I've been "into" comics since late 1988, and my own personal collection began in early 1989 when my mom bought me my first four comics--an issue each of Superman, Adventures of Superman, Batman, and Detective comics. It would've been Summer 1993 when a friend and I--perusing the latest issue of Wizard magazine--"discovered" the Wizard World Chicago Comic Con. I do recall our thinking how cool it would be to go to it...but alas, it was far beyond our access, with no parents or other driving adults remotely willing to traverse hundreds of miles for us to spend money we didn't have. Flash-forward a decade, and a couple other friends and I realized we were just a couple hours' drive from Origins (gaming convention) and attended, sparking a 5-year gaming-cons run. This year, circumstances removed the gaming cons from our schedule...and instead, my friend Drew and I embarked on what was--for us--our greatest "adventure" since our first Gen Con trip in 2004.
18+ years as a "comics person" in one form--to one degree--or another, and going to the Wizard World: Chicago con was my first-ever "big" comic convention (I've been to plenty of smaller "local mini-cons" as I call them--basically a small hall with local/regional dealers, and hourly door-prizes, and the occasional "guest of honor.") All that said...this was my journey, to the best of my recollection--overwhelming as the con was.
Drew and I embarked on our journey toward Chicago, leaving about 11:30am. What on paper looked to be a 5-5 1/2 hour drive took us a bit over 7 hours, by the time we fought our way through Chicago rush-hour traffic. However, a borrowed GPS unit (dubbed "Motherbox" for the trip) guided us where we needed to be without getting lost or otherwise enduring such stress we'd been used to on prior trips. We arrived at our hotel (booked a couple weeks prior) and checked in with no problem. Having determined weeks before the trip that we were absolutely going to get a deep-dish pizza, we consulted Motherbox, and discovered Lou Malnati's Pizza was just around the corner, so we were off for our first dinner of the trip, and genuine Chicago Deep Dish Pizza. We got "The Lou," a deep-dish with sausage and other toppings...though I usually go for meat pizzas, this was a fantastic pie, and all the more enjoyable for not being remotely "usual."
After dinner, we retired to the hotel, where we looked up panel schedules and con-hours online, made sure we were set for the con, read, and then crashed.
We woke extra-early, still being on "Ohio Time" and got around for the day. Motherbox got us to the convention center with no trouble, and as we marveled at the HUGELY long line of people stretching out and around the con center, we drove right past the parking garage, necessitating a turn-around. Once we'd traversed the indoor pathways from the parking garage to get to the entrance of the convention itself, we got in line to get our admission badges. Being early (or late, if you count that line of people outside who'd already received their badges) the line only took about 20 minutes. I discovered that my press badge was to be picked up at the other booth that--once pointed out to me--clearly indicated it was indeed the place one picks up such badges. Oops.
Badges pinned to our shirts, we made our way toward the "Welcome to Wizard World" sign, and promptly bumped into a small crowd, gawking at a Darth Vader, Storm (Sand?) Trooper, and Boba Fett. We quickly noticed a second Fett. I got my camera out, and got a couple pictures, and then passed the camera to Drew so that he could get one of me with the Star Wars Crew.
Heading on into the main convention hall, I was promptly overwhelmed at the sheer size of the place. It surprised me, really, as it's probably about the size of Origins....but for a COMIC convention, this was the largest space I'd seen in-person. We got about a minute's walk in when I discovered that I'd managed to leave my checklists back at the vehicle, but neither of us wanted to retrace those steps at the time, so we opted to wander and check the place out. No structure...everywhere we turned was something new and interesting and comic-y to grab our attention. A couple video game booths, DC's, Marvel's, WizKids, and so on jumped out immediately.
Before long we found ourselves beyond the realm of the "Big Publishers" and into the dealers' area, where we discovered multiple dealers offering TPBs for 50% off cover price...and one with several longboxes of 75% off. I raided this immediately for Austen's U.S. War Machine and Thor: The Reigning, both of which I'd been meaning to pick up since 2004. I also scored a slightly-beaten Kraven's Last Hunt hardcover at a neighboring booth for 50% off, prompting a text message to a friend who's had a lot of good to say about the story.
After further wandering and browsing and resisting the urge to purchase every great deal to be spotted (of which there were many more than I care to remember), we headed back to the vehicle to drop stuff off, and walked right into the Unveiling Ceremony for the Marvel Super-Heroes USPS stamps. Stayed to watch that, and then made our way to the vehicle, and returned to the con floor.
We ended up coming across the Wizard booth and the Wizard Wheel of Doom. We still had awhile to kill, so got in line. The Wheel of Doom was a nice little attraction...you wait in line, and when it's your turn, you choose a subject, and the hosts present you with a trivia question from that topic. Answer correctly, and you spin the Wheel to determine your prize (Mega Prize, Comics, Pocket Lint, High-Five!, Things We Don't Want, etc. and so on). Answer incorrectly, and you perform a "physical challenge." Then you spin the wheel to determine your prize. One physical challenge ahead of us involved someone addressing the general crowd and shouting an enthusiastic "COW-A-BUNG-A!!!"
Shortly before we were up, and just after someone won a "Mega Prize" (comics, toys, a Marvel statue), one of the hosts rushed around the stand clutching a Sentry statue, and begged to be asked a question about The Sentry. Marveling at this, I figured hey, a Paul Jenkins fan! Discovered moments later that it WAS Paul Jenkins. Unfortunately (for me), Jenkins had to leave right before it was my turn at the wheel, as he had to go win at pool against challengers over at the Hero Initiative booth. I'djoked in line with Drew about choosing "Melville Dewey" as my topic, but in the end opted for "Ninja Turtles." I answered my question correctly, and received a couple random comics and a Batman Begins action figure. Drew opted for a question about toys, as he works in a toy store...unable to answer a question about a series of toys he's unfamiliar with, his 'physical challenge' was to address the line and proclaim "I work in a toy store, and I know NOTHING about toys!" He received a couple comics for his trouble.
From there, we headed off to the DC Nation panel. Got our two Countdown pins on the way in. This panel was mostly good fun...I didn't feel like I learned much from it (except that I'm in a definite minority on some specific "issues" right now). However, found Dan DiDio to be--as I'd seen mentioned elsewhere online--quite charismatic, and we enjoyed his presentation, as well as the interaction with his fellow panelists--particularly Bob Wayne. I actually missed a slipped comment he'd made, deriving amusement rather from seeing DiDio jump back as Wayne stepped in and thanked everyone for attending, and wishing us a good night. Drew filled me in on the comment I hadn't caught, which gave a new spin on a recent comic for me. Possibly the largest drawback of attending the panel itself in-person was that we missed a lot of questions, as many were not repeated before being answered, though some questions we figured out based on the answer.
After DC Nation, Drew opted to head back into the con itself for awhile--I stayed and attended Mondo Marvel. Didn't stand out to me all that much--apparently a lot of the Marvel folks'd been stranded in New York due to weather--so it was Joe Quesada, a tech person, and someone whose name I didn't catch. I just sort of chilled and listened, but wasn't all that engaged...especially after enjoying the DC Nation panel as I had.
Next was the Vertigo panel. I met Drew in the lobby, and we headed in. This was hosted by Bob Wayne and a few others whose names I missed. Matt Wagner joined a few minutes later. Over the course of the panel, I realized other panelists included Brian Azzarello and Tony Daniels. Got some previews of upcoming stuff including a Jamie Delano Hellblazer OGN next year; stuff about this year's Sentences and Cairo, and info on Exterminators, DMZ, 100 Bullets, Fables, and so on.
(You've probably already found blow-by-blow/detailed descriptions of these panels at That Other Comics News Site).
Leaving the con for the night, I was prepared for a McDonald's run...Drew reminded me that we were not "home" and so we eventually opted for dinner at Spaghetti Warehouse. Proved to be a decent dinner, capping off the day...though the whole "not eating" during the day surely played a part. When you go into a convention to spend "the entire day," it's a good idea to not only take water, but some sort of snack-food, or be prepared to purchase same from the con center itself.
We got to the convention center shortly before 9, though ultimately we were unable to get in until shortly before 10 after waiting through 40ish minutes of the outside line filing in and not having realized we'd've been better off going outside to wait. We'd planned to stand in line for a bit with the DC booth for the "Surprise Panel" wristbands...but by the time we got in and searched for the end of the line, it stretched far enough around that before we reached the end, we decided it wasn't worth it, and decided to find other stuff to do. I went to the Hero Initiative booth to get the Ultimate Spider-Man 100 Project TPB.
From there, Drew and I split up for a bit--I went to the Top Cow booth where Paul Jenkins was signing, while Drew checked out Bio-Shock (X-Box game, I believe). Meeting Paul Jenkins was one of the definite highlights of the con for me. I enjoyed seeing his interaction with folks ahead of me in line--and observed what a real class act the man is. I was particularly impressed when he apparently mis-signed a comic, he found another copy there in the booth to replace it at no cost. Certainly topped any "mere apology." I had my copy of the Inhumans TPB signed, and got my one-and-only Me-With-A-Famous-Person picture taken.
Drew and I met up again, and headed off to the DC Brave New Worlds panel. Wasn't quite as enjoyable as the DC Nation, but it was close. I especially enjoyed seeing the Superman/Doomsday and New Frontier trailers. We also got our 2nd batch of two pins on the way out. We headed to the DC booth, where we found a rather long line. Discovered it was for an Ethan Van Sciver signing. Wandering the booth, I found a bucket of DC Nation pins (which excited me, as I'd wanted to get one last year, but couldn't for not attending any major comic cons), and scored a Booster Gold "52 Aftermath" poster. Spotted a Final Crisis poster, and walking up to nab a copy, someone spotted my 4 pins, and presented me with the "Darkseid Rules!" pin. I also nabbed some bookmarks and a couple promo posters for Vertigo stuff.
Saw Jim Starlin, and got in line for a bit, kicking myself for not having my Infinity Gauntlet volume with me (Add to the Lessons of Experience: The Program Book's listing of guests is far from exhaustive!). I dug out my Ultimate Spidey volume, to get that page signed, and asked for a sketch (I provided a board from one of my comics) of Thanos. While he sketched, Starlin explained rather cheerfully that Thanos was one of the first and most iconic characters he perfected these con-sketches for, even working his signature into the image. Thanking him and leaving him to the rest of the line, I was off, with my first-ever con-sketch, quite pleased with the experience.
At this point, Drew and I noticed the time, and realized how short it had grown, so we dove into hunting-mode to find specific things we'd gone into the con wanting to find. Within the hour, I'd located all but one of the Superman comics I was missing from my '86-Present run, and located a Dr. Strange issue from the early 80s for a friend.
We headed to the Cup o' Joe panel, which for me proved to be much like the Mondo Marvel...interesting enough, but not terribly engaging. At the end of the panel, they showed us a slide with a backlit-by-flames Captain America with "Return" scrawled across it, teasing Alex Ross's return to Marvel stuff.
Splitting up again, Drew headed off to look for some cheap TPBs, while I headed toward Artists' Alley. Spotted a random booth with $1 comics, and took a peek at their Action Comics selection, and located the final issue I was missing, so paid my $1 and was on my way.
Arriving at Artists' Alley, I was surprised at the size 'n scope...and the crowd. Walked down a few aisles taking it all in, but felt like I was facing far more jostling and general crowd-fatigue, and beat a hasty retreat (spurred on by the high prices, and not wanting to find myself feeling obligated to buy stuff I had no money left for). Main lesson I learned is to hit Artists' Alley FIRST, rather than thinking there'd be time to properly enjoy this portion of the con at the tail-end of one's time there.
About the time I retreated, my phone buzzed--Drew was ready to go, though I convinced him to give me some more time to try to find a discounted copy of Fell vol. 1 and/or the Planet Hulk hardcover. Checking several booths, rediscovered a booth with a bunch of trades 5/$25 or $6 each. Browsed for a bit, but found that I couldn't find much I was terribly interested in, and was disappointed to not find 5 sequential Essentials volumes...would've been quite cool to score a 5-volume run of Essential Spider-Man or Essential X-Men. I was thankful, though, for not having incentive to fall back to the credit card.
Drew finally dragged me away, though I stopped at one final booth, spotting a sign for "$10 Hardcovers." Opted to--as I had with Kraven's Last Hunt--get around my "No Premiere Edition Hardcovers" personal-policy with the fact that I was saving 50+ percent, and thus was significantly cheaper than any prospective paperback edition will be.
As we reached the entrance/exit, I remembered my camera, and made a point of getting several pictures to attempt to capture part of the magnitude of the place. Snapped a couple more through the lobby, and then from the "up" escalator. Amused Drew when I promptly stepped onto the "down" and got more pictures on the way down, before calling it quits.
Maintaining our no-fast-food for dinners, we grabbed dinner at Chili's, and then spotted Coldstone, so got ice cream for dessert, before retiring to the hotel to assess our convention swag.
All in all, we had a great time with the convention. While still a bit soon to determine with absolute certainty, we decided this could be a bit of a "scouting" thing...we braved the new adventure and con experience, and having had such an enjoyable and successful experience, should not be much of a challenge to convince several other friends to go with us next year.