Written by Chad Derdowski
Another summer has come and gone. School buses once again prowl the streets in the early light of day and leaves threaten to change their hue and coat the yard, leading to long weekends worth of raking and sore backs. Along with these recognizable signs of an impending Fall comes another, perhaps less famous but no less important occurrence – Wizard World returned yet again to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in beautiful Rosemont, Illinois and once again, I was there. I came, I saw, and in my own fashion, I conquered. And by “conquered”, I mean that I fulfilled my lifelong dream of finding a Zodac action figure, the one Master of the Universe who has eluded me since childhood. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
While I’ve been attending this convention off and on for many years, this year would be different. Because this year, I was going without my children for the first time in a really, really long time. Well, one of the days anyway – 2017 was special year for more than one reason. It also marked the first time in many years that I’ve attended more than one day of a convention. It wasn’t really planned that way; I just happened to have taken that Friday off work a long time ago with the intention of maybe going on a small trip somewhere, but then we realized the kids would already be back in school, so I figured, “Hey, I’ll just keep that day off and maybe see what it’s like to go to a convention on Friday and –” Well, you probably don’t really care about my internal monologue regarding Wizard World and cancelled vacation plans. Needless to say, it all worked out great because it meant that a buddy of mine who I regularly attend these shows with could buy the less expensive Friday pass, which is kind of a lifesaver.
If you haven’t been to a Wizard World convention in a while, that’s sort of their “thing”. Like how Captain Picard always says, “Make it so” or the Tom Baker Doctor eats those Jelly Baby candies, Wizard World has their own trademark “thing” and that thing happens to be insanely high ticket prices ($50 Friday & Sunday in Advance & $60.00 On-Site; $60 Saturday in Advance & $70.00 On-Site). One would assume the cost of entry eats up the majority of spending cash the average American could bring with them, but I guess people must budget for that sort of thing, because there were a pretty decent number of people there and the vendors and creators I spoke to were all in great moods. So people must be spending money, right? I know I sure wasn’t and I had a press pass. Was it always this expensive and I just never realized it because I didn’t have kids and therefore had more disposable income? Maybe. And maybe everybody else just makes a lot more money than me? All I know is that when I saw the ticket prices, my eyes actually popped out of my head like when a wolf in a cartoon sees a beautiful woman, only not in a lustful way.
And I know I probably shouldn’t talk so much trash because I want them to keep giving me press passes, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to go at all. So if you’ve read this far and you work for Wizard World, don’t take it personally, okay? I really do dig your con – I’m just broke! I’m a writer, so I fall into that starving-artist category, right? And my wife bought a ticket so she could go Saturday, because I ended up feeling bad for my daughter, even though she went last year and this year was her brother’s turn. So I decided to take her with me, and my wife didn’t want to sit home bored and alone, which led to her buying her own ticket and… hey, it all worked out okay, right?
Anyway, enough about my financial woes – the important thing here is that I found a $5 Zodac figure and yeah, that figure is a lot closer to “Velveteen Rabbit condition” than “near mint”, but that’s how you know it’s real, right? Not unlike last years’ Legend of the $3 Warduke or the $7 Man-E-Faces/Trapjaw combo from the local flea market, this was literally a lifelong dream achieved. So while I may not be a rich man financially, I am rich in spirit, with a family that loves me and inexpensive action figures populating the shelves in my office where I type this. I take the time to appreciate the little things that make life worth living and you should too. And that’s one to grow on, kids.
So you’re probably wondering how the show was, since I’ve been rambling for several paragraphs, talking about how broke I am and how much I love flimsy action figures that can’t stand up unless you prop them up against Castle Grayskull. Truth be told, it was pretty awesome! In addition to the aforementioned Zodac, I also found an old Spider-Man: The Saga of the Alien Costume trade paperback and a copy of X-Men: Mutant Massacre for only $6 each. I had seen that Mutant Massacre trade for $15 somewhere else and I thought that was actually a pretty good deal, so finding it for six bucks was totally awesome! The comic gods were clearly smiling on everyone because my buddy Matt actually managed to find the one thing he was looking for, so everybody walked away happy and lots of dreams came true.
It probably didn’t hurt that we had possibly done a few shots before the show. Hey, we took the train in and I didn’t have my kids with me. And I’m a 40-year-old man, so you can’t tell me what to do. Hell, they sell alcohol at the convention! And I’m broke and need to save money, so maybe we drank a bit before the show instead of buying drinks there. Anyway, I said “possibly”, not “definitely”. Maybe I was just joking. Who gets drunk at comic conventions anyway?
I do, but that didn’t stop me from making several keen observations about the current state of the industry we love. Such as the fact that while Harley Quinn in short shorts may have replaced Slave Leia as the cosplay go-to for ladies in recent years, 2017 saw a massive uptick in homemade Wonder Woman costumes. And I mean massive. I couldn’t tell you how many Amazon warriors I saw over the course of the weekend (possibly because I was seeing double), but there certainly was a lot of them and they somehow all looked totally awesome, as though they were purchased on Themyscira prior to attending the convention. In fact, I saw a great number of costumes that approached movie quality and more than a few that surpassed some of the ones we’ve seen grace the silver screen. The level of craftsmanship that goes into cosplay continues to astound me, even after all these years. Keep it up, cosplayers – you are blowing this old geek’s mind with your creativity and talent.
Which is not to say that I wanted to see that 400-pound dude’s ass crack, no matter how well crafted his post-apocalyptic dystopian cyborg warrior costume was. I guess it’s hard to pull your pants up when you have one robot arm, and I can’t imagine anyone else was going to do it for him, but… just buy a belt, dude. Or maybe the ass crack was part of the costume? I wasn’t sure just who or what he was supposed to be. For all I know, those two inches of exposed crackery were completely integral to the character he was portraying and I’m just being an insensitive jerk right now. Let’s move on…
Where was I? Oh yeah, making observations. Another observation is that while I love being herded around by tiny humans who constantly badger me to buy them Lego figures or snacks and repeatedly tell me they’re bored as I dive headfirst into a long box full of 50-cent back issues, it was pretty awesome to not have kids with me that first day. And maybe it was the whiskey, but time really does fly when you’re having fun. Before we knew it, it was 6 p.m. and there was only an hour left. So we made our way to the other side of the convention hall for the annual tradition of walking past celebrities and taking note of the eventual passage of time which affects us all.
Sadly, there didn’t seem to be a lot of celebrities there. Granted, the show was almost over and it was Friday, but we didn’t see Loni Anderson or John Cusack – just Lou Ferrigno, Dean Cain, and a bunch of empty tables. We did run into Michael Rooker, who was on his way out, but took a minute to chat with us, which was pretty awesome. And then we turned the corner to see a line which twisted and snaked a fair distance throughout the convention hall floor – a line which ended at the table of Charlotte Flair, the former WWE Women’s Champion and daughter of the legendary “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Long after everyone else had cleared out, she remained to sign autographs and take pictures with fans and the smile I saw on her face as we walked by looked genuine, a fact which no doubt made a lot of fans happy. And it made me happy because I had been pretty worried about her dad, who just went through a health scare a week or so prior to the convention. But the Nature Boy is still kickin’ and so was his daughter, whose stamina and perseverance were only matched by the likes of a former Superman and an Incredible Hulk.
And then we went back on Saturday in the middle of the day and still only saw Dean Cain and Lou Ferrigno, surrounded by a bunch of empty tables. I don’t know what the deal was with the celebrities this year, but clearly they were all on very different schedules than me. No big deal, since I wasn’t going to spend like, $75 or whatever John Cusack charges for a selfie, but still, if you’re a comic book fan and you complain that conventions are all about movie stars, with no emphasis on actual comic books, maybe Wizard World is the show for you? I sure didn’t see many of those famous movie stars y’all are always talking about.
Which is a pretty decent segue to talk about the people who are working hard, making comic books and other assorted ephemera. Because Artists’ Alley was hoppin’ this year, with a lot of folks selling comics, novels, paintings, prints and handcrafted items. Folks like Dan Dougherty and Dirk Manning, who aren’t just friends, but a couple of insanely talented dudes who have been inspirational and instrumental in the creation of my own book, Fortune Favors the Bold: the Saga of the Scissorwulf, an R-rated choose-your-own-adventure style epic fantasy. I gave those guys free copies because they’re so awesome, but you can buy one on Amazon. And yes, I totally just plugged my own book in the middle of this article about Wizard World. Shameless? Maybe. But what do you expect from a man who is drinking at a comic-book convention? Anyway, I ended up spending most of my money in Artists’ Alley, buying a few prints from the insanely talented Matt Reedy as well as some awesome patches from this guy George Coghill (check out Monsterologist.com – seriously). And I got a bunch of free stickers.
So that’s pretty much Wizard World 2017. I went back on Saturday with my wife and kids, who dressed up as Princess Leia and Kylo Ren and looked totally adorable. And right when we got there, they had all the Star Wars cosplayers get up on stage for a group photo and my kids were in the middle, so if you see a picture on Wizard’s website featuring a young Leia wearing glasses and a really short Kylo Ren, those are my kids. Pretty cute, huh? But since I had already been there all day Friday, taking notes on where the best deals were, we got any shopping we wanted to do finished pretty quickly on Saturday and pretty much just spent the rest of the time taking pictures of our kids with the 501st Legion, who are always a treat to see at any convention. Seriously, these folks not only make absolutely amazing Star Wars costumes, they really go out of their way to be just great to kids. They patiently pose for as many pictures as you want and they’re always extremely kind and encourage kids to make their own costumes and be creative. And that’s across the board – I’ve encountered these folks at several conventions over the years and they’re just a great group of people. I guess they do a lot of fundraising for good causes too, which makes them even cooler.
All in all – a pretty good show! I found some crazy good deals on a couple of cool books and finally purchased an action figure I’ve wanted for like, 30 years. I saw a lot of really cool costumes and in general, encountered a bunch of extremely kind people, which put a big smile on my face. I got to attend with both friends and family and though my arthritic hips and weary knees are cursing me for it today, I even managed to attend two consecutive days.
Wizard World Chicago 2017. I came, I saw and in the grand geek tradition, I complained about it online even though it was pretty cool and I had a great time. So it was written, so it has come to pass. Until next year…