Filled With Con-fidence: C2E2 in Review

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Wizard World Chicago, long the sole comic book convention in the Windy City, has some new competition this year with the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (or C2E2, as the catchy branding terms it). The con took place at Chicago’s McCormick Place on April 16-18. So, how did it measure up in its inaugural year?

The fan turnout was healthy and enthusiastic, though the con didn’t seem oppressively crowded. Partly, this may be because it’s the first C2E2 or the fact that April is before vacation season. But another factor was the layout of McCormick Place itself. The building is massive. With numerous rooms and meeting halls to play with, attendees were spread throughout the convention hall. And the C2E2 organizers were able to book an impressive number of panels and events.

This was both an advantage and, to some extent, a bit overwhelming. There was so much to do and many panels overlapping each other, forcing fans to make tough choices. At one point, I was faced with a panel on Brightest Day, a documentary on Grant Morrison, or a showcase of Bone’s Jeff Smith in the same time slot (a torturous decision, given my particular brand of geekery).

The larger number of panels did allow for some very unique events however. Among these was the aforementioned documentary, Talking With Gods, which pierced through the mystery of Grant Morrison through interviews with friends, colleagues, and the man himself, and a frank discussion of chaos magic, storytelling, and having chats with cartoon characters and scorpion deities. A panel called “Pulp Fiction” examined the influence of the pulp novels of the 1930s on today’s pop culture, bringing in guests like First Wave’s Brian Azzarello, Moonstone Books’ Joe Gentile and Mike Bullock, painter Tom Gianni, and modern day pulp writers like B.C. Bell and Jim Beard. YouTube star ItsJustSomeRandomGuy (of the hilarious action figure based “Marvel/DC Happy Hour” videos) was given a showcase and a chance to screen his latest parody.

Other panels spotlighted Star Wars, specific comics and webcomics, animated series like Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Cleveland Show, fantasy authors George R.R. Martin and Peter S. Beagle, an exploration of the physics of superheroes, and many other topics. The publishers also came up with creative ideas for the con. Hellboy fans were inducted into the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense and given secret missions by Prof. Trevor Bruttenholm thanks to badges handed out at the Dark Horse booth.

Another great advantage offered by the con was the Variant Stage. Located near the food area, the stage was the site of several quirky and fun events. Comics-influenced rock band Wednesday Heroes performed some of their music, which included songs from the miniature POV of the Atom, an ode to vampire-with-a-soul Angel, and seemingly ad-libbed verses of “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut” (apparently, X-O Manowar can stop him. Who knew?). Improv troop Mid Grade Comics enacted skits involving a heart-to-heart between Clark and Jonathan Kent, a dating game show hosted by Uatu the Watcher, and a dinner date between Professor X and Moira MacTaggart sabotaged by Xavier’s obsession with the telepathic social site “Mindbook.” Later, fans young and old were able to learn the drawing techniques of the Clone Wars animated series on the stage’s big screen. The Variant Stage helped even the food court of C2E2 live up to the entertainment portion of the con’s name and was a major advantage of the event.

No con would be complete without an Artist Alley and C2E2 offered a nice mix of mainstream and independent artists. As I made the rounds, I picked up some interesting tidbits of info. Cliff Chiang is working on a Vertigo graphic novel with legendary singer Neil Young based on his concept album Greendale. Gail Simone promised new and returning villains in the re-launched Birds of Prey, a new headquarters for the team, and the addition of Hawk and Dove to the mix. Frank Cho, hard at work on Zombie King and New Ultimates, will also return to his most famous creation, Liberty Meadows, before the end of the year. Mike Norton hopes to soon release a self-published series called The Answer, which may end up in Web format. Film versions of Tim Seeley’s Hack/Slash and Chris Kirby’s Lost Squad are still being discussed, though progress is slow. There will at last be a second volume of Young Avengers, which Jim Cheung is working on for a bi-monthly, 9-issue release starting in July. As for Amanda Conner, her post-Power Girl plans include “napping” and a creator-owned series with Jimmy Palmiotti and Frank Tieri.

It’s difficult to judge whether C2E2 was the best comic-con that Chicago has had. It was certainly one of the busiest. With so much going on, no one person could see it all. I missed countless panels, an evening with Neil Gaiman, and was unable to meet Carrie Fisher, Batman actor Kevin Conroy, or (ahem) profess my love for Buffy actress Emma Caulfield. Overall, however, the first C2E2 was an impressive event that bodes well for the future of this latest con.



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