Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
It’s that time again! The ninth annual Chicago Comic and Entertainment Exposition (“C2E2″) just wrapped another three-day extravaganza of comic books, actors, creators, toys, props, publishers, freebies, Funko Pops, anime we don’t recognize, and walking and walking and walking and walking. Each year C2E2 keeps inching ever closer to its goal of becoming the Midwest’s answer to the legendary San Diego Comic Con and other famous cons in larger, more popular states. My wife Anne and I missed the first year, but have attended every year since 2011 as a team.
In this special miniseries I’ll be sharing memories and photos from our own C2E2 experience and its plethora of pizzazz…
We’ve covered our latest additions to our jazz hands catalog. We’ve shared nearly five dozen cosplay photos. We’ve saluted the comics creators who successfully divested us of cash. That wasn’t all the fun that C2E2 had in store for us this year.
(The following narrative of our two-day C2E2 walkabout will make more sense if you’ve already read Part One and Part Five. As you go, you should see where the photos from those entries slot into the storytelling.)
Last year we made the mistake of treating Friday like a casual affair and arrived at McCormick Place around 11:30, a half-hour after the doors had already opened. By that time the most convenient parking in Lot A was full — all 2,100 spaces — forcing us to settle for the much farther Lot B, a giant gravel patch south of the convention center. We do need exercise, but we’re getting to that age when excessive exercise can effectively destroy our day. This time we made sure we were ready to leave home earlier, especially since this year the show floor would open at 10 on Friday.
Miracle of miracles, our timing worked out. I-65 construction was minimal and not too drastic. Chicago’s infamous Dan Ryan Expressway was running so unnaturally smoothly that we never came to a complete halt on the interstate once, never had to slow down below 8 MPH even when navigating the awkward merge from the Dan Ryan to I-55 North. We entered the center shortly after 8:30, scratched our heads while trying to figure out the bizarre walking path they’d set up to insert security checkpoints into the process, and picked up a pair of badges from Will Call to replace the ones they’d allegedly mailed but hadn’t arrived by the time we left Indianapolis. We joined the already swelling entry line and waited and waited and waited and grace was heaped upon us once again as the Powers That Be began ushering everyone inside a few minutes before 10.
We headed straight for Gina Torres’ autograph booth and commenced waiting and waiting and waiting some more. Once again we found another fun group of fans who enjoy sharing convention war stories and victories. Such camaraderie is the best way to pass the time while waiting for events to happen. Anne initiates conversation much better than I do, but I’ll roll with it, especially if it helps distract me from using up my phone battery prematurely. I recall exchanging pleasantries with a Harley Quinn cosplayer who’d brought a Funco Pop figure to have signed, and who complimented the large Tony Stark reactor button I had pinned to my bag.
Ms. Torres arrived shortly after 11:15 and was a pleasure to meet. She signed the Firefly DVD set I’ve been using to collect cast signatures. When I told her which two actors I’m still missing, she defiantly placed her autograph across Morena Baccarin’s unmarked cleavage as a long-term practical joke, that should pay off nicely if I ever have the opportunity and funds to meet the Deadpool costar someday.
A few rows down was someone else I’d looked forward to meeting: actor Susan Eisenberg, best known as the voice of Wonder Woman in the great Justice League and Justice League Unlimited animated series, as well as the last few DC video games. I’d previously met three other actors from the show and was delighted to meet the woman who helped bring Princess Diana to life in the dark ages between Lynda Carter and Gal Gadot.
By 11:30 we were done with autographs for the day and ready to take on Artists Alley, always my favorite part of C2E2, and sometimes one of the most crowded areas, especially on Saturday. We slowly worked our way through the first four aisles, threatened to overfill my bag with new goodies far too early in the day, and took our lunch break around 12:30. We fetched a big batch of calories from the McCormick Place barbecue stand, adjourned to the second-floor café seating, and sat down for the first time in four hours.
At 1 p.m. the “C2E2 Live Stage” (an small stage in one corner of the exhibit hall, as opposed to the Main Stage upstairs) was scheduled to hold a short Q&A with special guests Dave Bautista and Sean Gunn from Guardians of the Galaxy. We walked over a few minutes early and were treated to the end of the 12:45 interview featuring Breckin Meyer, best known as Jon Arbuckle from the two Garfield movies and costar of the kinda amusing Rat Race. His current paycheck is an animated series on Crackle (one of those channels that now comes free with every TV and Blu-ray player) called SuperMansion, which I guess is about something, but I wasn’t paying close attention. I remember chuckling at least twice at their banter, which is a good sign.
The SuperMansion men wrapped up a few minutes later. By 1:10 we saw no sign of any Guardians and had other things to do. We headed for the hall’s main gate with the intent to head out and up the escalators to the fourth floor. We made the mistake of walking through a large unlabeled gap between the wall and the C2E2 souvenir stand, and found ourselves officially “exiting” the convention, absolutely not our intent. Guards prohibited us from walking backwards ten whole feet and insisted we now had to walk to the opposite end of the third floor, go through the security checkpoints all over again, and officially reenter the con. This was silly and added dozens of superfluous footsteps to our already considerable count for the day.
We played their game, reached the escalators, and rode upward to our next event: a 1:30 Q&A with Phil Lamarr, IMHO one of the best in the biz. You may have heard his work on such TV shows as MadTV, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Futurama, Static Shock, Samurai Jack, and Osmosis Jones. (Lamarr jokingly brought up that last one himself, quickly following in faux-Chris Rock tones with, “No, you didn’t! No one watched Osmosis Jones!”)
Obviously the idea of this hour was to listen to him crack jokes in funny voices, but in a stroke of genius, the moderator announced that the four or five fans who asked the best questions would receive freebies at the end. I couldn’t think of any, but many fans suddenly found the inspiration to dig a little deeper, become journalists for a minute, and avoid the usual panel-killers such as “Where do you get your ideas?” or “What was it like working with this one famous person that I’d rather meet than you?” or “This isn’t a question, just a statement: Thanks for being awesome!” or “Can I have your autograph here for free instead of paying at the table like I’m supposed to?” or “Can I have a hug?” or “I have a two-part question, which is a flat-out lie, because they’re actually two separate questions that have nothing to do with each other…” and so on. We can never repay the moderator for his noble deed that day.
Highlights from the Phil Lamarr Q&A:
- A passionate argument about the fate and worth of a particular Samurai Jack character in the series finale, which he had to conclude for the sake of time by literally declaring “End of Thread”
- Repeated references to The Weekenders, which I had to look up
- Appreciation for his cameos on Veep, which were the idea of showrunner David Mandel, with whom he worked on the short-lived Clerks animated series
- A few tips and tricks for vocal care when your job is talking for several hours a day
- Interesting notes on diversity and representation in general, and some insistence that it’s not just him and Khary Payton dividing up all the animated black-guy roles between them
- The repetitive weirdness of doing voices for video game characters, which often means recording a wide variety of pain noises and death screams
- Respect paid to influential improv coach Del Close, who also wrote comics for a short time back in the ’80s (I still have all 18 issues of Wasteland)
- Light snickering at anyone who hated the John Stewart/Hawkgirl coupling on Justice League Unlimited.
He also gave sobering advice on the hardest part of his job: not rejection as many artists would say, but rather the uncertainty inherent in a freelance artist’s life. As a “glorified temp”, it’s hard not knowing when the next job will be or how long it will last, not being able to live on a stable budget, watching your fortunes go up and down. One of the darkest parts of his life was a period in which he had regular roles on four TV cartoons at the same time, only to have all four canceled within a three-month span. And yet, he racked up enough guest-starring roles in the subsequent months that his total income for the year came out about the same. Lamarr knows of voice actors who left the field because they couldn’t handle the constant uneasiness that came with such risk.
Otherwise, extremely fun panel, 11/10 would sit through and laugh again, and maybe bring questions next time.
From there we sped back down to the exhibit hall for Charles Soule’s 2:45 novel signing. While in line we had fun watching Svengoolie a few booths down, in character, signing one free autograph per fan, with a rubber chicken at the ready just in case. I’ve seen bits of his late-night wackiness on MeTV, but missed the rubber chicken context.
The rest of our afternoon was wide open. We finally finished the rest of Artist Alley, gandered at a few publishers’ booths, saw roughly three half-aisles’ worth of dealers and merchandisers, and surrendered to fatigue around 5-ish.
* * * * *
Saturday morning arrived too soon. We drove from our hotel back to McCormick Place and got in shortly after 8:30, later than I would’ve liked, but still achieved the same prime parking in Lot A that we needed to survive the end of the day. We also wound up in roughly the same spot in the exhibit hall line anyway. Our third walk through the security checkpoint brought compliments for my Doctor Who shirt, which I promise I won’t wear to every con. But sometimes compliments — about, like, anything at all that we do — are nice to hear. We paced back and forth in our limited square footage, we enjoyed chatting with a lady named Maureen and her teenage son, and we rejoiced when the volunteers once again began ushering us all in before 10 a.m.
Anne sped off to the celebrity autograph area to reserve a spot for Justin Hartley, costar of NBC’s This Is Us and former Green Arrow from Smallville. Meanwhile, I walked literally half the perimeter of the entire exhibit hall to reach its polar opposite corner, where comics writer Tom King’s booth stood at the far end of Artists Alley. His schedule had been chopped and diced into hourly increments at various locations, including a temporary position at his assigned table from 10 to 11. Alas, roughly 60 VIP fans had had the same idea and beat me there. I’d already been stymied all Friday long, and decided at that moment to give up on him for the rest of the con. I walked the next one-fourth of the exhibit hall’s perimeter to rejoin Anne in her position. Less than ten minutes after opening, and I’d already gotten all my steps in for the entire day.
We spent the next 50+ minutes talking to the fans around us, including a very lively young lady who was a massive fan of Doctor Who and The CW’s super-hero shows. We didn’t have many pauses in the convo. Meanwhile we noticed that actors Mark Sheppard and This Is Us costar Milo Ventimiglia had both commenced quite a few minutes before their expected 11 a.m. start time.
Justin Hartley emerged from the curtains at precisely 11, and by 11:10 had finished adding to Anne’s collection of Superman-related autographs. We had two photo-op appointments later, but otherwise spent much of the day wandering the rest of the exhibit hall…which, after a while, felt like we were using an extraordinary amount of energy to peruse so many hundreds of booths while purchasing items from 5% of them at best. I dislike the idea of possibly curtailing our long strolls around future exhibit halls when we’re not even in the market for back issues, toys, costume accessories, high-end collectibles, bootleg Blu-rays, amateur novels, club memberships, Funco Pops, or cumulative stuff in general. Such walks do count as exercise we sorely need, to say nothing of all the cosplay photos we catch along the way. And yet…so many booths, so few reasons for us jaded geezers to stop. Food for thought.
Speaking of which: after the 12:30 Legends of Tomorrow photo, lunch was convention center foodstuffs again, this time from a burger booth. Anne got a mushroom burger; I got a cheddar burger. Those were the only menu options. Hers had a chipotle sauce on the bun that she didn’t care for, so we traded bun halves — her crown for my heel. The results didn’t impress but sufficed. We do what we can to survive under less-than-ideal conditions.
More wandering ensued. The next appointment on my list was a 1:45 signing by Max Allan Collins, longtime novelist and former comics writer. Like Charles Soule the day before, his was a one-day signing at one of the celebrity booths. I had planned to pick up his latest book for signing. When we arrived circa 1:40, we saw no books for sale or waiting on his table, where he wasn’t yet. Rather than risk saying hi to him empty-handed, I decided to go check out the booth for his publisher HarperCollins, assuming they’d have options. A quick check of the map confirmed they were on the opposite end of the show floor, just on the other side of the Marvel booth. Of course they were.
While Anne held my spot in Collins’ line, I sallied forth for more calisthenics. I paused on the way to gawk at a much, much, much longer autograph line, for Goosebumps mastermind R.L. Stine.
I slowly squirmed my way through several aisles filled with thousands of slow walkers and loiterers separating me from HarperCollins. Days later I arrived and asked the first woman I saw behind the counter if they had any Max Allan Collins. Her eyes went glassy, then she smiled and confirmed she was in charge of the children’s-book half of the booth. That’s definitely not Collins’ half.
She kindly directed my attention to the other booth attendant, who thought for a second and then remembered the HarperCollins booth ironically had no Collins books. They were supposed to be on sale at Collins’ table.
I paused, reenacted the “white guy blinking” GIF, did an about-face, and sped back toward Collins’ booth, though “sped” is relative in a sea of endless crowds. Sometime shortly before the year 2021 I arrived back at the autograph area, only to notice that a booksellers’ table had sprouted from nothingness while I was gone and was now selling selected works by both Collins and Stine. I briefly rejoined Anne and the two amiable fans on either side of her in line, who all super helpfully told me about the new table. I don’t remember exactly what I said to them but it was about sixty words in four seconds. One of my most rarely used talents is, when the adrenaline is flowing and I’m at peak aggravation levels, I can sound like a Frasier episode written by Aaron Sorkin.
I returned to the pop-up table, bought one of Collins’ crime novels that didn’t have a risqué exploitation cover (which, frankly, narrowed my choices), and rejoined the line, which was now moving, albeit slowly because Collins is an extremely friendly gentleman happy to answer questions and offer insights. Our turn came at 2:26, which I recall distinctly because that’s also the very minute I remembered our Justin Hartley photo op was at 2:30. Collins signed my book with clarity and flourish and sweeping penmanship, responded in kind to a comment I made about his Eliot Ness novels, posed for a photo, and then suggested I join him for a second photo, which I did while trying not to nervously count off the minutes aloud as they ticked by.
Once we’d thanked him and made way for the next fan in line, we picked up the pace to head back to the photo-op area, only to realize it was no more than 200 feet away, practically a hop compared to the marathon I’d just run. Between the parking lot walk, the Collins book escapade, the quixotic Tom King quest, and our adventures the day before, if I’d had a Fitbit it would’ve rolled over like a beaten Pac-Man machine.
With our last photo op of the weekend completed, we had hours more to roam before our final events. I bought a thing or two, picked up freebies from Marvel, did an encore saunter through most of Artists Alley, and gaped in astonishment as the good people at Aftershock Comics accomplished the exceptional feat of convincing Anne to buy a graphic novel for herself. Shout-out to Adam Glass and old pro Patrick Olliffe, creators of the series Rough Riders, which is League of Extraordinary Gentlemen but composed of early-20th-century American teammates like Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, and Harry Houdini, banding together against evil and whatnot. For the second time this weekend, a combination of comics and deep-dive history caught her attention.
By 5 p.m. we were ready for bedtime, but couldn’t succumb just yet. We had to return to the registration area for a quick wristband pickup. Anne had bought us tickets to see a live Saturday night performance from punk legend Henry Rollins, who’s been doing spoken-word gigs since the late ’80s, drawing from tales of his old band Black Flag or his later project the Rollins Band, in between occasional acting bits and frequent world travels. I last saw him in 2008 here in Indianapolis from lousy seats; this time Anne decided to spoil me with “premium” seating. Wristbands weren’t available till 5 p.m., so we’d had to bide our time till that moment.
At first we were disappointed that Rollins wasn’t scheduled to do photo ops or autographs like all the Hollywood actors. That disappointment evaporated Thursday night when Anne and a few dozen other “premium” ticketholders received an email inviting them to a special 5:30 meet-and-greet down on the first floor of the building.
So with wristbands at the ready, we marched down all the escalators and crossed off an unexpected bucket-list item for me.
The line for the feature presentation wouldn’t begin forming till 6:30. Since we were parked at McCormick Place, that left us with the options of either (a) leaving to go somewhere decent for dinner, then paying a second parking fee upon our return; or (b) eating convention center food for dinner. We chose the latter because sometimes those are the hard choices we have to make. We’re the Goldens. It’s who we are and what we do.
My first choice, the food court on floor 2½, was closed. We reluctantly made our fourth and final journey through the security checkpoint — receiving one last Doctor Who shirt compliment for good measure — so we could rejoin the main show floor on the third floor and try the next food court near registration. It had people inside, but was locked, presumably while the final customers of the day finished their meals. Then we realized that the short detour from the main show floor to the other food court — twenty scant feet, tops — had technically taken us once more outside what they considered the “main show floor”. Which would mean a fifth time through the security checkpoint in order to continue. Granted, their bag checks and wand-scanning had been cursory and perfunctory, but on principle we were annoyed.
We walked about thirty feet toward the nearest checkpoint, stopped several dozen feet early, ducked behind a very large sign, joined another lady in ducking under an adjacent railing, and presto! We were back on the “main show floor”. If only the maddening bureaucracy of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil had been this easygoing.
By this time Anne was very much dead and needed food and seating badly. I did some math and realized in the previous nine hours I’d only sat down once, at lunchtime. We both developed tolerance for standing around for hours back when we were in the restaurant biz, but today my endurance is a bit higher than hers. That meant settling for the first available foods for dinner.
The first open food stand only had churros. Tempting, but no. We were no John Scalzi.
The next two were closed. This was not promising. Anne didn’t have the strength to make it to the rib stand near the back wall, and there was no guarantee they were still operating.
What passed for salvation appeared at the fourth place down: a pizza stand with only a couple of full pies left, both of them just cheese pizza. We each got one slice. I added a bag of Cheetos. I hoped that Rollins’ performance would induce enough euphoria to make me overlook my appetite when it would surely return later. We staked out a bit of wall to hang out. Anne sat down on the concrete once more and got to recovering. That’s painful for me nowadays, so I settled for leaning against the wall and gobbled my inadequate dinner of cheesy carbs with a side of cheesy carbs.
Rollins’ event was upstairs, which was faraway but mercifully carpeted. The line wasn’t yet long, and was soon ushered inside the room for second-row seats, after a short conversation with an older fan about the Chicagoland government’s horrid tax laws and egregiously gouging fees for any- and everything. Throughout our Artists Alley travels we’d heard several creators’ similar complaints about how much it costs to do business at a Chicago con, about the additional amounts they have to recoup if you pay with a card versus hard cash. One couple recounted the year they’d failed to charge their Chicago buyers for tax and got clobbered by the IRS after the fact. This gentleman’s comments therefore weren’t too far removed from what everyone else was saying. Mind you, none of this was C2E2’s fault, but entirely a Chicago drawback.
Rollins, ever the professional, took the stage early at 8:55 p.m. and exited at precisely 10:55 p.m.
In between were two solid hours filled with:
- Light sociopolitical commentary! Very nearly bipartisan, even!
- An optimistic attitude about how we as individuals can make a positive difference in the world around us even when our ostensible leaders have basically abandoned us!
- Reminiscences from a 57-year-old man who knows he can’t win too many fights like he did in his angry hardcore youth!
- New travel stories! Like that time he visited a Manila cemetery where homeless families live, or that time he slept a night in Antarctica while surrounded by filthy penguins and listening to The Stooges’ Raw Power on earbuds
- Thoughts on his reluctance for wasting time and how he coldly calculates both how long his tasks take and exactly how much his groceries cost
- Head-shaking amusement at that time people thought he was dating RuPaul
…and more, more, more. Rollins can still bellow when he wants to, can still affect a stern glare and an unsettling vehemence, only to chuck it moments later as he settles back in for more epic storytelling adventures.
At 11 p.m., 14½ hours after our morning arrival, we were at long last finished with our C2E2 experience and ready to call it a con. We paused for a moment of reflection on the way out.
Thankfully we made it back to the hotel without falling asleep at the wheel. Also thankfully, they hadn’t given us up for dead. Also even more thankfully, the nearby streetwalkers left us alone. Sometimes Chicago can be rough, but sometimes it’s polite and accommodating when you need it to be.
To be concluded! Our grand finale is more photos and far fewer words, I promise.
Other chapters in this very special MCC miniseries: