Wizard World Chicago 2006: An Overview

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Yet another convention is history and, unlike those in recent past, there was not a lot to get excited about this one. No “huge” news announcements made (unless you consider Peter Gross and Brian Wood signing 2-year exclusive contracts to DC Comics “huge news”). Good news yes; huge news, no. Overall though, it was a fun-filled weekend, a weekend in which fans were able to connect (or in some cases re-connect) with the creators of their favorite books. The following are my impressions of the past weekend, not a review per se, but just a commentary of what I encountered along the way.

My very first impression upon entering the convention center is one of controlled chaos. Granted, I arrived late Thursday afternoon to the convention (henceforth to be called “WWC”) and the expected gigantic mass of people has yet to arrive. Be that as it may, there’s already that feeling that things are not going to run smoothly. They rarely do, because that is the nature of such things. Anyway, after collecting my badge, I still have a couple hours to kill, so I head back to my room for some peace & quiet: two things that will be at a premium for this weekend! Because the first thing an attendee cannot help but see, or rather hear, upon entering the convention floor is Spike TV’s booth. Loud (and I mean LOUD) music booming throughout the convention hall. Not a good place for that booth, especially since everyone has to endure it in order to come in and out of the convention. WWC is loud enough; no need for that to be added into the mix. Someone just was not thinking…

Now before this starts to sound overly negative, I do have to say Wizard puts on a very good show. Yes, there were some bumps, but the show itself is always professional and very well put together. However, they have two things they desperately need to work on: Communication and signs.

Even now I have no idea what time members of the press, and those with “professionals” badges, are allowed into the show. And neither did anyone else there. Ask five different volunteers, and you’d get five different answers. Also, they need to have better signs directing people where to go and not depend on three or four volunteers standing there blocking attendees from trying to enter the “main entrance.” (Wizard shuffles people in through another area away from the main entrance when WWC opens first thing in the morning to alleviate crowds.) It was almost amusing to see the Wizard people running interference though. So despite those two missteps, things ran very smoothly from my perspective.

Every single day WWC opened right on time, which was good for the fans and for the exhibitors and dealers. I don’t know the numbers yet for attendance, but it was very obvious the crowds were much larger than last year’s, especially on Thursday night and on Friday. Actually, Friday’s crowd appeared to be about the same size as 2005’s Saturday crowd. So either there are more people buying comics or they are just more aware of WWC. Either way, it’s good for comics in general.

The one thing I noticed that was very odd was the lack of personnel at Marvel’s booth. On Thursday night no one was there. On Friday, up until noon, no one was there. It wasn’t until late Friday, when I passed by Marvel again, that I finally saw people and fans there. Every other booth or table had activity, but it was lacking at Marvel initially. Thankfully, once it got going, there was a lot going on there in terms of creators signing. I just couldn’t make out who was signing there since, as far as I could tell, there was nothing posted to tell the fans who was signing. Also, there were no freebies that I could see. There was a lot of activity as far as portfolio reviews. Marvel, as far as I know, was the only publisher doing such reviews at their booth.

Another odd thing I noticed was the lack of an Image Comics or an IDW booth. Nothing there. No representation whatsoever. Nada. Zip. Zilch. And I wasn’t the only one to notice their absence. I was very disappointed IDW didn’t show.

Of course DC’s booth appeared to be the main avenue of activity (Mattel being a close second). Always someone was signing there, always numerous DC personnel there, tons of free buttons (such as a Superman “S” symbol or the Batman chest emblem or Green Lantern’s chest emblem) and numerous posters to pick up, and always a huge throng of fans milling about. It became a tough area through which to navigate. And one reason DC’s booth was so popular was their showcase of DC Direct line of figures. The biggest highlight there was the upcoming Lynda Carter Wonder Woman figure. Even I will buy that figure! Other highlights at the DC booth included the amount of signings that they had. Every day they had line after line after line of attendees waiting to get a quick sketch or signature from creators like Geoff Johns, Keith Giffen, Will Pfeiffer, Don Kramer, Adam & Andy Kubert and Brian Wood, among others. I believe they had something like 20-25 individual signings each full day.

The rest of the exhibitors’ area featured plenty of freebies, creators signing and featuring their books, publishers promoting everything, a few somewhat scantily clad girls handing out free books or posters, and a boxing ring and skateboard ramp. Yes, a boxing ring (promoting the International Fight League (IFL)) and a skateboard ramp (promoting Tony Hawks’ newest video game). Just when you think you’ve seen everything… The best booth has to go to Mattel for the huge amounts of toys they had on display. The worst definitely goes to Spike TV because it was just so damn loud and annoying. It also just seemed very out of place. Friendliest booth had to be Devil’s Due, which is saying a lot when almost everyone was smiling at all the booths and promoting their product. Zenescope Entertainment’s booth gets the “award” for most innovative way to bring people over by using girls scantily dressed as Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks.

As usual though, there were plenty of comics dealers. You want comics? This is the place to get them. And, if you looked long enough, a lot of deals to be made. This is not an area in which I spent a whole lot of time unless I was cutting through to get from one end of WWC to the other. I did notice a lot less DVD and movies for sale though than in years past. That probably has to do with the recent crack down on bootlegs at other conventions.

I did attend a few panels and, as I mentioned about, not a lot of news were announced. Though the best panel, surprisingly so, had to be the Wizard Fan Awards panel. Though it began in cheesy fashion, once the comics professionals started presenting and accepting the awards, it really kicked into gear. And Joe Quesada stole the show, especially in reading acceptance speeches written by Laura Martin (forcing Quesada to call himself a woman numerous times) to one “written” by Luke Cage (actually Brian Michael Bendis) that was, shall we say, a tad adult in its theme. And to the Wizard guys (a.k.a. Ben Morse and Rickey Purdin), the name is spelled Kitty Pryde, not Pride. (Yes, that was the source of a few jokes throughout the weekend, so why stop now?) Oh, and Marvel won 14 awards to DC’s 9.

One “panel” I definitely want to point out, and one I unfortunately didn’t discover until late on Sunday, is Funimation Channel. According to the Wizard’s map in their program, Funimation was supposed to have a booth. However, in lieu of a booth area, they had a panel room all to themselves showing their programming schedule. If you’re into Anime, start writing your cable or satellite provider to add this channel to your line-up! I would not consider myself a hardcore Anime fan, but I enjoy some shows. This channel is a must-have for all Anime fans though. And their schedule is, according to their promotion, PG rated and up. No Pokemon here. Of course, now I’m hooked on Baki the Grappler with no way of seeing it. I think it’s time for me to contact DirecTv.

Artists Alley probably collected the second largest group of attendees (the Exhibitors area collected the largest). The most populated length of tables though had to be the area that featured Greg Land, Peter David, Jim Starlin, Don Kramer, Angel Medina and Franchesco, all just mere tables apart. Every single one of them, save for Starlin who was rarely there, had long lines waiting for signatures and/or sketches. This was also one of the few years where Artists Alley had a lot of filled tables.

As far as a day-to-day breakdown in concerned:
Thursday night was far more crowded this year than last. It was also still the second best time to find deals.
Friday was when the excitement was at its peak and far more crowded than I have seen it.
Saturday was insane, but in a good way. Lots of people. Lots of activity. Lots of energy.
On Sunday real life begins to settle in as everyone realizes WWC is almost done for this year. It’s also the best time to find deals!

And what’s a WWC weekend without some nightlife? As usual, the sports bar (Knuckles) at the Hyatt was the main place to be. While the other hotels’ bars were busy as well, Knuckles was always jam-packed. Besides, where else would you see such sights as Lou Ferrigno at the end of the bar surrounded by four ladies or various comics creators enjoying high amounts of alcoholic beverages or Thomas Jane partying with the best of them? This was THE place to be. It was also the loudest place to be, too. But despite the noise level, which no one really seemed to notice, it was also the place to be to just relax after a long day at WWC with friends.

As I stated in the beginning, overall it was a fun-filled weekend. The weekend is what you make of it. While I was a little disappointed in the lack of news, I still had a great time. I met old friends, made new friends, and put faces to what used to be just names on a message board. It was also a very tiring and long weekend…. and one I look forward to doing again next year.

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