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My C2E2 Experience

My first Con experiences were a couple Wizard World conventions way back in the early 90s before I moved from Chicago. The trip to Rosemont taking the Red Line south and the Blue Line out to the suburbs was indirect and long, but not as painfully slow as taking a bus on clogged city streets. Once there the con floor was fun, but unmemorable. Flash forward to 2002 and a return to Wizard World proves fun and exciting though less frenetic in comparison to Comic Con at the time. By 2006 though my enthusiasm waned dramatically, making it my last year. Anecdotal accounts make it sound as if Wizard’s downward trend continues.

How much longer Wizard or whatever it calls itself now lasts is anybody’s guess.

I don’t care either because there’s a new con in town and it’s called C2E2 (Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo). Just don’t confuse it with the similar acronym and totally unrelated C2EA.

Friday was a sunny day, the air crisp, and the mid-morning Amtrak train arrived on time. I nestled into a seat, pulled out a book, and got lost in reading. Excitement surfaced when the train zoomed past Homewood and through Southside neighborhoods till it slowed down near McCormick Place for its patience testing backup into Union Station. One dash through the building, a hop to a CVS to buy a 3 day CTA pass, and a jump on a bus to my hotel, a quick burger at Epic, and I’m waiting for a # 3 King Drive bus. It’s ridiculously crowded for a bus in non rush hour, but I don’t care because I really want to be at McCormick Place, and the ride is quicker than anticipated.

McCormick Place is huge! Much bigger now than the time a friend and I meandered over from our apartments in Pilsen to see Bryan Ferry in concert a long time ago. Waiting for the light to change, I couldn’t help but start to compare it to Comic Con. Unlike Comic Con, mind you, I love it, there’s no throng of people massed around you perched for the moment traffic cops let you cross. Finding my way to the right building was easy as there were enough other comic nerds headed in its direction, and security people were friendly enough to assure you were still going the right direction. Crossing the sky bridge over a section of Lake Shore Drive gives a spectacular view, but there are more important things just ahead.

The bridge opens up into a huge area to get your badges and C2E2 staff point me to the enormous room off to the left where more staff checks to make certain everyone going in has a pass. It strikes me that the staff is…pleasant. DC’s booth is just a little ahead with Marvel’s off to its right, Top Shelf not quite in the middle. Dark Horse and Boom! are situated near Marvel. Haven Distribution just on the left fringe of DC (though I missed it several times) and I know I passed the booth where Archie artist Dan Parent was set up and broke the Kevin Keller news with Feast of Fun’s Fausto. I shouldn’t have dismissed Archie by thinking it could never have any LGBT relevance.

Walking through Marvel’s area I noticed Joe Quesada was signing at one of its booths. The line was short so I decided to join it, not realizing the couple ahead of me were holding a “The line ends here” sign. Two other guys came behind me before a Marvel staffer came over and rather good-naturedly ribbed the sign holder guy. Lucky for us he just gave the sign to the new last guy in line and I was able to meet Quesada face to face and chat for all of two minutes. I hooked up with Jon from Milwaukee, a friend I see all too little of in person. Jon was in the ticket line for a Sinestro collectible. He’d been in it a couple times already and it was amazing to see how fast the line moved.

Jon and I wandered through artists alley to see who was there for pros we knew. There were lots of indy creators too, some whose work I’ve seen talked about on various sites. Facing the artists area was one booth selling fine art and prints that caught my attention just for the sheer beauty and seeming incongruity of its wares. Perhaps it was Century Guild? Off in one of its corners though was Jeremy Bastian, of Cursed Pirate Girl. The art and story in this B & W comic is fantastical and playful. His style of drawing with intricate lines reminds me of when books were often illustrated with etchings, making them truly beautiful.

We noticed several things about the con. Aisles were wide and that made for easy walking around. Lines moved fairly quickly. Was Geoff Johns minorly irked that we tried to snap his pic while he was signing for fan boys in a line that we didn’t bother to stand in? Thanks to the building’s design there was plenty of good ol’ sunlight shining into the interior space. That alone negated the feeling of being trapped inside and the subsequent urge to get outside. Neither was there a feeling of desperation among the artists alley folk. And here’s what I mean. The competition to get either a table or a booth at Comic Con seems to intensify each year. Sure, competition can be good, but there can also be unintentional drawbacks. Walking through Comic Con’s small press/ indy tables and artists alley I’ve found myself avoiding making eye contact with people because so often there’s a “hard sell” attitude at work trying to move their comic or what have you.

Food options inside the hall were typical choices. The pizza is better because it comes from Connie’s, a reputable chain local to Chicago. Most of the food was found in a large “cafe” area with ample seating though there were a couple food carts inside the hall. On the mezzanine is a sit down Connie’s and a McDonalds facing it. There were also small, park like areas with benches and decent views to get some fresh air or smoke if you wanted.

After the DC Nation panel I met up with the other panelists (Dale Lazarov – link is NSFW!, Stevie Disme, Saro Orosco, Kris Dresen) for the inaugural “Chicago Gays In Comics” panel. Tony Breed was coming from work so couldn’t be there till right before the panel started, and we had Saro’s boyfriend Scott, too. We’d planned to talk about topics but instead chatted and joked. It was better that way, at least for me since the idea of talking in front of large groups can be anxiety inducing unless you happen to mention a hot button issue for me, and then words just rush right out till someone shuts me up. Instead of that happening we had a good discussion about how we got involved in comics and went from there. Things inevitably turned to superheroes. I love superheroes, but talking about them in relation to LGBT characters and concerns is often frustrating because corporate plans rarely match up with fan expectations and desires. Is it cynical to think there’ll be some measure of disappointment when LGBT people aren’t in charge of LGBT characters and stories? Which is not to say that all straight writers and artists are incapable. Then I also sometimes wonder would gay superhero fans support a gay superhero that was done by an indy artist, assuming all other things are equal. Is it essential for a gay (or LBT) hero to be part of a shared universe with as much continuity that you’d probably ditch an otherwise good potential boyfriend for carrying the same amount of baggage? Oopsie! Digression there. So, yeah, it was a darn good panel for its first outing and we had 40 – 60 people in the audience. Again, not bad for the first time.

Con attendance was noticeably bigger on Saturday but still quite manageable from a con-goer point of view. On Friday I’d somehow completely bypassed Haven’s booth and so it was great to finally find Carla Speed McNeil and listen to her Dark Horse news, find out what Cat Boy is doing, and talk about our incredibly slim Lincoln connection. She being a Speed is a descendant of Joshua Speed, BFF with Abraham Lincoln, and me born and raised in Lincoln, IL, the only town christened — with a watermelon no less — by Lincoln himself before he became President.

I didn’t have the chance to explore the area around McCormick Place. As I alluded to above, it’s changed significantly since I lived in the east side of Pilsen. China Town was a short ride away on the #21,which also connected with the Red Line. This and the #3 bus seem to be the only public transportation routes. Well, there’s a bus that runs express from Union Station, but that does little good. As the con grows in coming years as I hope it will, then the con planners may want to demonstrate need for special bus routes.

All in all it was well planned and a great time! Too bad my camera card died. If I were a betting man I’d give Wizard or whatever it’s called now about three years. I’m fine if it passes away. Chicago near Lake Michigan in April is a lot nicer than Rosemont out by O’Hare in humid August.

May 1, 2010
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