Chicago’s biggest comics convention, C2E2, has always been on my radar, mostly due to the storied rivalry between the Windy City and the much louder New York City.
Historically, Chicago and New York have always been the Frazier and Ali of whatever thing is thrown into the ring to see which city does it better. It’s a fight that’s stretched over decades from which place has the best pizza to which one deserved to host the biggest of World Fairs in 1893 (Chicago won that one, although it came with a serial killer called H. H. Holmes attached to it).
The Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo (C2E2) and the New York Comic Con (NYCC) have earned their spot in this ongoing struggle for superiority, and one of them certainly carries an edge over the other. A bit of context, though: this year’s C2E2 was my first time visiting the convention, and though I tried to explore as much of it as I could, I can’t be counted among its veterans. I’ve been going to NYCC for the last 4 years and have covered different aspects of it. Take this as you will.
The first thing that struck me as a positive for C2E2 was space. The McCormick Place convention center is huge, but more importantly, it allowed for a show floor that wasn’t forcefully crammed with booths and stages that limited traffic flow.
One of the sins of NYCC falls precisely on trying to maximize the Javits Center’s available space to a fault, pulling off impossible floor acrobatics to cram as much as they can in. C2E2 values walking space and ease of travel to maximize audience engagement with vendors and artists. I would much rather have breathing room inside the convention rather than having to exit the show floor in pursuit of it.
One of the things that helped keep C2E2 spacious were the several sitting and gaming areas. Each of these areas had tables and chairs, which allowed for more comfortable food and drink breaks (in the case of the sitting areas) and more relaxed competitive gaming sessions (in the case of the arcade and console gaming areas). The McCormick also has an elevated seating area complete with food options, and it was easy to navigate and hard to miss. C2E2 was packed, but it never felt overwhelming because of these spacing decisions.
Another area in which Chicago excelled was in the location of the panel rooms. Every room was always at a relatively short walking distance from the main floor, and it had several entry points which made for less of a hassle when getting to one if time was on the short side. Fans could take elevators or two different escalators that led directly to the panel section. In addition, panels had generous seating availability. Lines were not an obstruction and were carefully monitored by staff.
Suffice it to say, Chicago’s panel game was tight and much less stressful than New York’s. NYCC has more rooms and locations for panels and events, but they are so spread out and it’s all so extensive that planning one’s self around them means coming up with a more concrete and intentionally calculated battle plan (which needs to take heavy con traffic into account). Sometimes too much is quite simply too much. C2E2, as far as I could tell, preferred to remain practical rather than exhaustive.
A negative for both sides regarding panels lied in its programming. Year in and year out, big conventions have been known to return to tried and true topics which, while good for newcomers, can put off repeat visitors.
It’s not that repetition is a bad thing overall, but it might be of benefit to also seek out more unique panel discussions for both newcomers and veterans alike. One can only get excited for ‘new voices in horror’ panels or ‘women write for comics’ panels so much. And, this is important, I’m not saying we don’t need these type of panels. All I’m saying is that we can look for variations on precisely those topics to differentiate big convention experiences for those who travel to various of these type of events per year or even attend the same convention year in and year out. As of now, smaller cons and comics festivals tend to offer more varied and unique panel selections.
One of my main points of frustration with NYCC lies in its artist alley. It’s in another part of the convention center, separated from the main floor but still inside the same building. It’s not a seamless transition from vendors and other booths (including indie creators) to big industry names which are located in the alley. In fairness, this layout allows for more creators and more tables, but it doesn’t really come with less traffic or more relaxed mobility in and around artist alley.
C2E2 has its artist alleys on the main floor, and it benefited from the more open spaces. It was easily accessed without the aid of a map or staff directions and it felt organic. Exploring and, really, just walking would get you there in a matter of minutes.
I’m a believer in trying to get as many aspects of the con to integrate as clearly and directly as they can in the larger conventions. If a fan wanted a comic signed by a particular creator but none of their books were available, they were just a short walk away from a comics vendor, which were in the vicinity of the artist alley.
NYCC requires getting out of the alley and then moving on to the main floor to hunt down that comic. The traffic in between can be rough and can provoke a feeling of stress if the creator is only going to be at his or her booth for certain times of the day.
I know I’ve hit NYCC pretty hard. After having been to that convention for the past few years back to back, I’ve noticed the things that frustrate me about it—the noise, the limited space between rows of booths, and their artist alley situation—become more glaring with every show.
If I were forced to sum up both experiences in as short a way as possible it would go something like this: C2E2 makes you feel at home, whereas NYCC makes you feel like a guest. One is more inviting than the other.
C2E2 was a breath of fresh air for me. It’s still a mammoth comics convention, but it’s aware of the problems these large-scale events represent. What’s impressive is that they managed to address a lot of these problems and it made for a less stressful and surprisingly laid back comic con experience, one that I see myself visiting more often.