Wizard World is Chicago’s version of San Diego Comic Con. It is run by a large corporation and is held annually at the Rosemont Convention Center. These conventions can be either hit or miss, but this year things went very well.
The first thing I noticed when I got into the convention center was, of course, the ticket lines. While more expensive by ten dollars, it was actually far more worthwhile for me to buy my tickets on-site, rather than in advance. It’s a contradiction, I know. You buy tickets in advance to avoid waiting to get in. In this case however, the line for advanced tickets was much larger, and seemed to be moving very slowly compared to the on-site tickets line. Whether waiting longer in line is worth saving ten bucks is a matter of personal preference I suppose.
Once I was in, everything was good. I just had to be careful that I didn’t wash the stamp off the back of my hand. Yep, there were no lanyards at this con. Cheaper, heck yes. More practical? I don’t know. If you washed it off you may not be able to get back in. It’s also a lot harder for staff to spot a fading red patch on the back of your hand than it is to spot a lanyard or a badge.
After the troubling events around the country, I was glad to see police in attendance, checking fake weapons to make sure they were really fake. It’s a sad sign of the times when fans can’t get together, dressed as their favorite heroes or villains, without worrying that someone could have a real loaded gun with them.
As far as navigating the con was concerned, help was a bit lacking. There was no inforomation desk to be seen. The only handout provided only included the schedule. If you needed a map you were in trouble. None were displayed anywhere. The only help I did find came in the form of an app, but even that was lacking. It provided maps that included the exhibitors and celebrities. You could search for an exhibitor, like Alien Entertainment, get their booth number, and then look for that number on the map. Or you could if the numbers on the map had been readable! You could zoom in, but the map would never come into focus. On that score it was totally useless.
Once I found the programming rooms, things were fairly simple. The first panel I saw was the NCIS panel. I went about an hour early because I knew it could get busy, but I discovered that no one was there and the room was empty. I was soon followed by another fan with the same idea. We snagged front row seats and had a great time chatting about everything from NCIS to conventions in general.
The NCIS panel was really fun. Lauren Holly and Scottie Thompson were wonderful guests with wonderful stories to tell. The audience was attentive and knowledgeable, and asked some pretty good questions. The only downside was the moderator. He kept prefacing his own questions by stating they were bad, but I don’t think anyone would have thought they were that terrible if he hadn’t keep saying so! A couple were really very good. All in all it was great panel and I was sad to see it end.
I spent the next couple hours wandering the vendor’s floor. I was sad to see that there were fewer Steampunk vendors in attendance this year than I remember seeing last year. Certainly if you compare Wizard World to C2E2 there were definitely fewer Steampunk booths to visit. When it came to collector items though, I saw tons. Posters, action figures, trading cards, books, autographed pictures, comics and DVD’s, you name the show or movie and chances are you could find it. I hit the jackpot in my search for Stargate trading cards, scoring three signed cards and five rare relic cards from two different vendors, all at very reasonable prices! I think I can finally say that my collection is complete! There was also a large Artists Alley this year, maybe larger than last year’s, but without a map it was not always easy to see where it started and ended, let alone find a specific artist.
Knowing that Tom Felton’s panel was sure to be a zoo, I headed back to the programming rooms about an hour in advance to get in line. Last year, crowd control was a big problem for this convention. As GreenEggsNSamm reported, the staff had no control over the lines that were forming for upcoming panels, and were pretty clueless in general. This year the staff definitely knew what they were doing. They were helpful, courteous, and on top of the situation. Still there is always room for improvement. This time the set up caused more schedule issues than anything else.
The lines for concurrently running panels were queued up in a long lobby area, just beyond the hallway leading to all the panel rooms. There was room to maneuver and it didn’t feel like a fire hazard this time. They didn’t quite put enough tape down on the floor to designate the lines and had to shift folks around, but it was very organized and civil. In the end I didn’t hear any complaints.
The panel rooms were set up so that the only usable set of doors was at the back of the room. This meant that the previous panel had to dump out and clear the hallway completely before the waiting lines could funnel in, and since there were two panels to dump and two panels to load, (the larger room having seats for 1,400), we’re talking a lot of people. Fifteen minutes was allowed for the exchange, but this proved to be inadequate. First we had to wait for the line for the Star Wars panel – featuring Jeremy Bulloch and Peter Mayhew – to go down the hall to their room. By the time all the fans got into the room and Tom Felton was introduced, he had 37 minutes of the scheduled 45 left before fans needed to get out of the room to make way for Bruce Campbell’s waiting throng of fans. The line wrapped the programming section because even after shifting the line as they did before, there was not nearly enough tape. If Tom’s panel took eight minutes more than it should have to load in, I shudder to think how long it took to get that group seated after we got out of the way! They did finally make the hallway a two way street to let the next group in, but it seemed too little too late. By that time I had walked a lap around the programming hall, trying to find the end of the line! When I did I decided that it seemed unlikely that I would be one of the 1,400 people to make it into the room, and I was not the only fan who walked away.
Like last year, I fail to understand why the convention organizers do not see the benefit of using the doors on both sides of the room. If they had used them, one group could have filed out of the far side while the next group came in. It would have prevented the waste of time waiting for the previous panel to get out of both the room and the hallway before the next panel could head in. It would have been a far more efficient method of traffic control.
Also, scheduling panels two at a time when they both have to dump and load from one hallway doesn’t seem like the smartest approach. It would not have been impossible to load both panels at once, given the way the lines were set up. All the Star Wars fans were on the right side off the hallway, and all the Tom Felton fans were on the left. Since the lines were very well organized and nearly single file as they went in, allowing both lines to make their way in side by side shouldn’t have been a problem. Baring that, if they had scheduled the concurrent panels so that they would finish a half an hour apart instead of at the same time, the time-wasting effect of the large shuffling crowd trying to get out of a single hallway could have been avoided.
Once the panel was underway it was wonderful. While Draco Malfoy is an arrogant prat, Tom Felton is a complete sweetheart. There were plenty of fangirl “awwww’s” going around because he was just so kind and gracious. He had a huge line of fans waiting to ask questions but because of time constraints many had to be turned away. Maybe the moderator should have asked that everyone not introduce themselves with name and hometown. It’s surprising how much time that can take up. Aside from that and one too many stories being told by fans, the questions were good and enjoyable for all.
After deciding that it just wasn’t worth it to wait and hope that I would get back into the room to see Bruce Campbell, I finished off my tour of the huge vendor’s room and then headed for home. All in all I think the convention was really worth the day I spent there. The panels that I saw were great, and the crowd control was way better than what we had to suffer through last year. The vendors and artists were fun to browse through, and the fans were in high spirits. It was a good convention, and I am looking forward to next year!