Con Review: Wizard World Chicago 2015

By DaveG

Wizard World Chicago is one of the longest running and most well attended of the conventions on their tour (probably on par with Philadelphia). I’ve been to a few different Wizard Worlds and they are all run pretty much the same, the larger ones are just…bigger (more vendors, more celebs).

I’ve attended several WW Chicago’s going back to the very first one in 1976. I’ve certainly missed some years in between, but have probably attended most in that span. Under its current management it’s transformed from what used to be a show almost exclusively devoted to comics to one that offers a more generic pop culture experience.

Wizard World now relies primarily on the draw of the celebrities they book. This year they were headlined by Jeremy Renner, Nathan Fillion, Stephen Amell, Norman Reedus and a few dozen more television, movie and WWE wrestling stars. Fans are offered a chance to buy VIP tickets for their favorite celeb, which guarantees them a photo op, autograph and premium seating at their panel. Just don’t expect any kind of exclusive treatment as about 50% of the attendees will have some sort of VIP package and you’ll still need to show up 30-60 minutes early if you don’t want to stand in line for an hour. Of course, you’ll stand in line for a few hours if you don’t buy the VIP package.

The exhibit hall spans across two halls in the convention center and the number of vendors rivals the largest conventions. You’ll find a wide variety of toys, comics and other collectibles. Although pure comic vendors are probably less than a dozen. What you won’t find are any studios, networks or toy manufacturers. They used to attend WW Chicago, but that ended almost a decade ago. There were one or two convention exclusives offered, but not nearly like you’d see in New York or San Diego.

This year they partnered with Bruce Campbell to offer a horrorfest, which consisted of a horror film festival and an area devoted to horror themed displays. They were pretty well done, but generally empty, so I’m doubting they will repeat this next year. Bruce Campbell, of course, was still a big draw.

Unlike the feel in San Diego, the convention center activities are almost exclusively limited to the Convention Center. They did offer an aftercon party one evening at a nearby hotel and a few off site events for an extra fee. I participated in one called “Brett Dalton’s Hydra Recruitment Dinner”. At first I thought it was a bit overpriced at $85, but I had a lot of fun and would do it again if it was offered.

The con ran for four days, but if you’re not into any of the celebrities, you can cover the exhibit hall in one day, easily. My friend and I did a slow walk through each exhibitor on opening day and it took about 2 ½ hours not counting Artists Alley. Artists Alley was fairly large and probably took another hour or so on a different day.

When you’re not in the exhibit hall, your time is spent standing in line for celebrity autographs, celebrity photos or attending celebrity panels. Take for example my Saturday schedule. The con opened at 10am, but VIPs could get on the floor at 9:30am. I was scheduled for a Nathan Fillion photo op at 12:15pm, and then was worried about having time for both Stephen Amell and Nathan Fillion autographs sessions at 1pm and 1:45pm respectively.

I saw that Stephen Amell had time between his morning photo op and panel and guessed that he might do an extra autograph session. I took a chance and headed for his booth. One staff member told everyone he was not going to show up until 1pm, but another said there was a chance he might. I decided to wait, guessed right and got his autograph about 11:15am. Then I headed up to the Fillion photo op line, got my photo and headed back down to the Fillion autograph line. By 2pm I had my autographs and time for a quick lunch before my 3:10pm Brett Dalton photo op. That was done by 3:20pm and then I had another hour or so to kill before a 5:00pm Brett Dalton autograph session. You get the picture. You can take an entire day just getting a handful of autographs and photos. I never did make it to a panel, but have in other years. It all sort of depends.

Wizard World Chicago is generally well attended. You can move pretty easily through the halls on Thursday, but like most cons, you’ll do the con crawl on Saturday as you go from booth to booth. A fair number of people will cosplay, most are superhero themed and they do have a cosplay contest. I don’t participate in this, but will admit there were some pretty amazing costumes.

So there you have Wizard World. If you like shopping vendors and meeting your favorite celeb, it can be a wonderful experience. But be prepared. If you do get into the autographs and photo ops the money can add up quickly. You also have to buy tickets for those in advance as some of the more popular celebs can sell out. Some also cancel their appearance, sometimes at the last minute. I do not recommend planning the trip around just one or two celebs as you could end up with an expensive trip and not get the experience of meeting that celeb (there were about 14 cancellations this year). Your autograph and photo op money is refunded immediately, but that doesn’t cover hotel or travel cost.

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