My wife and I are now at home recuperating after spending the last two days at Wizard World Chicago. As usual it was a whirlwind cavalcade of comics, costumes, actors, fans, merchandise, art, commerce, geek glee, exhaustion, frustration, and disappointment. All of those elements, for better or worse, are unavoidable in the average convention experience. Some pleasures make us giddier than others; some situations grieve us more than others.
To its credit, we’re not knee-jerk Wizard World haters. For all the flak they draw online for a variety of reasons, they get a lot of things right that other fledgling convention companies take years to figure out. We’ve personally attended conventions where management was poor, tempers were boiling, and mutinies were nigh and not entirely unjustified. We’ve heard still other horror stores from other Midwest cons. Numerous entertainment companies are out there competing for the chance to become the San Diego of the American heartland. Wizard World is not in last place.
As expected, MCC will be providing you, the Viewers at Home, with copious photos from our Wizard World Chicago 2014 experience over the next few days, though I honestly have no idea how many entries in all. I haven’t yet uploaded my pics or looked at my wife’s as of the moment I’m typing this sentence, and we still have a Doctor Who season premiere to watch On Demand. Also, there are adult, non-internet chores begging for my attention. I’m pretty sure some of you will be pleased with the results, even though we skipped the costume contest. We had our reasons, some of them logistical.
In general, this weekend was successful on a number of levels for us. But not on every level. Pictured here are Exhibits A and B for the prosecution — the front of one card, and the front and back of another. Together these limited-edition artifacts cost us $40.00 to bring home unredeemed.
Wizard World Chicago always summons a hefty guest list of high-profile names from movies, TV, cartoons, wrestling, and other high-profile media. This year’s list contained such an impressive actor selection from our own personal areas of interest that my wife saved up for months to bankroll our big weekend together — one part husband/wife quality time, one part autograph collecting. Together we had a ball. Mostly.
For many guests, fans simply paid for autographs and/or photos at the guest’s table. For guests with larger fan bases at this moment in their lives, fans had to prepay for their autographs and/or photos and then hold on to them till their scheduled signing/photo-op times. As celebrity vicissitudes and temperaments update minute by minute, so are the autograph/photo-op schedules sometimes changed accordingly to keep up. If the con is well run, attendees are informed as soon as possible so they can work within whatever opportunities are available. If the con isn’t well run, then you wind up with situations where a famous British actor is left in his hotel room waiting for a ride that never comes to bring him to a Q&A he can’t find on his own, while fans threaten to burn him in effigy because they have no idea what’s going on and assume it’s all his fault. Fortunately for us and unfortunately for others, that happened at some other con that Wizard World didn’t run and we didn’t attend.
Standard procedure for WWC is that some actors are present at the con all four days; some are only there for certain days due to other commitments or contractual particulars. In this case, a good chunk of our want list would be there only on Saturday and Sunday. Our Friday went smoothly — we saw everyone we wanted to see who was on site. Great day. Several lines, many of them sadly too short in my mind. No major complaints except we were exhausted walking back and forth between Hall A (dealers/exhibitors and Artists Alley) and Hall F (autograph area and more dealers/exhibitors). Friday took a while for us to sleep off.
Saturday was more challenging. Approximate timeline of events, all Central Daylight Time:
8:20 a.m.: We arrive early and join the general admission line.
9:00 a.m.: All fans with photo ops scheduled at or around 11 a.m. are relocated to different lines upstairs at the Photo Op area. The schedule says ours will be around 11:15 and we figure we’re included.
10:45 a.m.: The Famous Actor shows up on time, and the few hundred people ahead of us are herded through so briskly that we’re finished a full half-hour before our part of the line was expected to begin. We share five seconds of our lives standing next to the beloved Tumblr idol and then we’re off and running.
10:50 a.m.: The line for Evan Peters, one of our prepaid autograph tickets, is already long and strong even though he hasn’t arrived yet. He was previously a guest at the Indiana Comic Con back in March, but that was two months before he won X-Men: Days of Future Past. We’d opted out of that chance to meet him because his claims to fame thus far had been TV shows we don’t watch and those early promotional images of Quicksilver that were completely devoid of character context. Now that we’ve seen what he can do, we’re looking to correct our uninformed decision. I blame those cheesy, bacon-y Hardee’s commercials.
We check updated times for John Barrowman, another of our prepaids; all signings, photo ops, and panels scheduled in his name prior to 8 p.m. are now slashed out with thick black marker. We won’t be available that late and aren’t going to be there Sunday at all. My wife does some detective work to track down the location of the tiny hermit’s hideaway called the Show Office. The office confirms that he overslept and missed his flight, and was tremendously apologetic about it on social media.
In an exceedingly rare moment in the annals of entertainment convention history, under the circumstances they agree to refund the price of the Barrowman autograph ticket to us. In cash. We greatly appreciate that. Hopefully we’ll have another chance to catch him someday before one of us dies.
11:05 a.m.: Zip through Artists Alley to see the aisles we couldn’t get to on Friday. Far fewer recognizable comics-creator names than usual, but quite a few more self-published novelists than we’re used to seeing. That’s normally more of a Gen Con thing.
11:35 a.m.: We pick up our photo from the Photo Op area, right on time. Acrimonious reports of poor photo-op service at Wizard World Philly had made us a little nervous. Philly’s problems were apparently not Chicago’s problems.
11:40 a.m.: The Evan Peters line has largely vanished, but he’s still not there. We join the autograph line for Famous Actor #2, whose first signing is scheduled for 12:30. We learn from the guy in front of us that Evan Peters’ flight was delayed. The showrunners were now expecting to arrive around 3:30. To those couple hundred disgruntled fans who’d been waiting in vain in his line since 10 a.m., WWC volunteers passed out numbered cards for them to bring back later and redeem for first dibs on Peters upon his arrival.
Meanwhile, Famous Actor #2 arrives a half-hour early for his signing in high-flying spirits. Advantage: us.
1 p.m.: Mandatory lunchtime.
1:30 p.m.: We join the autograph line for Hot New TV Actor, across the way from Evan Peters’ booth, whose front space is occupied by a few lonely wanderers. While we’re in line, the distant, overhead lights flicker as thunder roars outside. Adding two and two, we suspect in hindsight that weather may have affected Peters’ flight plan. TV Actor arrives half an hour late, but she’s cool with everyone in line.
2:30 p.m.: No new Peters line has formed yet. We walk toward the line for Famous Actor #3, scheduled to begin signing at 3:30. It’s quite long an hour early, and my wife overhears a well-dressed WWC official telling a volunteer, “I want this line stuffed to capacity.” This is not a paraphrase. My wife makes a point of committing this exact quote to memory.
We join the line immediately, dreading what the future might hold for those behind us. We stand inside the blue-tape borders that mark the autograph waiting lines. The volunteer in charge of blue tape arrives, whips out his tools, and endeavors to demarcate a new extension on the existing waiting line.
Actor #3 arrives half an hour early, maybe even earlier, and commences. The line is the longest we’ve attempted all weekend, partly due to popularity and partly because he’s extremely cordial. He and his volunteer are allowing pics at the table. Then his volunteer handler is taking pics for fans using their cameras and phones. Then the Actor himself is taking their selfies using their devices. Then another WWC volunteer arrives at the table and is put on fan-photo duty so the handler can concentrate on ticket-taking duties and the Actor can keep signing. Then someone with a WWC badge reading “AGENT” arrives and hangs out with them, and the line coincidentally speeds up after all of this occurs. Throughout our 100-minute wait, the line behind us never once shows signs of shortening or being capped.
4:10 p.m.: Evan Peters is the only prepaid autograph ticket we have left to redeem. We find both him and a moderate line present at his booth. The end of the line is around a corner and behind a curtain, so we can’t clearly see him or the front of the line, only their outlines. Several stragglers are also standing around near the line rather than in it. We join the line just to see what happens. Best-case scenario: an autograph happens.
A few minutes later, a woman in front of us says she thinks we have to have a number in order to be in line. She seems unsure what’s going on. My wife walks up to the volunteer holding a box of numbers and asks for one. He hands it to her and offers no instructions, explanation, or other verbal response. She returns to the back of the line with me. So now we have number 125, but we have no idea what it means. Everyone near us has random numbers. More fans walk up and mill around as if this is the new hotspot, but not many of them are making any line-shaped formations. The front of the line moves forward while the back of the line is held in place around the corner. The card-carrying volunteer and another, cardless volunteer are discussing things too far away from me to eavesdrop. At no point does anyone involved with WWC walk over and explain anything to anyone. We really hope that the Veterans of the First Evan Peters Line were already permitted access to him first as a display of gratitude for their service, but we truly have no idea.
4:30 p.m.: By this time our part of the line has moved forward approximately five feet. We overhear rumblings from those in front of us about Peters being gone. With no formal announcement forthcoming from whoever’s quote-unquote “in charge”, my wife approaches a WWC volunteer and has to ask what’s up. She’s informed that Peters will now be taking a 45-minute break.
We’ve had all we can stand. We leave his line and the entire autograph area, never return, and agree to eat the cost of the ticket. Peters and Wizard World keep their money, and in return we get to quit the game for the rest of the day.
We’re now left with these unused cards that we can show to all our friends as souvenirs of the second time we didn’t meet Evan Peters. We don’t really want them, but I hate to throw them away. It’d be nice if we could take them to the nearest Hardee’s and trade them for a couple of bacon cheeseburgers.