There is so much about Chicago that has made it a world famous tourist destination: cuisine like the Chicago Dog and deep dish pizza, Al Capone’s mafia culture of the 20’s, a variety of lakeside museums and attractions, and of course the sports. All the sports. However, the big draw for me was the 8th annual Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (or C2E2). Despite it’s relative newness, it has grown to be one of the top ten comic conventions in the United States. Hosted by ReedPop, this massive collection of creators, exhibitors, venders, and celebrities has had attendance gradually growing by the thousands every year since its inception. I live less than 4 hours away, so I knew I’d have to attend and review this expo for Comic Crusaders while I am still close enough to drive rather than fly. I will be rating each of six categories on a scale of 1 to 5, tallying the scores for a final result based on a 5 Star system.
Venue- (3*) This convention was mostly held on the 3rd and 4th floors of the South Building of McCormick Place Convention Center, located near the lake in the midst of construction and some of the worst traffic I’ve ever experienced. I could have ran the distance of the traffic jam on I-55 near the exit faster than I actually moved, and I’m not exactly Forrest Gump. I know location has very little to do with the actual convention hall, but Chicago’s traffic (both layout and drivers) were terrible, which really impacted my arrival time and mindset entering the convention. Thank God my wife drove so I didn’t have to do parking too. The venue itself was huge, but with as much as was crammed into the convention hall, it was still incredibly crowded. I would have preferred more elbow room for picture taking and maneuvering, but for as big as C2E2 is, that’s a tall order to fill. The area was massive nonetheless and was able to support everything that was offered with relative ease. They also made a point to ensure everyone feels included regardless of nationality or gender identity, as well as signs stating that cosplay is not consent.
Staff/Organization- (3*) I will say this: there was no shortage of personnel on the showroom floor. No matter where I went there was someone to guide, corral, and instruct the masses moving through the various areas of the show. Not everyone I encountered was well informed or even polite, but the majority of the ReedPop crew was an incredible asset to the show as a whole. Kudos to the organizers for that. Unfortunately, that is where my praise ends. I took real issue with the communication of any changes occurring at the convention. Some creators on Artist Alley and vender booths were no where to be found, whether it be double booked table locations, short notice cancellations, or exclusions from the map entirely. This caused me to wander around for far too long looking for people when I could have secured spots in long lines (which, to be fair, was well regulated by staff). Also, I could include this in my panels section, but there were several issues with changes to panel times and locations that caused much confusion amongst con-goers. The program guide and website (and I’m assuming mobile app) were full of inconsistencies that made for a confusing experience.
Guests- (4*) The best part about attending such a massive convention was that there was no shortage of amazing media, literary, and comic guests to meet. I could list them all here, but I don’t want to get carpel tunnel from all the typing. I will say that I got to see old favorites and new-to-me comic creators that happily signed my books. The lines were terrible and I had to really prioritize my books to be signed based on demand and pricing. For the record, my budget dictated that I spend no extra money on signatures so no Rob Liefeld for me. But I still got a rolling backpack full of comics signed, including X-Men Gold #1. As far as media guest go there were wrestlers, plenty of Netflix originals stars, voice actors, online sensations, sci-fi stars, and three of the six original Power Rangers. I am even in talks to interview Jason David Frank because of this convention. Although many guests were monetarily driven, I found most people I encountered to be genuinely pleased to meet fans, paying and not paying alike. The only complaint I have is that because there were so many guests, it was really hard to meet the amazing people I came to see with the amount of time I had. Definitely an exercise in prioritization and time management.
Panels- (4*) With so much happening on the exhibition floor and the organizational mix-ups, I was only able to attend three or four panels, so forgive me for the limited scope of my opinion. I know there plenty of fan meetups, workshops, games, readings, publisher news, and social relevance panels, but since celebrity lines were so long, I focused on Spotlight panels. Zachary Levi and Jim Cummings were very funny in their respective panels, but my highlight was Jason David Frank’s two panels. The first was a spotlight in which I asked a question and planted the seed for an exclusive interview and the second was about Valiant Digital. Among other projects, their biggest and most widely anticipated is a collaboration with Bat in the Sun to produce “Ninjak vs the Valiant Universe” with JDF playing Bloodshot. I saw 8 new minutes of footage and was thoroughly impressed. The Valiant panel was about average as far as panels go, but what I loved about the spotlights were how they were purely Q&A format. The main stage was simply a couch for the celebrity to lounge on as he/she answered questions, making it extremely relaxed and casual. The best seating was reserved though for “golden ticket holders”, who earned them via activities on the floor. There was also a stage near the stairs up to panel rooms that featured fun circus acts, music, and yoga classes. Great impression overall with panels, from what I experienced.
Venders- (5*) This was the biggest win for this convention. While I was on cheap mode all weekend, I could not help but be sucked into all the different booths selling prints, crafts, toys, shirts, food, and comics! There were booths offering car insurance and credit cards and portfolio reviews. Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Valiant, Aftershock, and Oni Press all had their own areas to promote their products and brand. There were big companies and small, original materials and mass produced product, and even some non profits represented. The beauty of such a giant expo is that there is an opportunity for all venders to be represented. Even the food had plenty of variety and was located in a central location for anyone craving a beer, hot dog, or churro. I found several comics on my want list in cheap $1 and $2 boxes, so of course I was thrilled. Awesome job.
Attendance/ Fans- (4*) Saving the best for last because there would be no convention if not for the attendees willing to pay and see what C2E2 has to offer. According to ReedPop’s event and sales director Mike Armstrong, this year had the largest Saturday yet with weekend estimates near 80,000 people in attendance. This could be due to a joint panel at 11 am featuring Stan Lee and Frank Miller, but trust me: I was on the floor that whole time and there was no shortage of crowding. This convention had some incredible cosplay work from dedicated fans, and since this is also an Entertainment Expo, I was pleased to see an abundance of non-comic cosplay. Plenty of original and obscure characters, not to mention plenty of crossplay. Chicago is a very progressive city on the LGBTQ front and my time there showed that. Everyone was caught up in the atmosphere of nerdiness and the community between fans was apparent. My big problem is that it was just so crowded! It was hot and loud and claustrophobic, so if anyone who is socially anxious wants to attend, either skip in favor of a smaller con or suck it up buttercup. And did I mention the lines?
So, overall, the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo has big successes and massive downsides, but I still enjoyed myself. Sure, the traffic and crowds put a damper on things, and I spent way too much time trying to figure out the showroom floor, but I got to see tons of celebrities and had comics signed by some creators I’ve never met before. It was definitely an experience I’ll never forget. Will I go back? Honestly, signs are leading to no because the city was just too crowded and expensive to justify the trip, even though the event itself was a blast. It would have to be have a killer guest list to persuade me to so this all over again. If I have calculated to numbers right, this convention earns 23 of a possible 30 points. C2E2 2017 earns a final score of
3.83 out of 5 Stars.
NOTE: I apologize for the lack of photos this time around. My phone battery has been terrible lately and my wife was unable to obtain a press pass to accompany as my official photographer. I also was unable to attend the Cosplay Competition Saturday night due to traffic that morning keeping me from obtaining the required wristband for the event.