Wizard World Chicago Comic Con sported a new look this year, taking over a completely different area of the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois. As attendees of the con for over a decade, it felt odd to walk in through the main entrance and turn to the right to enter the show rather than the hall(s) to the left that used to host the con.
The most notable change in 2013 was that the con was spread out over two levels of the convention center. The ground level show floor hosted the celebrity autographs, the photo op area, Artists’ Alley, and a few vendors. The second level hosted the majority of the vendors and the fan groups/clubs. The total floor space definitely seemed to be more square footage than the old layout. Aisles were much wider, and there was much less congestion than prior years. This really helped with the ability to browse, as you didn’t feel like you had to keep moving in order to not hold up the traffic flow in the vendors’ area. The room temperature in most spots felt much less oppressive than some prior years. It almost felt like a different con at times just because the layout was so different. There were several times we had to stop and figure out which direction to head for the main lobby and escalators, but that is to be expected for the first year of such a large change in floor layout. Overall, I think the change in location and layout was a positive change. There was more floor to cover but it was worth it for just the lessened congestion alone.
Artists’ Alley had a different feel to it this year. There seemed to be more traffic in this area than in prior years. I think much of this was due to the fact that there was more space. The booths were arranged in shorter aisles with more “cross aisles” in between, and this seemed to allow more movement. The booths themselves looked larger, but that is something an artist would have to confirm. I think positioning Artists’ Alley by the celebrity autographs also encouraged more traffic as well. In the old floor layout, the artists were in the back of the convention hall behind the vendors.
The celebrity autograph area was often very busy and congested, especially earlier in the day on Saturday. This is to be expected at any con. The overall organization of this area seemed to be very good. I did not walk down every aisle, but in the ones I did, I noticed a small whiteboard at each booth with the celebrity’s daily schedule written in. That seemed to be a very helpful resource for those trying to plan their day to include the signing sessions they wished to attend. The queuing areas seemed to be adequate in size for the celebrities, as I did not notice a lot of spillover into the main aisles. It was difficult to determine how quickly each line was moving. I did notice that the line for Stan Lee moved very quickly and that the volunteers at this booth did a fantastic job of communicating the line status and future availability of tickets to con attendees. I did hear some feedback from attendees regarding autographs and the VIP packages that were available with various celebrity VIP ticket packages. These VIP packages included a VIP Speedpass that allowed those badge holders to skip to the front of the autograph line for their particular celebrity. These VIP Speedpasses were a great timesaver to those who were willing and/or could afford them, as they guaranteed a signing opportunity with their favorite celebrity. However, I heard some complaints from general admission attendees who waited in line for sometimes 1-2 hours for an autograph, only to get near the front of the line and then get stopped when a large number of VIP Speedpass holders showed up during the last 15-30 minutes of the autograph session. These general admission attendees were then in the position of potentially not getting the autograph they had already waited so long in line for. I do not know if autograph lines were being capped to prevent this from happening. I did hear from an attendee that Alan Tudyk was kind enough to stay longer than his scheduled signing time in order to sign for everyone already in line.
On a related topic, the sheer amount of celebrities at this year’s con was a huge draw this year. The celebrities featured a wide range of sci-fi/pop culture, and most attendees had at least one person they wanted to see. The con did a really good job securing a large selection of talent this year. The aforementioned VIP ticket packages allowed attendees the opportunity to purchase customized ticket packages based on their favorite celebrity in attendance, which included amenities such as a customized badge, guaranteed seating at certain panels, the VIP Speedpass for autograph and photo op lines, and some customized swag for that celebrity.
The fan group area near the rear of the second level appeared to be an unofficial gathering place for cosplayers on Saturday. I walked through this area several times and always found a good number of amazing costumes. The National Guard had a very nice setup in this area as well, featuring a large inflatable obstacle course for children. Nearby were several vehicles from pop culture, including the Mystery Machine and the Delorean from “Back to the Future”. Photo ops were available with some of these vehicles upon making a charitable donation to their stated charity.
I personally noticed that the con’s staff of volunteers this year was outstanding. Every volunteer I spoke with had a positive attitude and was very helpful. Volunteers are so often put in the difficult position of being the bearer of bad news, or having to deal with impatient and not understanding people. This year’s staff really seemed to be upbeat, positive, and helpful.
Overall, I think all the changes in 2013 were very positive for the con. I would have liked to attended more than one day in order to spend more time exploring the expanded floor space, but with “ASM Jr.” on the way, one day was all I could handle. I look forward to seeing what Wizard World Chicago Comic Con offers in 2014.