Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
It’s that time of year again! Anne and I are at Wizard World Chicago in scenic Rosemont, IL, where we’re so far having a blast even though parts of it resemble hard work and our feet feel battle-damaged after two days of endless walking, standing, lining up, shuffling forward in cattle-call formation, and scurrying toward exciting people and things…
My wife and I took an okay number of photos over the course of our three-day stay and will once again be sharing the most usable over the next several entries.
Tonight’s episode: the miniseries finale! The panels we saw! The comics pros I met! The winners of the Annual “Convince Me to Spend Money in Artists Alley” contest! The troubles with conventioning while old! And more!
…okay, everyone, they’re gone now!
Inevitably these convention photo galleries see a groundswell of cosplayers and other attendees surfing by to find themselves or see what they missed, but after a week they vanish and we’re back to normal traffic levels, by which I mean I think we’re all alone again. So hey, there, regular reader! Have I told you how awesome you are? Well, you are. Thought you should know.
Anne and I were pleased with the overall takeaways from our Wizard World Chicago three-day weekend, but in between the highlights and moments of awesomeness you’ve seen over the past six entries, so many challenges hit us from so many directions that I’ve spent the past week struggling to regain my mental balance. This weekend was all about decompressing and napping far more than usual. Conventioning is fun, but it’s rarely easy. The most important lesson from all of this is I remember why we stopped doing Sundays.
Fair warning: all of this makes more sense if you’ve read part 5 and the prologue first. As it goes along, you’ll see where the actors and other experiences fell into the timeline, but I’m not retelling all those bits from scratch. But all the pieces matter.
How we conventioned:
Friday, August 21st:
Indianapolis to Chicago used to be a three-hour straight shot northwest, up I-65 to either I-90 or I-94, depending on which Illinois interstate had the mildest construction interruptions. Two weeks before WWC, a thirty-mile stretch of northbound I-65 from Lebanon to Lafayette was shut down by emergency order because some surveyor noticed a long-failing bridge had downgraded to super-failing status. The state government eventually worked out an official detour for tens of thousands of drivers to take every day until the crisis is resolved in mid-September, but most of the detour involved farmland back roads barely meant to accommodate hundreds per day. On the official detour’s first few days in operation, drive times for the Indy-to-Chicago trip ran something like six to ten hours on average. Frankly, we had no time to humor this joke on our very special WWC weekend.
Instead I took us on a four-hour alternate route through country highways along the Illinois/Indiana border. This could’ve been even shorter if speeding were fully legalized, if a railroad crossing in Dyer hadn’t malfunctioned and kept us gridlocked for fifteen minutes, and if we hadn’t spent some thirty-odd miles trapped behind a fleet of police cars escorting an oversize flatbed truck hauling a windmill blade. This was not my favorite morning commute ever, but it still beat the official detour for suckers.
We arrived in Rosemont shortly before 1:00 CDT. The exhibit hall opened at noon. Rather than report immediately for geek fun duty, first we stopped for lunch at a nearby Quiznos (I refused to have convention center grub for lunch) and then headed over, got our badges, and let the conventioning begin.
Friday we took care of one of my primary objectives: I wanted to see panels. I’m terrible about keeping panel schedules in mind, but with three days at our disposal, I had no excuse for missing out. First up was the oddly titled “Joined at the Hipness: Comics and Pop Culture!” The intended theme was artists with works in multiple media.
Left to right: Dean Haspiel, who’s done numerous comics for Archie, the Big Two, Harvey Pekar, other indies and his own creator-owned label, but who also designed the opening credits to HBO’s Bored to Death and a Warehouse 13 motion comic for Syfy; Good Charlotte guitarist/keyboardist Billy Martin, who’s now multi-tasking as an artist for IDW’s series based on the animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; and animator J.J. Sedelmaier, best known in our house for SNL’s animated “TV Funhouse” segments of yore. Much of the discussion concerned “What’s it like working in this field versus this field” along with a slideshow of sample works and videos.
Later in the day came another comics panel called “Superstar Artists Tell All!” comprising several guests at varying levels of fame and fulfillment.
Left to right: Mikey Babinski, a Marvel inker; Bill Reinhold, who drew all my favorite issues of First Comics’ The Badger and a fair amount of Punisher; Art Baltazar, Tiny Titans mastermind and a Chicago con mainstay; longtime Archie artist Dan Parent; and Joyce Chin, frequent cover artist for Marvel, Dynamite, and other companies.
Unfortunately, so many artists were scheduled for the same panel that they crowded poor Ken Lashley offstage. He talked openly about his 20-year career with Marvel and DC, at length in particular about ridiculous editorial deadlines, from the audience front row. Again, there was a slideshow of sample art from all participants.
Everyone had a chance to speak on projects past and present, though they were tough to hear over another larger, louder event happening on the other side of their back wall.
Before and between the panels, we walked the exhibit hall as much as we could. I picked up a few collections of Kieron Gillen Uncanny X-Men stuff for cheap, we looked at tons of toys that didn’t interest us, we took some photos, we spent the 4:00-5:00 hour on the Jon Bernthal photo-op experience, and we had a random moment of delightful confusion when we walked by the Torpedo Comics storage trunks and Michael Rooker sped past in the other direction, pointing at them and exclaiming, “LOOK AT THE LITTLE TOILETS!”
I also met the one comics artist I’d been looking forward to meeting most: Canadian funnyman Ty Templeton, whose thirty-year career started with black-‘n’-white creator-owned treasures like Stig’s Inferno and Kelvin Mace, then went back and forth between the Big Two with Batman Adventures, Justice League, a Spider-Man/Human Torch miniseries from a while back, and countless other amusing works I’ve run across again and again.
Somehow the three of us wound up harmonizing on Don Draper’s famous Coke jingle. I have no idea how that happened, but it was one of my favorite moments of the weekend. He also signed my copy of Stig’s Inferno #1, so that was nearly as nifty. When he’s not at conventions, teaching, or taking on assignments and commissions, he maintains a WordPress blog where he posts new comic funnies every Saturday.
The second panel ended at 5:45; the exhibit hall closed at 7. We had zero interest in eating a late supper, especially if we had to wait an hour for a table. With only a third of the hall visited, we bowed out after the panel, fetched dinner without a table wait (requiring a long walk to a German place that would validate our parking), and went to collapse in the hotel. We knew we had three days to work with, and we were exhausted and virtually elderly.
I spent the evening exchanging brief thoughts with other WWC fans on Facebook, and at one point stepped into the middle of a heated argument over anti-WWC negativity. I was reminded of my days as a message-board admin and how much I don’t miss them. But things calmed down shortly and someone offered to buy me a drink, so I guess it counted as a win even though we were in different hotels and I had to content myself with the free coffee in our room.
Saturday, August 22nd:
Attending three days wasn’t our only experiment. For our first time ever, we also bought VIP passes, partly to see how well they’d serve us and partly because one of the guests was the Nathan Fillion. Months ago Anne and I had discussed the possibility of skipping WWC this year, but for me the con was on when Captain Malcolm Reynolds was added to the list. We assumed correctly we’d be competing with a large mob for his attention and figured the VIP route might save time, energy, and disappointment. Our plan would’ve worked if they’d only sold ten or fifteen Fillion VIP passes out of 60,000+ attendees.
VIP perk #1: early admission at 9:30 a.m. We arrived shortly after 8 to beat as many of the other VIPs as we could. That worked. Once inside, we took a few car photos and then joined the autograph line for Fillion’s Firefly costar Summer Glau, who already had a few dozen Summer Glau VIPs ahead of us. She was scheduled to start at 11. Fillion’s VIP photo-op was at 12:15. Glau arrived at 11:25. At 12:05 Anne held my spot in Glau’s autograph line while I ran upstairs to join Fillion’s VIP photo-op line. By the time I finished with the latter and returned to the former, Anne was eight fans away from Glau. Thankfully she’d already explained the timing situation to others around her and everyone was nice enough not to punch me in the face for rejoining the line. If I’d missed out, it would’ve been especially awkward because Anne had zero vested interest in meeting Glau by herself.
Both Firefly folks were as wonderful as expected. By that time it was 1 p.m. (over three hours after opening) and the next matter up was Fillion’s autograph line, a separate line from the photo-op that was likewise included in my pricey package. I would’ve been happy to meet Fillion on Friday instead and gotten him out of the way, but my VIP pass was specifically, strictly tied to Fillion’s Saturday lines only. It was Saturday or never. And his line wasn’t shortening. Thus I dutifully went to the next line, where I spent the next 90-odd minutes. Anne again had no dog in this race and was set free to go roam the halls on her own recognizance. She went hither and yon, she spent maybe fifteen or twenty minutes in Sean Patrick Flannery’s line, and she fetched me my lunch of one (1) convention-center hot dog. By that time I was weakened and desperate and the hot dog was a gift-horse, figuratively and possibly literally.
Fillion was a pleasure for his encore, naturally, and left me just enough time to step over to the adjacent booth for an autograph from Firefly costar Adam Baldwin, whose performance as the remorseless Animal Mother in Full Metal Jacket scarred my psyche in college. So now my Firefly DVD set contains seven actors’ autographs and counting. Soon, they will all be MINE unless they never come within 500 miles of here, or they do but their lines are eight hours long.
From there I had to make a beeline to the 3:00 Firefly Q&A very, very far away from the celeb-booth area. My VIP pass got me above-average seating and pre-admission ahead of thousands of other fans impatiently waiting their turns to sit and enjoy. Anne took her leave because (a) again, no interest, and (b) it was scheduled opposite her Burt Reynolds photo op. We hated splitting up again, but we had no choice if we wanted to do the things we’d paid to do.
(There were literally thousands of seats worse than mine.)
The panel was solid Browncoat fun, though it started fifteen minutes late, I’m guessing because of Fillion’s autographing. He, Glau, and Baldwin greatly enjoyed their time together onstage. I tried not to groan when one pair of fans used their moment at the Q&A mic to stage a marriage proposal instead of actually asking a question, because this panel was meant to be all about them, not the stars. I’m pretty sure I did groan at questioners who insisted on recording their moments at the mic for posterity so that the grandkids in 2055 could one day watch the most important moment of Grandma’s life. One fan even used a selfie stick for theirs. I took a photo of that one, but it’s blurred and I facepalm every time I look at it.
Speaking of facepalming: somehow one of Fillion’s short, free-wheeling answers to a fun question (“What other characters would you like to play?”) was caught on a slow day that later saw several quote-unquote “news” sites about comics cranking out excited five-paragraph non-news articles about this singular WWC moment, declaring, “NATHAN FILLION WANTS TO PLAY BOOSTER GOLD! DC MUST MAKE THIS HAPPEN OR THEIR CINEMATIC UNIVERSE IS A SHAM!” This is the kind of zeitgeist I hope never to catch and is why MCC will never, ever become a straight-faced, objective “news” site.
The Q&A ended at 4; I escaped through a crowd of several thousand to go rejoin Anne on the opposite end of the convention center, where Reynolds’ line was moving unusually slowly for a photo op. They’re usually done in mere minutes, but not this one, for reasons never revealed to us. Her brush with greatness wrapped up around 4:30, after which we returned downstairs for a shot at Seth Gilliam’s autograph line, even though he was supposed to be done for the day. He decided otherwise, much to my eternal gratitude, thus freeing us up around 5-ish.
By this time nearly two days had gone by and I hadn’t gone anywhere near Artists Alley. I was beat down from hours of standing and shuffling and crossing the convention center back and forth and back and forth, but I refused to leave without visiting Artists Alley first. So it was decreed, thus it was done.
MCC would like to thank the following Artists Alley personalities who successfully sold me pages with narratives on them or other artful things:
* Dean Haspiel, who autographed my copy of Harvey Pekar’s The Quitter, which he illustrated and remains my favorite American Splendor story
* Kane Lynch, whose funny, subtle, reflective, 24-page done-in-one Smooth as Glass is one of my favorite Artists Alley purchases of any con this year
* Michael Sacco-Gibson from Strange Bedfellows Theatre, who also helps run a Facebook page for WWC fans that was useful and fun for both networking and discussion all weekend long
* Erik Lervold and Kevin Kosmo at Monkey Man Labs (loved the coloring on their Red Calaveras book)
* Crystal Aura Wilson a.k.a. Crizltron (got some nice buttons for my Thinkgeek convention bag)
* Ashley Dunning at Hand Painted Nerd (a handcrafted mug with a picture of a gladiator helmet and the inscription “MR. POND”)
* Artist Laura Guzzo, who mostly seemed to be selling other people’s books, but who wins for cosplaying as Princess Bubblegum from Adventure Time
We finished Artists Alley a bit before 6; the exhibit hall closed at 7. We had zero interest in eating a late supper, especially if we had to wait an hour for a table. With thousands of exhibit-hall square footage still unvisited, we bowed out anyway, exited in another direction outside that took us through the asphyxiating stenches of the designated smokers’ area, fetched dinner without a table wait (requiring a long walk to Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill, who would validate our parking), and went to collapse in the hotel. We knew we had one more day at our disposal, and we were even more exhausted and honorary ancients.
We spent 80% of Saturday in lines. We took very few photos by Saturday standards because lines are a terrible vantage point. While many cool things were made possible through our efforts, it was disappointing on other levels, chiefly because we had to keep working everything else around the inflexible event scheduling for my VIP pass, and consequently couldn’t keep things nearly as fluid as we prefer. We tried to accentuate the positive at the end of the day, but that’s harder when your energy levels are at critical levels.
I spent Saturday evening reading and reading and reading. The WWC Facebook group was mostly quiet as its members were either at the costume contest or meeting up at various hotel bars around the convention center. Our invitations totaled zero. For us zero is normal. Neither of us drinks or parties, and our closest geek friends who might forgive us this deep social flaw all live in other faraway cities and states. In the sense of what “geek” used to mean before it became just another corporate marketing demographic, we’re outcasts from the outcast.
Sunday, August 23rd:
Whereas my VIP badge had been for Nathan Fillion, Anne’s was for Jeremy Renner, a Sunday-only guest guaranteed to have one of the largest turnouts of all. His was close, anyway.
The exhibit hall opened at 11. Renner’s only VIP photo op was at 10:45. We arrived shortly before 8:30 under the correct assumption that dozens of other Renner VIPs would be ahead of us. Sure enough, we weren’t the first to arrive. The photo above wasn’t even the first group to arrive. Due to complicated scheduling issues, VIPs for The Walking Dead‘s Norman Reedus had to arrive for photo ops and autographs at something like 8 am. They were allowed through the doors as soon as they arrived, while the rest of us had to wait a bit longer.
Over two hours later, our photo op was done, we unlocked the “Hangin’ with Hawkeye” Achievement, and I was done with actors for the weekend. Not so for Anne; Renner VIP autographs were set to commence at 12:10, all part of her package deal. Knowing what this meant, she went from Renner’s photo op to Renner’s autograph booth — two separate areas a floor apart. And that’s where she spent her next two hours.
I would’ve loved to have him autograph a DVD for me, either The Hurt Locker or S.W.A.T. or maybe even Angel Season 1, in which he once guest-starred as an old vampire friend of Angel’s. But I wasn’t the one with the Renner VIP badge, and I figured waiting in the non-VIP line would take the next several days of my life. So this time it was my turn to go roam the halls on my own recognizance, to flit about hither and yon, while Anne withstood one last line.
Here’s a thing I learned: roaming a convention floor by yourself kinda sucks. You’re alone in a vast crowd filled with couples, groups, and other lonesome people. You have no one by your side noticing stuff that you’re not, or noticing the same neat stuff you are. There’s no shared sense of exploration, discovery, laughs, surprises, or fandom. Without someone to keep you company, you’re just…shopping. And it’s maybe not the healthiest place to send a natural introvert who’s burnt out after 2½ straight days of intensive social and sensory input. It was my Gen Con 2009 experience all over again, but with more comics for consolation.
It didn’t take me long to finish strolling all the exhibit hall aisles I’d missed the last two days, because I didn’t stop much. I picked up a few more Kieron Gillen books and very little else. My camera mostly stayed in my pocket because I was tired of politely bugging other people. At the opposite end of the floor from the autograph booths, I found the Max & Benny’s booth, bought geek cookies, and walked one all the way back to the autograph booths so Anne wouldn’t starve to death in my absence.
From there I walked all the way over to the programming hall for one last comics panel at 12:30 — “Chicago’s Illustrious Comics History”.
Left to right is a who’s-who of old-school Midwest comics fandom: once again, animator JJ Sedelmaier; Maggie Thompson, editor of the late Comics Buyer’s Guide (I was a subscriber from 1986 to 2005); Mike Gold, co-founder of First Comics and onetime editor at DC; comics historian George Hagenaur, whose byline popped up in CBG more than once; and two guys I’d never heard of, Chicago retailers Larry Charet and Ron Massengill.
I came for comics history. I got lots of that, but from an intensely Windy City perspective. Having journeyed there several times but never actually lived there, I found a lot of references and anecdotes bouncing off me uncaught. Not all of them, thankfully.
The panel ended promptly at 1:15. At 1:14 Anne plopped down in the chair next to me with a Renner 8×10 in hand, signed “To Randy and Anne”. Bless her sweet, loving, frazzled heart.
Lunch had to be next or else we would die. As another momentous WWC first for us, we tried the cafeteria hidden at the back of Hall A. The line moved slowly and the food was school-cook level, but we couldn’t believe the number of empty, clean tables. We sat and ate, and then sat and sat some more. By the time we were finished, we decided we were capital-F Finished.
Anne’s badge entitled her to VIP seating at Renner’s afternoon Q&A. We didn’t care anymore.
There was another comics panel at 3:30. We didn’t care anymore.
I had yet to buy a new T-shirt, something I always look forward to. We didn’t care anymore.
We hadn’t gone anywhere near the “Bruce Campbell Fest” all-horror section on the second floor. We didn’t care anymore.
The rest of the internet would have hundreds more cosplay photos than we did, so now MCC’s normal post-convention traffic spike would be a mere traffic dimple. We didn’t care anymore.
We had money left in the budget if we felt like more spending. We didn’t care anymore.
Well, maybe I cared an itty-bitty bit. Whenever we try to leave a con, I always have this nagging sensation that I need to buy just one more item and then I’ll be happy and satisfied and then we can go. To cure this annoying materialistic itch, I stopped at a dealer’s booth whose discount percentages had suddenly improved, picked up a Hoax Hunters trade, and suddenly the mental shackles of geek spending obligation snapped and fell away.
Now I felt free to go.
After exiting the convention center, we made one last, long walk to a snack shop that would validate our parking. Our consolation prize for abandoning Our Kind prematurely was a cookies-‘n’-cream sundae for two.
There was nothing geek about this. We didn’t care anymore.
This zillion-calorie one-dish smorgasbord gave us just enough of a sugar rush to stay awake through the three-hour drive home. And you can bet we were grateful it was only three hours. Southbound I-65 between Chicago and Indy remains totally open and not suffering the same bridge-collapse threat blues.
We spent the evening asleep. All of it. Zombies would point at us and say, “Wow, you guys look really dead.” and we both had to work the next morning, and all week long. Physical destruction made the usual post-convention depression that much harder to slog through. Walking several miles and standing several hours are fun games for the young, but it’s harder on us than it used to be.
It could’ve been worse. Without the VIP badges, our waits would’ve been three times longer. Or simply impossible to live through. (Prime cautionary tale: Norman Reedus was obligated to leave at 2:15, regretfully leaving behind hundreds of unrequited non-VIPs who’d kept hope alive all weekend long, only to get crushed a few feet from the finish line.) If several other awesome actor guests hadn’t canceled their WWC 2015 appearances (including a pair of high-profile Doctor Who veterans we must see someday), we shudder to think of all those other potential lines we wouldn’t have been able to resist, that collectively would’ve pushed the three-day endurance test that much closer to being a geek drill camp.
We chatted at length during the drive home about why we still do conventions, what we hope to get out of them, what we think we want out of them but subliminally don’t, and what everyone else in the community except us wants from them.
In a previous MCC entry I ruminated at length about what we don’t do at cons nowadays, but I think the laundry list of what we do want from cons keeps evolving as our living context changes, as we reach a point in our lives when we’re excited by fewer things than we were in our youth. We have greater buying power simply thanks to job advancements and debt reduction, but we’re tired of accumulating stuff for stuff’s sake. We still watch movies and TV, but not necessarily all the right shows, and not always in a timely, zeitgeist-y manner. I’m still at the comic shop every Wednesday for new comics, but I avoid online comics discussions as much as possible and have very little idea what other fans insist I “should” be reading.
Despite the damage done, we nonetheless gave the weekend a thumbs-up. We met actors and collected autographs. We got another round of jazz-hand photo ops. I bought new reading matter and decorations. I always love hanging out with my wife on a weekend getaway.
And there’s another part that’s become one of our favorite convention staples: meeting other fans in the long lines, those who share our interests and sensibilities, who make fantastic company for as long as the lines last. This time there was Rodney from Alabama, with whom we chatted about our 2015 road-trip impressions and a surprising number of actors he and I both liked. The dealer lugging around a box cart that I remembered waiting next to at a previous con, though last time he had a mustache. The college guy from Richmond, IN, who shared our frustration with the terrible I-65 shutdown. The lady who once got a selfie with Joss Whedon after she complimented his choice in set designers. The teen Renner fan who struggled to stay calm. The WWC Facebook group member who cheerily accepted my gift of a Nathan Fillion trading card that came with my VIP badge for some reason. The cosplay couple who kept my wife company in the Burt Reynolds line. The cosplay trio whose photo led off Part 1.
Sometimes for us, lines are more fun than any alcohol-soaked soiree. We’re funny that way. It would be even better if we could bring lawn chairs.
If the convention pluses keep adding up each time, maybe we can keep bearing the minuses, provided our bodies will continue letting us. It’ll be a long time before we attempt another three-day marathon, though for all I know maybe this was our “never again” breaking point and I’m still in denial.
We know there’ll come a day when we’re too old for this stuff. As long as they don’t run out of talented comics creators or impressive actors or books worth picking up or fellow fans to acquaint, we hope life will find a way. We like to think we’re not ready for the geek retirement home just yet. Sometimes we just need a full week and a lot of pain meds to recuperate, and sometimes I need to spend two nights and 4500 words working through What It All Means, even if I’m the only one who reads every word.
We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.
If you made it this far, as always, thanks for reading! Previous chapters in this special MCC miniseries:
Prologue: Five Shots from Our Convention Weekend in Progress
Part 1: Team Cosplay
Part 2: Marvel Cosplay
Part 3: DC vs. Star Wars Cosplay
Part 4: Last Call for Cosplay
Part 5: Actors We Met
Part 6: Cars and Other Objects