[Editor’s Note: The dreaded Con Funk infected us here at ASM headquarters, causing the delay in this article.]
We’ve been going to WizardWorld Chicago, also known as Chicago Comic-Con, for over a decade, so we’ve seen the convention go through many changes over the years. We’ve seen the convention grow, we’ve seen the floor layout expand and change, we’ve seen the focus switch from a comic convention to a pop-culture gathering. So, while we like to look at each year as its own separate entity, it’s hard to not compare the convention to those from the past.
WizardWorld Chicago 2014 had a very different vibe than in past years. Part of this can be attributed to the new floor layout. In the past, the convention hall contained the autograph area in front, dealers’ booths behind it, artist alley near the back, and the photo ops at the very back. In 2013, the room was split into two floors on the other side of the Donald E. Stephenson Convention Center, which made for a unique feel, but there was still a buzz on both floors… as well as congestion in the aisles.
This year, perhaps because of the later date, Wizard was able to take over the entire first floor of the convention center as well as move photo-ops to the second floor. This allowed the dealer room and artist alley to be spread out in the north room, where the entire convention used to be located. This allowed for wider aisles and less congestion. The guests and autograph area was on the entire south side of the first floor, which again made for less congestion and a great way to keep the autograph queues from getting out of hand. As mentioned, the photo-ops were on the second floor, which also improved traffic flow. All in all, this was a great way to divide the convention space. Gone were the traffic jams of years past; the wider aisles and improved traffic patterns made for less headaches and an easier time getting around. Plus, this allowed the front lobby to become a common area for costumers to meet and have their pictures taken.
But this improved traffic pattern came at a price; by having the convention split up, it lost some of the buzz. With previous years, having everyone in the same room made things congested, but you felt the vibe of the convention. You also knew that you weren’t going to miss anything because it was all there for you. This year, you could spend the entire day in the dealers room and not see any of the guests and vice versa. Phil mentioned to me that things seemed quiet when we were in Artist Alley, and he was right — not only could you have a conversation without raising your voice too much, but it felt almost like there were fewer people there. This wasn’t the case – you just had to move to the front of the room or out to the main lobby to see a lot of people, but it certainly gave the convention a different feel.
There was also another reason why Wizard felt different this year. There were very few fan tables compared to prior years. The convention used to have fan tables as part of the dealers room. Two years ago, the fan tables were in the main lobby. This year, they weren’t there at all. To us, this is not a good thing. It has been our opinion that the fan tables provide a lot of the convention atmosphere. Yes, people will always come to a convention to see the guests, get autographs, and get pictures. Yes, people will always come to buy things from the dealers and get art from the artists. But the fan tables allow the average fan to take part of the convention as well, and also serve as an unofficial area for socializing. Hopefully, they will be back next year.
Over the past decade, Wizard has become a social convention for us – we would see a lot of friends we had made at the convention, many of them thanks to the fan tables. This year, we saw only two people we knew walking the convention floor. There were also lots of other people – mostly costumers — who we had come to expect to be at Wizard, and this year, we didn’t see any of them. Granted, we were on a schedule that was hindered by a 90 minute wait from the freeway exit to the parking garage as well as an hour wait for food, but we would have thought we would have seen more people there. On that note, perhaps Wizard can talk with the convention center staff and get more food options out there for us and other attendees. We were lucky with an hour wait. We heard horror stories of people waiting three hours for a simple bottle of water. More food stations would alleviate this, and hopefully this is something that can happen in the future.
The traffic jam was horrible to be stuck in, and it may be a sign that Wizard has hit the limits of what Rosemont can provide. But this also means that the convention is more popular than ever, and Wizard should be commended for that. Also, we saw a lot of families there this year, and having families at a con is great in our books. It’s great to see moms and dads pass along their love of pop-culture, comics and geekery to the next generation.
So, to sum up, Wizard was a mixed bag this year. Some positives, some negatives. Hopefully we won’t get stuck in traffic or food lines next year, as we would like more time to peruse the con rather than try to squeeze it all into a shortened day.