Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
It’s that time once more! This weekend my wife and I made another journey up to Wizard World Chicago in scenic Rosemont, IL, where we found much enjoyment and new purchases alongside peers and aficionados of comics and genre entertainment. Friday night left us near death by the end of our day, after a few miles’ worth of walking up and down the aisles and hallways, with breaks to go stand in lines of varying lengths and value. We’re the Goldens. It’s who we are and what we do.
Our ninth visit to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center of course had its share of ups and downs. Some letdowns were beyond our control. Some stresses could have been avoided. Some volunteers could’ve used actual training. But for our entertainment tastes, temperaments, and frequently adjusted expectations, this year’s WWC was an overall success. It helps that we’re Doctor Who fans. If there’s anything we’ve learned from the Doctor, it’s that weird twists are all part of the game, and sometimes you just have to resign yourself to a lot of running.
Usually for WWC we arrive midday Friday, get a lousy parking space, and walk inside after thousands of fans are already cluttering up the place and taking up all the elbow room. Thanks to a combination of more convenient dogsitting arrangements and taking I-294 around downtown Chicago instead of the dreadful I-90 through its perpetually gridlocked heart, for the first time in years we arrived on Friday morning well before the show opened. At 10:10 a.m., with a noon showtime ahead, we learned we couldn’t just walk in anytime on Fridays as we’re used to doing on Saturdays. Security stopped us short at the end of the Skybridge, along with a few hardy cosplayers and a dozen or so retailers, only a few of whom had read their packets all the way through and caught the paragraph about doors opening at 10:30.
The security personnel weren’t even entirely clear on this point. Six of us had gotten through the metal detectors and wands, and were a good 100 feet beyond when a supervisor came at us from the other direction and told us no one was allowed in yet. We all retreated to the unhappy side of the checkpoint and grumbled for a full twenty minutes.
At 10:30 we were ushered through again and sent on our way…only to be stopped a few minutes later at the top of the main escalator that would lead us to the show floor and to registration. Vendors were allowed through at 10:30; fans were not. The official site confirmed we could go in at 11. We resigned ourselves to more waiting. Anne passed the time by striking up conversation with a young lady who resembled someone we kindasorta know online named Holly. She confirmed Anne was mistaken, and so we buried our heads in our bags and couldn’t look anyone in the eye for the next half-hour.
Panic set in when one hall monitor somehow got the impression that none of us would be allowed downstairs till the show began at noon. We considered rioting, but a few minutes after 11 her instructions got sorted out and she let us pass. From there we picked up our badges and the overstuffed tote bag of Doctor Who freebies that came with Anne’s VIP admission. Thankfully some brilliant tactician had invented a bag/coat-check section where we could drop off the Who hoard handbag and lighten our burden for the next several hours.
grieved the news that David Tennant had canceled due to grave circumstances. Another line later, we were all herded inside promptly at noon and…proceeded to yet another line. Sometimes in these con write-ups the frequent mentions of roving from line to line to line to line can get repetitive to type, but — like surprise celebrity cancellations — lines are part of the game.
A handful of actors were scheduled to sign on Friday (a bit uncommon, as most wait for Saturday and Sunday) and to begin at 12:15, including one of the four actors with Doctor Who on their resumé. Catherine Tate was Tennant’s companion Donna Noble in season 4, but some Americans who hung on through all nine seasons of our version of The Office may remember her as Nellie from the series’ post-Steve Carell era. Those were two largely awful post-shark-jump seasons that I refuse to buy on DVD and complete the set, but Anne and I grew used to her by the end, and thought even more highly of her when we subsequently hopped about the Who train.
We were eager to meet Tate, but nearly all celebs were absent from the show floor for the first hour. Wizard had switched their autograph/photo-op ticketing method to a new system entirely dependent upon Wi-Fi. This move was utterly hilarious to anyone who’s ever actually tried to use a phone or laptop in the Stephens Center. Communications are easier via paper airplane than by the hamster-wheel tech that passes for Wi-Fi. The way we heard it — and witnessed supporting evidence thereof over the next 36 hours — they had trouble getting their new system up and running Friday, and consequently told the actors to stay off the show floor till the issues could be resolved. That was the scuttlebutt after the fact, anyway. While we were in line at the time, a volunteer told us (or was told to tell us) that all the actors would be arriving together, hence the collective delay while they all coordinated. Amusingly, this gave us time to realize that the aforementioned Holly was several fans behind us in line. Small world!
Tate arrived at 1:15, greeted the crowd with gusto…and was asked to wait several more minutes till her ticket-taker’s handheld gadget would cooperate. Breezy small talk ensued.
Tate was rather a charmer, and one of those more outgoing actors who like to stand in front of the autograph table at shows rather than behind it. (See also: John Barrowman, Khary Payton. I noticed Stranger Things‘ Caleb McLaughlin following their examples on Saturday.) We were second in line and happy to be there and released early. Other lines around us appeared to follow suit.
Next down the line: Loren Lester, best known to my crowd as the voice of Robin from Batman: The Animated Series. I previously met Kevin Conroy (also a guest this year) at WWC 2014, so it only made sense to complete the Dynamic Duo set. We waited mere seconds before the other fan in line was finished. Lester was incredulous at the notion of teenagers watching the series back in the day, but I figured this wasn’t a good time for a ten-page dissertation on how B:tAS appealed to multiple fandom levels at the time. I gather he doesn’t do many of these shows.
Next after that: Charisma Carpenter, a must-meet for my ongoing Buffy/Angel collection. I’m one of those rare weirdos who preferred Angel to Buffy, partly because it was interesting seeing Cordelia come into her own as a leading character, moving well beyond the original Veronica Lodge trappings. A dozen or so folks were in front of us, making hers our longest autograph line of the day. Friday really wasn’t busy for the non-Who guests.
While we were in her line, TV’s Lou Ferrigno walked up, said hi, hugged her, and kind of fondled her hair in a weird way before moving on. Anne briefly entertained the idea of taking a photo of him just to test the long-standing rumors about how enraged he gets when people take free photos of him. Then she remembered she and I are both fragile, and put her camera away.
One last actor before we moved on from the autograph arena: Loni Anderson! WKRP in Cincinnati was a bit before our time, but Anne loves classic TV and fondly remembers an obscure one-season wonder called Partners in Crime in which she and Lynda Carter (!!!) found themselves ex-wives of the same bigamist and decided to run a detective agency together. Tennant’s cancellation had restored a chunk back to our budget, and her line was just as long as Loren Lester’s, so we figured why not.
Quick intermission for the annual noticing of Ferrigno’s booth, source of many cautionary tales over the years.
That was enough autographs for the day. We moved onward for Hall F and stopped for bathroom breaks. When I came out, I found Anne had made a new friend.
Yep, that’s who you think it is: Kato Kaelin, unwitting costar of the OJ Simpson story. Wizard World brought him in as emcee for this year’s festivities — introducing musical acts at the lobby stage, engaging the crowd, raising the noise level, that sort of thing. He was nice to her and a bit kidding, basically harmless and ready for game-show hosting.
Monday morning we saw comments from other fans whose treatment at his mic was a bit less ingratiating, and who were none too impressed later in the weekend when he invited ladies onstage for bouts of twerking. Not sorry we missed that.
At 1:45 we attended a panel about the history of Wonder Woman and the Justice League, a smart idea in this, the year of the amazing colossal Wonder Woman movie. Seated left to right: Danny Fingeroth, a former Marvel editor and frequent WW panel moderator; Maggie Thompson, longtime editor of Comics Buyer’s Guide; geek psychologist Dr. Travis Langley, whom we met last year; and comics writer Alex DeCampi, who had a WW story received much acclaim two years ago for DC’s Sensation Comics, excerpts from which were part of the slideshow. The comics history were a bit dry since I knew a good 85% of that part, but I liked the idea of sharing a room with some of the most interesting names on the comics guest list.
Discussion topics included the drawbacks of criticisms drawn from small sampling sizes; the woeful inadequacy of comic shop owners and comics companies who fail to capitalize on major movie releases; and that time Maggie Thompson was one of precisely four (4) whole women to attend the first New York City comic convention. For trivia buffs looking to add to their repertoire, the other three were Marvel traffic manager Flo Steinberg; SF author Lee Hoffman; and Pat Lupoff, wife of SF author/fan Dick Lupoff.
From the panel rooms we made a beeline straight to Artists Alley, which was regrettably smaller than ever. This year saw fewer self-published novelists and more handicraft, a dearth of enticing comics and a surplus of prints, prints, prints, prints, prints, prints, prints, more prints, then prints next to prints on the other side of prints and across from prints bookended by prints plus prints of prints about prints. The proliferation of artists selling prints and nothing but prints is presumably a financial boon for the con and the fandoms at large, but generally I don’t buy prints. Like, at all. Virtually never nowadays. We don’t have the wall space to showcase them, and the ones I’ve accumulated from previous years are stacked up and ignored like an Uno discard pile.
On both Friday and Saturday (because I had always have to walk through one more time just to be sure) the following Artists Alley inhabitants were a pleasure to meet and buy from, where applicable:
* The aforementioned Alex DeCampi, whose most recent work of renown was Archie vs. Predator, the crossover that could not possibly exist and yet does. I’ve also been a fan of her Image series No Mercy about a high school field trip to Mexico that turns into disaster. Her crowdfunding campaign for the hardcover double feature Smoke/Ashes was among the last Kickstarters I pledged to before my moratorium. It weighs roughly two hundred pounds and was a bit crippling to carry around the show floor all day, but I considered it worth the fuss.
* Joe Harris! In addition to writing an X-Files series for IDW, his past creator-owned works include the eco-political Great Pacific, the post-apocalyptic Snowfall, the Russian thriller Ghost Projekt, and my personal favorite, Spontaneous. In talking with him, I learned as kids we may both actually have watched the same episode of That’s Incredible! that did a spooky segment on the phenomenon of spontaneous human combustion. Generation X represent!
* Dean Haspiel! I previously met one of my favorite contributors to Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor at WWC 2015, but he had new books for sale I hadn’t seen yet — the 2016 graphic novel Beef with Tomato and the experimental Because of You, a tag-team one-shot with Josh Neufeld.
* Writers Russell Lissau (The Batman Strikes) and Trevor Mueller (Reading with Pictures, Albert the Alien), who we’ve seen at so many previous shows that they’re among those treasured few Artists Alley regulars who recognize us on sight. We’re not used to that happening, so it’s weird but really cool. Lissau continues producing new stories for Omega Comics via comiXology, and Mueller has the third Albert the Alien volume coming very soon.
Special shout-out to two purveyors of fan-made merchandise based on one of our favorite 21st-century shows, Parks & Recreation: Hand Painted Nerd (one of whose reps was stalled with us at the morning security checkpoint) and Drew Blank, whose distinctive van we previously met at C2E2 in McCormick Place’s Lot B.
Lunch at 3 p.m. was a pair of lukewarm sausage pizzas. Chicago, home of Chicago pizza, should have laws against such effronteries to their good culinary name.
Immediately after choking those down, we had one last appointment: a photo op with Catherine Tate. The Friday lines weren’t bad and were managed as they should’ve been, so that was nice while they lasted.
Final stop of the day: the faraway second floor, where all the fun geek vehicles were on display. We heard from numerous fans who never had time to get up there, and/or who had no idea WWC was using the second floor, much to the detriment of exhibitors squirreled up there far away from the main thoroughfare and from everyone’s money. Having wrapped up that section, we called it a day and were halfway to the Skybridge when I remembered Anne’s Doctor Who crap was still at the bag-check station on the first floor. One about-face and one pickup later, we were on our way. The ladies running the bag-check were most gracious and appreciated, though I thought it was odd how many fans had all bought and checked the same 24-inch Hulk Hogan doll. I wouldn’t want to lug that around the halls either.
After dinner down the street at MB Financial Park to take advantage of a 15% VIP discount and to get our parking validated, we retreated to our favorite Rosemont hideaway — the other Hyatt, the one that’s a mile down the road and not connected to the Convention Center. We get invited to exactly zero parties and see no con-related excitement there, but we’re old prudes who don’t drink and that Hyatt’s parking is free, so it’s kindasorta win/win as long as I don’t obsess on the part where sometimes living as an upright outcast isn’t my favorite thing.
* * * * *
Saturday morning we showed up shortly after 7 a.m. because our bodies were still on Indiana time and we ran out of things to do beyond our basic Dunkin Donuts breakfast. Our path once again brought us face-to-face with security. This time instead of the Skybridge we opted for the main entrance outside. As opposed to the singular narrow funnel upstairs, the front doors were divided into four checkpoints in order from least invasive searching to most intense scrutiny: VIP ENTRY; GENERAL ADMISSION WITHOUT BAGS; GENERAL ADMISSION WITH BAGS; and WEAPONS CHECK to help catch any errant homicidal cosplayers, potentially the most criminal lot of all in Wizard World’s eyes. Don’t get me wrong — I appreciate what they’re doing, especially in light of far too many tragedies happening worldwide at ostensibly happy public events, but putting hard brakes on fans armed with even the most garishly unrealistic props seems like overkill.
We were admitted shortly after 8 a.m., progressed to the next line, waited some more, were escorted once more into the fray at 9:30…and realized we had no major appointments up front. Plan A had been “run like mad to Tennant’s early photo-op line”, but without him around our schedule was much more open. So we did what few fans do with early admission: we wandered around the dealers and got to see which ones were on time and which ones had slept in with hangovers.
Our first real appointment bore the fruit you saw in our lead picture: a photo op with Billy Boyd, a.k.a. the hobbit Peregrin “Pippin” Took from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Nowadays he has his own band called Beecake, who performed a concert the night before at a local venue where several fans were treated to their cover of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball”.
Boyd’s 10:45 photo op ran a good 20-25 minutes late. I gathered he wasn’t the only one, though at one point I did spot Agents of SHIELD costar Elizabeth Henstridge walking with handlers toward some faraway point, so we know they weren’t hiding all the guests in a back room this time. But as you can tell from the pic, Boyd was in rare form, hyper and game for whatever. Super nice fellow.
From there we walked directly over to his autograph line, where things got a bit awkward. WWC officials had announced in advance that fans in all lines would be grouped together and sent through in the following order:
1st: VIPs for that particular star
2nd: any other VIPs
3rd: general admission fans
With Catherine Tate’s line the day before, the volunteers had smartly kept each of the three groups separate in their own taped-off squares. With Boyd, an underage lad had simply let everyone line up as one, but tried keeping the groups in order. Since the line wasn’t magically getting bigger on the inside, that meant everyone had to kept squeezing together as more VIPs were squished into the one line at the end of their particular section. Considering most of Boyd’s own VIPs were in his photo-op line and largely planning to head straight for autographs same as we did…this line plan was poorly executed. Elbow room was the first to be lost, soon followed by any and all personal space. We spent an extremely cozy time gabbing with a lady who works for Chicago TARDIS, the premier Doctor Who convention in the area. It’s often fun to get to know other fans, albeit occasionally awkward, but it’s even more awkward when everyone has to keep their arms pinned to their sides lest we all accidentally keep unwittingly slapping or harassing each other.
Eventually Boyd switched from posing to signing…only to be delayed still more minutes while the volunteers once again struggled to wrangle the Wi-Fi ticketing system into usable form. To pass the time until he was officially allowed to take our money, Boyd took one of his autograph pens and engaged the first fan in line at a game of tic-tac-toe, followed by several games of Dots and Boxes.
From there we briefly joined the ridiculous lines at the autograph/photo-op pre-sales booth because we had a question about a thing. In another small-world moment, behind us was Not-Holly, our accidental new acquaintance from the day before. We weren’t there long because a volunteer, graciously trying to shorten the lines by any means necessary, wandered past and answered our easy question for us. The day was saved!
Much wandering and attempted shopping ensued until our next optional engagement, a 12:45 panel called “J. Jonah Jameson vs. the Audience”. The lone star, a cosplayer venturing under the name Captain K, showed up as the titular newsman and invited the audience to debate him on the complete lack of merits in that accursed wall-crawling Spider-Man.
This is not normally our kind of panel, but the guy was an absolute hoot, and I’m not just saying that because the room was a good place to charge our phones. He ranted enjoyably and in a pretty accurate JJJ voice about the sinister threats of guys who prance around in anonymous masks and about how “With great power comes great accountability!”
JJJ tried fitting in with the con crowd at first (“Let’s get the nerd talk out of the way. Star Wars vs Star Trek? Star Wars! Because it shows that people who wear masks are villains!”) before the raging and the back-and-forth began in earnest. He affirmed his approval for internet journalists (“what I like about it best is you can’t get paid”). One lone youngster in the front kept siding with his vehement anti-Spidey stance, possibly because he wants to intern for free at his fake Daily Bugle someday or whatever.
Meanwhile in the back, one defender of justice wasn’t having it. The Tick, proud super-hero without a mask in the old TV version, brought his own spirited retorts in defense of all heroes, not just the maskless ones like himself. Perfect Patrick Warburton voice and all, the Tick and JJJ were perfectly matched opponents.
Jameson was so proud of a job well done, he even offered to pose with a few aberrant Spider-Men after the panel. All the better to get them on film as evidence for the police, probably.
Lunch after that was from the one of two specialty stands offering walking tacos (I had mine with pulled pork) and baked potatoes (Anne had one topped with taco beef). Possibly the least worst food on the premises. We took our nominal sustenance to the “VIP Lounge”, a cordoned area offering the perks of separate tables, a phone charging station, a cash bar we didn’t care about, and — best of all — a thickly carpeted floor. Old feet appreciate easily overlooked benefits like that.
We had more time for walking and walking and walking and more walking before our last appointment. Outside Artists Alley, my money didn’t change hands with too many salespeople. To that extent maybe I’m what’s wrong with today’s comic conventions, but here we are. I’ve largely lost my will to flip through back-issue bins, my reading pile is already beyond enormous from the busy con life we keep indulging throughout 2017, and Anne and I are agreed that we absolutely, positively do not want to decorate our entire house in geek furnishings or accessories from roof to floor. Sorry, con. We did browse, at least.
Meanwhile out of our line of sight, we understand the entire celebrity area had turned into a madhouse. Numerous volunteers unaware of the VIP “SpeedPass” triage system were failing at sorting and kept sticking fans into lines willy-nilly, effectively giving advantages to general-admission attendees that VIPs had paid for, while they fumed and fussed to no avail and with no accessible authority figures to field their complaints. Meanwhile, the lateness of Boyd’s op and others’ had created a domino effect that saw all subsequent ops running behind throughout the day, which in turn affected autographing times and leaving lots of aimless fans scattered around Hall A in disarray and disgust. When we ambled over at 4:00, we had to get in line behind a couple hundred other fans waiting to get into their photo-op line(s), while still more fans waited off to one side in clusters that may or may not have had any objectives in common. Also, instead of limiting the number of fans who showed up for each photo-op appointment, everyone was allowed in Saturday if they so desired, so everyone did try all at once instead of waiting for a Sunday appointment, which exacerbated the fiasco. Maybe all of this made sense in someone’s head in A Beautiful Mind sort of way, but the place looked wrecked.
After our line led to the next line (late), we had plenty of time for gandering at other booths around us, including the healthy turnout for Paul Bettany. You might remember him from such films as Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Da Vinci Code, that Unabomber miniseries that recently aired, or A Beautiful Mind. I pride myself as one of seven Americans nationwide who paid to see him reteam with Russell Crowe in Master and Commander, but his Tennant-level prices weren’t for us.
Several lifetimes later, our final line of the day reached its end goal: one last photo op with Alex Kingston. She’s best known today as recurring associate River Song from Doctor Who, but I’m old enough to recall when she joined the cast of NBC’s ER during the end of the George Clooney heyday. I suspect River Song’s Memento-esque reverse-arc has reached its concluding beginning, so I’m sorry we’ve seen the first of her and therefore won’t see her again in any earlier debut. (Look, it makes sense in context.)
By the time we were done with Ms. Kingston, we were done with Wizard World Chicago 2017. We were exhausted. We were weighed down with more pleasing Artists Alley purchases. We’d completed our complete actor checklist, apart from one “maybe” on my list that we weren’t sure would get jazz hands. We also couldn’t attend Sunday due to family obligations.
Admittedly we missed out on some incidents around the show floor. The aforementioned Kato Kaelin issues. The controversy of the faux-topless Pyramid Head cosplayer. The alleged pervert who was called out, tracked down, and arrested outside the convention center after allegedly trying to take upskirt photos and after allegedly assaulting at least one attendee who called him on it. Also, we missed out on thousands of super awesome cosplayers who aren’t included in our first three chapters but who thankfully popped up in other galleries online.
The exhausted march back to the parking garage felt five times longer. But from where we stood and limped, we were satisfied with our two-day extravaganza.
After dinner down the street at MB Financial Park to take advantage of a 15% VIP discount and to get our parking validated, whereupon a light rain pelted us on the way out, we retreated to the other Hyatt, strangely not as tired as we were the evening before. Sunday morning and one breakfast later, we were homeward bound and hoping one day we’ll set eyes on that elusive David Tennant, perhaps under much more favorable circumstances, with or without freebies.
The End. Thanks for reading! Lord willing and guest list pending, we’ll see you next year.
Previous chapters in this special miniseries: