Wizard World Chicago Comic Con happens in August every year at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois. Four wonderful days of costumes, entertainment, people-watching, shopping, meeting people, and, oh yeah, comics. Those were there too. This year the convention was held in a different part of the building since the Numismatist Convention was being held in the regular spot, or maybe it had grown so much it needed more space. The new space was interesting: two levels. The downside of this is that the escalator going to the lower floor that housed the celebrities, artist’s alley, and a few vendors, was frequently down and so narrow, not much traffic could make it through. Thankfully, by day two they opened up an alternative entrance. It was still a bit odd, though, and some of the lower level booths didn’t seem to quite get the traffic they have gotten in the past, when everything was on one floor. By Saturday, though, it had pretty well evened out as more and more people discovered there were two levels.
I spent most of my time on the lower level, which was a little tricky since the habitrail joining my hotel to the convention center dropped me off on the upper level. It was easier to get through the crowded convention floor, though, than to get to the first level from where I was. So much walking. So much. Anyway, the lower level was filled with the best of what these conventions have to offer: the talent. Certainly there are some interesting vendors all over the convention, but so many just seem to have items that are leftovers from an eBay or Amazon store. I can get that stuff online. I drove several hours, booked a hotel, and paid the admission fee. For that effort, I need to see more (so I did).
Artist’s Alley is host to a variety of comic artists, writers, crafters, creators, and more. Many of them are there to promote their latest comic book, graphic novel, etc. and are more than happy to sign your copy of it (often with no charge). Many artists take commissions and are hard at work the whole weekend to meet the demand. I will get into more detail below, with my featured booths. Another fun thing adjacent to the Artist’s Alley is all the pop culture celebrities. Each one, ranging from actors to wrestlers to Stan Lee, is behind a little desk with a roped off area for the lines to form. This is where you spend money to get things signed or photos taken. I refuse to spend money on such things, myself, but I am not above walking through the area to see what people look like in real life. Sometimes they are so much smaller than they seem on tv, while others are pleasantly accurate. Brandon Routh was definitely accurate. Andrew McCarthy has aged incredibly well. Zachary Quinto was a bit casual in his attire… not that they need to dress up, but if I am spending money to have my picture taken with you, the least you could do is take off your hat and brush your hair. Eddie McClintock of Warehouse 13 was a little shorter than I might have imagined him to be, but he was definitely more adorable than his television persona. Norman Reedus was the mystery celebrity wandering the showroom floor in the mask, I figured that out when I saw him at the hotel bar (mobbed by people) on Saturday night. That same night, I had a wonderful encounter with Nicholas Lea who played Alex Krycek on The X-Files. My friend was dying to meet him so I approached him at his table where he sat with three lovely ladies, and that man could not have been nicer to us. I was polite in just wanting to shake his hand and say hello, but he went on to ask how our weekend was going with the convention, et al. Really a genuinely great guy and he provided me with a very fulfilling five minutes.
Ok so back to the Artist’s Alley! Below are the highlights of my conversations and shopping experiences of note. Not to say that this is it, I met a lot of cool people with interesting stuff and brilliant artwork, it would just be a really, really, REALLY long article if I did.
Art Baltazar & Franco | https://www.facebook.com/AWYEAHCOMICS
I had to stop by this booth. I just had to. I have seen the artwork of Art Baltazar around and just had to pick up something and meet the man, himself. Never having met him before, the conversation was pretty brief, but enough to know what a cool guy he is, as well as a bold dresser… and the neat fact that he will just sketch out a drawing for you real quick, no charge. My mind was a complete blank as to a subject, so he drew Action Cat for me. So adorable. Then I bought the first issue of Action Cat, since I had never actually read it (review to follow). He and Franco were kind enough to sign it. I also picked up a window cling for their upcoming Itty Bitty Hellboy comic that is coming out soon (I just finished reading it, so stay tuned for a review of that as well!). These two guys are definitely being added to my visitation route at future conventions.
Big Dog Ink with Dirk Manning & Jen Broomall | https://www.facebook.com/bigdogcomics
As I mentioned above, the habitrail to the convention center lets out on the upper level of the convention floor, so I took the most direct path each time to get to the escalators, and the enormous Big Dog Ink booth was on that route. I passed by that booth countless times, they really had a great location for the traffic pattern, not to mention that every convention-goer received in their convention bag a copy of Legend of Oz: The Wicked West #1, which is put out by Big Dog. The booth was often quite busy with those comics being signed and the talent was more than willing to chat. I didn’t get as much a chance to talk to the Wicked West people as I did Jen Broomall and Dirk Manning, who were there to help promote Critter, another Big Dog title. This annual comic has three stories inside, with Jen having drawn the second story, “Charity” and Dirk having written that one. I decided to pick up a copy (to be reviewed here, soon) and they were all kind enough to sign it. They are such approachable and friendly people, it really inspires you to be a fan of Big Dog before you even read a word or glance at one image. Of course, so far of what I have read, the writing is exceptional and of what I have seen, the artwork is just so shiny and beautiful. I have become a fast fan of Jen’s talents, for certain. I cannot wait to dive deeper into Critter and my convention copy of The Wicked West.
Comic Book Displays | https://www.facebook.com/comicbookdisplay
I first met the Comic Book Displays guy, Dave Music, back at C2E2 in the spring, and again at Motor City, so it was natural to stop by this booth. Plus the CBD booth always has something going on. On one visit, I was able to pick up a copy of Mercy Sparx #1 (stay tuned for that to be reviewed here) and have it signed by Josh Blaylock, the writer and creator. A great guy. But really, I can’t think of anyone I met and chatted with that wasn’t cool. Maybe I just have good taste or maybe there are just a lot of cool people in the comic book world. This was another booth that was always crazy busy. Dave and Drew were always there working their butts’ off and helping people find a frame that was right for them. They don’t pressure, they are excited to help and they have a product worth buying. The other fun thing they do is create special edition frames, like a special Mercy Sparx version. Their ability to create a buzz is impressive, plus the fact that they had artists and writers hang out with them to sign comics. I think that speaks well of them that these guys are willing to be seen and featured at their booth. They also had this really cool panel going around that they broke down into squares, and each panel had a theme, then they would get all the different artists to do a character for that theme. So very cool and clever.
This lady had squirrels. Just two little temporary tattoos, but there really aren’t a lot of people offering up things with squirrels on them at a convention. I was so excited. That right there is why she is getting a mention, here, the other reason is that she is just a really cool artist. I didn’t get anything beyond the squirrels this time, but I will be making sure I find her at the next convention she is at.
Natasha Blue | http://iheartskeletons.com
This was a fun booth. This lady makes all sorts of cameos with skeletons, bats, and other creepy things and then puts those cameos on barrettes, earrings, necklaces, and my personal favorite: cufflinks. She had me at cufflinks. Another thing not exactly plentiful at comic con, but I FOUND THEM! And bought a couple sets. My collection grows every chance I get. I have such a profound respect for someone willing to put their designs on a form of accessory that is a wee bit old fashioned. She was also just a really nice chick. We had a chance to chat a bit while she tried to get her credit card reader to work. By Saturday, all the vendors who use those square credit card readers on their cell phones were having issues. All the metal in the building and all the attendees using their cell phones to tweet and such, signal was scarce and the local wi-fi was a joke. I felt so bad for those who relied on it, not being able to take credit cards can seriously hurt business at these things. That poor signal, though is why my friend and I always take along walkie-talkies. Priceless. Anyway, my card went through and I was off with my wonderful new cuff links, and a few hair items for my sister.
The Puppet Forge | https://www.facebook.com/ThePuppetForge
This was another case of me being drawn to cute things. These people made all sorts of puppets, regular and finger. I bought one that was a little Hulk figure. He was soft, fuzzy, and adorable. Plus I love that his hands each had a little stick coming down so you could really articulate his actions. They are affordable, too! At least the finger puppets, not sure how much the big ones were. The idea of ordering a custom puppet from them is exciting… not sure if they do that, but they should!
Thomas Finley | https://www.facebook.com/AlphapetCity
And here we have yet another great guy! I love his stuff. I love that his kids inspire him and drive his work. I think the thing I liked best about him was his ability to create curb appeal. His booth was so well laid out, I really should have taken a picture. He had things spaced out so nice and nearly every inch utilized to the best of his ability. He really has the merchandising part of this down. I was also very appreciative of the fact that he had free postcards and stickers; two of my weaknesses. Postcards especially and he had them done right. So often these artists give out free postcards, but what they really are is postcard-sized advertisements. There is no room left anywhere on the card to write home. Tom’s postcards are perfect with a great design on the front and the back free to be written on and mailed. I restrained myself and kept it to only three that I took. His booth is just fun. Plus, I won’t forget that he owes me a squirrel.
Tony Moy | https://www.facebook.com/tonymoy
Last, but absolutely not least is Tony Moy. This guy is just amazing to watch. Every time I passed his booth he was working on another set of commissions. A master multitasker, Tony would work on several things at the same time; as the ink dried on one, he would paint a watercolor layer on another, then as that dried, he would do the same to another. Plus he had a really cool butane torch with him to speed along the process. He is one of those artists I could just stand and watch for hours. He makes what he does look so easy, and as much as I love to draw, I could never do what he does. You know someone is great at what they do when they can make it look so effortless. It is no wonder he had seemingly no end to the commissions he was working on. I really like the stamp he has for his artwork as well to sign it. He is just so organized and very impressive to watch in action. I can’t wait to see him work again.
I think that wraps it up. Honorable mentions are, of course, Talent Caldwell, Trevor Mueller, Jason Westlake, Chris Ehnot, Tony Miello, and Dan Leister. I hope to have some stories on most of them after Detroit Fanfare in October.