We walked the quarter of a mile from the train to The Donald E. Stephens Convention Center and the excitement was overwhelming. There were people everywhere in costume, walking around and celebrating their fandom. A dozen or so tables with metal detectors restricted entry through the front doors, so we hopped in line to get our bags checked and scanned. The line wasn’t too bad, and we made it through in about five minutes. Once we gathered up our belongings and closed our bags, we opened the doors to this.
My jaw just about hit the floor. It was way more people than I was expecting to see on a Friday night and realized that I was in for a convention that was a different beast than the NC Comic Con and Heroes Con out of Charlotte. You could take all of the conventions I’ve attended in North Carolina and fit them into just one of the three rooms the convention took up in Chicago. It was overwhelming, impressive, and a joy to see.
This was going to be the type of convention I’ve always wanted to see, and after a few moments I gathered myself to face one of my biggest pet peeves: crowded spaces.
Alex guided us around the lobby as we took a look at all the cool statues and few vendors that were set up. We listened as a DJ pumped music that created an almost party atmosphere before making our way to the back of the building to grab our VIP badges and photo op tickets. The fire alarm was sounding, but nobody was running. The words “Chicago fire” popped into my head, and I thought of this being the type of situations where people actually die. There’s an alarm and no ones in a hurry. I guess it just goes to show how false alarms do a ton of harm in destroying any sense of fear and urgency. With that being said, there was no fire, but it was just an interesting moment worth mentioning.
Since it was Friday night, the Con wasn’t packed yet and that gave us plenty of time to tour everything, buy some things, and take some pictures. I made a goal early on to try and take five pictures with different cosplayers as Harley Quinn. I snagged two the first night.
We got our tickets, and headed back out to the lobby to take in the sites. The convention was broken into four sections. There was the lobby, where the DJ was, a couple of vendors, and lots of people cosplaying. On one side of the lobby was a gigantic room (Hall A) with nothing but vendors, the car from Starsky and Hutch, a bunch of geek themed motorcycles, a zombie killing jeep, three snack bars, and the artist alley.
On the other side of the lobby was another ginormous room (Hall F) with many of the larger vendors and some more cars to get photo ops with. The entire back end of that room was dedicated to the autograph lines for celebrities, so probably four dozen tables and barricades were set up for all the celebrities sign autographs or do table pictures.
Let’s take a moment to talk about table pictures.
I had no idea these existed. So, if you’ve never been to a convention before, let me smarten you up a bit like I wish someone had smartened me up. Most large conventions have professional photographers onsite to take “photo ops.” Basically, you pay the convention money, stand in line at the appropriate time, and get your picture taken. It’s very much an assembly line process with very little interaction with the actual celebrity. You are herded in like cattle, told to smile, and the next the next person comes in within seconds. By the time you’ve walked out of the photo ops spot, a line of printers is busy printing professional grade 8x10s of your photo. It’s an impressive site to see, but it really leaves a lot to be desired in the form of celebrity interaction.
Table photographs are photos you get at the autograph table. These tend to be $10-20 cheaper than a traditional photo op and are taken with your cellphone. Sometimes it’s a selfie, but for the most part, you can find someone nearby to take a photo or two. Because you walking up to the table, you actually get a few seconds or minutes to talk with the celebrity (depending no their line) and its more relaxed. If I’d known about table photographs, I would have skipped out on some of the photo ops, not only for economic reasons, but also because I never got a chance to really speak to William Sadler. Meanwhile Alex, who just did a table photo got to spend a few minutes talking Roswell and still came out with a photo which I think, was actually better than mine.
Now the downside to table photos is that they create a sort of false market. I’ve noticed at wrestling conventions you’ll have wrestlers charging $60 for a table side photo which is the same price you can get a professional photo op with them if you are at a bigger convention like Wizard World.
Upstairs (Hall G) is where all the photo op magic took place. Huge lines are set up and gigantic curtains block off all the photo op booths. Next to the photo op booths was a huge video game set up for a video game tournament along with a dozen or so Bandai Namco games set up to be tested. Some games hadn’t been released yet like Pac Man Championship Edition II. Once you passed the video games set up, there were hand full of vendors, along with the car that Iron Man crashed into in the first film, a DeLorean all Back to the Futureized, and a 1966 Batmobile. Next to the cars were probably twenty different old movie theater promotional standees and other large sized statues/mannequins to take photos with.
Typing all this out doesn’t do justice to the size of these rooms nor the amount of stuff crammed into them. Everything was huge! To put things into perspective:
Hall A (located to the left of the lobby) was 250,000 square foot.
Hall F (located to the right of the lobby) was 220,000 square foot.
Hall G (located upstairs) was 220,000 square foot.
That’s a freaking ton of space, and a lot of walking on solid concrete floors.
Other conference rooms were used for panels, contests, and speed dating, so as you can tell, this is a huge building.
We started in Hall F. I learned the con procedure of holding your arm straight in the air for security to see your armband as you walked through the threshold and we entered my first real con hall. It was glorious. In all directions there was nothing but geekdom. Cosplayers, retro themed cookies, gigantic Toothlesses to pose with, a large build your own lightsaber workshop, t-shirt vendors, mask makers, and even tattoo artists. Everything was random, but related. Every booth encapsulated the fandom that so many of us enjoy. Dr. Who, Star Wars, Ninja Turtles, The Walking Dead, DC, Marvel, Pro Wrestling, Star Trek, Back to the Future, etc.
Alex wanted to get one of his celebrity photo ops out of the way, so he went upstairs to do that while Adoniram and I bummed around and took in all the sites. Once he finished, Alex needed to pick up some additional autograph tickets, and that’s when I noticed Dana DeLorenzo was already at her table signing autographs and taking photos. Ms. DeLorenzo was one of the people I really wanted to do a photo op with, but I just couldn’t squeeze it into my budget. But once I saw the price for her table photo, it was hard to pass up. So, while Alex grabbed his tickets, I decided to walk over and see if I could get a picture.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I knew I looked like hell. It was around 6 PM, and I’d been up fifteen hours, flown two hours, rode in a train for an hour and half, rode a taxi for forty-five minutes, and walked several blocks, but I just couldn’t pass it up. So I nervously walked up and met one of the nicest people I’ve ever met before. She was so cool and I became an instant fan. Ms. DeLorezno was full of energy and loved talking about Ash vs The Evil Dead. She hinted at how great season two was (this was before it aired) and how excited she was that all the old school Evil Dead fans had embraced her character. She spent probably five minutes talking to me and then graciously took a couple of pictures with me. I apologized if I smelled and I explained how long of day it had been and she smiled and said I smelled like flowers. I walked away with a smile on my face and I was thrilled with my first meet and greet.
Alex and I chatted while waiting for Adoniram to finish up something and out walked Jason Mewes. I decided to say hi, but he was obviously powerwalking and not stopping to chit-chat. He did say hi back and I asked how he was doing and he said good without ever taking his eyes off his phone. I wasn’t mad; I’m he gets talked to and yelled at hundreds of times every weekend he’s at a con.
Shortly there after, I ran into a great Spiderman cosplayer and decided to get my first photo with a cosplayer.
After making a big loop, quite a commotion came from the lobby as several Jedi cosplayers went to town doing battle. I made a short video to post on Instagram and well… it’s not exactly great, but I think it captures some of the excitement and crowd size.
Alex snagged a couple autographs, and the three of us began looking at all the awesome vendors on site. We walked from one hall to another just taking in the sights and picking up a few odds and ends. Both Alex and Adoniram bought some great comic artwork printed on metal, which I knew would be a problem getting through airport security so I passed. I did run into Rob Schamberger, famed WWE artist, and I had to stop and tell him how much I liked his work. He was very kind, and spent about five minutes talking to me, and I walked out with a small Ultimate Warrior print (signed by Rob) and Sting sticker.
While walking around Hall A, we noticed a group of guys swooning around a group of women dressed in various super hero costumes. It took me five seconds to realize they were strippers, which is amazing being that I’ve never been in a strip club before. Adoniram didn’t believe me, and it wasn’t until I Googled the name printed on the sign within their booth and proved it that he did. The girls were very nice, and were taking all sorts of risqué pictures, but nothing X-rated of course. I went ahead and got a picture with the group and then got a second picture with the girl dressed as Harley Quinn. I made a goal going into the convention that I’d try to get a photo with five good Harley Quinns over the course of the weekend.
We walked around, chatting, and just enjoying the atmosphere until they finally closed down for the night at 7 PM. It was a nice evening to really seeing everything, because it wasn’t all that crowded. Of course, the rest of the weekend was total chaos, but at least Friday night we were able to see what we wanted to see without having to fight our way to the front of a line or waiting five minutes for people to move.
I managed to snag one more Harley Quinn photo before the doors finally closed.
We exited the convention center hungry. We decided to head back to the hotel and see what their onsite restaurants had to offer, but were quickly dismayed with their offerings. What they had was expensive and didn’t look all that appealing. So, we decided to see what else was nearby at the airport.
We walked across the Hilton courtyard to the airport and found that they didn’t actually have any restaurants. We decided to try upstairs and then a different terminal, but we continued to strike out. We spent a good half hour walking between terminals when finally while waiting for an elevator, I noticed an airport worker sitting in a wheel chair in the dark playing games on her phone. Yes, it looked as sketch as it sounds. It was awesome hiding spot, and I’m sure didn’t expect me to see her, but I did so I hit her up for some advice on where to eat. She told us of a casual dining restaurant a short train ride down to Terminal 5 and mentioned a McDonalds also nearby in another terminal. We didn’t want McDonalds, so we headed for the first place, which of course, was closing at 9 PM and we arrived at 8:58 PM. What they had left wasn’t appealing, so McDonalds was our last resort.
We made our way to arguably the worst McDonalds ever. They were sold out of everything, it was dirty, and crazy disorganized. We all three wanted Chicken McNuggets because we thought that would be the safest thing to eat, but they were out of nuggets. Their prices were much higher than a traditional McDonalds and they blamed that on being a franchise as well as not providing free refills. It was a disaster, but it was 9:30 PM on a side of town with no restaurants nearby and unless we wanted to take a taxi into town and that just wasn’t worth the effort. Plus, we’d been walking around for two hours trying to find something to eat. So, we all just settled on burgers and hoped that it would settle well and not ruin our weekend.
I gotta say… maybe it was the hunger or maybe because it had been such a long day, but that was the best McDonalds any of us had ever had. We sat talking about all the latest superhero movies and our thoughts on the directions of each franchise, and just enjoyed our grease in a pretty wrapper. It was frustrating, took a hella long time, but you know what… I loved every minute of that dinner. It was great sharing a meal with my old and new friend and talking superheroes and is a moment of the trip I look fondly back on.
Our superhero movie conversation continued (now that we had food in our bellies we could actually focus on fun stuff like how to properly reboot The Fantastic Four movie franchise) as we caught the train back to the hotel.
We got back to the hotel around 10:30 PM and I was wiped out. It had been a very long day. I decided to take a much needed shower and like our dinner, it was magical. I felt so much better and rejuvenated following that shower I was happy to plop down into this awesome chair that folded out and continue our convention and geek discussions. We chatted until 1 AM, when we finally decided to head to bed. Adoniram got the pull out couch, while Alex and I shared the king size bed. The bed was more than large enough for the both of us and a wall of pillows between us to discourage any accidental Planes, Trains, and Automobiles type cuddling.