Chicago Comic-Con 2010: The Con in Review

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As Cary Elwes once famously remarked, “Get used to disappointment.”

From the moment the programming schedule was released, the 2010 Chicago Comic-Con (formerly known as Wizard World Chicago) seemed a pale reflection of its former glories. Industry leaders DC and Marvel had no presence at the show, nor did their close competitors Dark Horse and Image. Heck, Devil’s Due Publishing, which is based out of Chicago, didn’t seem to have a booth. The panel schedule was surprisingly sparse and overall, it felt as though the comics were starting to abandon the comic-con.

This is unfortunate but not totally unexpected. Over the last few years, a cultural shift has been taking place at these events as Hollywood and general pop culture make their mark and the comics that were once the centerpiece become somewhat marginalized. I’m continually surprised when I hear from non-comics readers who are excited to hit the cons to do some shopping/dress up/meet celebrities/fill in the blank. There is, of course, nothing wrong with this, but we dyed-in-the-wool fanboys and fangirls can’t help but feel a little co-opted.

This year, the Chicago Comic-Con was faced with not only this change in focus but with heavy competition from the new kid on the block – C2E2. The first Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo in the spring of 2010 was a rousing success, drawing in the major publishers, and offering numerous guests, a sprawling panel schedule, and a location in the city itself. Having flocked to the Windy City for the thrill and novelty of the new con, many of the publishers may have simply had no interest (or finances) to come back to Chicago a second time.

The Chicago Comic-Con’s troubles and shifted focus were apparent from the start on Friday. VIP ticket-holders (i.e. those who paid more) were allowed to enter early, while the rest of us were herded into a side room to snake around a line Disneyland-style until the show officially opened at noon. Despite arriving around 11:59, it took nearly half an hour for my group to actually enter the show floor. This was an ominous start to the event.

The organizers of this year’s con responded to the various obstacles facing it by bringing in a mass of celebrity guests. Among them were Star Trek actors such as William Shatner, Walter Koenig, Brent Spiner, and Avery Brooks; Batman’s Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar; Buffy cast members James Marsters, Nicholas Brendon, and Clare Kramer; Terminator’s Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn, and Kristanna Loken; John Schneider of Smallville and The Dukes of Hazzard; Shaft star Richard Roundtree; Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees; and numerous others, including, in a bizarre and controversial twist, impeached former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich.

There was, however, a price to pay for courting the world of media. Literally. Each of these guests charged for autographs and photo ops and an event known as “The Creation Experience,” which required extra tickets, took over Panel Room A for the entirety of Saturday. Fans were given the opportunity to meet some of their favorite stars but they had to shell out big bucks to do it.

That’s not to say that the con didn’t have its highlights. A panel called “Story Development in the World of Video Games and Comic Books” allowed Westwood College to engage the audience and discuss the archetypes of the hero’s journey. For aspiring writers and creators, this was quite fascinating and fun. A Back to the Future panel offered amusing anecdotes from James Tolkan (Principal Strickland) and Claudia Wells (the original Jennifer Parker). And, taking a turn for the surreal and amazing, Green Lantern artist Ethan Van Sciver was given a piano and allowed to play both his original compositions and some cover tunes. All were satirical and quite hilarious.

Wherever there is a gathering of comic book fans, there are, of course, crazy and inventive costumes, seas of quarter bins, the beautiful creations and undiscovered gems of Artist Alley, and an overall feeling of community and solidarity. These are always my favorite aspects of these cons and I find the shows still worth attending as a result. But with publishers abandoning it, a new show overshadowing it, and a newfound focus on celebrities and pricey autographs, it remains to be seen how much longer the Chicago Comic-Con will survive.

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  • Regent

    Regent Aug 24, 2010 at 9:55pm

    I have been going to Wizard World Chicago/Chicago Comic Con with a good friend since 2005. We noticed differences last year, but were really struck by them this year. No major publishers, many more celebrity guests, wall to wall people on Saturday, and Rod Blagojevich. Whoever thought inviting him was a good idea needs to be placed on his next jury as an alternate!

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