C2E2 2012: Chicago Gets Its Geek On

Photos courtesy of C2E2

Once a year Chicago gets a chance to have one great big collective nerdgasm. We call it C2E2, or the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo. This year’s event took place at McCormick Place from April 13-15, and had it lasted another two days I doubt anyone would have complained. My goals this year were a little more tame than last. Rather than hoping to get a black eye from Thor actor Chris Hemsworth, I instead focused my attention on getting kisses from John Cusack, Lauren Cohan (Maggie on AMC’s The Walking Dead) and Anthony Daniels (C3P0 from, well, if you don’t know Star Wars this might not be the convention for you).

Day one was packed with everything from speed dating and a costume contest to the return of the “Food and Comics” panel. A Silver Age trivia challenge featuring Daredevil writer Mark Waid proved to be less a collection of Simpson’s Comic Book Guys and more a bit of improvisational comedy. Waid combined his endearing sense of humor with his frightening comic book knowledge to keep the crowd chuckling and marveling. A slightly more crass level of joking came courtesy of the Cyanide & Happiness crew, who showed off some short animation and kept the crowd rolling with tales of hate mail and disapproving family members.

The main exhibition floor

The main floor was jam-packed with vendors selling all sorts of goodies — Pikachu backpacks, steampunk gasmasks, classic comic books and samurai swords, just for a taste. I spent much of my time/money sifting through longboxes filled with trade paperbacks and graphic novels. Can you really beat $4 a book? Even Amazon is shaking its head.

Saturday kicked off with a sneak peak at a new PBS documentary, Superheroes! A Never-Ending Battle. Though the piece featured insightful interviews with the likes of Stan Lee and Jim Steranko, its highlight was a dramatic reading of Batman’s rather bleak origin by none other than Adam West. The actor, perhaps best known to young folks as the voice of Quahog’s absent minded mayor on Family Guy, is most famous for his role as The Caped Crusader on the campy old ’60s Batman TV show. Try as he might to lend gravity to the death of the Wayne family and subsequent transformation of Bruce Wayne, it proved to be one of the funniest things I’ve heard in my life.

The aforementioned Anthony Daniels held a Q&A in the IGN Theater, and though it would prove to be a chance for some robot necking I opted to check out C2E2’s Artist’s Alley. Located at the back half of the main convention floor, it featured dozens of artists, inkers, colorist and writers selling and signing their work. I was able to meet and snag autographs from the likes of Len Wein (creator of Swamp Thing and Wolverine), Rick Remender (Fear Agent, Uncanny X-Force), Clayton Crain (Ghost Rider, Carnage), Tony Moore (Walking Dead, Fear Agent), Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night), Skottie Young (Marvel’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) and Chandra Free (The God Machine). The entire area was totally overwhelming, in a totally fantastic way. Almost everyone I stopped to talk with was beyond friendly, more than willing to chat about their art, their impressions of Chicago and their upcoming projects. If you plan on going next year (and why wouldn’t you?) I highly recommend making significant time for Artist’s Alley.

Lauren Cohan and Steven Yuen, from AMC's The Walking Dead

Saturday wound down with a couple of events back in the theater — a Q&A with “The Walking Dead’s” Steven Yuen and Lauren Cohan and later standup set’s by Kevin “Dot Com” Brown and Stephen Rannazzisi. Yuen and Cohan proved to be as charming off-screen as on, and their obvious chemistry had me hoping they’d become a couple in real life too (I don’t care how fanboy of me that is).  “The Walking Dead” actor’s lighter sides were on full display, a nice contrast to how tense they are on-screen. Then again, it’s probably hard to regale others with humorous anecdotes while running from flesh eating zombies. That said, I gave up my quest for a kiss from Cohan. How could I come between her and Steven? As for the actual comedians, Dot Com Brown did a good job of warming the crowd up, hitting one really good riff when he referred to lady parts as a “sarlacc pit.” I guess that’s playing to your audience. Rannazzisi, on the other hand, left my cheeks and sides aching from a solid forty-five minutes of laughter. Best known for his work on The League (set in Chicago), the comedian told a fantastic story that illustrated the difficulties of keeping marijuana in your life post-marriage/child-birth. Much like most tales from the Married With Children crowd, this one had me both cracking up and relishing my decision to stay wife and baby free. Case in point, after the set was over I strutted on over to the CBR Bar, C2E2’s takeover of the Hyatt McCormick’s lounge. Swank clubs are generally populated by expensive-looking people in expensive-looking clothing, but on this evening I was able to grab a space at the bar right next to Spider-Man and The Joker.

Sunday is kids day!

And so I was hungover on Sunday morning and guess what? Sunday is Kids Day! All you procreators who have trouble snagging a babysitter, C2E2 has got you covered. Children 12 and under got free admission to the convention for a day and there were tons of panels and activities to keep them busy. Ben’s Bubble Show seemed to be a hit — a quirky blend of art, science and “magic” that featured Ben Jimenez using a few simple tools and his bare hands to create wacky soap bubble sculptures. Other kiddie activities included Brookfield Zoo’s Extreme Bugs exhibit, Kids Quidditch, Story Time with the Ghostbusters and a Star Wars Imperial Academy event that had a crazy long line. Watching a pack of Stormtroopers swear intimidated children into the ranks of the Galactic Empire? Priceless.

Don’t fret, old people! Sunday had plenty of cool things for big kids too. Archaia press held a delightful panel for aspiring writers/artists on “How to Tell a Better Story Through World-Building.” Featuring David Peterson (Mouseguard) and several other storytellers, the event provided a neat peak at the eccentric lengths some writers will go to in order to bring their vision to life. Later, Chicago radio man and Word Balloon podcast host John Siuntres hosted a screening of “The Lost 1979 Comics Documentary,” which featured tons of rare footage of guys like Stan Lee, Archie Goodwin and Neal Adams, as well as fascinating shots of the 1979 Chicago Comic Con’s costume contest.

John Cusack, graciously handling weird requests.

The John Cusack spotlight was standing-room only, and well, let’s just say I wasn’t the only person looking for a peck from the Rob Gordon. Sadly, much of the Q&A was clogged with middle-aged women asking for hugs, or in the case of one overzealous lady, a first kiss. She had to be damn near 40. Really, not doing the stereotype of comics fans any favors.

I made one last trip to Artist’s Alley to scoop up some more artwork, being careful to make sure I left myself enough money for a post-Con dinner at Kuma’s. I was also hoping to find Scott Snyder and check that last autograph off my list, but the American Vampire and Batman writer had left his table and, for some reason, didn’t respond as I stood in the middle of the show floor and screamed his name at the top of my lungs. Repeatedly.

Next year, Mr. Snyder. 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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