C2E2 2011: Chicago’s Pop Culture Event

Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III

The Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo returned to the Windy City in 2011 looking to build on a successful inaugural stay at McCormick Place in 2010. My goal for the weekend: to get Thor to punch me in the face.

Ok, not Thor exactly, but Australian actor Chris Hemsworth, who’ll be slinging Mjolnir around Midgard and Asgard this summer on the big screen. If you have any clue what I’m talking about, C2E2 is for you.

My weekend kicked off as I was having a smoke in front of McCormick Place’s West Building when a cab rolled down Indiana. It stopped at Gate 40 and dropped off a puffy-looking Batman and a very scantily-clad Harley Quinn. I knew it was going to be a good weekend.

A red carpet led festival-goers past the Rockband Stage to the exhibit floor’s main entrance. I’ve never seen so many comic books in my life. Stacks of long-boxes seemed to be tucked under every table and rear end in the place. Every type of nerd-paraphernalia imaginable was for sale — t-shirts, bootleg movies and shows, original artwork, plush Yoda backpacks and even a giant blue TARDIS wardrobe closet.

The highlight of day one, for me, centered around a couple of local foodies. Superstar chef Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and Xoco was a part of the “Food & Comics” panel along with Tribune restaurant columnist Kevin Pang and Marvel talent scout and food blogger C.B. Cebulski. I had no idea how the panelists were going to relate food to comics — and at first I think they were unsure as well. Eventually moderator Ron Richards of iFanboy touched on a subject close to Bayless’ heart: the idea of food as narrative. From there the discussion launched into common mistakes of rookie chefs and writers, both apparently suffering from the desire to use all of their tricks in every book/dish. It was a bit of a stretch, but entertaining none the less.  The panel wrapped up with Bayless confessing that after his win on Top Chef Masters, “I finally became a hero in my mother’s eyes.” Cebulski laughed, noting that his mom “still asks when I’m going to get a real job.” The icing on the cake, literally, was provided by Chicago’s Bleeding Heart Bakery as they offered up a batch of delicious cupcakes for attendees.

Other panels at C2E2 offered sneak peaks at upcoming movies and television shows, advice on how to break into the comic industry and courses in podcasting and Jedi Knight-ing. For those not so interested in panels the convention offered speed dating, the Ink-Fusion Tattoo Festival, costume contests and stand up comedy. Superstar comedian Patton Oswald teamed up with local stand up Dan Telfer, who was led to the stage by a pair of Stormtroopers, as a part of their Comedy Death Ray Tour. After getting a mixed reaction from the crowd for making a few jokes at the expense of Avenger’s character Hawkeye, Oswald suggested that reviews of his show ought to follow the headline “Asshole Bums Out Nerds.” Of course the malaise was temporary and by the end of his set the crowd was gasping for air between laughs.

Despite the culinary presence, food options were limited at the convention and after day one I wised up and started packing sandwiches. Tragically, pb&j doesn’t carry any dna-altering properties and thus I was ill equipped for my “battle” with Thor. I called after him as he made his way towards the IGN Theater for a scheduled Q&A on Saturday, but my challenge went completely ignored. In retrospect, maybe he would have responded to Chris more readily than to “Odinson.”

My weekend wound down with a Sunday morning presentation by Archaia Comics and the Jim Henson Company, wherein they debuted a never-before-seen short by Henson and announced the release of a new graphic novel, A Tale of Sand, based on Henson’s last unproduced screenplay.

I left C2E2 sans black eye, out a couple hundred dollars and giggling like a fanboy. That isn’t to suggest you need a ton of money to enjoy yourself — the people-watching is first class and free — but there are deals to be had. The most remarkable thing about the Expo was the sheer amount of smiles I saw over the course of three days. I’m already looking forward to next year.

Gene Wagendorf III

About Gene Wagendorf III

Gene is a writer who has spent his entire quarter century of life as a resident of Chicago. When not exploring the city he can be found wandering flea markets and garage sales or having a cigarette between classes at Northeastern Illinois University, where he hopes to acquire a degree in the next quarter century. His favorite smells are old books and bowling alleys. His poetry (how embarrassing!) can be found in issues of Kill Poet, Ditch, Word Riot, O Sweet Flowery Roses and Vowel Movements.

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