotels in the surrounding area. Keep in mind that not just the comic-convention is in town. If you know you will be attending, do yourself a favor and get your preferred hotel. Which leads us to:
  • Find a decent hotel – I realize that most people are on a budget but it's absolutely imperative you find a serviceable hotel. Preferably, a hotel with comfortable beds and a hearty continental breakfast. You'll need both of these things to survive the daily rigors of attending a con.
  • Consider skipping Sunday's programming (especially if you attended a premiere night) – Lots of people make the mistake of attending Sunday expecting something exciting to happen. In reality, Sunday is when things start to wind down. If you're already burnt out and/or satisfied, consider getting a head-start on the deluge of traffic. You'll be happy you did.

What to Bring:

You're going to need to prepare in advance what to bring to your con. Coming unprepared can potentially ruin your stay.

Essentials:

  • Backpack/Book bag – You're going to get a lot of free swag in addition to the purchases you make.
  • Cash – Most dealers are too small an operation to accept credit cards. Even the dealers that take credit cards often charge an obscenely expensive service fee. Don't get caught in this trap. Bring some cash.
  • Water bottle – Roaming the huge aisles of the convention floor is surprisingly tiring. Browsing for comic books while dehydrated is never a good thing.
  • Comfortable shoes – You're not here to be fashionable (well some are!). Bring your most comfortable pair of shoes for the inevitable walking/standing in line rigors. When I walk the floors I usually have on my trusty sneakers.
  • Sketchbook – For the "pretty picture" inclined people. Most artists will be willing to do a quick sketch for you of your favorite character. A word of warning...if the line is long and you also want your books signed; try to catch the artist at a less hectic time. Be courteous to your fellow fanboys. A long line can be quite painful both physically and mentally. Don't be one of those people. *** A hint: You're going to get more drawings if your sketchbook has a common theme to it. Artists love to get behind a creative idea and more apt to take their time on your drawing. A haphazard collection of drawings will prove to be less memorable. ***
  • A wristwatch – You'll be surprised how fast time flies in a comic book convention. Make sure to plan out your day in conjunction with the time. You're going to have to miss a few cool things (that is the nature of a con) but you'll be glad you didn't miss a crucial panel due to not knowing the exact time.
  • Camera – You do want photographic mementoes, right?

What not to bring:

  • A "luggage style" book bag – I can't tell you how many times I've been knocked over by a person who thinks he/she owns the convention floor with one of these. If I see you lugging one of these, I may be tempted to knock you over myself. In all seriousness, the convention floors are quite crowded and making your personal area that much bigger is never a nice thing.
  • A huge collection of your books – Be reasonable with the amount of books you bring to sign. Everyone generally agrees that it's great to meet your favorite creator and have a signed memento with said encounter. However, having your entire run of Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man to bring for Peter David is definitely frowned upon. It makes you look crass and uncaring for your fellow fanboys. In addition, it creates a huge strain on the creator. Mindlessly signing copy after copy in order to move the line along will make the creator cranky. My personal rule of thumb is to bring no more than 6 or 7 books for the creator to sign.
  • Comic book boxes – This goes along with the "luggage style" book bag. Don't bring it! In addition, the perusal of a comic book box is a huge hindrance to traveling. Remember, you're going to have to tote everything you brought for the entire day. Finally, a comic book box associates you with that annoying group that wants their entire run of comic books signed by the creators.
  • A bad attitude – You're not going to have any fun if you carry yourself the wrong way. Try to remain positive. The huge nature of the cons means unexpected things happen (i.e. signing cancellations, technological malfunctions). When things don't go your way, the best course of action is to remain calm and take everything in stride.

What to Expect:

Comic cons have become big business. No longer are they held in a small hotel conference room with sparse attendance. Nearly the entire comic book community is present as well as video game companies, alternative media outlets, celebrities, wrestling leagues, and movie studio representatives. You can find something to your liking on nearly every aisle of the convention floor – whether it's silver age comic books, action figures or old movie posters. Salespeople will advertise their wares left and right. Free swag is for the taking at nearly every booth. Writers and artists, big and small, intermingle freely with their fans. Large comic conventions have truly become popular cultural phenomenon. You are likely to be overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of a large con even if it isn't your first time.

What to do:

The benefits to attending a con are nearly limitless. However, you must be prepared in advance. The tips I've outlined are helpful but you truly won't maximize your fun unless you plan each day down to the hour. Your first order of business (sometimes even before you leave your house) is to find the official program of the convention. You can then plan out which signings and panels you'd like to attend. Don't be skimpy. Circle any event you'd have even a modicum of interest in attending. That way you won't be caught wandering aimlessly on the floor looking for something to do. Make a schedule for yourself. Try to follow it but be flexible. You may find something great that you hadn't even considered while on the floor. If there's an event/panel you simply must attend than make it a priority. *** A hint: You can get great seats for the big two panels (Marvel / DC) by coming in half an hour before the panel starts. *** However you do it the most important objective is to have fun and soak in the popular culture that you know and love.

Thursday's Report:

I've been attending Wizard World Chicago for a few years now. I've always had fun but this year I was looking forward to it because I could now come under the auspices of a "reporter." Wizard World Chicago is always held in the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, IL (right near O'Hare Airport). Unlike most patrons from out of town, I am able to enjoy a forty minute drive from my house to the convention center. As always the parking fees are outrageous. Eleven bucks times 8,000 parking spots for car travelers equals a lot of money for the city of Rosemont. Let's hope it is put to good use.

Once I am parked I get out my VIP pass and descend onto the sky bridge leading into the convention center itself. I smiled at all the newcomers to the con experience. They looked uneasy and had no idea what they were in for. Being a VIP is a pleasant way of avoiding the lines for advance ticket holders. It seems as if this year they changed the rules so that Advance and single day ticket holders had to wait outside in a huge line before entering the floor. As a VIP, I had no such problems and I even was treated nicely by security.

Thursday was premiere night. Wizard World Chicago uses premiere night as a way of introducing people to this year's festivities as well as allowing shops to be open for an extra day. My first order of business was to get my VIP goody bag. This year I ordered all of the book exclusives. My prize goody was a CGC graded John Cassaday variant of Captain America #25. This year's main exclusives were variant covers to Ultimate Spider-Man #111. As a VIP, I got both the Joe Quesada variant and the Stuart Immonen sketch variant. While waiting in line for my bag, I spotted a family carrying out two huge boxes of the Heroclix exclusive Fin Fang Foom. The boxes swallowed up their smallish figures. To this day, I still wonder how they got around that night.

After getting my stuff, I checked out the floor for the first time. Before I could even roam around and browse the shops, I noticed that Sean McKeever (former writer of the acclaimed Spider-Man Loves Mary-Jane) signing at the DC booth. I quickly got out some of my copies for him to sign. McKeever and I had an amiable conversation as he signed my books. He asked me if I was going to continue reading Spider-Man Loves Mary-Jane with Terry Moore as the new writer. We also discussed some of his favorite covers from the series. He particularly liked the Firestar cover as it contained a brilliant color palette by Laura Martin. We also both enjoyed the 1980s movie homages on the covers of Spider-Man Loves Mary-Jane. Sean McKeever was great and I felt like I was on the right foot to an enjoyable weekend. DC is lucky to have him as a writer. Finally, I saw Dan Didio, editor-in-chief of DC Comics, for the first of a bazillion times on Thursday night. Everywhere I went, he seemed to follow me.

I proceeded to roam the convention floors. I purchased a few back issues of various heroes, including Spider-Man. Many dealers had a great selection of Marvel Legends action figures which I took advantage of. There were a ton of deals. Most booths had trade paperbacks anywhere from 40 to 50 % off.

My path led me over to the Artist's Alley. The Artist's Alley is huge area of the convention floor reserved for all sorts of artists of varying notoriety. You can see guys like J. Scott Campbell and Ethan Van Sciver seated next to an independent artist struggling to earn a living. I really wanted a sketch of the Joker for my new apartment so I wandered around for an affordable price. It's really important to browse before you commit to buying a sketch or painting. I also tend to take the personality of the artist into account before paying up. Eventually, I found a really talented artist named Sean Forney to do my desired Joker sketch. He did a great job and I wish him well in future endeavors.

My next task was to wander over to the Marvel booth to see what they had going on. Unfortunately, I shouldn't have gotten my hopes up. The Marvel booth was devoid of anything worthwhile except for some freebies and Public Enemy blaring from a loudspeaker. DC's booth presentation, in comparison, was simply outstanding. They had tons of free and varied giveaways not limited to posters. They also had their creators signing on Thursday night even if they weren't obligated. This latter advantage was not Marvel's fault as most of their staff was caught in flight delays due to bad East Coast weather (something that was a recurrent theme up until late Friday). Marvel did have some cool booth posters, highlighted by Stuart Immonen's rendition of Ultimate Spider-Man.

More free time ensued because of Marvel's flight delays. VIPs were out of luck for an exclusive signing with Civil War and Ultimates writer Mark Millar. Apart from meeting an amusing Stormtrooper, Thursday's events wound to close. Friday beckoned the comic book nerd in me...

Friday's Report:

My first task on Friday was to check out the unveiling of the Marvel U.S. Postal Stamps (with a healthy assist from Spider-Man.)

Friday was a day of many panels. Since this site focuses on our favorite web- slinger, I am predominately concerned with Marvel's panels in this report. The first major panel of the day was Marvel's X-Men panel held in a smaller adjunct room. The panel attendance was directly inverse of the Marvel contingency present. Presiding over the festivities was Joe Quesada (editor- in-chief of Marvel), Skottie Young (artist on New X-Men), and C.B. Cebulski (writer). Quesada was visibly sick. Other panel members that were supposed to be present were still in New York because of flight delays caused by bad weather (a recurrent theme).

About midway through the panels's Q & A format, the volatle topic of Spider- Man's marriage to Mary Jane was broached. Much debated ensued, with Quesada reiterating his position that the marriage is problematic yet necessary to maintain. In fact, much of the X-Men panel seemed to be more about Spider-Man than the merry mutants.

Marvel's other presentation on Friday was the Mondo Marvel segment. A much larger room satisfied the fans who came to hear what was going on in the wider Marvel universe. Topics centered on Spider-Man's marriage (again!), World War Hulk, and several upcoming projects. The panel was led by Quesada and Cebulski with a generous assist by Rob Liefeld (who introduced a new series, Killraven, with writing chores given to Robert Kirkman of Marvel Zombies fame) Liefeld's appearance, in part, was motivated, by the contiuing difficultiues of Marvel staff to get out of New York. Suffice it to say, that this was an unfortunate development.

Many of the fans at Mondo Marvel were concerned with Spider-Man's direction following the San Diego con annoucement that Amazing Spider-Man will ship three times monthly with a rotating cast of creators. Here are some of the responses given:

  • "I can't think of a single hallmark moment where there wasn't massive change" – Quesada in regards to Spider-Man's impact on the superhero genre and the decision to shake up the status quo
  • General direction for Spider-Man - Quesada: "sales are up," "We're trying to give you what you need" – stream-lined continuity (in regards to canceling Sensational and Friendly Neighborhood titles)
  • Spider-Man: Brand New Day: "Spider-Man: Brand New Day, you'll see a lot of new villains." - Quesada
  • Differences between the Ultimate and 616 Spideys: "To me that's the way he was designed...lack of trappings in the character." – Quesada "There's still a huge difference between the two" – Quesada comparing the Ultimate and 616 versions
  • Debating the Spider-Man aging/marriage: "Would it be okay to have Spider-Man have a kid? Where do we stop? It doesn't necessarily mean it's the best thing for the character." – Quesada "How much more do you want to alienate younger readers?" – Quesada
  • Spider-Man's supporting cast: The aging of the character "limits the cast, the people he can interact with...there are many stories I can't tell with a married Spider-Man." – Quesada "One of the sad things that has happened is the whittling down of his supporting cast." - Quesada
  • Mary Jane's current characterization: Quesada responding "she's a fantastic character."
  • JMS's mandate to improve Spider-Man's marriage "It wasn't really a good one (before JMS's run)...I told Straczynski I wanted a happier marriage." – Quesada
  • The status of Ben Reilly: "No Ben Reilly stuff is going on." – Quesada
  • Younger reader's power in dictating editorial policy: "Our number one subscription title is Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man." - Quesada
  • Brand New Day: "It's going to be completely coherent...it's now one Spider-Man universe." – Quesada "We're going to bring the soap opera element back." – Quesada

After the events of Mondo Marvel, there was a brief respite from the panels. Marvel's staff had started to arrive and things picked up at their booth. Mark Millar made his anticipated appearance. Friday's events ended with the Wizard Fan Awards. In contrast to the Eisner Awards, the Wizard Fan Awards are not nearly taken as seriously. It is sort of nice to see all the creators together in one room. However, one can easily pick out the winner from the list of nominees. Overall, there's a general sense of crassness to the entire thing, in particular, the hosts (a couple of unfunny Wizard magazine staff writers). Marvel lost out to DC in many of the major awards. Mark Millar saved the event from becoming meaningless with his unique Scottish wit and acerbic humor.

Saturday's report:

I got up bright and early on Saturday for one reason only: the secret Dark Knight panel. I won't go into too much detail (as this is a Spider-Man site), but suffice it to say the whole experience was awesome. After I secured my place in the aforementioned event, I shopped around for some trade paperbacks. I was pleased to find Amazing Spider-Man: Revelations on sale for 50 percent off. This trade collected the moving issue that JMS wrote shortly after the events of 9/11.

Due to the delays caused by weather, there was a huge line for J. Scott Campbell at the Marvel booth. Paul Jenkins, former writer of the Spectacular Spider-Man, was ensconced at the Hero Initiative booth. He was shamelessly beating everyone at pool for a good cause. Sales of the companion Ultimate Spider-Man cover art book seemed to be going well. The Hero Initiative helps writers and artists in need. Sales of the Ultimate Spider-Man book contributed to the fund. Another brief note I should mention is that I got some of my Heroes for Hire books signed by Billy Tucci (which features Spider- Man's former love interest, Black Cat). I was not really impressed with Tucci's demeanor. He obviously had a huge ego problem and was not very accomodating to fans. I don't really know if I caught him on a bad day but his attitude clearly was not ideal for meeting his fans.

Marvel held a Civil War: Remembrance panel which was attended by Quesada and Millar. The big announcement at the panel was that Millar (with his artist of choice, Bryan Hitch) would be taking over Fantastic Four starting in January 2008. Millar is already writing the tenth issue while Hitch is busy working on the fifth issue of their run.

Outside of these events, most of my day was spent waiting in line for the Dark Knight. It was well worth the wait.