The Good: As always, the staff we encountered were helpful, friendly, enthusiastic, and professional. Registration seemed be moving smoothly on Saturday morning, and when the show floor opened the staff were very well organized.
We have always appreciated the layout of the show floor. The width of the aisles actually makes it possible to stop and look at things without completely gumming up traffic. This year it felt as if some if the aisles were wider than usual, but I think it was just the result of a few wide open areas. There were still narrower aisles with vendors displaying items on the outer walls of their spaces. This is where traffic can get a little hairy as people stop in the aisle.
Something that surprised and excited me this year was the attendance of Weta Workshop on the show floor. I saw their banner hanging from the ceiling before we even got onto the floor and knew I was going to see something cool. For those who don’t know and don’t have a Tolkien obsessed roommate who will watch DVD features for days on end, ensuring that you learn about it whether you care to or not, Weta Workshop is THE production company behind The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movie series, among many others. The costumes, weapons, sets, creatures, and CGI, were all designed and built by Weta. Not only was their booth filled with armor, stone dwarf statues, and tons of amazing figures from the movies, but they had some amazing people with them too. Award winning hair and make-up artist Warren Dion Smith was very personable and chatted with us about the materials used in making armor.
One of the things I like about C2E2 is the shear breath of topics you will find up for discussion. There are panels discussing every aspect of being a fan from cosplay to forum interaction. There are panels that focus on the social aspects of media, particularly the roles women play. One of the panels that caught our eye this year was a discussion on ethnic diversity in media. The panel touched on many aspects of the fact that minorities are not often given the lead roles in media, including how this impacts fans of various ethnic backgrounds, right down to their cosplay choices. It was something that had never crossed my mind, not being in a minority myself, but listening to the discussion forced me to realize how correct they are. It made me wish that the panel room was bigger, and more people were there to hear the truth and help inspire a change.
The Bad: For two years running I have had the same complaint now. The scheduling of the guest Q&A sessions is more beneficial to the guest than the attendees who would like to actually hear from them. Last year I was thrilled at the chance to meet Molly Quinn, known for her role as Alexis on Castle. I was heart broken when I found out her only solo Q&A was on Friday, and I could not take off of work just to come see her. She had a Sunday panel, but she was paired with another guest and I couldn’t justify the drive back into the City.
This year the only name I knew on the guest list was John Cusack. We saw him in 2012 and he was witty, laid back, and engaging, telling us as much as he could about his upcoming Edgar Allen Poe movie, The Raven. I was curious about seeing him again, but once I got the schedule I saw that I wasn’t going to get the chance. His only panel the entire weekend took place on Friday.
Why do the guests get scheduled this way? Samm and I have a theory. Because Friday is the slowest day of the event with few people in attendance due to work commitments. The guests request Q&A panel times on Friday. Then on Saturday and Sunday they spend all their time at their autograph tables to be available to the greatest number of attendees. The bulk of the money they make at appearances like this is made from autograph and photo op sales.
Can C2E2 change this? That’s a question I can’t answer, but I certainly think they should try. While many attendees might be satisfied to have a few moments with a guest while getting an autograph or photo op from them, I’m sure there are also many like me who would rather have the chance to get to know the guest better than those few seconds can allow. I like to see who the guest is as a performer, but also as an individual. Seeing their reactions, witnessing their sense of humor, and hearing about their personal experiences is far more rewarding and valuable to me than a picture of me standing next to them grinning like an idiot.
The Meh: This year we were completely perplexed by the entrances and exits to the show floor. Usually there are three. The far left is used when there is a line queuing up to enter before the floor has opened. It leads into a roped off area designed to keep the line orderly and safe from causing fire hazards. The middle entrance is used when there is not a line to get in. You usually have to pause for a security check, but otherwise entry to the show floor is easy and quick. The last doorway is strictly an exit.
This year something screwy was going on, and we think it was largely to blame on McCormick Place Security. They would not let anyone through the middle gateway, coming or going. You had to go to the far end of the opening leading into the show floor if you wanted to enter or exit, and believe me when I say that it makes a difference. They have always checked bags in the past, but this year they seemed far more intense about it. After a while they reorganized the far left entrance so you did not have to walk the entire rope maze to go in, but it was clear that there was some miscommunication between C2E2 and McCormick Place Security in regards to the traditional enter/exit set up. Hopefully it will be better sorted out for next year.
Overall this is probably still one of the best run conventions of this scale to grace the Chicago area. The ticket price is good, the fans are great, the staff are excellent, and the vendors are really cool. The guest list was lacking, and poor scheduling made this year less of a draw for fans than most. Next year we hope to see more guests with Saturday panels, and a continuation of the fascinating discussion panels we have always found at C2E2.