by Ira Har­mon | Reac­tion Comics


C2E2 2015 v.s. Wiz­ard Con
C2E2 num­ber 6 is a wrap and Chica­go com­ic book fans can look for­ward to Wiz­ard Con due in August. It has been 6 years since the gaunt­let was thrown down to see which Con would dom­i­nate Chica­go. The bat­tle con­tin­ues but as far as Com­ic Cons go, C2E2 has been a breath of fresh air for the pop cul­ture atmos­phere in Chica­go. C2E2 has gen­er­at­ed a much need­ed com­pet­i­tive spir­it to the lethar­gy that had seeped into Chica­go Com­ic Con.

In the pre­vi­ous decade, Chica­go had the dubi­ous sta­tus of a major city with­out a vibrant Com­ic Con pres­ence. Rose­mont, Illi­nois hosts the Chica­go Com­ic Con under the aus­pices of Wiz­ard World, and until six years ago it was the only major pop cul­ture cel­e­bra­tion in town, but it was a Con in decline. Chica­go Com­ic Con runs third place behind New York Com­ic Con, which lags behind San Diego Com­ic Con. Chica­go may be the “Sec­ond City” but not when it comes to Com­ic Con.

Cosplay contestant

Cos­play contestant

The show at Rose­mont had lost its lus­ter. It no longer com­mand­ed the star dri­ven pres­ence of its ear­li­er years. The 2009 show was Wiz­ard Con’s nadir. Gone were the big ban­ners from big name pub­lish­ers and artists, and celebri­ty appear­ances were few to none. The TV news stopped cov­er­ing the con­ven­tion, (although this may have been the fault of the Wiz­ard World pub­lic­i­ty depart­ment). Wiz­ard Con was all but aban­doned. Tum­ble weeds were gath­er­ing at the fringes.

C2E2 brought the lus­ter back to the Chica­go pop cul­ture con­ven­tion scene. The Windy City is once again host­ing a major Com­ic Con with C2E2. Wiz­ard World will have to be worth the trip to fans if it’s going to com­pete. I hope they’ve learned from their mis­takes. Wiz­ard’s alien­ation of com­ic fans by its focus on old TV show nos­tal­gia and Wrestlers, had purged most of their 70,000 attend­ing com­ic fans who lost inter­est in large num­bers. I’m root­ing for Wiz­ard World to pull off a come back. Chica­go has two base­ball teams so why not two Com­ic Cons? The city of big shoul­ders can han­dle it! The com­pe­ti­tion is good for fans and business.

From a busi­ness plan per­spec­tive, Com­ic Cons oper­ate on a five year plan. You have about that long to estab­lish your­self as a suc­cess­ful Com­ic Con. If after that time you are not on sol­id foot­ing, then you’ve lost the gamble.

Chica­go need­ed to get a Com­ic Con back with­in the city lim­its. For years Chica­go was con­sid­ered a poor host for the con­ven­tion cir­cuit. Union recal­ci­trance and nick­el and dime poli­cies made Chica­go con­ven­tions at McCormick Place an unat­trac­tive option. The Auto Show con­tin­ued to house their exhib­it there but oth­er shows were few and far between. No one else could see a pos­i­tive NPV (or net present val­ue) in bring­ing their busi­ness to McCormick Place. Their prof­it incen­tives were erod­ed by union demands and high host­ing fees.

Con­ven­tions are in busi­ness to make mon­ey, and if all par­ties involved can’t see a prof­it then what’s the point? So for years McCormick Place was a large exhib­it space that did­n’t attract many exhibitors. It was the pret­ty girl with bad breath. Under the eco­nom­ic pres­sure of see­ing a lot of mon­ey steer clear of them, McCormick Place relaxed their posi­tion, and made the venue more attrac­tive for con­ven­tions. This helped make it pos­si­ble for C2E2 to bring Com­ic Con back to Sweet Home Chicago.

Reed Pop is now in prepa­ra­tion for the sev­enth C2E2 at McCormick Place. The ques­tion is, do the tick­et buy­ers and ven­dors still enjoy the expe­ri­ence? Has Reed Pop con­quered the bat­tle of the Com­ic Cons? Are all C2E2’s parts oiled and run­ning smooth­ly? Is the show­room floor and the Cos­play and artist’s alley or the pan­els worth the time? Is C2E2 every­thing it promised to be?

Artist Alley is where most of the energy could be found.

Artist Alley is where most of the ener­gy could be found.

Each year Com­ic Con exudes a dif­fer­ent ener­gy in all the afore­men­tioned cat­e­gories. The ener­gy this year as com­pared to past C2E2s seemed a bit low­er across the board; not crit­i­cal­ly low, but low­er nonethe­less. Sus­tain­ing Com­ic Con suc­cess is like breath­ing. There will be com­pres­sions and rar­efac­tions. We’re com­ing up on the sev­en year itch when new fans who weren’t even born when C2E2 arrived will be cut­ting their teeth on pop cul­ture. Next year C2E2 may be the first Com­ic Con expe­ri­ence these young sev­en year old fans will have. The child­hood mem­o­ry of a first Com­ic Con is a pow­er­ful cul­tur­al inher­i­tance. Not unlike San­ta Claus and the East­er Bun­ny. Next year will see an infu­sion of new blood.

Sat­ur­day is the day when you can real­ly see the Com­ic Con ener­gy in full effect. That’s when all the spec­ta­cle is at its most intense. This year I felt that the ener­gy, while still at respectable lev­els was not as high as in past years. This is of course a sub­jec­tive assess­ment. It could just be that the weath­er was dis­mal­ly cold and wet, but it’s hard to imag­ine that chilly weath­er could keep the native Chicagoan from show­ing up.

Cosplay contestant

Cos­play contestant

The Cos­play did­n’t seem to be as kinet­ic as in recent years. There seemed to be a non­cha­lance about it that gave me the per­cep­tion that the hard core Cos­play­ers were some­where else. Espe­cial­ly with all the incen­tives of the Crown Cham­pi­onships of Cos­play offer­ing over $10,000 in cash and prizes. Maybe the ener­gy man­i­fest­ed itself on the main stage where the com­pe­ti­tion was held. I don’t know, I could­n’t attend due to oth­er obligations.

Artist’s alley seemed to fair bet­ter, there was a high ener­gy there. The alley host­ed a lot of very tal­ent­ed pro­fes­sion­als dis­play­ing qual­i­ty work. Most every­one had good look­ing 8 foot ver­ti­cal ban­ners behind them dis­play­ing some tight­ly ren­dered art in full col­or. Even R2D2 made an appear­ance, rolling through the crowd about 12 feet ahead of his operator.

Every year I look for­ward to the pan­els to inform me and keep me up on the pulse of the indus­try. This year the pan­els seemed forced. They seemed to have noth­ing real­ly inter­est­ing to offer. I know the say­ing; “there’s no such thing as an unin­ter­est­ing sub­ject; only an unin­ter­est­ed per­son.” Well, like most peo­ple I’m inter­est­ed in many things. So from my per­spec­tive the pan­els were some­what dull this year.

Pan­els should leave you hard pressed to fig­ure out how to be in more than one place at a time. This year you could just sit in one place and not real­ly stress over what you might be miss­ing in the next room. There should be strong pan­els being held every day of the Con includ­ing Sun­day. I did­n’t care to return on Sun­day and this was the first year that I did­n’t attend pan­els all three days. There was noth­ing to com­pel an adult, with­out kids in tow, to show up on Sunday.

So my over­all reac­tion to this year’s C2E2 Com­ic Con is that it was still a great Con. I have been attend­ing Com­ic Cons on both coasts and in between since I was a kid dur­ing the ear­ly days of Phil Seul­ing and Nan­cy Warn­er, so I think I know a good Con when I attend one.

How can C2E2 improve on their con­ven­tion? I don’t claim to have the answers but I do have some ideas that may be new or already thought of by the folks who run C2E2. So here goes.

Cosplay contestant

Cos­play contestant

The Cos­play needs more incen­tive, like maybe a tie-in with the Heroes of Cos­play tele­vi­sion show. H.O.C. is not can­celled yet, at least I don’t think it is. I believe they’re on sea­son 3 now. If C2E2 has­n’t reached out to them yet they should. The promise of nation­al tele­vi­sion expo­sure would ramp up the Cos­play devo­tees even more. In oth­er words dou­ble up on the prize incen­tives and have com­pet­ing awards shows. If a con­tes­tant wash­es out of the Crown Cham­pi­onships, there’s still anoth­er one to go for. Make every­thing insane­ly great like Steve Jobs would say. I liked the Kid Cos­tume Show­case. I saw a few 12 year-old kids walk­ing around with some impres­sive cos­tumes. Keep that idea going.

Cosplay contestant

Cos­play Contestant

The pan­els need more inter­ac­tive func­tion­al­i­ty. The draw­ing tuto­ri­als this year were a great idea. A life draw­ing pan­el would be great where every­one with a sketch­book gets a chance to draw Cos­play char­ac­ters who win the priv­i­lege in anoth­er con­test some­where else in the Con. (You’ll have to fig­ure out some way to incen­tivize a Cos­play­er to actu­al­ly show up for an hour to be a sketch mod­el. Like maybe a free tick­et to a sold out Kevin Smith appear­ance or some­thing. But hey I’m sling­ing ideas here, this is not the time for judg­ment). The draw­ings could be judged by some celebri­ty artist or a pub­lish­er and the win­ner could be pub­lished in the fol­low­ing year’s pro­gram book. Co-brand­ing and tie-ins would be great mar­ket­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for all con­cerned. You know like Berol pen­cils, Strath­more paper or something.

There should be more pan­els that show the busi­ness side of being a pro­fes­sion­al cre­ator and not nec­es­sar­i­ly comics spe­cif­ic. Licens­ing, cin­e­ma, pub­lish­ing, mar­ket­ing and video gam­ing indus­tries should be more strong­ly rep­re­sent­ed. Fan­dom is fine to cater to but a lot of the peo­ple at the Con are fan­ta­siz­ing or actu­al­ly look­ing for a way to get into the pro­fes­sions they are fans of. I know you’ve already done most of these things but do it more! Inspire everyone!

Bring back the swag bags at the entrance to the Con. A Con is remiss in its own per­ceived val­ue by not get­ting a bag full of mer­chan­dise into the hands of tick­et buy­ing Con atten­dees. Get the spon­sor­ships back up to a juicy lev­el with toy man­u­fac­tur­ers, Hol­ly­wood, food man­u­fac­tur­ers etc. It should feel as though my tick­et pur­chase bought me a bag of exclu­sive swag and that my admit­tance to the Con is a bonus! Feed the minds and the bod­ies and you can’t go wrong.

Okay that’s all I have to say about the sub­ject of improve­ments I’d like to see made on behalf of C2E2. Haven’t heard from Wiz­ard World about a press pass for their Con com­ing in August (Hint! Hint!) It’s up to them. That’s my reaction.

Ira Har­mon-Cre­ator and Pres­i­dent of Reac­tion Comics