Monday, March 21, 2011

Con Report: C2E2 2011

I've just returned from attending the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo (C2E2), now in its second year of existence.  I attended last year, and now I really wish I had written a con report for that show, because, while I didn't have a great time this year, I am really pulling for C2E2 to be a successful show.  With the decline of Wizard's once mighty and now marginal Chicago show, I think the Midwest really needs, and deserves, a first-rate comics show, and after a somewhat lightly attended but well-organized and entertaining first year, it looked as though C2E2 was poised to fill that niche.

As we* did last year, we attended all three days of the con.  Attendance looked to be way up (I'm writing this report before reading any others, so I don't know the official numbers, if they've been tallied by this point).  Also, industry giant Marvel seems to have given the show their blessing, unveiling several announcements at the con regarding upcoming projects, which I read as a vote of confidence in C2E2 as a major player on the convention circuit.  Hollywood also seemed to have more of a presence this year, as well, with panels devoted to actors like Eliza Dushku, the cast of the hugely successful TV show The Walking Dead, and that guy playing Thor in the upcoming movie.  My prediction is that the show will continue to grow in the coming years, and I expect that other comics companies like DC and IDW will follow Marvel's lead and treat the show as an important platform from which to unveil new projects.

So, with all of this good news to report, why didn't I have a better time?  My biggest gripe was with the programming, which I felt was pretty terrible.  I attended several panels at C2E2 2010, on subjects as diverse as Chicago subway poster art, the Golden Age of Chicago comics fandom, and spotlight panels and Jeff Smith and Archaia Studios Press.  This year, there was literally not a single panel that interested me.  Now, I realize that my tastes probably differ from those of the majority of the kinds of comics fans that attend these events.  I completely understand the appeal of the TV and movie panels, as well as the Marvel and DC panels, even though I don't share most fans' enthusiasm for these sorts of things.  I mean, I get it.  As I said to David several times throughout the weekend, the mainstream is called the mainstream for a reason, and C2E2 is undoubtedly and unapologetically a mainstream comics show.  And that's totally fine and awesome.  I can't help, though, being disappointed that this year they seem to have completely disregarded the many, many sub-genres of comics fandom that fall outside of the superhero-dominated mainstream.  It was perhaps naive of me to read the diverse programing of the con's first year, as well as choices like the selection of Jeff Smith as guest of honor, as a statement of purpose regarding the con's approach to representing a wider view of comics, even as its focus remained understandably on companies like Marvel and DC.  Maybe I was hoping for too much, but it sure seems like a shame not to reach out to Chicago's rich alternative comics culture (Chris Ware lives there!), or throw a bone to fans of manga, or comic strips, or any aspect of comics HISTORY, and grant at least token representation to these aspects of the medium in the programming schedule.

In all fairness, I'm willing to concede that part of my frustration with the con may stem from the fact that I'm getting to the point where I might just not be the kind of fan who gets a lot out of even the best comics conventions anymore.  I don't read a lot of Marvel and DC's current output and so don't really care about the direction of their respective "universes," I'm uninterested in celebrities, nor do I care about autographs or even interacting with comics artists whose work I enjoy other than through the work itself.  For me, at this point, cons are pretty much all about the shopping (and even there I'm getting to the point of wondering how many more comics I really NEED to own) and attending panels.  The shopping was pretty good (more on that below), but the panels, well, see above. 

We did attend one panel, a spotlight on Marvel's upcoming "Fear Itself" crossover event.  Not really the kind of thing I'm usually interested in, but, well, we had to attend SOMETHING.  The (moderately) large room was PACKED.  We arrived later than we should have (about five minutes before the panel was scheduled to start, I think) and had to stand in the back amongst a horde of other standing fans.  I couldn't see the PowerPoint display very well, but Dave had a better view.  Matt Fraction (who is writing the Fear Itself comic book), Brian Bendis, and some other guys I don't remember were on the panel.  I didn't really catch a lot of what was said, as Fraction kind of mumbled through his description of what the comics were going to be about and also the doors to the room (which were directly behind us) kept opening and closing every couple of minutes to let people in/out of the room and into/out of the noisy hallway.  The folks on the panel kept emphasizing that this storyline was going to be REALLY IMPORTANT and have MAJOR, LASTING CONSEQUENCES for the Marvel Universe, which I guess is really important to people for some reason.  Actually, what little I caught of the description of the story sounded kind of cool to me, mixing aspects of the Captain America and Thor comics (both, probably not coincidentally, soon to be major motion pictures), but when I asked Dave about it afterwards he didn't seem too impressed, and he reads a lot more of those kind of comics than I do and knows a lot more about them, so, you know, take our respective opinions for what they're worth.  Anyway, we left after about 10-15 minutes, which is when they opened the floor up to questions.  If you've never had the pleasure(??) of attending one of the Marvel panels, they basically all follow the same format: ten to fifteen minutes of product announcements/hype, followed by Q&A, or, as I like to call it, PURE HELL.  Seriously, and all respect to Marvel's fans (of which I am one, basically), but people ask TERRIBLE questions at these things, many of which the panelists CAN'T answer because the question falls so outside the scope of the panel subject/panelist's area of knowledge/panelist's job description, or WON'T answer because it would spoil some future plot point.  Lots of questions about movies based on Marvel comics.  Lots of requests for appearances by fan's favorite, obscure character.  Terrible.

Wow, lots of snark in that last paragraph, huh?  Okay, well, you know how you feel now that you've read this far?  How you're sort of depressed about comics and annoyed with me and feeling like you've wasted your time/life?  Yeah, that's how I felt after that panel, and a Saturday spent milling about aimlessly on the floor.  Saturday's not a great day for shopping, either, as you've already nabbed your "must-buys" on Friday and the insane bargains motivated by dealers not wanting to haul all those comics and stuff back with them don't really show up until Sunday.  So I was feeling a little blue.  Sunday, though, was much better, partially  because we only stopped by the con for about an hour to nab those Sunday bargains, and blew off the show for the rest of the day to visit the fine city of Chicago.

If the programming is C2E2's weak point, its greatest strength is its location at McCormick Place in glorious downtown Chicago.  I remember some anxiety on the part of people talking about the show last year regarding its location downtown, how this may make the show difficult for some people to get to or somehow intimidating.  On that front, and if you take nothing else away from this report, let me assure you that we found travel to downtown Chicago (we live in Milwaukee) to be a breeze, and our hotel provided fast and friendly shuttle service to and from the convention center.  This really is one of the con's biggest selling points over the Wizard show, which is not really located in Chicago but rather in the suburb of Rosemont.  Chicago is one of the Great American Cities, and if you're in town for the con, you'll want to take advantage of it.  We spent our Sunday at the Field Museum, a beautifully curated natural history museum whose exhibit on the history of life on earth I found humbling, and, frankly, quite moving.  We also visited the Hershey's Store on the Magnificent Mile, and had a great dinner at the downtown location of Bar Louie.  The con was a month earlier than it was last year, so we didn't spend quite as much time strolling through Grant Park as we did last year, but it still provided a nice view just across the street from our room at the Essex Inn, and the weather wasn't so cold or drizzly as to hinder our short walks to downtown restaurants or El-Train stations in the slightest.  Cabbies, shuttle drivers, and hotel staff were all incredibly helpful and friendly.

I also want to mention Graham Cracker Comics, a local chain of comic books stores with locations throughout the city.  We visited the downtown store, which was a stop on the shuttle route to the convention center, a terrific idea that I have to believe gave a boost to the store's sales over the weekend.  I certainly hope that was the case, as Graham Cracker (at least the downtown location), is a great comics store.  The front windows, adorned with Marvel superhero characters and nothing but, did not inspire me with a huge amount of confidence.  However, once inside, I found it to have a quite diverse stock, while still being primarily what I would think of as a mainstream comics store.  After only a few minutes of being there, I stumbled across a trio of recent alternative comic books I needed (see below).  I was impressed with their selection of new comics, back issues, and graphic novels.  All categories looked to be basically well represented in this well-lit and nicely organized store, manned by a friendly and helpful staff.  Apparently, Garth Ennis had been doing a signing there on the day we visited (Sunday), but he had left by the time we arrived.  It's a safe bet we'll be adding them to our list of stores to visit while we're in Chicago, along with the more alternative flavored Quimby's and Chicago Comics.

And the food.  My God, the food.  Whenever we're in Chicago, we make it a point to stop at our favorite deep dish pizzaria, the original Gino's East.  We also tried a rival chain, Lou Malnati's, on the recommendation of a friend.  It was quite good (and they let you place your order before you're seated!), but Gino's is still king, as far as we're concerned.  A great meal was also enjoyed at the downtown location of Flaco's Tacos, a place featuring really tasty Mexican food at really great prices that we more or less stumbled across.  There are probably a lot of great breakfast places, too, but we were happy walking to one of two nearby Dunkin Donuts every day for our carb and caffeine fixes.

So, yes, as far as our visit to the city of Chicago is concerned, a great time was had, and I encourage everyone to visit.  As far as C2E2 is concerned, I will be interested to read other people's reports.  I will not be at all surprised to read many glowing reviews, as it is easy for me to imagine a lens through which this year's show could be viewed as everything a certain kind of fan could want out of a con and more.  I'll be back next year for sure, although whether for one day or three, David and I are still deciding.  Personally, I dearly hope that the show's organizers work to diversify the programming at least a little bit in order to highlight the diversity of the comics medium, lest the show itself be overshadowed by the wonderful city in which it takes place.

* The "we" I refer to here and throughout this report is myself and David Ferraro, who is my boyfriend and who also has a comics blog you should all be following, Comics-and-More, where he will doubtless be posting his own convention report, possibly featuring photos and/or jokes about how much I ate during our trip.  David, thank you for putting up with my funk on Saturday and for helping to pull me out of it on Sunday.


Addendum: Things I Bought

As I said, the show was pretty good for shopping.  Below is a list of comic books and graphic novels I bought at the show, most for at least 40% off retail price:

Boody: The Bizarre Comics of Boody Rogers, edited by Craig Yoe

Archie Firsts

Krazy & Ignatz: 1943 & 1944 - "He Nods In Quiescent Siesta," by George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard

The Golden Collection of Klassic Krazy Kool Kids Komics, edited by Craig Yoe

From Shadow to Light: The Life and Art of Mort Meskin, by Steven Brower with Peter and Philip Meskin

The Mighty Thor Omnibus Volume 1, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

The Boy Commandos Volume 1, by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

The Smurfs and the Egg, by Peyo

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #8-18, 24-25, 28, 31, 33, 36, and 47, plus the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Meet Archie one-shot, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Presents: Donatello and Leatherhead #3 (of 3)  (I sometimes like to try and collect a run of back issues at conventions only, without relying on the internet, and this year I thought I'd try and do so with the Archie Comics published Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures from the late 80s/early 90s.  It was the first comic book series I followed and I remember it fondly).

In addition to the above, I bought these three handsome looking comic books at Chicago's Graham Cracker Comics:

Night Animals, by Brecht Evans

Crickets #3, by Sammy Harkham

Sammy the Mouse #3 (Book 39 in the "Ignatz" collection), by Zak Sally


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