I’ve not been to the Wizard World Chicago Comic Con since 2009. After a year off from convention-going and then two consecutive C2E2 shows, what was it like to go back to the show that served as my first con experience? In a little bit of a surprise, it turned out to be just like going home again.
Once upon a time, or maybe twice, there was an unearthly paradise called Wizard World…
For years, every year, all roads led to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois. It was like my birthday, Christmas, New Year’s, and Halloween all rolled into one weekend every Summer as I made the trek, usually with friends, to Wizard World Chicago. I went so many times between 2001 and 2009, that I had learned where every good place (pricey and inexpensive) to eat was and where the Target was in the event that we forgot something or needed snacks. There were a lot of happy memories and a few crushing defeats over what I was able to obtain or not, lines getting capped before being able to get a sketch/autograph by a true master of the medium, or simply not realizing that something was going on that I didn’t act quickly enough for. Back in those earlier days, it was three of the most awesome days rolled into the one big, true vacation I could take away from the doldrums of every day life.
Changes to the show and my real life began to parallel. By 2009, the major publishers no longer attended Wizard World Chicago. There were lots of speculation why this was. Some believed it was a disagreement between the publishers and the organizers while others believed, and are probably correct, that the timing of this show just mere weeks after the frenzy of the San Diego Comic Con made the publishers weary of the time and expenses being spent to come to another fairly major show just after the biggest of them all. By that same time, for me, I was settling down and getting ready to get married. I had to be more mindful of which show I wanted to go to – Wizard World or the newly formed C2E2 that took place during the Spring. In that time, I became associated with this blog as well which meant that my interests in going to panels rose. In the end, C2E2 would win out because they brought the publishers to their show and offered lots of juicy panels to announce things happening after the announcements from the prior SDCC and the next. There were some other changes underneath that surface of the loss of the publishers’ presence that might be best chalked up as plain old bad luck. One year, half the floor lost air conditioning on a particularly hot day. Changes on how things were done between VIPs and other advanced ticket holders were tested by just seeing how it would play out. Ticketing for some of the major guests took over for just taking the initiative to show up early and getting in line where the person was to be. While these tests and changes and greater emphasis given to VIP people never really spoiled my fun at the show, I was later left wondering when would those changes eventually impact that enjoyment. As C2E2 was growing, that shinier visage was becoming a more attractive event to put my attention.
This year, I decided to return to Wizard World for at least one more go around with the show that gave me my first, and sometimes, best, convention-going experiences. Were the publishers there? No, but did that mean I would be sitting around twiddling my thumbs waiting for something to happen? Absolutely not.
Knowing that my main draw to this year’s Wizard World Chicago Comic Con would be two of my childhood heroes, William Shatner and Stan Lee, I knew I had to go. I’m never short on fun when going to a con, so I decided to pull double duty in the Windy City. I saved my pennies, scraped together everything I could put into the trip, and headed out for one more adventure to Rosemont. Even though I stayed at the Motel 6 in Schiller Park (just down the road from the convention center) just this past April for C2E2, it was always where I made my reservations for Wizard World, and as I drove in on Wednesday morning, a different feel came to me than it did just those four short months ago. ”This is how it’s supposed to be,” I thought to my self. A cheap, but familiar, and definitely beloved, shop to set up and call home for the next five days.
As each minute drew closer to the show, my excitement grew. With each mile passed by, I was flooded with all those warm and fuzzy thoughts and feelings of years past. Every sign on every street was a reminder of some moment over the past 11 years. Despite all the happy memories, there was a deeper, underlying heaviness growing in the pit of my heart. Was this to be my last Wizard World? Was the ability to afford two conventions every year out of my reach? Was I ready to move on and let those happy memories remain in the past?
To try to legitimize these feelings of doubt intermixed into the joy of being back for one more go around, I tried to tell myself that I would not find anything noteworthy in panels or that I would not find any significant interactions with creators. I began to worry that this weekend, outside of getting my photo ops with Lee and Shatner, would be a bust and that there was no way I could feel the way I once did at this show. Instead, I found something that I thought I had lost in going to these more recent cons as a blogger – I discovered I could enjoy a con again as simply a fan.
As soon as I stepped into the convention center on Thursday morning, I put away my desire to blog about the show or try to capture any interviews. In fact, outside of the numerous photos I took at the show, there were only two moments in which I decided to use my press credentials. I wanted to make this one personal. I spent money freely – beginning in the first five minutes after getting let in when I stopped by the great Neal Adams’ booth. I asked for sketches from Phil Hester and Barry Kitson. I got autographs. I stood in lines for hours to get my photo ops (that I paid for), some signatures from George Perez, and the aforementioned water colored sketch from Kitson. I decided to just be a fan again. I was no longer a 35 year old blogger at his tenth con, eighth Wizard World. I decided to turn back the clock and be a guy in his mid-twenties again seeing all these things with as fresh eyes as possible.
And with that take on being more of a fan and letting the show itself come naturally and throw aside any agenda I may take to any other con, it brought back something that I thought was forever lost to the ages. I wasn’t hampered by that agenda or a schedule of when I wanted to be in a particular room at a particular time to hear about a particular tidbit of news on a particular project. I wasn’t Geoff Arbuckle, writer and editor for A Comic Book Blog. I was simply Geoff Arbuckle, comic book enthusiast. I wasn’t contacted by anyone to do interviews or to go to panels to learn about stuff like I had been in the past. I wasn’t worried about scoring a cool interview and wondering what I would ask or how. I just let the show happen and rekindle why conventions are such an important part of my love of the medium.
The really great thing was how well run the show was. Now, I understand that my perspective comes from a general admission standpoint. My press pass didn’t let me in with the people who spent hundreds of dollars to have a VIP experience. Obviously, the more money you spend on your ticket, the more likely you would tend to be more critical about how things were run and how things are done. Like I said before, Wizard had some past missteps in how they did some things, and as I said earlier, some of this was bad luck and some of it was errors found in trial. I was curious how they would handle the number of VIP tickets sold that brought with it the ability to jump to the start of the line for certain events. When I was getting both my photo ops, I was naturally scared that this VIP policy would come to haunt me throughout the weekend. In both cases, it didn’t affect anything. It really felt like the organizers had a fantastic grasp on how things went.
More importantly, they made sure that every guest had as good of an experience they could give us regardless of the type of pass we had. It was professional and the communication was done very well. Of course, you can’t please everyone and some made sure they let those people know, but everything from how they tried to get us through the door in the morning to how they handled the photo ops even down to the numbering system they came up with for the George Perez line so people could come and go at their leisure was appreciated and about as professional and good as you can get. A lot of how this was why I could have a particularly great weekend.
So, in conclusion, was this my last hurrah for that magical trip to Rosemont in the Summer? That’s yet to be seen. If I had to say, my answer would be no. I’m not sure I’ll be back in 2013 or even 2014. I do know that I can’t put a value on how good of a time I had this past weekend. I can’t put a value how well I thought the show was run. Moreover, I can’t put a value on how it felt to just be an enthusiast again.
Thank you for a great time, Wizard World… We’ll be seeing each other again someday.