by David Fairbanks
[Ed’s note: here’s an alternate take on this year’s C2E2 convention, by a Beat contributor.]

I have attended the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo every year since its inception in 2010, when it killed Windy City Comic Con in its crib. The first year of C2E2 felt like a breath of fresh air into a comics scene where the most attended cons were the glorified swap meets of Wizard World, and while that first year felt like a big budget replacement for Windy City, the years since have seen C2E2 descend from a potentially unique con experience into yet another routine celebration of consumerism.

While Torsten Adair has predictions of C2E2 potentially surpassing SDCC in size, his suggestion of dispersing the crowds to panels to account for the overcrowding of the showroom floor precisely underscores the problems I have with a convention like C2E2. While cons like Emerald City Comicon have panels that are hosted by journalists or industry pros that draw significant attendance, I sat in many panel rooms that were less than half full, with only the biggest media concerns or announcements by Marvel/DC coming close to having notable attendance.

Representation from non-mainstream publishers has dwindled noticeably, with Oni Press shrinking from a near Marvel-sized booth to nothing in under five years. Top Shelf brought out some of their top talent for the first few years, but this year Jeffrey Brown—a Chicago native and New York Times Best-Selling Author—was only at their booth on Sunday of the con. Archaia went from an incredible booth with amazing sales and a streamlined and creator-filled signing schedule to a much smaller booth—shared with Boom. The only smaller publishers that seemed to have reasonably-sized booths this year were those that trade in some of the worst stereotypes of mainstream comics, focusing on gratuitous covers and scantily-clad women to sell their books (more so than Marvel and DC do).

Instead of having the show dominated by comics and comics publishers, it has become dominated by merch. No longer a showcase for what’s coming next, the ever-growing showroom floor that Adair presents as a sign of progress is instead a celebration of the consumer culture surrounding comics. Maybe C2E2 is on its way to becoming the next NYCC or SDCC, but considering how much of SDCC is dominated by Hollywood and television announcements, I have to wonder why it is a comics fan would be too eager to have C2E2 slide further away from its unique beginnings, further away from a celebration of the medium.

The strength of C2E2 is based around its location in a city that has an incredible comics scene, and while you can see that on display in Artist’s Alley, you don’t see it much of anywhere else. Well, not anywhere else at C2E2. Thankfully, the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (CAKE) is coming up on its third year, serving as a spiritual successor to the short-lived Windy City Comicon and focusing on the medium more than the merch.

[Who wore it best? Torsten or David? Sound off in the comments.]


  1. Any time I go to cons (which is few and far between because the ticket prices are too high), I’m there for the merchandise, although I do check out all of the comic book booths, artist alley, etc. I already have the comics I want to get (generally anyway) and know what’s out there. I used to go for just the comics, but my collecting has changed over the years. And with web sites and such, I don’t need to go to panels. The “info” at them is pretty much what’s been said on news sites.

  2. Sorry david we’ll have to agree to disagree…this con presents what is by far and away the largest Artist Alley anywhere in the Midwest and while yes it touts a super large merch and vendor area, it consistently has the most tabled creators around (not just big names showing up for an hour or two at a publisher booth, but a place they can have as home base and that fans can actually spend time with them). I rarely even leave artist alley because its not crammed in a corner with tiny aisles like 90% of the other cons in the midwest. (and no I’m not comparing to CAF’s which may by why you’re seeing it differently).

  3. As a fan, I go to these big shows to find the unusual or hard to find.
    (This year, that meant Lego mini-figs in mystery bags.)

    As a semi-professional, I go to network.

    As a blogger, I go to observe, report, and ponder.
    I don’t attend many panels, as that cuts into my networking/discovery time on the show floor. Besides, others will report the latest and greatest from Marvel/DC/etc.

    ReedPOP is part of a bigger corporation which runs trade shows for profit, all over the world.
    They do run subject-specific shows (Star Wars, PAX).
    It looks like they are testing the waters with a comics-only show this June.

    Could there be a successful comics-only con? Certainly. Mega Con runs about 50K, and Baltimore CC keeps having success (but doesn’t report numbers). I suspect Reed will spin off a comics-only show in Chicago once C2E2 reaches six digits

    San Diego, which has a massive amount of comics programming, has shunted comics off to the side (while subsidizing artists alley).

    McCormick has lots of space, so comics, as part of a “Big Tent” convention, can accommodate all tribes. Imagine the North Hall (B) as comics (as it was in 2012), and South (A) as everything else! (And maybe a Toy show below in Hall C!)

    A bigger problem is scheduling. WonderCon was just before this show, and Emerald City the month before, so it’s hard for publishers to promote new titles as well as exhibit. It’s costly, with the shipping and handling, plus room and board. If the crowds keep increasing, then it’s more likely publishers will attend.

    Random House and Penguin did attend this year, so we’ll see if they return. They don’t have the same problem as publishers… it’s more long term for them, going by seasons, not weeks.

    I havent’ had a chance to scan other online reactions to the show.
    It seemed my facebook friends who tabled had fun.
    But few of my Omaha geek friends attended…

  4. David or Torsten? I’m gonna sit in the middle on this one. They both have valid opinions that I respect.

    That said, I have to agree with David’s larger comment about the over-merchandising of some shows and the lack (or just stagnation) of celebrating the medium. This is just the growing pains of popularity sandwiched between consumerism and creativity. It’s a *very* gray line and for the most part I believe this is just a natural progression. To what I don’t know, but it’s very much a fan-driven medium. If folks are not showing up certain panels then the concerns might not all fall at the feet of the organizers — but rather in the audience.

    I admit, I would LOVE it if the larger comic shows were on par with what we see in the celebration in film; such as Sundance, Cannes, ShowWest, and the emerging SXSW. There you find emerging new film, talent, innovation and investment of the big studios. Over all the years those larger film festivals have not funneled into glorified merchandise swap meets.

    But that’s a bit of apples & oranges… and a lot of my personal wishful thinking.

    I believe the comic industry will respond as needed and we are seeing comic-specific shows do really well (Emerald City, et.) Bottom line… there’s something for everyone, however I side with David in that a lot of money appears to be spent on some business-as-usual offering and less on nurturing the medium that is the base platform of these shows. But I also agree with Torsten that the numbers don’t lie, and a high tide lifts all boats.

  5. The lack of interesting panels really killed the show for me. The first couple years of the show, there was so much cool stuff happening that I had to attend all three days just to see the whole show floor. I liked the diversity of content from the first couple years of the show, something that has completely evaporated.
    At the end of the day, I don’t really want or need a con that’s dominated by Marvel, professional wrestlers and the most minor of television celebrities. We already have avenues for those things. I’m glad Marvel is present, but it’s not healthy for it to be the only publisher with a measurable presence. Reedpop’s vision clearly is to put on something other than a strictly comic-book convention, but I truly hope that doesn’t mean that we HAVE to have a show like the one that’s already in Rosemont.

  6. “At the end of the day, I don’t really want or need a con that’s dominated by Marvel, professional wrestlers and the most minor of television celebrities. ”

    If thats what you took away from C2E2 regardless of the panels then I might have suggested you turn left and dont stop till you see the actual comic artists/writers tables AND THEN NEVER LEAVE THAT AREA.

  7. Did you miss the entire fan pavilion? An entire room of fan groups not really selling anything. I would’ve liked to see more publishers there but almost everyone was represented in the artist alley.

  8. @Chris Hargett,

    Yes, Chris. I did spend a substantial amount of my time in artist’s alley. It’s wonderful and I’m grateful for it, but a thorough tour of the area required perhaps half a day of a three day convention. I would far rather have some reason to spend more time in other parts of the convention. The very fact that I was able to wander around for three or four hours on the show floor without having any sense that I was missing out on worthwhile scheduled content speaks to the problem David Fairbanks articulated.

  9. As someone who goes all the way back to the pre-Wizard Chicago Comicon, Fairbanks’ observations match up pretty close with mine.


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