CHICAGO: DAY THREE
We continue now with the 2004 WizardWorld: Chicago convention report. See last week's column for the first half, with all the fun and games of the first couple of days.
Sunday was the shortest day of the convention. I had a 3:00 p.m. flight, which meant limiting my day to a couple of hours on the con floor.
Typical con magic, though: Had a brief chat with Joe Quesada and Dan Buckley at the Hyatt's terrace level restaurant before settling down to breakfast. I didn't realize it at the time, but they were waiting for Joss Whedon to join them. Here's the truly amazing thing: The three were able to have a peaceful breakfast without fans converging on their table. Does nobody in Chicago recognize Whedon? Or is Chicago, perhaps, a more laid back convention than San Diego? Or, more likely, were all the likely hooligans still sleeping off the previous all-nighter binge-drinking extravaganza?
OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but there were reports of breakdancing in the wee hours of that morning. I think Heidi has that part covered already.
When checking into the hotel, Wizard World guests were given a page of tips, directions, and reminders from the hotel. Here's the last bullet point:
We kindly ask you to keep in mind that not all guest rooms are attending the Wizard World Convention, and respect their privacy and keep both hallway and room noise to a minimum.
Nope, nothing about the lobby area.
My con time was spent mostly in perusing Artist's Alley with CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland.
I met Greg Horn at last, who recognized my name. I've been doing this for more than seven years, but that's always a thrill. He was beaming with pride at his Olympic Dream Team art that's being printed in many major magazines right now. Too bad the team, itself, isn't beaming with pride at their performance. I made some bad joke about not seeing enough crotch in the shot, and he laughed. Whew.
I met Franchesco for the first time, also, and picked up the sketchbooks that he had for sale. His are more elaborate than most artists'. Others print up smaller sized 8 or 16 page pamphlets on heavier stock paper. The pages are filled with previous commissions or photocopies of pencils from final pages or random warmup sketches. Franchesco's books more closely resemble prestige format books from DC, complete with a square binding. The books include photocopies of interviews he's given and full pages of art used at various companies, as well as other random sketches.
He's doing some work for Erik Larsen now at Image, as is half the professional industry. Really, it's amazing how many Dragon projects are popping up all of a sudden. Robert Kirkman is writing at least half of them. I didn't ask Franchesco for details on it, though, so I wouldn't spoil it in the column. For all I know, he's just doing a pin-up. We'll see.
It's just dawning on me now as I think back on it, but I doubt that I ever made it through every aisle of the dealer's area in Chicago. I still spent enough to keep me busily reading for a couple of solid weeks, though. I shouldn't complain.
The dealer's section in Chicago is, for my money, a vastly superior one to San Diego. It's a completely different beast from San Diego. Chicago's is more like a bazaar, than San Diego's high end, well-organized, and strictly laid out grid. The dealers in San Diego, on the whole, offer more expensive and higher end books, when you can find an actual comic book dealer. In Chicago, you'll get tons of bargain bins. Trade paperbacks for sale at 20-50% off cover price were the order of the day. I even picked up a few Marvel Graphic Novels from their run in the 80s for cover price. You also have quarter bins. Yes, there are far too many t-shirt stands and bootleg DVD booths, but there is a greater concentration of comic book dealers than in San Diego, overall.
You can even buy recent issues there. You can't find a copy of a book from the past year in San Diego, but dealers in Chicago had books that were released the same week as the show.
On the flip side, Wizard World also contains more dealers with CGC graded comics and tables filled with the books that Wizard chooses to label as being "hot" today.
One enterprising dealer took to bundling together runs of a series that haven't been reprinted in trade form yet and marking them off at half price. I picked up some interesting stuff that way, including HAMMER LOCKE, the 9 issue DC mini-series penciled by a younger Chris Sprouse. I think this might be the same dealer I picked up INSTANT PIANO from a couple of years ago.
THE CRAZIEST GAME OF POKER THAT I EVER SAW
The Friday night of the convention I participated in my first ever poker tournament. The name of the game was Texas Hold 'Em, of course, because that's what all the cool kids play. The place was downstairs at the Hyatt Hotel. The entry fee for the invite-only tournament was $125, $25 of which went to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. You may think of this, then, as a charity event if it helps you to sleep at night. In reality, it's Scott Dunbier bringing some people together for a fun late night at a con. For that, I shall be forever grateful to him.
It's also his fault I learned to play poker, in the first place. I had an invite last year in Chicago, but regretfully could not play. When I got home, I caught a World Poker Tour episode on TV and was hooked instantly. Now it's the hottest thing going and I'm on a faddish bandwagon. ::sigh::
I've never had more fun at an after-hours event at a comic book convention than this tournament. Dunbier (with trusted aide Gareb Shamus) ran a fun night with 38 participants, total, this year.
I found myself playing at a table including such luminaries as Rich (THREE GEEKS) Koslowski, superstar comics lawyer Ken Levin, and Kevin (CLERKS) Smith. I know it sounds pathetic and fanboyish of me, but it remains perhaps the only shining moment of the night for me: I outlasted Kevin Smith in poker that night. I went out shortly after my two high pair lost to a full house and my low chip count prevented me from staying in the next hand which, in the end, would have been a full house to put me back in the game.
Lesson learned: When the board pairs, someone else could have a full house. Don't keep chasing their bets. Where was Doyle Brunson when I needed him?
After that, it was a matter of timing, and playing as many hands as possible with as few number of chips as possible. I think I was the sixth or seventh one out. Yes, it's slightly embarrassing, but I did learn a lot. For starters, LIMIT hold 'em is a good format to keep more people around longer, but it eliminates some of the truly fun stuff that No Limit presents to you. The fear of losing All-In is erased for the most part. The options you have as far as raising is concerned are lessened considerably. Plus, it's just frustrating to play with a bunch of people who'll raise or call just about anything. You have to play tight to guard against it and get big money on the few opportunities you get.
I went out winning only one hand outright with a set of 3's, and splitting a pot with a straight. Had a flush draw before the river in that hand, but had to settle on the straight.
The first one out at the tournament was WITCHBLADE writer David Wohl. While most would consider being first loser an accomplishment worthy of scorn and shame, David has nothing to worry about. Not only did he get a special Loser ribbon create by Dunbier's wife, but he also gets a free entry into next year's tournament. The rest of us just plain old lost.
Lesson Learned: Be in the Final Five for the money, or get out first. Everything else is just losing. At best, you have to hope to get into the side cash game that Jim Lee will inevitably start up…
The final table included art collector Simon Powell, WIZARD writer Richard Ho, GREEN ARROW inker Ande Parks, VOLTRON co-writer Marie Croall, Dynamic Forces' Angelo Barruci, EXILES artist Jim Calafiore, WildStorm editor Scott Dunbier, superstar lawyer/agent/Hollywood Producer Ken Levin, and someone from Top Cow whose name I never got. Sorry!
The final table included some hands of much notoriety. Croall went all-in with a pair of 6s, and won big money when Ho called her bet with nothing but an ace high. The board had straight and flush possibilities, yet Ho still called with nothing. Croall had been betting at the pot the entire time. And Ho, with nothing after the river, called a ridiculously high amount of money in the hopes that Croall was bluffing. After the hand was shown, Dunbier raged, "What the %&^$ did you do?!?" Sadly, I didn't have an audio recorder there for the moment, because it would have been a classic MP3 file.
In his defense, Ho did start with Big Slick in the hole. However, he never paired either up, nor created a flush or straight draw. Sometimes, a strong starting hand can be a curse. The trick is in learning how to get away from those hands.
I obviously did not follow my own advice in repeatedly betting at a pot that had a full house possibility against me. UGH
Parks busted out Croall and Calafiore in the same hand with his trip deuces, and then went head to head with Powell. Around 2:30 a.m., the two went all in, with exactly equal chip stacks. Powell won, picking up the grand prize and the largest trophy. The next four winners ended up in the money, also. In order, from second to fifth: Parks, Calafiore, Croall, and Levin. The CBLDF walked away with exactly $1000 from the game, thanks in part to an extra donation from winner Powell to round it up.
(L-R) Ken Levin, Ande Parks, Simon Powell, Jim Calafiore and Marie Croall
One final funny note: Dan Jolley, best known in the room now for being engaged to the fourth place finisher, chose to catch ALIENS VERSUS PREDATOR instead of playing poker. Croall finished in the money and outlasted Jim Lee at her table. Jolley witnessed the train wreck that was AVP. You may all know commence ragging on Jolley for such silliness.
After that, you'll have to read BLOODHOUND #2. It's shaping up to be a great series with strong writing in the first two issues, and Leonard Kirk's art making prison brutality look good.
On a brighter note: I played a small cash game at a friend's house this week and won $45, so I must be getting better.
WHAT'S LEFT, ODDS, ENDS, CORRECTIONS, AND UPDATES
- As with last year, we stayed at the Hyatt hotel right next door to the convention center. This year, however, we had a room in the central tower of the hotel, and not one of the corner towers. It's the first time I've stayed inside all the hubbub of the hotel, and it's an experience.
For starters, it feels like a strange cross of a prison with the Borg Cube. The overall décor of the place is cement gray. Green vines planted on each level help add some color to the place, but it's not enough. Four slow elevators are located in the center of the building with two long arms reaching out on each floor to opposite sides of the buildings where the rooms are.
The noise from downstairs in the lobby and just outside the sports bar carries easily throughout the hotel. When the hotel hosted an all-day Indian wedding on Saturday, the smell of curry wafted up fairly strongly, also. I didn't go to the bar on Saturday night, opting instead to call it an early night to get a jump-start on packing, writing this column, and sleeping. But I could still hear the comforting din downstairs of far too many people drinking and dancing.
It continues to amaze me that nobody ever throws things off the ledges in the place. There's no fence or anything to prevent it from happening. Get enough people drunk and you never know what might happen. I've seen beer cans in the plant boxes on the ledges, but that's about it. Nothing's crashed to the ground yet.
- The above is not a simple mistake. There were two identical signs posted outside the convention center entrance on Saturday afternoon with the bad news for those wishing to get into panel rooms featuring one of two of the con's biggest name stars. (Hint: Check out Buffy's creator's name.)
I'm not entirely one to talk, mind you. I misspelled Jim McLauchlin's name in last week's report. Sorry about that, Jim, but I'm glad to hear that the McLauchlin Panel isn't dead yet. I hope to see it next year at the con.
- While flipping through some trade paperback boxes in the dealer's section, a kid about the age of 13 or 14 asked me if I sold SIN CITY hardcovers.
- I saw two ten-year-old boys getting sketches at the Avatar booth.
- Why do people feel the need to precede every question at a panel with "I was wondering..." Stop wondering and just find out!
- The flight home had no major issues. Turbulence was fun, though. We flew above a thick puffy layer of white clouds. Every now and then, there'd be a large stack of clouds that we had to fly through. As we did, the plane shook a little. I had a window seat, so I could see when we were about to hit turbulence. Others weren't so lucky.
- The cool parking garage I mentioned in last week's column, I am assured by numerous readers, was seen in the movie THE HUNTER, starring Steve McQueen. It is available on DVD.
Bill Douglas also points out that it's the cover image to a WILCO album, called "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot."
- I have a ton of books from the conventions this summer to review, plus more backlog. There will be more reviews to come in the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned.
IMAGE COMICS PRESENTS
As much as I enjoy Robert Kirkman's BRIT, it has a formatting problem. It's straddling the line between original graphic novel and on-going series, and losing both. The latest installment is titled BRIT: RED WHITE BLACK & BLUE.
Take a minute right now and think back to the first two BRIT books. Tell me how much you remember of them. As much fun as they are, it's been months since the last chapter in this storyline. It behooves the careful reader to go back and refresh his or her memory with the first two books before settling down to this one. There's a big shocking twist explained in the first few pages, and I'm still not sure if it's something that was set up in the first two books anywhere or not. It's like having a serialized story in a quarterly anthology series. You're setting yourself up for problems.
Part of the problem with this particular book is that much of it feels like the middle part of some larger story. Its timed very well, since that's some of the same feeling the latest issue of INVINCIBLE inspired in me. So much of the first half is spent establishing relationships and moving characters along their story arc, just to make the second half of the book seems that much more important.
That said, Kirkman doesn't mince words with this installment. Not only does he explain stuff in entertaining detail, but lots of stuff happens. This isn't decompressed storytelling. As he usually does, he treats comic book superhero cliché to a sound trashing, bringing things often to absurd levels and treating them as normal. I'm afraid any examples I could give you for that would constitute major spoilers, but be aware that both the opening and closing scenes function in that way. Kirkman knows how to take the tropes of superhero storytelling and make them feel fresh, even when they're obvious riffs on the classics.
Tony Moore is off the art chores, replaces by Cliff Rathburn, who does an excellent job with the script while maintaining a visual continuity with Moore's work. His gray tones, no doubt, aid in that. The book is easy on the eyes, complete with Kirkman's trademarked Workman-esque Lotsa White Space lettering style.
The book has lots of great moments in it, and the art and packaging are attractive. The hiccup with it lies in the formatting. Perhaps a monthly installment would be a better aid to the storytelling. For $5, this is definitely a book worth getting. Just remember to pull out those old issues first. The book is scheduled to hit store shelves this Wednesday.
Overall, I think this was my best Chicago convention yet. Between the poker game on Friday night and the fantastic BATMAN BEGINS stuff on Saturday, I couldn't have hoped for much more. Add into that the Bendis/Wayne entertainment on Friday and dinner in the city, and you have a fun trip. Can't wait for next year!
Next week, in the meantime, I start going through the stack of books I picked up at conventions this summer, plus all the stuff that's coming out on a weekly basis in the stores in the meantime.
Over at Various and Sundry this week: As much as I didn't want to bother with it, I watched some Olympics coverage this weekend. UGH Plus, BIG BROTHER 5 thoughts, good news for THE FAMILY GUY fans, the practice of 99-centing, Brian Setzer resurfaces, and more.
More than 500 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are also still available at the Original Pipeline page.