Wizard World: Chicago - Day One


The nice thing about Chicago is that everything is so compressed. Unlike San Diego where everyone is spread out across a dozen hotels, Chicago is centralized in four or five, all within a block of each other. This year, I'm staying at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare for the first time. It's the big hotel right next door to the convention center, and is connected directly to the center via a system of what are affectionately referred to as Habitrails. I could literally spend the entire weekend without ever walking outside again until I leave for the airport on Sunday.

Checking in at the hotel on Thursday afternoon was like attending The Mini-Con Before the Con. It's a pretty good convention when the first familiar face you see is Beau Smith's. And IDW's Jeff Mariotte, CBR's Rob Worley, Newsarama's Matt Brady, CBG's John Jackson Miller, Comic Book Idol wunderkind J. Torres, CrossGen's Tony Pannaccio, and seemingly but not really half of Marvel editorial. All before dinner. It would only get better the next night, though.

Just to make things even sweeter, this is a Pepsi place. No Coke here. Just Pepsi. I love the Hyatt.

I have no airline horror story this con, as Continental was its usual problem-free self. The hotel, on the other hand, double booked us. Unbeknownst to me, Jonah had already checked in. That fact was also unbenownst to the front counter lady who proceeded to check me into a second room. That's when I got a call from Jonah telling me he was already checked in and given a completely different room number. So, I had to go back down and re-check in. If that's the worst of things this weekend, it won't be a big deal.

Aside from that, everything is going swell. Our room has a nice view of the Chicago skyline, so I don't feel so bad calling this "WizardWorld: Chicago" anymore. We're within a five minute walking distance of the convention hall, including the elevator ride down and either using the Habitrails or walking outside and around the building. It's convenient and easy to use. There are a lot of signs everywhere to point you in the right direction. The convention center is growing, adding floor space on the second floor by building over the front courtyard of the convention center where taxis and shuttle buses drop people off.

BarCon was lovely last night. Since it was only Thursday, there was still room to breathe in there, and plenty of people did. It'll be more of a madhouse in the nice couple of nights as the crowds filtered in and more people remember the bar is there. Still, it's a great place to kick back, talk about more than just comics, and make new friends.

I skipped it tonight (Friday night) as it looked packed by about 7:30 p.m. already, and headed up to the Marvel Hospitality Suite, the not-so-mythical wonderland of free drinks and some good conversations. But since that's all after-hours stuff, I'm not going into detail on it here. Suffice it to say, I met a lot of people I hadn't met before, and had some great discussions on everything from the state of the industry to how people spend their vacations with family.

There's a convention to be had here, though, so let's get back to business:

If the San Diego Comicon is the "Trade Show" for comics, then Wizard World: Chicago is the "Tchachke Show." The floor plan shows that better than half of the space is devoted to the dealers. In the exhibitor's section, the two largest booths by far are Hasbro and Mattel. Wizard, Marvel, CrossGen, and DC are next up, along with Score and Wizkids, which are devoted to gaming items, I think. Did you know there's even a company now that will grade action figures in much the same way as the CGC grades comics? They store your action figures - mint on board, of course - in a plastic case. It's ludicrous and has to be expensive to do.

I, myself, fell prey to the temptation of the Waldorf and Statler con exclusive figures action figures, as I did with the Swedish Chef exclusive in San Diego. However, I didn't have to wait on a line to get it. Lines in WizardWorld first thing this morning were crushing, and it was evident that the con organizers didn't know what to do with them. Security was left to stand there helpless, just ensuring that no scuffles broke out as people stood immobile in lines to get their exclusive Batman or Skeletor action figures. That's right. The big draw of this convention is a limited edition action figure of Skeletor with his mask off. I bet you didn't even know he wore a mask in the first place.

Lesson learned: If you want to have a con presence in Chicago, you had better have a special sculpted piece of plastic to give out to the teeming masses.

In the mean time, I've spent as much time as possible off the con floor. I did three panels today, plus the Wizard Fan Awards. I don't think I ever spent that much time in a panel room in all of San Diego. The panel schedule is much less crowded and much more, on average interesting. It doesn't have the breadth or scope of San Diego's, but it remains interesting throughout. There's always something going on that might be of interest to me. Tomorrow is Kevin Smith Q&A Day. Wish us all luck.

Ways this con is different from San Diego:

* Here, the women are more likely to be attached to their boyfriend's hip than to be here for their own interests. It's not the same breakdown as in San Diego. I'd have to say that the percentage of the attendees who are female here is less than half of what it is in San Diego -- not invisible or minutely small, but definitely less obvious.

* Chicago has more modern comics. In fact, I'd almost have to say that this con has a better selection of comics to purchase than does San Diego. In San Diego, it's impossible to find many comics from the past 10 to 15 years. It's impossible to find many cut-rate bargain bins. Here, there are 50% off trade bins. There are quarter bins. That's right -- QUARTER bins. There are plenty of fifty-cent bins, and lots of modern comics to be had, but there are still Silver Age dealers, as well.

* The anime dealers are better stocked. I picked up a couple of LONE WOLF AND CUB movie DVDs, and a pair of NOIR anime soundtracks that were very much sold out in San Diego.

* There's a distinct lack of aisle space here. The fire marshal of San Diego would probably close this show down. The aisles are far too narrow. The layout is a hodge podge of right angles. You don't have the neat grid layout that San Diego has. You have booths configured in such a way that, well, everyone fits together in a jigsaw arrangement that you just can't see from ground level.

* There is a Marvel booth. It's busy. It's not as flashy as DC's, with all its TV screens and headset-wearing staff, but it's consistently packed with people in line for autographs and sketches. People are perusing the black and white previews on the side. The place is hopping.

One last thing before I check out for the night: SUPERMAN/BATMAN is also already fetching $4 and $5 on the con floor. Dealers label them as being "sold out" and then mark them up. It would seem that SOME retailers, then, aren't actually underordering the books. They're overordering them to mark up on the con floor. Go fig.

Tomorrow: I don't know. I know I'm looking most forward right now to Mark Waid's panel on Sunday morning where he'll talk about the art of writing. Brian Haberlin has a panel on Saturday afternoon about the art of coloring comics. Brian Bendis promises to "drop bombs" at his noon hour presentation. More fun and games tomorrow. Stay tuned!

hulk venom feature
Venom Once 'Ate' the Incredible Hulk - and It Was Brutal

More in CBR Exclusives