Wizard World Chicago 2019 Review: It's a Family Affair

Like the phoenix from the ashes, a robot that turns into a truck, or Wilfred Brimley emerging from a cocoon, Wizard World continues to transform.
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Another year has come and gone and as summer threatens to fade into the distance, and a new school year comes into view, so too does Wizard World return to the Windy City. And, as it has happened so many times before, sandwiches were prepared and bottled water was packed into a Jansport backpack slung about my back. And once again, the Derdowski Family, on behalf of Cinema Sentries, traversed the highways and byways of Illinois to attend. 

It’s actually only about an hour drive into the city, and traffic wasn’t too bad. My kids weren’t too bad either, no doubt delighted at the prospect of buying LEGO figures they can't find anywhere else, and for my son, it meant showing off his costumes. After having a taste of the cosplay life at last year’s show, he had handcrafted Peter Parker’s homemade costume from Spider-Man: Homecoming (which pretty much means that I handcrafted Peter Parker’s homemade costume from Spider-Man: Homecoming) and was eager to get his picture taken with every variation of Spider-Man he could find. And there were a lot of them, along with Pennywise, Rocket Raccoon, Michael Myers, and the usual assortment of characters.  I'm pretty sure he got his picture taken with all of them. (That's actually him in the accompanying picture above, along with a couple of folks from movies he's in love with but way too scared to actually watch. No, it's not my wife and I.) My daughter opted to attend the show in her secret identity of a mild-mannered sixth grader.

Speaking of Spider-Man, while I saw a lot of great costumes this year, Spidey was far and away the most popular costume at this year’s show. Gone were the Harley Quinns and Slave Leia’s of days gone by, replaced by a multiverse of web-headed wallcrawlers. There was a family of X-Men, a Deadpool trying his best and ultimately failing to imitate the character’s trademark humor, and even a Starfleet officer from the '80s Star Trek films, the sight of which warmed me to the cockles of my heart. I even saw a couple who had recreated the famous ankle-breaking scene from Misery, complete with a dude strapped to an old bedframe - but Spider-Man was tops this year. 

But enough about costumes, you want to hear about the show. If you’ve been reading my coverage of Wizard World Chicago over the past few years, you’ve noticed something of a downward trend. The show seems to be getting smaller and smaller with every passing year. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a DC or Marvel booth and the show has gone from being a tiny version of San Diego to being more of a big geek flea market.  Last year’s write-up had me fearing that it would be my last year in attendance, but I’m happy to say that the rumors of Wizard World’s death are greatly exaggerated and like the proverbial phoenix, she has risen from the ashes, bursting forth in a fiery blaze of … well, there wasn’t so much bursting forth or fire, but the downward spiral seems to have stalled and like the summer fading into fall that I talked about in the very first sentence, Wizard World seems to be going through a bit of a transformation. 

If you’ve been reading my coverage of Wizard World over the years, you’d know that I’ve left the days of spending three days at the show and hundreds of dollars on half-price trade paperbacks behind me, preferring to allow my children to lead the way through the convention floor, which inevitably means spending what feels like hours deciding which LEGO minigures they’ll purchase (my daughter got Dr. Strange, Loki, and Winter Soldier while my son opted for the Xenomorph, Pennywise, and Marshmello, who I have learned is a DJ that wears a really cool looking mask but makes music I don’t like. Hooray! I’m old now, complaining about those kids and their darn music!). Eventually, we always wind up making our way to Artists Alley, where I consult with my wife via text to curate a small collection of artwork that we agree is worthy of hanging on the walls of our home.

But this year was different. You see, this year my wife attended the show with us, as she has just a handful of times over the years. This year was a family affair and much like the Incredibles or the Fantastic Four, we can function effectively on our own, but work much better as a unit. Instead of having to ask if I could photograph someone’s prints, send said picture home and wait for a response, I was able to consult with my better half right then and there. It was like we were taking on Galactus, but instead of a giant man in a purple helmet who wanted to eat the planet, it was our bank account, constantly dwindling as the two of us went from booth to booth buying some of the most incredible artwork I’d seen at the show. Needless to say, Wizard World was a lot of fun this year and our house is going to look great once we can afford to buy frames for all of this stuff.

And that was an example of the transformative power of this year’s Wizard World. I remember dreading my trips through Artists Alley and the fear of being harassed by a bunch of Michael Turner wanna-be’s who just wanted a minute to show me their work or let me flip through their portfolio as they tried to convince me to buy a print of their sexy Wonder Woman, sexy Rogue, or sexy Harley Quinn. And since I wanted the free candy they had on their table, I always felt somewhat obligated to halfheartedly listen to their spiel, knowing full well I’d never actually purchase anything. But these days, Artists Alley looks a lot less like the garbage can at a Marvel Comics tryout and a lot more like Etsy - but an Etsy filled with ghouls, cryptids, and some anime characters I was only vaguely familiar with. 

And I don’t want to sound mean or insult anyone’s talent or hard work. If you’ve ever had a booth at a comic convention or drawn a halfway decent picture that manages to get Psylocke’s taut and glistening ass and boobs in the same shot, then you’ve accomplished a lot more than I ever have and I salute you and your talent. But if you’re reading this, you’ve likely been to a few cons and you know full well what I’m speaking of. 

Less like a phoenix and more like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, this is a transformation that has been happening over the past few years and it’s one that I welcome with open arms. While I didn’t see as many big name creators at this year’s show or more than a handful of self published comics, I’ve never seen as much creativity as I did in 2019. To me, it was a sign of acceptance - truly, the geek have inherited the earth, as our culture has increasingly become more mainstream. The amount of variety was staggering and certainly there was something there for everyone, be it the casual fan or the hardcore geek. 

And there was still a bunch of comics too! The usual group of vendors were in full effect, along with the t-shirt, toy and Funko booths. Relative newcomers like those people selling the beer steins were also there - speaking of which, there was more food variety as well, with little booths creating something of a “Food Alley” that gave attendees welcome choices beyond overpriced pretzels and pizza. Not that it wasn’t still overpriced, but at least it was something different. 

Another year come and gone and another Wizard World in the books. And I’ll be completely honest - 2019 was one of my favorite years. Obviously, this was mostly due to the fact that my entire family attended the show together, but it didn’t hurt that it was simply a great convention. I’ve counted Wizard World out before and I’ve always been proven wrong. I can’t wait to see what they have to offer next year. 

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