Wizard World Chicago, part 1!

By Shawn Robare

Well, I’m finally back from vacation (both from a trip to Florida to visit the family, and from our exciting trip up to Wizard World Chicago), so I thought it was about time I update the site.  It doesn’t feel like two weeks have gone by, but then the wife and I did our best to pack each day with stuff so the time just flew by. The whole point of this vacation was to take the trek up to Chicago to both meet a bunch of people I’d been conversing with online as well as to debut the print edition of this very website, the Branded in the 80s magazine.  So how did it go?  Well, I figure I might as well start at the beginning and work my up to the meat of the post…

The wife and I had originally planned on attending this year’s San Diego Comic Con as a belated honeymoon, but after pricing out the trip and finding out that hotel rooms were pretty damn hard to come by, we opted instead to hit WW: Chicago.  My sister was gracious enough to dump a bunch of her frequent flier miles on us, so the airfare was taken care of.  Even though the cost wasn’t a headache, the idea of flying in general was.  I hadn’t been on a plane since I was about 8 years-old, and certainly not in the post 911 climate.  I took every single security check in horror story to heart and expected the worst, not to mention the whole fear of heights and freaky gremlins (the type that drove John Lithgow to near madness in the Twilight Zone movie.)  I was pretty tense when we were dropped off at the Orlando International airport.  Funny thing is that aside from a short wait to do the initial check-in (the signage was amply confusing), everything else went off without a hitch. Security check in was no big deal (aside from having to take my shoes off, but then again I tend toward laziness), and we ended up having about 40 minutes to sit around in the terminal waiting for the flight to start boarding.  Here’s a picture of our plane waiting on the tarmac…

The flight itself was no big deal. It probably helped that I didn’t have the window seat, so at most I could only get a glimpse of the horizon out of the window.  The flight time seemed to slip by as well (it was admittedly a short flight at and hour and forty five minutes), though part of this had to do with Delta, as they had installed TVs in the backs of all the seating, so I had the Food Network to keep me company though most of the flight.  We had a stop over/connection in Cincinnati, and then a much shorter flight (45 minutes) to Chicago on a smaller plane, but again it was pretty uneventful.  My only other worry was catching a shuttle to our hotel in Chi town, but again, no big deal.  In fact, I think part of me was looking forward to some kinks in the trip as we only every really drive down to Florida from Georgia which can get pretty routine and boring.  Some snafus up to Chicago would only have reassured me that the trip was a little farther and more of a big deal.  As it was when we stepped out of the airport in Illinois we didn’t even really have that feeling that we were in a different place.  The temperature was very similar (hot and humid the first day) and we hadn’t really heard anyone talking so there were no local accents and flavors.  At most there were a ton of Cubs displays in the airport, but I’m not a sports guy so again, it could have been Atlanta for all we knew.

It didn’t start feeling like a strange city until we hit the hotel (we stayed in the Sofitel because it was both close to the convention center were WW: Chicago was held, and because it was the only hotel that had rooms available for the entire weekend.)  The Sofitel was a bit, shall we say ritzy compared to what we were used to (I grew up on Super 8s and Holiday Inns), and as a perfect example of this all of the staff spoke in French (French first and then English second, how utterly ritzy.)  Actually, to add to the almost pretentious atmosphere in the place, there were HD TVs lining the wall above the Check-In desk that were playing old French black & white silent films.

At the end of the day, even though the place was nice as hell, there were a lot of simple drawbacks that made it feel like it was grossly expensive.  You had to pay for daily wifi service, local calls, and way too much to get a mini fridge in your room (I’ve never had to pay to get a mini fridge in a hotel room before.)  There were also pointless amenities in the room like an HDTV with no HD channels, so everything looked like piss poor quality.  It was however connected to the convention center via a very convenient sky bridge, so it gets some points there.

The con was held at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, which was by far the best comic convention experience I’ve ever had.  I’ve been going to Dragon Con here in Atlanta since I was a junior in high school and it’s always been a headache of multiple hotels and con floors that were sometimes 2 to 3 blocks apart.  At Wizard World though, everything was in the same building, which for convenience’s sake was much appreciated.

Wizard World was also about 2 to 3 times larger as far as the floor and attendance goes, so it’s the largest convention I’ve ever attended.  Of course, considering that I was exhibiting for the first time ever, I didn’t really get a chance to get wrapped up in the experience like I used to back in my Dragon Con days.  I was expecting to see throngs of humanity and insane lines for everything (which was certainly the case for every Dragon Con I’ve ever attended), but with the exception of the line to get in on Saturday morning it seemed like quite the opposite.

(The line to get in on Saturday)

When my wife and I first walked into the convention center lobby and we saw the two areas for attendees to buy tickets and sign up we were shocked.  Not only was there one on waiting in line, but bother area were planted right next to the entrance to the actual con floor.  In my experience, there is usually a registration area on a completely different floor (if not in a separate building) to house the thousands of people vying to get inside.  It’s not uncommon to wait in the ticket line for three to four hours at Dragon Con.  I guess most people pre-order there tickets to WW: Chicago.

Our second surprise came after we picked up our badges and made our way onto the con floor to set up our table.  WW ran from Thursday afternoon until Sunday evening, but there were hardly any people setting up in Artist Alley 2 hours before show time on Thursday.  Though that evening was only for people with four day passes, apparently not many of them show up.  Suffice it to say that we were a little perplexed by this, again because of our experiences at Dragon Con (where people wouldn’t think twice about ripping your arm off and beating you with it if it meant they could get onto the exhibitor or dealers room floor an hour early.)  WW was just a little too laid back in this manner.  Also, we were also a little worried at this point because no one we were supposed to meet at the con (and exhibit with) had showed up yet.  It didn’t stop us from setting up the table post haste though…

It might not look like much, but making everything in the picture above a reality has been keeping me from updating Branded as regularly as I’d like for the past two months or so.  Getting the two magazines written, typeset, and working on the layout and design took a lot more energy that I had anticipated.  Not only that, but I spent a lot of time agonizing over the cheapest yet most semi-professional way of filling out our half table space.  My friend Daniel at work suggested the collage as a way to catch people’s eyes as they walked by and my wife suggested the vintage lunch box to house the buttons we were selling.  Then there was the matter of finding and designing cheaper color fliers and business cards.  Again, it might not look like much, but it sure did take a lot of trial and error to get that table set up looking as good as it did, and for as cheaply as we did it (I’ll never tell.)

All in all I was pretty happy with it, happy enough that I actually look like I’m smiling for real in the photo below (a very rare occurrence, at least in photos of me.)

Like the lunch box, practically everything on the collage was culled from vintage materials as it was sort of my theme when creating the table.  I tried to get a nice overview of imagery to convey what it is I talk about on the site and in the magazine, and surprisingly it ended up working pretty well.  There were quite a few times when people walked by the table and you could see the gears turning in their head as they first dismissed it, and then something stuck and they’d slowly walk back and do a double take.  Strangely enough, the pictures of Scott Baio (from Charles in Charge) and the unmasked lizard trooper from V hooked people the most.  I think I’m actually going to leave the bulk of my con going experiences for another post (or perhaps a podcast, we’ll see.)

Anyway, like I mentioned above, one of the main reasons we picked WW: Chicago was to get a chance to meet a whole mess of people we’d run into online over the last couple years including Jerzy & Anne Drozd (of Make Like a Tree Comics, Sugary Serials, and Boum Art)…

Mark Rudolph of CV Comics and Sugary Serials (pictured in the middle, in between Jerzy and Anne)…

Chet Lucero of Storm Corps and Sugary Serials

Diana Nock (of Sugary Serials, not to mention some great work up at Jinxville), and Barry Gregory of Ka-Blam digital printing (pictured behind both Diana and Jerzy’s quizzical head.)

Here’s a shot of the Ka-Blam booth for completeness’ sake.

I’m getting a typing cramp, so I think I’m going to end it here.  Hopefully I’ll be able to force myself to do a part 2 (or a podcast) tomorrow…

  • Lamar The Revenger

    the lines there aren’t as bad as san diego.. even though i hadn’t been there in 7 seven years, they were still really unbearably long.

  • Jay

    that’s really exciting! Mission Accomplished right? awesome. When you need a full staff of writers for your magazine I’m throwing my name into the hat. lol