C2E2 2023 Photos, Part 4 of 4: Convention!

Life-size recreation of a giant furry white bison/manatee friendly hybrid monster with a beige "Last Airbender" arrow pointing down its forehead.

A life-sized Appa the sky bison from Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

My wife Anne and I just got home from the latest edition of the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Exposition (“C2E2″), a 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. After its 2010 inception, we attended every year from 2011 to 2019, then took a break due partly to the pandemic and partly due to guest lists outside our circles of interest. This year’s strong lineup lured us back in, much to our delight…

…and the exhibit hall didn’t disappoint, either. It all comes down to this: one last gallery of the C2E2 sights and wonders that we didn’t already post from our two-day extravaganza. Sure, our passes could’ve gotten us in for Sunday as well, but we’re getting old and can only handle so much sensory stimulation and so many miles of walking before our legs snap off.

Friday morning I awoke at 4:20 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep. It’s nice to know that even at age 50 my brain can still get that excited about something. On average days Anne the early bird wakes up and achieves a Mary Poppins state of sainted chattiness long before I shamble out of bed and begin mucking around like a groaning swamp monster. We achieved equilibrium around 6:30 and made the three-hour drive from Indianapolis to Chicago with very little incident despite some meek morning rain.

A silver R2-D2 droid shot at an acute Dutch angle. In the distance is the large C2E2 logo that you can pose in front of. It's been around for years.

This mobile silver astromech droid was my first photo subject of the weekend. Note the same old giant C2E2 letters in the distance, which couldn’t be reached without clearing security first.

Losing an hour in our shift from Eastern to Central time, we arrived at McCormick Place at 8:30 their time, more than early enough to nab precisely the parking we wanted. We picked up our badges from Will Call, activated them, and went through the requisite security checkpoints. Anne more or less sailed through, while I got stopped twice thanks to a combination of my camera and the dozens of metallic buttons on my comic-con bag. Fortunately I’m not Bullseye and the buttons were ruled not to be secret weapons.

Large crowd waiting to enter a comic con. A few fans wear non-cosplay masks.

A few hundred fans were ahead of us in line. These are some of the hundreds that accumulated behind us.

A few minutes before 10 a.m., those of us at the fronts of the various line sections were treated to the presence of a man billing himself as The Mayor of C2E2. His royal duties included mustering up enthusiasm for the imminent festivities, conducting a quick opening ceremony, and providing a symbolic figurehead to encapsulate all our hopes and dreams, or to blame later if everything went so horridly wrong that stampeding and bloodshed would ensue. Luckily for him, we were never given reason to call for his head on a pike.

A happy dude in a red dress jacket, top hat and red "MAYOR OF C2E2" sash. His arms are widely welcoming as he stands in front of the exhibit hall gate.

I recall no elections held to appoint this man, nor have I heard a single plank of his campaign platform. Hopefully he has a secret three-part plan to lower Chicago’s taxes.

The Mayor of C2E2 holds his big novelty scissors aloft for some guy with a video camera.

His mayoral aides handed him a pair of novelty ribbon-cutting scissors, the necessary legal tool for legitimizing the proceedings.

A bunch of us rushing through the C2E2 welcome gate into the exhibit hall, threatening to trample anyone who stopped for photos.

Our view from inside the opening stampede.

One ribbon-cutting later (obscured from our view behind a load-bearing column), our line section was permitted inside a few minutes after 10, and the game was afoot. All around the exhibit hall, the aisles were festooned with oversized creatures and creatively sculptedm beloved characters from every corner of pop culture. Some aisles were much wider than they’d been in years past. Some specially designated areas were given far more square footage than they’d had in previous incarnations. According to my mental math, while there was still a lot to see and absorb, all told there were far fewer vendors than there used to be. Artists Alley definitely had fewer rows than usual.

Nevertheless, we found much to discover over the next two days.

Big daunting sculptures of the Alien Queen and a scary minion from the "Alien" film series.

Amazing fan sculptures from an exhibit called “Aliens: Resurgence”.

A red, white and blue van with the Graham Crackers Comic Books logo painted on the side, plus a blow-up of a classic Jack Kirby drawing of Captain America.

A Captain America van courtesy of Graham Crackers Comics, one of Chicago’s most renowned comic-shop chains.

A big inflatable Cookie Monster with mech patterns drawn on him.

What if Cookie Monster were an inflatable mech who could stomp on your house? Now we know for some reason!

A monster shaped like a treasure chest, with tongue and fangs.

For the Dungeons & Dragons fans out there: Mimsy the Mimic, brought to you by The Artist and the Carpenter.

A big inflatable beer can with a superhero on it, in the middle of an area covered in key lime green carpet.

Revolution Brewing had a key-lime-green-carpeted area set aside for con-goers to get plastered, plus images of their new superhero mascot called Commander Super-Sot or whatever.

A balloon shaped like the evil clown Pennywise from Stephen King's "It".

An irony-laden Pennywise who is himself a balloon and yet he cannot float down here.

A recreation of a character who's just a large patch of stretched-out human skin with a tiny creepy lady-face in the middle.

Accurate rendition of the Doctor Who foe known as Lady Cassandra O’Brien.Δ17.

A 7-foot-tall Groot statue.

He is Groot.

Funko Pop dolls based on the married couple at the beginning of Pixar's "Up".

I don’t collect Funko Pops per se, but I own a few. This tragic couple was mightily tempting.

Replicas of various superhero movie props, such as Captain America shield and an Infinity Gauntlet.

Superhero movie prop replicas from Shield Labs

A Captain Carter shield from "What If...?" that's like Captain America's shield but with a Union Jack in the middle instead of a star.

…including this cool Captain Carter shield.

…but most of our Friday alternated between walking and standing in lines, S.O.P. for our large-scale entertainment cons. Our first destination was the autograph line for Smallville’s Erica Durance, a scheduled guest from several past cons who kept canceling every single time. If Anne were ever to fill that gap in her Superman-actor autograph collection, Durance had to be top priority…assuming she showed up. And was real. A Facebook post from a Chicago morning show confirmed she was in town. We took hope from this evidence, and kept waiting and waiting and waiting.

Erica Durance's C2E2 table with just markers, a bottled water, and a tiny sign about payment options.

Many is the con that begins with us staring forlornly at an empty table, wishing someone would arrive at it soon.

Durance was one of several actors scheduled to begin signing at 11 a.m. Ditto Marc Blucas, whom I hoped to meet and add to my Buffy collection. Durance had a few dozen hardy folks lined up early; Blucas had precisely four young ladies in his queue awaiting him as well. At 11:30 I abandoned Anne and popped over to Blucas’ line, which had doubled in size and was rewarded with his presence a few moments later. I waited and soon had that moment.

Ahead of me in Blucas’ line were a pair of guys who’d brought a collection of tiny football helmets for him to sign, possibly as a tribute to his character from the first two seasons of the USA Network’s football drama Necessary Roughness. For convenience the guys were permitted to set up their helmets on Charisma Carpenter’s empty table next door so Blucas could efficiently sign them all in a row. While they had their fun sports-talky moment, I chatted with Blucas’ handler about various convention aspects. At some point we segued into the ethical problems of comic-con guests who are shepherded through such gigs without any real agency, such as child actors or the extremely elderly. I recalled the time we saw a very young Chandler Riggs attending Wizard World Chicago, so early into that series’ run that his tiny head was barely visible above his table. She in turn shared the story of an incident in which a fan met Stan Lee and brought a prized item previously signed by Jack Kirby, only to have that moment become awkward horror when Stan, who at that point needed nonstop supervision and really should’ve stopped doing shows a few years before then, unwittingly signed his name over Kirby’s autograph. I can imagine the apoplexy.

After I got my pic with Buffy’s ex Riley, I rejoined Anne in Durance’s line and continued waiting. The star of that quest arrived shortly before noon, which was perfect timing because our Zachary Levi photo op was at 12:30. As it turns out, not only was TV’s Chuck on time, they began ushering his groups in early.

Levi was our final Friday appointment. We spent the rest roaming at will — on an unremarkable lunch, on immersing in Artists Alley, on seeing most of the exhibit hall aisles, and so on. We later remembered that when we’d bought our weekend passes online two weeks earlier, we’d also ordered two pieces of C2E2 swag that we’d totally forgotten to pick up at the start of our day. So we had to exit the hall and make the long trek back to Will Call, which now had longer lines as Chicago teens finished up their school days and flooded into the place.

While we waited, a younger guy in front of me looked at what I was wearing — exactly as I appear in our Levi photo — and asked in all sincerity if I was cosplaying as Master Roshi from Dragon Ball Z. I might’ve said yes immediately if I’d more quickly remembered who that was. We laughed and, once I got a refresher from my phone, thought to myself that Roshi might be easy for me to cosplay in a couple more years once my hairline further recedes. Not that I’m wishing for it, but if it happens, there’re far more bald characters out there in the entertainment spectrum than there are slightly balding, portly characters like me.

Our return from Will Call back to the main hall meant a second run through security. Thankfully the bag-checker remembered my deadly pieces of flair and waved me through. We didn’t last long after that, though. By 3:30 foot pains were killing both of us. Anne had a preexisting excuse — a stress fracture in one foot for weeks. A strong bandage helped for hours but ultimately didn’t quite grant her invulnerability. With only a few aisles unexplored, we called it an early day and hobbled off for some light Chicago misadventure.

Meanwhile back home in Indiana, those meek morning rains had turned into calamitous storms that generated seventeen tornadoes throughout Indiana in our absence. Downtown Chicago had been on the extreme northern edge of the meteorological storm clouds I saw online. Other than walking blocks through drizzle Saturday morning, we missed all the fuss and destruction.

Saturday morning we were both awake by 5 a.m. Chicago time and more or less ready to go, even though we didn’t need to be. We had nothing scheduled for the first two hours of the show. Nevertheless, we left early for the sake of perfect parking and arrived at the garage at 7:45 with an even more perfect parking spot. We went inside and, with little motivation to stand on concrete for hours, found a seat and relaxed for over an hour.

The middle of the C2E2 Saturday entrance line, very crowded again.

An hour before showtime, we succumbed to our geek reflexes and joined the line anyway.

Friday was pretty crowded by average Friday comic-con standards. Saturday packed in thousands more on top of that. I spent much of that in lines, in the middle of select teeming masses as opposed to being crushed in the tidal wave of infinite teeming masses. A few dozen feet into the hall, we were stopped by a pair of fans who recognized my Coco shirt (visible in the first photo op of Part Two) as a recent acquisition from a fancy pop-culture shirt company called RSVLTS. I’d never heard of them or their wares till a few weeks ago (a long story in itself for some future MCC entry) and have been severely surprised at how their advertising now shows up everywhere we turn — via email, before YouTube videos, as Facebook ads, between my Words With Friends rounds, and so on. Considering we’d been 100% unaware of their existence, I had no idea they’re already popular enough to have their own dedicated Facebook fan groups. Like, plural. The duo were a pleasure to meet (and said they’d even met each other through their group) and they invited me to come check out their space, but in hindsight I’m not sure which group is theirs.

Onward, then: our easy opening gambit paid off — the short, polite autograph line for the happy couple of William Daniels and Bonnie Bartlett (both rather cognizant and merry 71 years into marriage). Then we did an early lunch before my respective photo-op and autograph lines for David Boreanaz.

Bird's-eye view of the cosplay and anime areas of the show floor.

Our view during lunchtime, as we noshed on barbecued proteins from the Robinson’s cart.

Anne had more free time to wander than I did. She met author John Jackson Miller in the meantime, looked for booths selling pins (alas, fewer than she’d hoped), and looked down upon the world from above. After my photo op with TV’s Angel, I headed straight for his autograph line, which already exceeded the curtain span and headed out toward the show-floor depths. Anne rejoined me as I conduced an experiment.

The woman in front of me in line complained how people were always cutting through lines in front of her on their way to other places. That happens to me all the time at cons, too — passersby think that just because I respect the personal space of those I’m around, that those gaps are therefore useful to them and I won’t mind a few seconds’ bustling. I don’t, but it’s amusing how often this happens. I should be grateful that I don’t appear threatening to others, I guess. Then an idea struck: if I were to leave a much larger gap between her and myself on purpose…exactly how many fans might excuse themselves through it?

Next time she moved up slightly, I stayed put and began counting heads. Most folks said “excuse me” as they passed through my benign bridge-troll gate. Several said “sorry”. Many said nothing at all for fear that I might be a Chicagoan who gets riled up at eye contact, like I might be Richie from The Bear, though this wasn’t enough to deter them from going through anyway. Only one person seemed to notice that I was bobbing my head as I counted each and every head aloud.

I think Anne joined me in line shortly before I hit 100. It took a few dozen more before she realized what I was doing. Then she joined in to assist. Her backup tracking became invaluable at times when we let the line gap widen too much and we’d have fans walking through in both directions. My final tally before I got bored and before Boreanaz arrived to begin signing: 558 people and 2 service dogs passed through our gap in 25 minutes. That’s a lot of foot traffic, yes? I have no hard basis for comparison. Maybe we can try again at overlong autograph lines at future cons and build a larger data set.

Eventually Anne fluttered off to do her own thing again and got shots hither and yon.

Another overhead view of the show floor.

More show floor from above, adjacent to the area in the previous pic.

A long, crowded autograph line for Michael Rosenbaum. Aisles on either side of his line are empty.

The endless line to meet Michael Rosenbaum, which we strongly recommend you do because he’s awesome.

A sign at the end of James Marsters' area requiring masks when you got to him.

Fellow star James Marsters, whom we previously met, was the only actor we’re aware of who required everyone to wear masks when they reached his autograph table.

Faraway shot of me chatting with David Boreanaz at his table.

Her camera’s nifty zooming power let her catch me in the moment with Mr. Boreanaz.

I was worried that his autograph line might complicate our last photo-op appointment, but I feared for naught. I was done with half an hour to spare — arguably more, since photo groups were predictably running behind. One churro and a few encore runs through Artists Alley later, we joined the masses for our big brush with Chris Evans.

Hundreds of people, maybe more, waiting for their turn at celebrity photos.

Frankly, we’ve seen far denser and less managed photo-op areas before. It wasn’t as bad as it looks.

We were part of Evans’ Group 21, his last photo group of the day. While waiting, we chatted with another family from Indiana who were looking at pics of the tornado destruction back home. We all hoped our respective houses would still be there after C2E2 ended. If they weren’t, at least they could never take away our Chris Evans moments.

A sign above Chris Evans' autograph table.

We were done by 4:30. Other fans moved on next to his autograph line, which had sold out well before we bought our passes and was not our problem.

For the sake of attending at least one comics-related panel before quitting for the day, we headed up to the fourth floor for some rest. We were surprised to find McCormick Place had added new furniture: bar-stool-sized chairs and matching tables with charger stations. All the water coolers on the floor had been drained dry by thirsty predecessors, but at least we could sit.

Anne at the table, charging her phone and looking out the window at Chicago's shoreline on Lake Michigan.

We relaxed in style with a quasi-scenic view of Lake Shore Drive.

We did the panel as previously recounted and then officially called it a day. We returned once again to the hotel to recharge and have slightly more Chicago misadventure before heading home Sunday morning.

This effectively concluded our C2E2 2023 miniseries proper, but not our full Chicago experience in between walking and standing…

To be concluded! Other chapters in this very special MCC miniseries:

Part 1: Cosplay!
Part 2: Actors!
Part 3: Comics!
Epilogue: Chicago!

Large C2E2 ceiling sign that hangs above us every year.

The other reliable C2E2 sign we see every year. Far fewer crowds populate the shot at 8 a.m.

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