Reed Exhibitions, organizer of the New York Comic Con, Anime Festival, and Book Expo America, hosted a launch party last Thursday night for its newest convention, the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo (C2E2).
Retailers, creators, press, and other comics professionals pushed through crowds of lingering post-game Cubs fans to make their way to the John Barleycorn pub, steps away from Wrigley Field. Once upstairs in the reserved space, crowds were treated to an open bar, a buffet table including taquitos and sundry snacks, and a chance to mingle with other professionals.
A welcome packet included a survey of what attendees would like to see from the inaugural C2E2, which takes place April 16-18, 2010, and information on advertising rates, exhibitor tables, and more.
Later in the evening, brave attendees stepped up for a game of "Rock Band" on Barleycorn's gigantic screens.
Convention mastermind Lance Fensterman briefly took the stage to welcome his guests and announce Chicago area legend Alex Ross as the "cornerstone guest" for C2E2. Toward the end of the evening, CBR News spoke with Fensterman about the show's progress, his thoughts on the launch party, and what fans can expect in the next year.
Fensterman said that having the launch party now, a full 365 days before the actual event, was intended to get people excited about C2E2's debut. "The point is, we're not joking around with this show. We're going to do something serious, we're committed to making a massively cool con in downtown Chicago. And what better way to do that than say, we're already excited and adding guests a full year out," Fensterman told CBR. He noted that another goal was to gain feedback from the local comics community about what they would like to see at the convention.
Though the gathering included comics creators-notably "100 Bullets" writer Brian Azzarello and his wife Jill Thompson-as well as representatives from publishers Devil's Due and DC Comics, retailers had the largest representation at the C2E2 launch. Fensterman said he was interested in speaking with vendors not just of comics, but also of vinyl toys and other pop culture memorabilia. "They're incredibly important to our efforts," the organizer said, noting that a strong event in downtown Chicago would help "spread the word" about their stores and products.
Fensterman reiterated several times the value of listening to what his customers-retailers, professionals, fans-want to see, and offered his own take on the best way to give it to them. "We invest heavily, we spend a lot of money to make it good; we want it to be professionally run, professionally organized; we want it to be a quality event," he explained. "The highest quality in terms of organization, that's what we strive for. The confab tonight, it should be for the fans and our customers. It's not about what we want, or what's convenient for us, or what makes sense for the bottom line; fans told us they wanted this, our customers told us they needed this, so we're gonna go do it. As the organizers, we should never think we know better, or dictate what they want. We should listen, make it accessible, and then execute it really, really well. I think that's what sets us apart, is the fact that we're very willing to invest in what we're doing to make it cool."
Regarding the announcement of Alex Ross as the first "cornerstone" guest, Fensterman admitted that he had made the term up fairly recently and hoped it fit. "This is going to be about Chicago creators and the Chicago community, and where else do you start? I know it's overly literal, but Alex is the cornerstone-he is the biggest, most impressive creator, so we're starting with him. He's the first guy we got lined up," he said. Fensterman also told CBR that Ross would be providing original artwork for C2E2. No other guests will be announced until about six months before the convention.
Because of the change in schedule for the New York Comic Con-2009's was in February, 2010's will be in October-Fensterman suggested there may be small events in Manhattan to carry momentum in the year and a half between shows, and that further gatherings are possible in the Windy City.
CBR Staff Writer Kiel Phegley contributed to this story.