I’ve had a solid week to ponder upon my annual visit to Wizard World Chicago. A week of quiet solitude, a week of reflection, a week of watching my seven-year-old son wear the Spider-Man mask he bought at the show pretty much every waking moment of the day. And sadly, a week of body aches, weakness, and stuffy nose. Indeed, 2018 was the year that, despite my best efforts and constant use of hand-sanitizing gel, the Con Crud caught up with me. Not unlike Galadriel, I passed the test but I was left diminished.
Speaking of diminished, I’m sad to say that Wizard World also felt a bit diminished this year. Allow me to set the stage: it was a slow day at work on Friday, and I managed to get out early. With one of my best friends in tow, I braved the heavy traffic and hit the Donald E. Stephens Center in Rosemont, Illinois to find...honestly, not a whole lot. I felt like young Charlie with a golden ticket in my hand. It seemed as though the convention floor was nearly empty and I had the whole place almost to myself.
I’ve watched this convention change over the years. I remember staring wide-eyed at the enormous Marvel and DC booths many years ago, fighting through crowds and buying an entire run of Preacher trade paperbacks for half price. I remembered the days when you had to have a two-day pass in order to see everything the show had to offer (and that doesn’t include panels or standing in line for autographs). And I remember when things shifted a few years ago and the convention began to feel less like a tiny San Diego Comic Con and more like a giant flea market (which is not a complaint, mind you!). And while I enjoyed the extra elbowroom that the lessened crowd granted me and the smaller floor space, which took far less of a toll on this old man’s knees and back, I have to tell you that I felt a small chill run down my spine. Surely, it wasn’t this empty last year, was it? The diminished crowd must be because it was a Friday and the highway construction kept all but the most avid geeks away, right? Like Galadriel before me, I had a dark vision of a terrible future and it most certainly involved a dead wizard.
(It’s been a while since I’ve seen or read Lord of the Rings. Please bear with me and tolerate my awful references and pitiful puns. The point is, the world of wizardry seemed a lot smaller than it had in the past, and my mind went a’wandering as minds will often do.)
Well, I went back on Saturday with my kids and while there was definitely a robust crowd, the show still felt smaller than it had in years past. Which was still fine, as I was maneuvering the floor with two small children and I was thankful for the ease in which we made our way through the convention center. But as with Friday, I began to run through a million scenarios in my mind - the traffic was even worse today than yesterday, so maybe that’s the reason the turnout is so sparse? Could it be the high ticket prices that I routinely complain about every year when I do my annual Wizard World write up? Is C2E2 finally edging out the competition? Are comic fans just broke from maintaining such an expensive habit? Positioning a show at the end of summer certainly couldn’t help in that regard. But the biggest question that simply wouldn’t escape my mind - just how the heck was I going to do a write-up on the show when the biggest takeaway I had was “Where is everybody?”
Despite what you’ve read for the past four paragraphs, I’m actually a pretty optimistic person. I don’t like to jump to conclusions, even though I occasionally do. I prefer to accentuate the positive and at the very least, downplay the negative. So I certainly didn’t want to do a dismal write-up heralding the death of a convention I attend every year; a convention I now attend with my children, passing along the grand tradition of geekery and a deep love of scouring back-issue bins and loose action-figure assortments. Unlike many others on the internet who write and critique pop culture, I actually don’t like writing bad reviews or complaining.
But the thing is, there was plenty to like about the show. While I didn’t see as many big-name comic creators or movie stars as I had in years past, I did get the opportunity to spend a little more time with guys like Rob Liefeld or Road Warrior Animal, who was one of the baddest dudes on the planet when I was a kid and is still insanely intimidating when encountered in real life (but kind enough to treat my kids with a ton of respect). I noticed a lot of panels were taking place focusing on cosplay and the creation of quality costumes and faux weaponry, as well as various other “how to” panels featuring art, podcasting, and animation. This kind of stuff tends to get lost in the shuffle of big-name comic creators and movie stars, and it’s always great to see those with skill and talent share their gifts with others. And speaking of creativity and talent, there was a great deal of it on display both days. I’ve never worn a costume to a convention, but both of my children do every year and this year, they got a little more opportunity to chat up and take pictures with the talented folks who craft their own costumes. It’s a pretty special thing when your kid gets to take 20 pictures with 20 different Spider-Men and Women, checking off boxes like it was some form of convention bingo.
And I got to meet Kato Kaelin. So…well, that was also a thing that happened.
So at the end of the day, there are probably a lot of things we can blame for what I perceived as a smaller turnout, but rather than focus on the negative or point fingers, let's look at the positive and focus on the task at hand before we sound the death knell. Wizard World has been in a transitionary stage for a few years now and it’ll likely be in a transitionary stage for a little while longer. It may not be the show it was in the early 2000s, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As I stated earlier, the move from “baby SDCC” to “big ol’ back-issue flea market” is something a guy like me sees as a huge positive. Perhaps what we are in the midst of is a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. Have you ever seen what happens inside a cocoon? It’s repulsive. But you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs and you can’t get to the butterfly without having a totally disgusting caterpillar inside of a cocoon and...you know what? I’m just going to stop with the metaphors and literary references. But if you hear any rumors about Wizard World’s death, I’m sure they are greatly exaggerated, even if you hear them from me.