Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
This past weekend Anne and I attended the inaugural Fan Expo Chicago, the comics/entertainment convention formerly known as Wizard World Chicago, and before that the unbranded Chicago Comic Con. As a proud continuation of that chain of comic-con provenance, a 50th-anniversary logo featured in their decor and con souvenirs. Their initial guest-list game was strong enough to lure us back to the suburb of Rosemont for our first time in four years to see what we could make of this latest iteration. Would it be an all-new all-different Chicago Comic Con, or Wizard World under a bed sheet with two eye-holes poked in it?
If we reused headline formats from our past comic-con write-ups, this one would be the Friday edition of “What We Did and Who We Met”. Once we emerged impatient and unscathed from Chicago construction traffic, Friday was a laid-back stroll around the exhibit hall because most of the action was scheduled for Saturday, when nearly all the scheduled guests would be around. Friday, they weren’t so much, but we had the pleasure of attending a pair of Q&As with actors who graciously dropped in a day early.
One fun part of the Fan Expo panel experience: special sections were roped off for attendees with Premium or VIP badges so they’d get all the best seats. If those sections weren’t filled by showtime, the moderators would allow all us general-admission cheapskates to rush in and fill those seats at no additional charge. I don’t know if VIP ticket sales were poor or if VIPs hated the panel lineup or were trapped in lines for popular anime voice actors or what, but this happened at every panel we attended all weekend. Thanks, VIP absentees!
As our lead photo already spoiled, one of those Q&As featured the dynamic duo of Ashley Eckstein and Matt Lanter, the voices of Ahsoka Tano and her Jedi Master Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. We previously met Lanter at Star Wars Celebration Chicago in 2019, and Anne met Eckstein at C2E2 2013, but we’d never watched them at a panel before, let alone enjoyed the fun of them sharing one. The pair have worked together since 2008 and showed every bit of camaraderie for it.
Among the discussion topics and antics:
- Eckstein’s audition for Ahsoka, for which actresses were asked to read in an Icelandic accent
- An impromptu Wookiee roar-off (Lanter won)
- Eckstein’s project Star Wars Mindful Matters, an online series teaching kids about mental health and showing them techniques for emotionally coping with the Dumpster fire that passes for everyday life these days (I’d love to link to it, but curiously I can’t actually find it online just now.)
- Lanter’s affection for ’90s kids’ heroes — TMNT, X-Men, Power Rangers, etc.
- Eckstein’s dark past as a former Mean Girl on That’s So Raven
- A fun intermission when Lanter’s wife called in the middle of the panel and he picked up
…and more, more, more. Alas, we couldn’t work their Saturday dual photo op into our schedule (more about that in our final chapter), but if we could arrange on at a future con, that’d be awesome.
Also on stage Friday: Carl Weathers! You’ve seen him in such films as the Rocky series, Predator, Action Jackson, and possibly more. Youngsters have seen him as Greef Karga on TV’s The Mandalorian or heard him as Combat Carl in Toy Story 4.
Also among the discussion topics:
- He’d never boxed before auditioning for Rocky, but as many desperate actors have done when they really wanted a part, he made stuff up and talked a good game till he got it.
- Shooting The Mandalorian reminded him of the films of John Huston.
- His early career was filled with guest appearances on every Quinn Martin production ever.
…and more, more, more, which I didn’t write down because I preferred to listen. Half the fans’ questions were variations on that time-honored Q&A classic, “Of everything you’ve ever done, which was the most?” Weathers countered at the end with the best possible answer of all (and with no small amount of emotion) as he shared his deep pride in his two sons and the men they’ve become, not to mention the grandkids they’re raising. At 74 his boxing days might be behind him, but he remains the sort of man’s man you would’ve expected Apollo Creed to become if he hadn’t underestimated that nefarious Ivan Drago.
Panels weren’t our only source of joy this weekend; we also walked around Artists Alley to see which names I’d recognize and which folks were selling comics or graphic novels. MCC owes special thanks to the following creators who provided new additions to my immediate reading pile:
Not pictured, because we already met him at C2E2 in 2018 and again in 2019, is writer Markisan Naso, who followed up his grade-A time-travel dino-cooking epic Voracious with the Scout Comics series By the Horns. If he keeps writing and selling them, I’ll keep reading them.
I bought new comics from one other publisher’s booth, but they were so wretched that I’m setting aside candor for once and keeping them anonymous. The artists involved show some promise that a wizened art director or Kubert School instructor could work with, but the rest of the package was extremely Not My Thing.
Other vendors across the full exhibit hall who successfully sold us other goodies in various shapes and media included:
- Fan-merch artist Drew Blank, from whom I’ve bought Parks & Rec stuff in the past and who’s now added What We Do in the Shadows to his repertoire
- Heroes in Action, am eBay retailer that carried several hard-to-find Fansets pins, which are totally Anne’s jam these days
- A geek craft booth called Then and Now, which is proving impossible to look up and credit, but their pin game was strong
- MBartist, whose fan buttons caught my attention and added new flair to my con bag
- Redbird Embroidery Etc., one of two booths we encountered selling geek-themed Chapstick holders, and theirs won
- The Fan Expo Chicago official merchandise booth, who allegedly sold Anne their very, very, very last 50th anniversary pin
- The clothing wizards at Stylin Online, who sold me a new Star Wars T-shirt that you don’t get to see yet
- My old favorite Gem City Books, purveyor of nicely discounted trades and graphic novels, who tempted me to splurge on a large hardcover despite the damage I knew it would do to us as we carried it around the halls, which is exactly why I made it my very last purchase before we left the convention center for the day.
We made the long walk back to the parking garage, followed by the long walk to the other side of the garage, where the restaurants in MB Financial Park will validate your parking. The city of Rosemont has spruced up the garage over the years in some respects, which makes the walk a little more tolerable.
We were pretty much dead by the time we drove to our hotel 1½ miles up the road. We’re square non-party people who never stay at convention hotels anyway, but lodging prices are so ludicrous in this era of amazing colossal inflation — and honestly, I’d rather spend the money on comic-con guests — that finding more cost-effective accommodations made me feel slightly more responsible, in exchange for the next day’s free-for-all grand finale.
To be concluded! Other chapters in this very special MCC miniseries:
Part 1: A Dash of Cosplay
Part 2: Fandom Artifacts
Part 4: Stargirl and the Hobbits