If you’ve been reading my Wizard World columns for the past few years (2014, 2015), you’ve probably already steeled yourself for yet another barrage of nostalgia and reminiscing about conventions of days gone by. There’s a fair chance you’re already sick and tired of reading saccharine-soaked stories of how much I enjoy taking my children to conventions instead of taking shots before and after the show (full disclosure: I totally did a shot of whiskey after the show, but after being on my feet for that long with an eight-year-old in tow, I’m pretty sure I’d earned it). But there are a great many inevitable situations in our lives, such as death, taxes, and the changing of the seasons. My waxing nostalgic during con season is as inescapable as the coming of the reaper, and as Blue Oyster Cult reassured us so many years ago, his impending arrival is no cause for alarm. So sit back and relax, and let me take you on a trip down memory lane, to a little place I like to call “yesterday”.
We arrived at the show around 11am Sunday, August 21. I’m usually a Saturday kind of guy, but a confluence of events (like a birthday party in the city Sunday afternoon) led to my daughter and I attending the show on Sunday instead. And I’m glad we did! It turned out that Sunday was Kids Day, and we were treated to a bevy of free stuff. Most of it was bookmarks, stickers, fake tattoos, balloons, and candy, but one can never have enough of those, now can one? How are you going to save your place in that gigantic Planetary Omnibus you picked up for the low price of $35 without that free bookmark you snagged in Artist’s Alley? I know you’re not going to dog-ear that page!
While my daughter primarily filled her backpack with bookmarks and business cards, she was also able to reap the benefits of a few kind souls who were giving out free sketches or prints. And speaking of kind souls, did I mention the guy who overheard my daughter lamenting the fact that I’d forgotten to pack a bottle of water and gave us one of his own (unopened, of course)? Because that was a pretty awesome way to start the convention, and that kindness set the tone for the entire day. Obviously, comic-book conventions are a place for kindred souls to meet, but this year seemed extra special. Maybe people just treat you better when you’re walking around with a little girl dressed in a totally sweet Rey costume? Or maybe the folks at Wizard World are just awesome? Either way, it was a big help because we really needed that water. So thanks again, free water guy, wherever you may be.
Anyway, back to the show. As usual, it was great to see some old friends in Artist’s Alley, such as the incomparable Dirk Manning and the dashing Dan Dougherty (if you aren’t familiar with their work, it’s high time you corrected that) and I was absolutely thrilled to discover that the insanely talented Rob Schamberger was not only there selling prints of his amazing pro-wrestler portraits, he was actually working on a painting at the show! I could’ve stood there, bathing in the glory and splendor of this man’s craft for the entire day, but I had comics to seek out and a few Christmas gifts to surreptitiously purchase while my daughter was distracted.
In addition to the free water, there was a booth where folks were giving out free whiskey! I guess they were filming you for potential use in a commercial, but I never bothered to find out. The desire for whiskey was not as great as the desire to find great deals - and there were plenty to be had on a Sunday afternoon. I managed to finally find the second volume of The ‘Nam trade paperbacks, which has long been on my wish list, for only $5. And speaking of The ‘Nam, did I mention I met the guy who drew it (well, a lot of it anyway)? Yeah, I met Michael Golden, and it was awesome.
Since I had my daughter in tow, I was informed that I could snag one of Mr. Golden’s prints for one half of the regular price! I knew this kid would eventually be good for something, and today she made her father proud. And you know what else made me proud? Waiting in that line. Yeah, you heard me, and I’ll tell you why. There was a couple in front of me who had purchased several prints from Michael Golden and while I was arguing with my daughter over whether we should get Boba Fett (her choice) or G.I. Joe (which she’d never heard of), this couple was chatting up Mr. Golden about the Pittsburgh Steelers, of all things! Their conversation was intense and in-depth and it was taking a really long time, but when Michael Golden’s assistant (perhaps his wife?) apologized, I wouldn’t hear it.
You see, I’ve met my fair share of artists, writers, actors, and creative types over the years and while the vast majority of these experiences have been great, I’ve had some bad ones too. One particular legendary artist who couldn’t be bothered to put his phone conversation with the folks who were building his in-ground pool on hold in order to sign a hardcover collection of his work that my buddy had just purchased comes to mind. So when an artist whose work I admire takes the time to give some fans their money’s worth, I don’t mind at all. Even if it means I have to sit through a conversation about football. It’s true that sometimes you don’t want to meet your heroes, but sometimes it’s totally worth it.
So... what else happened? I walked around a lot, found some great comics and saw a lot of cool toys. I managed to make my way over to the area where the celebrities were signing autographs and marveled at the fact that Ralph Macchio doesn’t look a whole lot different than he did when he was the Karate Kid. I stood in awe of Rosario Dawson, who I’m pretty sure is some sort of goddess who decided to make a pit stop in Chicago on her journey to a neighboring star system. I noticed that Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson were there and wished I could’ve met Michael J. Fox and thanked him for his tireless work as a Parkinson’s advocate, since my grandfather had been stricken with the disease long ago. I spent nearly every dollar I’d brought with me.
All in all, Wizard World Chicago 2016 was another great show. It was well organized, efficient, and clean: three things that go a long way when dealing with large crowds. It was welcoming to fans of every shape, size, and age. I was happy to return another year and happy to pass the tradition along to the next generation, and I'll be happy to return next year. And I was really happy for that shot of whiskey after it was over.