So being in a pinch for money this year, I couldn't go to Gen Con 2014. On the other hand, I wanted to go to a convention and noticed that this year's Wizard World Chicago would be having legendary filmmaker John Carpenter and WWE superstar Bray Wyatt as guests. Yet, this was Wizard World Chicago, a con that I remember infamously having issues with in the past. The biggest issue is the bracelets that you're forced to wear for all four days and the con's wanton disregard for humanity in mashing it's audience in a way-too-small space.
Add in that A TON of actors from Doctor Who and Star Trek: The Next Generation were going to be there as well (besides the old standby that is Norman Reedus and Bruce Campbell), and I knew I had to plan this meticulously if I was going to survive it without going insane. So, I planned and schemed. With what funds I had, I got a hotel (the Embassy Suites) across from the Donald Stephens Convention Center (where the con is held) and applied for my press pass four months prior (along with saying I needed a +1 for my cameraman).
However, once a friend informed me (and you'll be getting his experience of the con down the line as well) that all regular four day passes had sold out and it was only a month away from the con, I bit the bullet and got a VIP pass - namely: the John Carpenter Experience.
Two days later, I found out from another friend who was attending the con (and also had applied for a press pass) that if you were getting e-mails from them, you were approved. Sure enough, I checked my OH! e-mail account and saw in the Promotion section was littered with e-mails from Wizard. Two weeks before the convention, I got approved as press (but sadly they didn't notice the fact I requested +1). So my back-up plan paid off. Then, just a few days later, me and said friend got invited for the pre-show press event.
That event was an experience onto itself. The press, guests (Jason David Frank and Lou Ferrigno), and vendors crammed into the backroom of a restaurant. It was nice meeting some of my ilk there and having unlimited cheese curds. However, it was amusing even though I was INVITED to said event, my name wasn't on the list (WRITER'S NOTE: This was due to the fact I didn't RSVP and was one of over fifty who showed up to the event). Getting slapped with that freaking wristband made me cringe. GAWD I hate these freaking wristbands we cannot remove, BUT there was a solution (more on that later). Still, it was fun and UNLIMITED CHEESE CURDS!!!
Thursday: Artist Alleying & Nightmare at Embassy Suites
The first thing I noticed that was brought to our attention was the fact that the con was split into TWO areas: one with vendors, artist alley, and gaming, then the other had more vendors and the Star Studded Guests with registration right in the middle between both. Due to this, moving around the space was pretty good. Perhaps too good, because it was then said friends and I began to notice the fact that the convention wasn't packed. I mean yeah it was Thursday, but Friday it was like this as well for most of the day until the last three hours.
In any case, I spent most of Thursday scoping the con floor out and paying for four blank cover sketches (Jeffery Moy did Agent Abigail Brand, Laura Guzzo drew and colored Shriek, Phillip Moy drew/colored Death of the Endless, RC Young with Age of Apocalypse Blink, and colorist Jeff Balke ended the great white whale from C2E2: getting his paws on coloring a blank cover sketch Mark Bagley did of Scarlet Spider he saw, but couldn't finish due to his workload at the time. Plus he colored Brand, which again the man just knows how to color so darn quickly and well.
Though some sites have said the size of artist alley was limited, I disagree. Unless you were hoping for a big name artist from the Big Two; only a handful showed up there. Instead, I embraced the young up and coming talent that was displayed here, along with other creators from the Independent circuit.
Of the ”big” indie publishers there, Big Dog Ink, Devil's Due, and Zenoscope caught my interest via their remarkable presences at the con. All were very nice people and were fan friendly in getting people to get their stuff or showing off the creator talent they had there.
The only issue with artist alley I had was that there was no on-site map telling you where each and every artist was. C2E2 had this, and it was VERY HELPFUL. Wizard World did not. It had a map in the program guide (to which they were everywhere in the main area several feet away), and the program guide itself was SMALL. I mean if it was just a press program guide, that didn't bother me. The fact that it was the actual guide made me remember the ones friends of mine would make in college for their gaming con. The Wizard program felt like an old TV guide that I used to get in the old days of cable TV that HBO or Showtime sent about their programing for that month. Because of the location (and again the lack of a larger map on the actual aisles) I think artists suffered because they could have made more business if people knew where they were. Heck, I didn't even know the DC Bombshell artist, Ant Lucia's location until Saturday. This problem NEEDS to be fixed and hopefully by next year. It's also an easily fixed one too. Just put an information desk nearby,have some staff lingering about, or put a freaking large map there in key sections ala C2E2. These solutions are all simple easy fixes.
After a long hilarious journey to find some grub, I was too late to get into seeing Wolfcop (a cop who gains the powers of a werewolf. … Yeah I'm sold still on this film. When's a Blu-Ray or another release coming?), a B-movie premiere at the subsidiary Bruce Campbell's Horror Film Festival. Con goers who wore their wristband could get in for free. Sadly, I wasn't late to see Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.
For the third straight week, I got stuck in a meh to pretty bad movie. I did enjoy Powers Boothe, Eva Green, and the random Christopher Lloyd appearance. It's just that Josh Brolin being in makeup to look like Clive Owen was comedy for the wrong type of reasons. There were other reasons too, but this ain't a review of that film, this is a overall talk of the con. If only I could have gotten into Wolfcop late.
Thursday night ended for me and then, at 2:30 am, I was woken up by the sound of the hotel's fire alarm going off. Annoyed, I and almost all the guests at the Suites marched down the stairs (I was at the top floor there, the eighth) and out into the lobby awaiting the fire department to turn the alarms off. They did fifteen minutes later, only for the darn alarms to go off again. Suffice to say I was kind of glad Friday's events began at eleven AM or noon.
Friday: The Neverending Search for Bray Wyatt
So day two began with me missing breakfast and having to have an early lunch. But I had high hopes, for Bray Wyatt was going to be there that day. I would meet and shake the hand of Bray Wyatt! He would sign my print I got from C2E2 and all would be well.
Right before the con ended Thursday, I already purchased my autograph ticket. Wait, what's that, you ask? Why, instead of paying ____ celebrity Wizard makes you go into a line to purchase a ticket so you can go into another line to wait get ___ celebrity to sign whatever you need. IN THEORY, this idea works. That is if you knew about this policy. I heard numerous tales of people going into line and being routed right when they were about to get said person's autograph. The worse experience that was told to me was people who purchased these tickets online had to get them redeemed at a booth next to the ticket booth to get the ticket that gets you the autograph. Unless of course you had VIP pass, which meant, if you wore your stupid bracelet and badge, you'd get right up in line for them to rip off your ticket which was already purchased …... Again, I'm glad I had the foresight to know and research about this because I would have been drinking or raging hard at the con early if I didn't.
So, meeting John Carpenter on Saturday went off without a hitch. Now I know you're probably asking yourself, “Zechs you got the press bracelet, and your friend got the VIP one.” Well for Thursday and Friday that was the case. Saturday and Sunday we switched bracelets. How you ask? I shall take my secret to the grave or, if I was like Wizard, only give out my secrets for an extra, exorbitant sum. I'm not telling, but I enjoyed the fact that I could take off the freaking bracelet for 90% of the con. SO HA!
Anyway, back to Friday and my search for the patriarch of the Wyatt Family. About halfway into the day I heard via rumblings that fellow WWE Superstar Paige was delayed in getting to the con. Okay, I thought, and went instantly to check if that same fate befell Bray. Sure enough, the website updated his signing time to a later time: 7:45 pm to 8:45 pm. Okay okay, maybe it wouldn't be that big of a line like John Cena's (who had a nice sized, but manageable line Thursday).
7 pm the con floor closes and I decide to go up to Photo Ops where the signing was held. The line is already HUGE and split into two: VIP (mixed in with regular folk wanting Photo Ops) and regular who wanted just a signature. I sat in the latter and talked wrestling for the better part of an hour with two wrestling fans. Along that time we noticed the numerous Bray cosplayers and got into singing, “I've got Whole World In His Hands”.
Around this time period, Wizard staff were givng the people waiting for Bray's autograph various photos if you wanted something to get signed. I grabbed one anyway, cause I love free stuff. 7:45 came. No Wyatt, and the photo ops line was barely moving, if at all. Again, Wizard staff came by and handed out water and gave the elderly gentlemen behind me a chair. Okay, at least they were catering to us somewhat. 8:15 pm hit. The photo ops were moving sluggishly. It was at this time the Wizard attendee graced us with her presence (and honestly she was pleasant, courteous, and nice the ENTIRE time). She informed us the wait would be longer unless you just wanted to hand whatever item you wanted Bray to sign, they'd give you a note, and he'd sign it. Then you could pick it up the next day at the information booth.
Okay, I am a fan of Bray Wyatt. I love watching the man talk and wrestle. But there was no way I was waiting any more time (and my leaving friend at my hotel room by himself, bored to death). So I sucked it up and handed my print to the employee and gave up. I have no idea if the loyal brave fellows or elderly man who I was next to ever met Bray Wyatt.
I'm still searching for Bray Wyatt and one day I hope to greet and thank this man for giving us one of the most entertaining heel performances in ages. This kind of incident wasn't rare at all for the con. John Barrowman and Karen Gillan fans likewise had to deal with this on Saturday night. WORSE, fans of the latter had to stomach an even longer wait because Wizard decided to sandwich her sessions together with Matt Smith at the last second. VIPs who wanted to just meet her be damned. OUCH. Still, I don't know if fans were pissed or pleased. I'd be pissed at being the pawn awaiting this celebrity's autograph and waiting so darn long for it.
Friday night ended pleasantly with me, my friend, and then two random other people (one who cosplayed as Deadpool) playing Last Night on Earth. Whoever you two were, I hope you bought the game at the con and the dealers budged on lowering the price.
Thursday and Friday, the attendance of the con was low. Like scary low. I don't know if it was because of the two area spacing, but my friends and I began to speculate if we were baring witness to a dying con. Well, Doctor Who fans and cosplayers arrived en masse Saturday to halt that thought process.
I did my one and only interview at the con with Matthew Kardish, writer of Earthman Jack (though I slotted future interviews down the line). As you'll notice from the eventual video that'll be uploaded, it was hard to record the session with so many people in attendance at the con. So if you're wondering why I only did one interview at the con, here's my reason.
Since it was packed with people, about the only notable things I did that day were said interview, meeting John Carpenter (WRITER'S NOTE: SQUEEEEEEE!!!!), and going to a panel with John Carpenter where fans asked the film-maker various questions. It was an epic panel, even with his ability to make the lights flash on and off (okay that wasn't him, that was the horrible storm outside the con making it's presence known). But that cannot convince me Carpenter wasn't behind it.
The other panel I attended that day was “Writing Comics” with Marv Wolfman moderating and talking about his experience of crafting comics. It was a fascinating panel to say the least. EXCEPT when Wizard staff allowed fans of Jason David Frank in. Why? Because JDF was having a panel after this one. So a bunch were already picking their spots for said panel and disrupted this one. Cue their cell phones with Power Ranger ring tones going off. Panel semi-ruined, though Wolfman took it in stride and endured the distractions.
What the hell Wizard?
You have this comic legend talking about writing and you have the balls to not have Staff tell people who only want to attend the next panel not to go in yet. At C2E2, they didn't allow this. Why the hell are you allowing this chaos? That's the point of people by the doors, to only allow people who want to attend the panel to actually ATTEND IT, not those who are just trying to get a good seat for the next one.
Regardless, Marv Wolfman, given his time in the industry, shouldn't have been subjected to that, and the man was the nicest guy I met at the con. After the panel, I asked him a question and he gave a DETAILED answer, for which I am grateful, Mr. Wolfman.
That incident left me with a bad taste so I didn't really attend any more panels that day, and we just wandered the con floor for hours until it ended. My day ended by seeing the US premiere of Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead, my review of which you can find here. Short summary: IT WAS AMAZING.
Sunday: TURN RIGHT YOU ASSHOLE!!!
The final day of the con was bittersweet. Again, it was busy, but not mind numbingly until after the Doctor Who panel across the block ended mid-day. Again, nothing really special happened to me save two tales: dealers who didn't want to deal and the journey in getting out of the con.
It's the last day of the con, so usually dealers are game to bargaining with their product so they don't have to deal with it when closing up shop. That so wasn't the case for some dealers. Twice, my friend offered them a reaysonable deal and both times they didn't waver at the “fixed/inflated” price they set. Well, their loss. ou can find said items for a better price online.
Then there was the quest to get out of the con. Throughout the entire co,n the police department was outside maintaining a nice hold on directing traffic. That wasn't the case when the con ended. They let congoers bake in the son for several minutes before finally allowing traffic out. If that wasn't bad enough, what was about to transpire was crazy. So I'm in a car, ready to exit the con. The driver in front of me wants to turn left. No big deal right? Not when it's right in front of the convention center, it's a four lane road, with no lights, and people are still coming out en masse via their cars or out of the center. Needless to say, the cops didn't give this guy a break. Even more hilarious, with his GPS, this driver, whoever he was, didn't even look at it to realize all he had to do was turn right and then another right and he could have just gone around this all to the direction he wanted.
Nope, this guy wanted to turn left and nothing was to deter him from it. So for the next TWENTY minutes we waited and waited. And waited. The cops never let him pass and they instructed him to turn right. He never budged. The man HAD TO TURN LEFT. He had to be a dick. He had to be the asshole who held up the line coming out of the parking lot. Finally after twenty minutes of not listening to them, the police cleared a path for him to turn left.
With that, my Wizard World Chicago experience came to an end. Would I do it again? It all depends, but I'm currently leaning toward no. Why? #1 The cost is just too much. C2E2 is much cheaper and better run than Wizard World. For half the fee, you get a better run con experience. Add that with the odyssey of getting an autograph, and it's just too much. Honestly, just let me pay the freaking agent or just honor the freaking receipt I paid for. I'd rather give my money to the dealer and artist alley. And if CGC ever was given the chance to do on-site grading at C2E2, you're beyond fucked. That's all the con needs to destroy you and it's only a matter of time. #2 The wristbands, the horror. The horror. Just change to wearing badges, Wizard. Nobody likes your freaking wristbands. Nobody. We all hate it and if we're paying close to a hundred bucks to get in, make us feel at least we're paying for a high quality con, and not a night at the county fair. #3 you're screwing the community around you. Seriously, you had a good thing five years ago and you let it get to you. You're not the big dog on campus now. It's C2E2, sadly. Find a way to be friendlier and more cost effective. If you did, then we wouldn't mock this con now any chance we get. In any case, the assumption that this is a dying con that was previously an asset. This isn't a warning. This is a reality that'll be hitting you across the head inevitably.
If my opinions aren't enough, stay tuned for another article via the perspective of my friend who also attended and took WAAAY more pictures than I did at the convention.
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About the Author - Zechs
Zechs is the lord and master of The Toy Shed, Character Spotlight, and Cartoon Reviews. He's also an aspiring comic book writer trying to get some of his works published on the Outhouse. If there's any greater quality to Zechs, it's that he's an avid fan of comic book characters and would defend them to the bitter end against the companies that use them wrongly. Zechs walks the lonely path in Chicagoland area.
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