Yah, I said it.
I used to go do Wizard World Chicago every year, like a religious pilgrimage to the closest shrine of comic geekdom we had. Then, one year, everything changed and it was suddenly Comic Con Chicago. Vendor booths, artist alley tables, and dealer areas were eaten away to make room for roped off and curtained no-go zones for those who paid big bucks to get signatures from celebrities like Bruce Campbell and Patrick Stewart.
Around the second year of that, if memory serves, we also went to C2E2, Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo. I believe it was their second year, and it was a small convention, but it reminded me of the early years going to Wizard World. We had a blast and decided that would become our regular yearly stint.
A bonus was that we always had to make the choice between GenCon and Wizard World. WW always won out due to price. With C2E2 being earlier in the year, that opened up the opportunity to start going to GenCon as well. We went to Comic Con one more time after starting to go to C2E2 and, if possible, it was worse than the time before. It wasn’t about comic books and artists anymore. It was all about getting in to pay ridiculous sums just to get a glossy picture of an actor signed.
C2E2, while mostly about comics and artists, doesn’t pretend that it’s only a comic book convention. They do dedicate most of the floor space to comic artists and vendors though. The amazing part is that in just 7 years they’ve gone from a small show with just shy of 28,000 attendees to a juggernaut topping 80K this past year.
McCormick Place is the perfect venue as well. Where Comic Con is limited in growth by the Rosemont’s (Donald E. Stephens Convention Center) limited space at 840,000 square feet, McCormick Place boasts 2.6 million, 1.2 of which is all on the same floor. Just three years ago C2E2 topped New York Comic Con in size, with over 670,000 square feet of space used. It’s safe to say if it exists in the world of geek culture and you can’t find it at C2E2, you aren’t looking hard enough.
Due to its size, I recommend any attendee go for more than a day. One day used to be enough for us, whether it was Wizard World, Comic Con, or the early years of C2E2. After the 2015 trip though we knew that wasn’t going to be enough. We were there from opening until about an hour before the floor closed and we felt like we only saw half of it.
Even this year, with two days in Chicago, we didn’t see everything, but we ran out of spending money about lunch time on Saturday and the crowd was getting to be a bit much. Take your time. Don’t rush; and don’t spend all your money right away. Best practice, see everything you want to see, and if an item you saw earlier in the day is still on your mind, then go back and get it. Better to have to backtrack than buy something early and find an item you want more later, but have spent yourself out of funds.
Here’s some other tips for anyone new to large cons:
- Comfy shoes – the show floors are hard despite the carpet
- Backpack with water bottle compartment – water fountains are free
- More deodorant – halfway through the day, you’ll wish you could jump into the bathroom and refresh with a damp paper towel and application of deodorant
- Print/poster tube – pick it up early at one of the many booths selling Dick Blick products. You’ll be glad you did if you buy any art.
- Phone charger/backup battery – Your battery will drain fast if you use your phone for anything inside a steel and concrete building with no signal strength
- Dress light, even if it’s cold outside – no matter the temp outside it will be hot in the hall. A short cold walk beats a long sweaty day on the show floor.
Of course, C2E2 is also an entertainment con, so it has a long list of celebrity guests, and some of them cost a lot just for one signature. The convention does a great job of giving the celebrities space without taking away floor from the comics, artists, and vendors.
Many of the celebs you meet will also vary in price for autographs from free on up to $60. I would avoid the meet and greets, though, honestly. My wife did a meet and greet with Wil Wheaton this year. $60 for a picture with him that he didn’t even sign. Want that signed? Another $40… yeah, a little disappointing for a long-time fan.
Sure, you get to stand next to them for a second, maybe get a, “Hi, how are ya!” but Michael Cudlitz (Walking Dead, Band of Brothers, Southland) was doing autographs and taking a ton of selfies with fans at his table, and actually talking to people. We watched from the line to meet Timothy Zahn and it was great to see Mr. Cudlitz treating all of his fans like friends. He didn’t even sit behind his high table they set up for him. He came around the side, standing right there with the fans, and it was fantastic. Granted, Cudlitz had far fewer people in line, but damn if he didn’t show the utmost appreciation for every single one of them.
Other than all that, plan ahead. Make sure you know what you want to see, and prioritize. You can be in line for a signing longer than anticipated, so don’t schedule anything back to back. Look for things that aren’t at your local shop, or easily ordered cheaper on Amazon. Really scope out the deals and find those items that you must have and are hard to find.
Make frequent trips to the car to drop off stuff, but also to get out of the crowd and noise for some fresh air. The population of a decent-sized city descends on that convention hall and sometimes you just need to get away from it to recharge before diving back in. Above all, have fun. Any convention you go to is ultimately about that. Sharing your love for geekdom and having fun. That’s what makes it all worth it.