Well, I think I may be sufficiently rested enough from Wizard World Weekend that I can write semi-coherently about it. Wandering around looking at comics for three days is more wearying than you might think.
Wizard World Chicago is the 2nd largest annual comic book convention in the United States (world?). I’ve been attending pretty regularly with my brother Bub and our childhood friend Mitch for…I don’t even remember how many years. Since the early ‘90s, I believe, when it was called the Chicago Comic Con. WIZARD magazine bought it a few years ago and renamed it Wizard World. It’s now Wizard World Chicago (WW), since WIZARD has begun sponsoring similar shows in cities like Boston. I’ve only missed two or three during that time, and it’s easily one of my favorite weekends of the year, particularly because it gives this homebody a chance to travel and get away from Champaign-Urbana, as I so rarely do.
This year, we had a fourth member, an amiable fellow known as Jimmy the Buddha. At least, that’s his Xbox live handle that he uses when he participates with Bub and Mitch in their Monday night online Halo 2 gatherings. We all booked rooms at the Hyatt, which adjoins the Stephens Center in Rosemont, Illinois that houses WW, and looked forward to three days of comics. Mmmm…comics.
I spent Thursday night with Mitch and his family in LeRoy in anticipation of Friday’s early start. Bub, who drove up from St. Louis and spent the night at our dad’s house, arrived not long after the Buddha, and after a quick Big Breakfast at the local McDonald’s, we were on the road.
The show opened at 9am, but we got there around 10:30 or so. I tried to hold off buying as long as I could in anticipation of the Sunday discounts, but not long after I began browsing, I found someone with several boxes of “12 comics for $5”. I quickly picked up 48 beat-up, unbagged but readable comics for $20. I think I’m a rarity at WW, in that I’m looking for quantity over quality. While I am attempting to collect DC’s entire run of 100-Page Super-Spectaculars of the 1970’s (I have almost all the non-romance issues), as well as their 48-page and 52-page issues, I really go there looking for as many cheap comics as I can find. I’m not interesting in mint copies or in investments. I just want to read these books and put them away. I also can’t bring myself to read most comics produced after 1984 or so. They just don’t interest me, and I’m not very familiar with today’s crop of artists and writers. Give me Denny O’Neil or Roy Thomas over Brian Michael Bendis any day. I’ll even take Gerry Conway over Bendis.
This year is the first time we all took cell phones, which made it handy whenever one of us became separated from the rest, which is easy to do in that crowd. I saw a lot of people there with babies and small children; I have no idea how they manage to hang on to them there. In general, I’m anti-cell phone, but they are certainly handy and tailor-made for something like a large convention.
WW has three sections: the promotional end, which consists of booths representing various companies, like DC Comics, Marvel, Playstation, Lions Gate, Moonstone and other companies selling comics, toys, games, movies, etc. The other end is Artists Alley, where long tables are manned by various independent artists and writers selling their own wares. Sometimes they aren’t involved in comics at all; Artists Alley is also where you’ll occasionally find models selling photos of themselves or B-movie personalities like Ken Foree (DAWN OF THE DEAD) and Tom Savini (FRIDAY THE 13TH) selling photos. Neither attended this year—in fact, I saw no movie personalities on Artists Alley this year—but there were some stars in attendance on the other side of the hall, including SUPERMAN’s Lois Lane, Margot Kidder; wrestler Mick Foley; SHAZAM star Jackson Bostwick; Mercedes McNab from BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER; and Sam Jones, who starred in 1980’s FLASH GORDON. Buddha got an autograph from and a photo with Jones, who turned out to be a boisterous but friendly chap with a hard-sell approach.
The center section is the largest—that’s where all the comics are. Comics make up at least 75% of the seller booths. The others range from movie memorabilia and bootleg DVDs to swords and toys. Comics dealers range in their product too. Some are the big-shot expensive high-grade dealers, the ones with nice copies of AMAZING FANTASY #15 or BATMAN #1 to sell for thousands of dollars. I tend to gravitate towards the dealers with Silver Age and Bronze Age books on sale for 40-60% off. Since I assume these books’ prices have been jacked up in the first place, I figure I’m getting more or less a fair deal.
Dinner was at Spaghetti Warehouse on Friday night, and then a late night of screwing around, reading comics, laughing and making fun of the idiots we grew up with in Mansfield followed.
Saturday began with the Hyatt’s breakfast buffet and two plates filled with eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, oatmeal, cereal, fruit…whatever the hell you wanted. Also on Saturday, we were joined by Kevin, another childhood friend of Bub, Mitch and me (and my annual B-Fest partner), and Tolemite, making his first WW appearance. You can read Toler's account on his blog, but suffice to say he had a great time looking at comics, scoping chicks (I was impressed with the tall, leggy, slightly bucktoothed brunette in the sexy Little Red Riding Hood costume who went ga-ga over Toler’s Clutch T-shirt) and meeting one of his idols, artist Geof Darrow, who collaborated with Frank Miller on the HARD BOILED series, among others. Toler also went out to dinner with us at Maggiano’s, where we tackled the largest helpings of spaghetti and meatballs known to man and failed to conquer them.
Sunday was more of the same—more wandering, more comic-buying, more people-watching, more girl-scoping. You may not believe it, but there are a lot of attractive women at WW. Granted, many of them are models who are paid to be there, such as the stunning Hulk girls at the Marvel booth or the petite redhead in the Red Sonya chainmail bikini. But a lot of them are just regular women looking at comics. You also find a lot of people who come dressed in costumes. My favorite was the short, fat, bald guy dressed as Robin who wore glasses, so had his mask pulled up onto his forehead. There were also a fat Darth Vader and a fat Dr. Doom. Lotta fat people at WW, including the four of us, who were stunned to learn that the free Avengers T-shirts some cute girls handed out to us were large-sized. The percentage of men at WW who can wear a Large T-shirt is pretty small and certainly doesn’t include us. We saw men and women dressed as Batman, Scarlet Witch, Supergirl, the Ghostbusters, Nightwing… What I wonder about is when I see the same people wearing the same costume all three days. Those suits have gotta be a little ripe by Sunday.
I managed to return home to Champaign about 10pm on Sunday, several hundred dollars lighter, but with a two-foot stack of comic books, several magazines, three trade paperbacks, a couple of good Italian meals, some eight-dollar cheeseburgers and a few $2.25 Pepsis to show for it. Getting out of bed for work on Monday was a major chore, and I was pretty useless all day. I could barely hold my eyes open, and I ended up taking a two-hour nap within minutes of arriving home from work that night.
I was sleepy again on Tuesday, but managed to wake up enough to entertain some impromptu guests. Chicken and I watched 1957’s ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS, a Roger Corman movie released by Allied Artists. A group of scientists, including Russell Johnson, later the Professor on GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, visits the island site of atomic bomb tests to investigate the disappearance of an earlier scientific expedition. Wouldn’t ya know—and of course you would, just read the title—they were eaten by giant crabs. Even better, they’re Highlander giant crabs that take their victims’ Quickening by absorbing the memories and personalities of the brains they eat and taunting their next victims by speaking in the voices of their friends. It was fun to see Johnson stranded on an island and struggling to fix a radio, and the dopey-looking crabs, which were built and operated by actors Beach Dickerson and Ed Nelson, are pretty fun. It’s only 62 minutes long, and uses familiar Southern California locations like Bronson Caverns and Leo Carrillo Beach. Released on a double bill with NOT OF THIS EARTH, also directed by Corman, ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS made a lot of money for Allied Artists and is really an entertaining little picture with fast-paced direction and an amusing script. If you’re the kind of snob who thinks fake-looking bigass crabs are not your cup o’ tea, then pass it up, but I like it.
We followed up ATTACK with “Spock’s Brain”, an amazing episode of STAR TREK, and “The Photographer”, a second-season MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. I plan to do posts of both in the future, but I’ll say that “Spock’s Brain” manages simultaneously to be among the best and the worst TREK episodes. “The Photographer” is typical M:I, as the IMF team fools Commie spy Anthony Zerbe into believing World War III has taken place outside his bomb shelter by pelting him with fake radio broadcasts, pumping heat down his air vent, and slipping an elaborate 360-degree miniature landscape around his periscope. Hey, you either buy into the outlandish M:I stories or you don’t. It ran for seven seasons, so many of us did.
Be sure to keep scrolling to read the piece on DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY that I penned for The Hub’s current issue. I had a good time writing it, and I’m doing another for next week’s edition. Let me know what you think of it.