Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 

Convention Report

Chicago Wizard World 2000

by Michael Hutchison

DAY 1, FRIDAY AUGUST 4TH

Chicago stinks…and I'm not just referring to the pollution. Their highway system is simply the most confusing network of spaghetti I've ever experienced! Unfortunately, the convention center is smack dab in the middle of the spaghetti.

Last year, approaching from the West, we took the wrong turn and ended up in O'Hare's parking ramp (because, of course, there's no way to turn around once you are heading into O'Hare Airport). This year we came from the north and again took a wrong exit so that we were headed out of town. With no obvious way to turn around, we ended up leaving the highway and finding the convention via the local roads.

I really need to write a note to WizardWorld.com about the inadequate map they have on their web site. It is a mess, without any arrows of how to get off the highway, what exit to look for or which direction certain confusing roads are going. I studied that dang map for ten minutes before we reached O'Hare and we STILL took the wrong exit.

Okay, enough about that. Here's what the convention was like.

1:00 PM - Arrival, breaks and check-in

Between over-sleeping and the confusing direction, it was 1:00PM before my wife Melinda and I reached Wizard World. First stop: restrooms. I wouldn't ordinarily share that, except that in the men's room I heard a voice talking from the next stall…obviously, into a cell phone. (How nice to know that everybody's bodily functions are being transmitted to some guy's business associate.) The anonymous voice said, "Yes, I can do the movie. I'll get back with you on that. Reach me at my cell phone, it's xxx-xxx-xxxx." I committed the number to memory…not to use it, but just because it's cool that I have some movie star's phone number. Unfortunately, I never saw who it was. (I suppose I could call and see who answered…but if it's not Halle Berry or Steven Spielberg, what do I care?)

Melinda and I grabbed our passes, dropped off the huge stack of Fanzing Fliers on the free table (where there was a surprisingly vacant paper-sized spot for them…very convenient!) and entered. We looked around the DC booth, spotted (but didn't talk to) John Ostrander…and then realized that Chuck Dixon was giving his "Ten Commandments of Comic Book Writing" lecture just then.

1:30 PM - CHUCK DIXON'S TEN COMMANDMENTS LECTURE

We entered the room where the lecture was finishing up and stood at the back. Dixonverse webmaster Scott McCullar (an up-and-coming artist, Fanzing contributor and good friend) spotted us and came back to welcome us while Chuck wrapped up the lecture with some Q&A.

I greeted Chuck Dixon and told him we'd see him tonight. He recognized me and Melinda from the Dixonverse dinner last year…which just shows how much better his memory is than mine, because I had no idea who HE was! (Just teasing.)

The three of us walked two rooms over, where DC Comics was presenting their "DC Slide Show" of upcoming events and releases.

2:00PM - DC COMICS SLIDE SHOW

One of DC's Vice Presidents of Something or Other was running the show. At the table were Mike Carlin, Mark Waid, Chuck Dixon, Devin Grayson, Jay Faerber, Brian K. Vaughan (the new guy on Green Lantern) and Greg Rucka.

The slide show was terrific, although most of the events discussed were only a month or two away. Hawkman is returning in the pages of "JSA" (although they announced that at Wizard World 1999, so what's the hold-up?); Mike Carlin admitted that DC has screwed up Hawkman's origins more than anything else at DC, so they've been trying to do this right.

Mark Waid has that upcoming JLA over-sized book, plus he talked about an upcoming JLA arc in which they take on a character who is a combination of all the nasty step-mothers in every fairy tale. Chuck Dixon discussed "Robin: Year One". Jay Faerber sounds excited about "Titans #25" which explains and explores Donna Troy's messy origins.

Brian K. Vaughan sounded very excited about taking over GL. He said that Kyle Rayner shouldn't be treated like the new guy because he's been around 7 years, which is older than a couple kids in the audience. (I'm not sure he gets it.)

Hilariously, the slide for Wonder Woman's upcoming statue was shown from the neck down! Just this humongous chest and bare legs thrusting out at the audience. Embarrassed, the emcee clicked to the next slide of Jimenez's first issue of Wonder Woman…which also showed her from the neck down!

The Crisis on Infinite Earths paperback was announced. The emcee sounded tired as he said it, and whined about all the online fans who complained about the hardcover. "We never said we wouldn't do a paperback; we said we had no plans at that time."

Stan Lee is apparently doing this special project in prestige format wherein he shows what the DC Universe would have been like if HE had invented Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman. (I realize that Stan Lee is like a comic book god to most people…but it just seems a little egotistical.) We got to see some of the artwork for that.

Next year, there will be a special (or event, or book, I'm not sure) wherein Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite fight each other. It's called "World's Funnest". The cover shows the two imps fist-fighting atop a pile of corpses of Superman and Batman drawn in the styles of different eras.

The story "Letitia Lerner, Superman's Babysitter" which notoriously caused the Elseworlds 80 Page Giant to be pulped is being collected along with a number of other bizarre comic stories in a hardcover book called "Bizarro Comics". He then said that there were "no plans for a paperback at this time." When asked by a heckler whether it would be pulped as well, Carlin said that there were "no plans to pulp it at this time."

It sounds like the guy who was hosting it does not like dealing with fans, and many creators were quick to criticize the fans on the Internet. It's hardly fair to the majority of us who do behave ourselves, but there certainly are enough usenet jerks who leave behind all civility while discussing comic books and it's those people who the comic pros remember, unfortunately. (More on this later.)

And it's not as if all the jerks are only on the Internet. When the DC people announced the beginning of Q&A, a whole bunch of them lined up to the microphones! No smiles, no courtesies, just a bunch of whining about this character or that book. The first "fan" launched into what can barely be termed a question: "How can you cancel 'Aquaman' when Dan Jurgens is taking that book to new heights, and give titles to secondary characters like Batgirl and Harley Quinn?" His arrogant tone obviously bothered Mike Carlin, who took some time to explain that Aquaman just wasn't selling.

After that, more challenges, more complaints, a few even-handed questions…it certainly wasn't fun. I didn't see any kids or teen-agers…just twenty and thirty-year-olds. And hardly anybody smiling. It certainly doesn't bode well for the industry.

Somebody asked the question I was going to ask: "Will we see the rest of the stories from the Elseworlds 80 Page Giant?" (I'm dying to see Dan Curtis Johnson's story where Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent are investigating the death of Ralph Dibny in Arkham Asylum!) Mike Carlin answered that they will be used. I don't know why they can't find a replacement story and re-issue that book…or just reprint it, since "Superman's Babysitter" is now being published anyway!

3:00 PORN BREAK

Okay, I'm being silly…but at this point my wife and I began walking around the convention hall, and I can't believe the number of nude pictures which are displayed everywhere. (You don't realize just HOW prevalent this is until you're walking with your wife and realize just how degrading your choice of hobby must seem to an outsider.)

Everywhere you look, it's boobs boobs boobs. Apparently, you can show the most exotic 8-foot-tall poster of a naked woman so long as there's a tiny sticker over the nipple. I'm sure that makes it OK for you to bring your kids to the convention.

I don't mean to harp on this, but I just don't see why some of this is part of the comic book convention. Swear to God, the artists section had a Playboy Playmate from a few decades back sitting behind a wide array of pictures of her naked…and ten feet away is the man who created Alan Scott, the Green Lantern! WHY?

Chyna3:30 HITMAN

I dragged my wife back to the rooms, because one of the rooms was showing a "Hitman" movie (according to the booklet). When we arrived, there was a badly dubbed Japanese movie playing…so I guess no one had actually made a little Tommy Monaghan film. Too bad.

On the way there, we passed Chyna (pictured) signing autographs for a huge line of fans.

3:35 WANDERING

We wandered past a room where Ray Park (Darth Maul, Toad in "X-Men") was signing autographs for $25. Beyond that was a room where Star Wars Gamers were playing some rounds of "Death Star II" or some such. Some fans were plopped on the floor outside, animatedly discussing minute details about the Star Wars movies.

Melinda saw that one of the rooms was having an eBay presentation at 4:00 and began making plans to go to that. Melinda loves eBay. Not for selling, unfortunately…but for the last month, we have been getting the greatest deals on little useless figurines. If it weren't for my far outspending her on little useless painted books about grown men in tights beating up other people, I'd complain.

I caught the last ten minutes of "The McLaughlin Group" in which Erik Larsen, Mark Waid and two other artists were being asked their opinions of certain topics. All of them hated the Internet, with a number of vocal complaints. Most of them have encountered people posting messages in Newsgroups under their names. Internet spies reveal secrets of upcoming books and dig into their personal lives. And of course, the anonymity of the Internet allows for some horrid behavior by anonymous trolls.

The pros HATE the Internet. Of course, I should point out that the Internet is not a bad thing in and of itself. Most of the nasty people on the Internet are the same mouth-breathing jerks who squeeze their flab into a ten year old Superman shirt and ask rude questions at conventions. The Internet just allows them to pester the pros all the time instead of three or four times a year.

4:00 SHOPPING!

Melinda took off for the eBay room and I went shopping, with an agreement to meet out at the free table at 5:00.

First, I stopped at the DC Booth, loading up on free buttons and reading the Black and White previews for the next few months. There's a JLA special that has Blue Beetle and Booster Gold rescuing the rest of the Justice League! I can't wait for that one.

Oh, and I got a look at Starman. That's right, I know what's going to happen in "Grand Guignol" two months from now. All I can say is that it's amazing, I am really looking forward to it…and you are all going to love it!

Then I headed back to the dealers.

Yeesh! Most of the prices on Silver Age stuff is atrociously high…and all the modern stuff is sitting in bins with no filing system whatsoever. I realize that long boxes marked "$1" or "50 cents!" are sources of some great finds, and I could probably find that long-lost "Young All Stars #31" if I hunted in them for it…but I'm overweight and my knees are getting old, so the idea of hunkering down on my haunches thumbing through hundreds and hundreds of comics is getting less appealing every year.

Still, I picked up some "Big Book of…" books for $6 each. I purchased the Spirit Archives #1 for 20% off. I found some Adam Strange, Sgt. Rock and other Silver Age books. By the time Melinda and I met an hour later, I'd spent most of my money.

I got out to the Free Table (where we'd planned to meet) and found that some idiot had put their stack of fliers on top of Fanzing's stack! ARGH! All afternoon, nobody's seen our beautiful fliers because of some lunkhead. I corrected the problem…and even split up the fliers into two stacks in different locations so that at least one would be visible.

Obviously, I shall be more vigilant tomorrow. Free tables are harsh mistresses.

5:00 SHOPPING! AGAIN!

Melinda held my already heavy bags while I shopped some more. (It's very tough to hunt through long boxes while carrying a weighty bag!)

The convention was almost over at 6:00 when I found a great dealer who NOT ONLY gave me a discount on a very cool Sgt. Rock comic (I'll scan the cover for you guys sometime), but he found the Sgt. Rock Special #2 from 1994 which I've been anxious to read for the last few years. This book is hard to find.

6:00 BOB

I finally met Bob Riley, who contributed to Fanzing quite regularly before working with Alex Ross took up too much of his time. Bob gave us passes to a Saturday night event…which we won't be able to attend, as it's too late on Saturday.

Melinda and I rested out in the front hall. There were some vacant chairs at a table, so we broke out some cans of Coke that we'd carried all day and I read one of my new finds.

7:00 DIXONVERSE DINNER

Scott McCullar's directions to the place were a little confusing (HOW does one know to turn off before you get to the Denny's?) but we finally found it after exploring a few side roads and alleys.

The "secret" dinner was at Maria's Mexican Restaurant…and I don't mind giving away the location, since we will not be going back there again. While we'd hoped to find someplace a little quieter than Giordano's Pizza (the site of last year's Dixon Dinner), this place was just as noisy. The really bad thing is that it's a small restaurant on a Friday night, and they were hustling us out of there as soon as we were done eating. At least Giordano's let us eat leisurely and hang around talking. The waiters hovered nearby, snatching up dishes, glasses, silverware, placemats and napkins…hoping that we'd take the hint that we were seated at an empty table. There wasn't even an attempt to sell us a dessert…since I'm sure they can make a lot more money seating the next people down to a full dinner than they can selling a few people dessert.

I'm thinking the next dinner should be at Denny's! Heck, if we could find a Perkins somewhere, that'd be even better.

It was loud and busy, with waiters hustling everywhere, so we didn't get to talk much. We shouted and shouted back. The food arrived in mere minutes, and we soon realized they meant to feed us as fast as possible and get us out of there.

I didn't get to talk to Chuck much at all, except to tell him that I'd picked up his Sgt. Rock Special. That didn't really bother me, since last year I monopolized Chuck while a number of other Dixonverse posters were stuck far away. Thus, this karmically balances out. Besides, I know I'll have plenty of opportunity to talk to him in the future…and he's only a message board away.

Unfortunately, Bill Wiist left before I could make plans to meet him for lunch, so I'm just hoping that I can somehow bump into him!

I'm so tired, I don't know how I'll make it another day. Besides, I'm almost out of cash. I'm beginning to wish I'd made it just a one-day event and spent the rest of the weekend enjoying Chicago. I probably won't stay the whole day tomorrow…just hang out with my friends, if I can find them.


DAY 2, SATURDAY AUGUST 5TH

After today's embarrassing attempt to reach the convention which resulted in our taking 190 West, I was determined to fix the mistake by taking 190 EAST. However, there was no 190 East. There was a 90 East, so I took that and successfully managed to find Des Plaines River Road…as I drove over it to a tollbooth and then on to Chicago. The guy at the tollbooth said I just missed it. So far, I've not found any proper exit to get to the convention in the three times I've attended.

By the time I went past it and took back roads back to River Road, it was a half hour later and I'd missed my 10:30 appointment to meet up with my old college buddy Kevin.

First thing I did when I arrived was clear off the stacks of freebies which had covered the Fanzing fliers. It's too bad that these free tables are so disorganized. Some little cardboard dividers…such as the empty boxes that these papers come in…would be great for keeping things neat. While most standard 8.5 x 11 papers are stacked nicely (or they are until the space runs out and then someone throws their stuff on top of yours), it's the tall piles of cards and postcards that make the real mess.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Today is busy. Busier than last year. Busier than I've ever seen!

Friday was spare, with almost no one in costume. Today, it's crazy. Costumes EVERYWHERE. There's a 7 foot tall guy dressed as superman. One group of people dressed as Storm Troopers, Imperial Officers and Boba Fett posed for picture after picture. There's a man in full Dr. Doom regalia. And, I don't believe it…the X-Men. All of them. Beast, Rogue, Cyclops, Wolverine and a bunch more that I don't know, all in the comic book (not movie) costumes. The costumes looked totally realistic. There's even a five year old kid in a fantastic Thor costume…and…and my camera is OUT IN THE CAR! AUGH!

HOW TO BREAK INTO THE COMICS INDUSTRY

Some person I've never heard of was giving a lecture on the above subject at 11:00, so I went in and waited. I was late to the lecture, but the speaker wasn't there. I sat at the back and struck up a conversation with the nice guy who sat beside me. Who knows, he may end up contributing…and he knows a bunch of artists, too.

After a while, Andy Dick from Newsradio came in (I'm kidding) and said that the person hadn't shown up. No one seemed disappointed. It was nice to find a quiet room to talk!

LUNCH…and a lucky break!

As I said yesterday, Bill Wiist had said that he wanted to go to Giordano's for lunch, but then left without making any plans to meet. I'd hoped to find him at the convention, but no such luck.

After hanging out at the free table for 20 minutes waiting for Kevin to remember our back-up plan to meet there at noon, I spotted a guy who looked somewhat like Bill W. and tried to catch him. The people entering the showroom were like a mob. It was tightly packed and I lost sight of my Possibly Bill…but ran into Kevin totally by accident. Huzzah!

We headed back to my car to catch some lunch and grab my camera. When we returned at 1:30 PM, it was pouring rain and the humidity was cranked up!

SHOPPING, BROWSING AND SWEATING

The X-MenThe crowd was simply immense. It's almost impossible to get pictures of anybody without people walking in-between you and the subject, so I snapped only two bad photos of the X-Men before I gave up on that.

It's difficult to stop at any booth or vendor without feeling like you're holding up traffic. It is THAT busy. I'm glad I did most of my browsing the day before, since it was difficult to do that this time.

There was a huge crowd of freaky (even for a convention) people gathered in one area. We couldn't tell what they were doing. Suddenly they started chanting, "I.C.P.!!! I.C.P.!!! I.C.P.!!! I.C.P.!!!" Oh. They're Insane Clown Posse fans. Strange. Here we are at this Comics and Fantasy Convention, and there's this bunch of neo-soccer hooligans who look like they're going to rush out and tip over cars.

The weather and the crush of bodies is raising the humidity even in this air conditioned place. I can't stop sweating. Great. Now I'm a husky balding SWEATY guy. Well, every convention needs one.

Stacy E WalkerBOOBS BOOBS BOOBS!

As Kevin and I walked around, exploring booths I hadn't been to the day before, it simply confirmed my impressions of the first day: I wouldn't want my mom to see me here, I'm glad my wife isn't with me today, and I wouldn't want to bring any children here. There are posters of "fantasy art" (i.e. naked busty women, though often tastefully done) everywhere. That Stacy E. Walker (pictured) from last year is back, displaying all the nude pics of herself while dressed in this tight leather outfit which, if I'm not mistaken, doesn't really have a front. The only difference is that this year there's another "fantasy woman" in the booth next to her. I can see how women who pose for Vallejo-esque artwork would be a bit appropriate to the convention. And Stacy E. Walker was used in some comic book art, such as the central villain in "Superman: Last God of Krypton" (pictured). Still, there's just something odd about this….

Kevin and I wandered out of that section over to the vendors. While Kevin looked for a comic he needed, I looked at the comics on display (that is, the ones lain flat for all to see, as opposed to the ones in the long boxes). And it struck me: all vendors of modern comics are heavily into female flesh. Cover after cover of "Darkchylde", "Danger Girl", "Lady Death", "Cave Girl" and every other identical female protagonist with gravity-defying breasts, covered only in straps or vines or their own crossed arms or a costume which is like different-colored skin.

Look, I'm a red-blooded heterosexual who LOVES breasts. Nothing wrong with them. I've even hung around in a Hooters restaurant once in a blue moon, back in my single days. I remember getting a thrill occasionally in my early teens when some artist would draw Wonder Woman flying right at the camera and you could see right down her costume, sure. Comic books of all genres have generally appealed to the lusty thrills of teenage boys who'd like to smite the bad guy and hang around with a robust amazon woman who's spilling out of her costume…but these were just unstated subtexts.

But this…this cannot be healthy! The objectification, the unreal proportions…the…the lack of *pretense* that the comic is about anything else besides voyeurism. I realize that most female superheroines walk a fine line that artists occasionally cross (Remember that overly-cheesecake Hawkgirl and Wonder Woman comic during the JSA Fifth Week event?), but at least the proportions of their bodies aren't the point of the book!

As I walk past table after table that offers Playboys and explicit anime and huge nude posters and silicon wonders selling their photos and table after table of artists rendering their own take on famous superheroines (with all characters, even young teens like Batgirl and Supergirl and Wonder Girl, apparently stuffing basketballs inside their shirts)…it just makes me a little ashamed of my hobby.

I see all these comic fans dragging their girlfriends along and can't help but wonder what they must be thinking.

I don't usually think of myself as being extraordinarily sensitive to women's issues…since, as I said, I don't see anything wrong with enjoying the female form in it's proper perspective…but I do wish that somebody somewhere, some comic industry bigwig, would just say, "From now on, we're drawing women with realistic bodies. No more Barbie dolls."

And if Wizard wanted to move all the Boris Vallejo stuff off to one corner, I really wouldn't mind.

EMPTY TIMES AND LISTENING TO BILL WIIST

Most of a year ago, Bill Wiist was encouraging me to contact Wizard about officially participating at Wizard World 2000. He said we should try to get a room or something and talk about fanzines or something.

I chickened out. That's the only explanation. I went to their web site and became too intimidated. "They'll be packed, I'm sure," I thought. But today I was noticing all the open hours on the schedule and wishing I'd made Fanzing available to fill some time.

So next year's going to be different. I plan to contact Wizard soon about doing something for next year. Maybe I'll do a lecture on "How to not be an @$$hole fanboy" for 2001. That Aquaman fan from Friday could use it.

MYSTERY GUEST

Cynthia RothrockBack in "Artist's Alley", amongst the washed-up Playboy bunnies and the wannabe artists and the sketches, I found…Cythia Rothrock (pictured). Yeah. The martial artist. Cynthia hasn't been in many movies lately, but she's still fit and gorgeous. I can't believe she's back here, unannounced, paying for her own artist's table and getting less attention than some guy who played an Imperial Admiral for five minutes of "Star Wars".

I feel guilty about this, but I didn't talk to her. I was too stunned that she was there…and I've never been able to talk to beautiful women anyway. Instead, I walked past and left her alone. All the people at this crowded convention, and no one's talking to her. Here's a woman who actually knows martial arts and could probably kick Chyna's butt any day of the week, and she's stuck in the back of the room. I should probably have told her how unjust that was.

MEETING MORE FANZINGERS

I saw the Cafe DNA booth, and that gave me a chance to finally meet Christian Moore. Chris is very nice in person, and we were able to discuss future plans. This was a nice surprise, as I didn't know they'd be there!

By 3:30, I was burned out and left for home. I'm exhausted. This convention was so draining. Part of me wants to not come back, and part of me wants to come back with a vengeance next year!

As I left, I actually managed to get on the right exit for the right highway. Unfortunately, you can't just reverse course in order to find the way back; getting out involves a completely different route.

I really need to contact the Wizard guys about the directions on their web site.

is Editor-In-Chief of Fanzing.com. He is the world's biggest Elongated Man fan and runs the only EM fan site. He lives in Rochester, MN.
AIM: Fanzinger
ICQ: 70101007

 
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