Since my oldest son started participating in marching band, my vacation time has become a precious commodity. That meant I had to be very picky when choosing which conventions, concerts, and events to travel to in 2020. It was a tough choice for me. There are conventions that I have come to really love. Ultimately the TBK staff and myself decided to add a new convention to our rotation this year.
Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, better known as C2E2, is one of the largest comic conventions in the country. It was established in 2010 and has been steadily growing. The attendance last year was 90,000! To help see that from my perspective, my hometown’s population is 28,488 the last time we counted.
Originally, we planned on arriving at C2E2 on opening day (Friday) but complications prevented this. Instead Richard, Ashlee, and I didn’t arrive in Chicago until quite late Friday night after a very long drive. We were forced to readjusted our itinerary. On Saturday morning, as we drove to McCormick Place, I received a notification from the C2E2 app alerting us that parking lot A was already full. This saved us a lot of frustration and we were able to change course and aim for parking lot B. I wholeheartedly recommend downloading the app if attending this convention for frequent and time-saving updates. The lot attendants were efficient but from that point on I felt lost. There were not any signs indicating which way to go. There were not friendly convention workers to assist us. Ultimately, we decided to just “follow the cosplayers!”
Once we found our way into the building, it was not any less confusing. McCormick Place is an interesting venue. I have never been in a building like it before and I’m not sure what it is used for in general. There is small souvenir shops, restaurants, giant empty spaces, lounges, hallways upon hallways, and then the convention space. I never found the location of the panel rooms. Unlike other large conventions, I did not find McCormick Place inviting. It felt restricted. I did not become familiar with the lay of the building during our time there.
My first impression was, again, surprise over the lack of signs and employees/volunteers to guide con-goers. When we did encounter a person working the convention they were not well identified. They seemed disinterested and most were not particularly friendly. This may be more of a culture difference than anything. I’m not sure…. I have to remind myself that I am from the South. We typically great everyone warmly. All of the major conventions I have been to are primarily in the South. I know that Kansas City doesn’t consider itself to be a part of the South but it definitely feels more like home than Chicago. For this reason, I am going to overlook this as a cultural difference. However, if I could change anything about this convention it would be it have clearly identified people on the convention floor and throughout the building to assist participants of C2E2.
Once we figured out were to go, our first stop was security. It was within a cavernous room that was jam packed with people. It was intimidating that first morning. I have to hand it to the C2E2 though. We moved through the line quickly. Much faster than we have at other conventions. From there we had to get our press badges. Again, the ticket desk was efficient. The people working there were pleasant.
The convention floor is immediately adjacent to security. It is roped off to guide you directly there. We made it to the floor within the first hour of the convention opening. At that time it was busy but not congested. When Richard and I first walked out into the convention, we looked at each other in complete excitement. It was a magical moment. From the red carpet, to the official Marvel booth, and the Cards Against Humanity fairies. It felt as if this was our first REAL convention. Our eyes were everywhere taking it in- official DC booth, Bandai booth, Crunchroll booth, AEW wrestling booth, White Sox booth…. And then the magic was gone. The floor was so packed we could barely move. Did we really care that there was an official Jelly Belly jelly bean booth anyway? Being able to breathe was suddenly much more important. We tried to navigate but the layout of the floor was confusing. We quickly realized that despite the aisle numbers being posted it was difficult to locate each other if we didn’t stick together. The banners were hard to see in some locations. The floor was designed in a T shape and one wrong move could get you lost. I am still not sure if we made it to all of the vendors. We did get to see some really awesome, unique merchandise. It was nice to have the opportunity to see new vendors. Even traveling many hours and across multiple states, we often see the same companies repeatedly.
We did not seek out the panels. There were only a handful of guests that we were interested in seeing. I had two that I wanted to see during the time that we were there and Richard had at least one. Unfortunately, the app kept sending us notifications that the panels were at capacity more than an hour before they were scheduled to start. This was particularly frustrating to me. I don’t understand how they were full so far in advanced. While we never went to any of the panel rooms, they must be much smaller than any that we have previously been to. I can’t imagine that if there had been any big name guest on the list that there would have been even the slightest chance of seeing the panel. This is extremely disappointing.
After a few hours, I became overwhelmed. I was tired of being pushed, shoved, and accidentally hit by other people’s souvenirs. I needed a moment. I told Richard and Ashlee that I was going to find a place off the floor to take a break. Being alone and unfamiliar with McCormick Place, I did not want to go far. I followed a small group of people. I walked just outside the convention to the left of the roped off area and sat down on the floor. During this time, I noted a security guard watching me. I also saw that he did not allow people to go back to the floor but insisted that they go back to security. After fifteen minutes, I was ready to return. I walked back and was immediately directed by the guard to go to security. I knew that this was going to happen but thought that it was silly since he had been watching me so closely. He obviously knew that I was just sitting outside the convention entrance. I never left his sight the whole time. I was walking back to security when Richard called. He was looking for me so that he could take my merchandise to the car. He had left the floor and gone to the right of the roped off area. We were now divided. One of us on the left and one on the right. I had to go through security, back into the convention, and then leave the convention again to get to him. This was insane because we were on opposite sides of the security check the whole time. I understand the need for security but neither of us left the building. We hadn’t even gone five feet from the convention entrance. This felt excessive. After that, we decided to just leave and go to AEW Revolution.
We returned Sunday morning and were very surprised to find both parking lot A and B already full. We parked in lot C which turned out to be much more convenient and a shorter walk. It costs five dollars more but I recommend parking in lot C. We breezed through security. I think this was the most packed I have ever seen a convention on Sunday as both Fridays and Sundays tend to be slower. We headed straight to artist alley since we didn’t make it there the day before. It literally took us all day Sunday to explore artist alley. Some aisles were so congested that we could barely move. If you stopped to look or buy something, there was a real risk that you might get stuck there. However, I can confidently say that it was worth it. Ashlee, Richard, and I all bought at least one thing from artists. I am not ashamed to say I bought three prints. I finally made Ashlee promise to stop me if I tried to buy anything else. There were so many talented people there. I particularly loved Arielle Jovellanos, Any Means Necessary by Shawn Cass and Michael Nemitz, and Hannako. I am glad that we had the opportunity to thoroughly explore artist alley.
My favorite moment of the convention happened on Saturday. We were sitting at the edge of the convention floor eating lunch when cosplaying Symbiote Spider-Man walked by carrying a poster board sign and messily scrawled message in sharpie. There was a guy sitting close to us that called over to Symbiote Spider-Man, asking what his sign said. Symbiote Spider-Man walked closer and we could see that it said “Free Galaxy Roses”. Without a word, Symbiote Spider-Man took off a backpack, opened it, and handed the guy a blue box. The guy looked at him confused. “I just wanted to know what your sign said…” the guy said as he stared up at Symbiote Spider-Man. “It’s for you.” Symbiote Spider-Man replied before causally zipping up his backpack and walking away. The guy opened the box to find a an iridescent rose with a 24 kart gold stem. “I don’t understand….. I just wanted to know what his sign said.”
So my thoughts overall- If we had made the trip to Chicago just for C2E2, I would have been disappointed. The vendors were good but struggling to navigate the floor made it difficult to enjoy. I do not love McCormick Place and wonder if a different venue would make for a more enjoyable experience. Not having an opportunity to go to a single panel is definitely a negative. I really love going panels and they are a nice respite from the bustle of the crowded convention floor.
Positives for the event would include the efficiency of getting everyone through security and artist alley. They had reasonable food options on the floor and three Wild Bill’s Soda stands. The restaurants within McCormick Place was a nice added bonus but some were closed and going through security more than necessary is serious a deterrent for me. I would be willingly to give this convention another try for sure but I don’t think it will be in 2021. Knowing that I have such limited time off, I want to plan it for a convention where I know I can get into panels.