PlayItGrand, WhiteRabite, The Casual Costumer and I had the opportunity to attend Wizard World’s Chicago Comic Con (“WWCC”) at the Rosemont Convention Center. While this was the first visit for three of us, WhiteRabite had been to the con two years earlier and according to her, much had changed.
Similar to C2E2 in March, WWCC is run by a corporation and held in a large convention hall. WWCC boasted a healthy guest list including such big names as Bruce Campbell and Sir Patrick Stewart. In fact, WWCC boasted an impressive media and artist guest list that covered a number of genres and series.
While the convention was among the most disorganized I’ve attended and the volunteers, for the most part, unknowledgeable and apathetic, we had an amazing time… thanks mostly to the awesome guests. Here’s how it went…
We arrived at the convention on Saturday morning ready to go. The first thing I did was get in line to purchase a photo-op with Bruce Campbell. The photo-op price on the website was listed as “TBD.” Silly me for thinking “TBD” meant that Bruce Campbell’s photo-op price would be posted at the convention. When I reached the register the employee told me the Bruce Campbell photo-ops were for Bruce Campbell VIP ticket holders only and if I wanted a picture with Bruce my only option was to purchase the $125 Evil Dead cast package. Um…no. I love you Bruce, but not for $125. I opted instead for the Felicia Day and Jeff Lewis dual photo-op.
While I was in the photo-op line WhiteRabite and The Casual Costumer got in the Bruce Campbell autograph line. They waited in line for 40 minutes before they were told by a volunteer that Mr. Campbell was only signing autographs for VIP ticket holders and he might sign other autographs later. It wasn’t guaranteed and it would be “announced” later.
Like the photo-ops, Bruce Campbell’s autograph price of $30 was listed on the WWCC website without any mention that he would be autographing for VIP ticket holders only. This was incredibly disappointing. I don’t know what the reasoning was behind WWCC’s choice not to publish on their site that Bruce Campbell photo-ops and (likely) autographs were for VIP ticket holders only. It’s impossible to say what caused WWCC management to go this route, but it put a bad taste in our mouths.
After being disappointed by the whole “VIP only” thing, we decided to wander the convention floor and check things out. The convention was held in a large hall that combined the dealer room, autograph area and artist’s alley. Most of the vendors sold comics, DVDs, toys and action figures. There were a handful of costume vendors, one or two Steampunk vendors, and a surprising lack of corset vendors. A vendor selling Asian candies and food was a very nice and diverse touch. What the vendors lacked in versatility they made up in product. If you wanted it (and it wasn’t a corset) you could probably find it in the WWCC dealer room.The nice thing about the set-up was that there was plenty of aisle room between vendors and artists, making things very easy to navigate. The only area that seemed to get congested was near the back of the hall where the Back to the Future Delorean, Batmobile and Ecto-1 were parked. Even the bathrooms (which were remarkably clean) weren’t crowded!
We made our way upstairs to the panel rooms to check out the Julie Benz (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, No Ordinary Family) Q&A. We sat down in the second row and set up our camera. The panel was led by a man who looked suspiciously like Kid Rock. He said that his site, whose name I can’t remember, would be streaming this panel live on the internet. That’s pretty neat. Not many conventions do this, so that was a bonus point. What was not cool was the site’s MacBook that was moved, mid-panel, directly in front of Ms. Benz’s face, cutting her off in our shot from the chin down. Ugh.
Julie Benz was very sweet, down to Earth and simply lovely. She was clearly enjoying her time at the convention and the interaction with her fans. It’s stars like this that I love seeing. She even handled herself very well with the stalker fangirl in the room.What was alarming was the lack of WWCC “staff” members in the room during the panel. The only “staff” in the room were the guys running the soundboards and the streaming equipment for the website. There was no security, no one to tell this girl she needed to stay in her seat. Nothing. It made an otherwise enjoyable panel uncomfortable.
The staffing problems only continued throughout the day. Basically, fans were forced to create their own lines and essentially do their own crowd control while the volunteers argued about how to handle things. It was, simply, the biggest crowd control clusterf**k I’ve ever witnessed.
The main panel room had sets of doors on either side. Given the narrowness of the hallway, common sense would dictate that the room loads from one side and dumps from the other. Not the case! The room loaded from one side, where fans were gathered in various lines before the panels and…wait for it…dumped from both sides! Thus creating a Fire Marshall’s worst nightmare.
We lined up for the Bruce Campbell panel almost two hours early. There was no organization and when volunteers were asked a question the answer was always “I don’t know.” The lack of organization was so severe that after talking to several other fans, we ended up starting our own line for the panel. A very nice volunteer approached us and asked us, and the 20 or so people behind us, what we were in line for. We told him Bruce Campbell and he proceeded to answer our other questions. In fact, this volunteer, whose name I sadly don’t remember (but he had red hair and glasses), was very friendly and actually seemed to know what he was doing!
Unfortunately for our Super Volunteer, there were two other volunteers who thought they were in charge and any sense of order he created was quickly destroyed. According to Super Volunteer there was no staff meeting that morning (or at all it seemed) and no one knew what they were supposed to do. Lines were shifted repeatedly and ridiculously like the Tea Party scene from Alice in Wonderland. Our entire line of 100+ people was even moved minutes before the doors opened just so we could switch sides of the hallway with the VIP fans. Seriously?
Sadly, we weren’t the only fans irritated with the volunteer staff. We overheard multiple conversations about the lack of professionalism and organizational skills the volunteers by the panel rooms seemed to possess. The volunteer’s reaction to disgruntled fans? A shrug of the shoulders followed by an “I don’t know. What do you expect me to do?”
I experienced the rudeness of one volunteer first hand when I asked if we would be allowed to stand on the side of the room and move around to take pictures during the panel since we had press access. The answer I received from “Natalie,” who apparently thought being rude was funny, was “I don’t know. Does Bruce Campbell allow that?” WTF? After trying unsuccessfully to communicate with this woman for several minutes, I walked away.
Not ONE volunteer the entire convention seemed to know what, if any, privileges came with press access. Some told us our access was the same as VIP (as far as entrance to the con and panel lines were concerned). Others told us we were the same as general admission. The vast majority told us they didn’t know. It was frustrating not knowing what the guidelines were for reporting media and what, if any, services were available to us. Without a central Media Relations room or location (that we were aware of), it was impossible to find out information and even more impossible to arrange interviews (let alone conduct them). Needless to say, it made our job difficult.
Complaints aside, Bruce Campbell’s Q&A was one of the best panels I have ever seen! That man is charismatic, not to mention very dapper in his three-piece suit. He took questions directly from the audience and wasn’t afraid to say things like “that’s a terrible question! Next!” As if he wasn’t cool enough, he had apparently agreed to help out with an expertly coordinated marriage proposal that happened right on stage! I don’t want to give too much away since we do have video of that panel for you. All I will say is “BEST PANEL EVER!“
It was nice to end a long and frustrating day on a high note. Bruce’s panel was so good we looked forward to coming back the next day so our friend, who had purchased VIP tickets, could get her photo op. Next Up…Sunday.