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Chicago Comic Con – Jon’s Take

Over the years I’ve been to a lot of conventions and conferences. The Consumer Electronic Show was big and loud, Gen Con was really interesting, and I love going to the cons with the mystery reader crowd. Two years ago Ruth and I walked into our first full on Comic Convention, Wizard World Chicago. We had press passes and that seemed to make it cooler, but I was not prepared for the sight that beheld me as we walked through the doors and stood at the top of the short stairs leading into the space at Stephenson Convention Center in Rosemont.

It was loud, colorful and crowded. I saw huge banners for DC Comics, I saw people in costume, and everywhere I looked, comics. I had found my lost tribe. From what I’ve seen comic fans are loyal to the end, and they are also very protective of what they love. They understand my obsession with needing to own every issue or trade collection in a series. Even more so than the wonderful folks who read mysteries, these people love to collect. Me too.

This year marks our third visit to the convention, now back to its original name, Chicago Comic Con. A few things were different. This year the big two, Marvel and DC didn’t have a booth. Lots of rumors about why, but mainly it’s so close to San Diego’s mega event that it’s hard to pull off. Last year Dark Horse had a small area and handed out some bags, so I didn’t really notice them being absent. I missed Top Cow, but again, close to San Diego. But this didn’t mean they had no presence, DC sent staffers to do panels and lots of creators were on hand. A few people whined about not being able to do pitches to the bigger companies, but in truth, any pitching that gets done here is limited, and generally not very fruitful. This is a con for fans, not hopeful artists and writers trying to get a foot in the door at DC or Marvel. The change in who has booths also meant a lot more traffic in artist alley, Avatar had a great show with loads of people checking them out. And really, instead of waiting around the DC area all day waiting for another free button, people went and saw things, met people and bought stuff. I don’t see it as a bad thing.

The artist ally area was bigger this year and the layout changed up to allow a smoother traffic flow. I heard various reports second hand, but the people I talked to directly had a great show, for some, their best in Chicago so far. My walk through artist alley saw a lot of people stopped at tables and checking out the wares, a lot with money in hand.

This year was also different for us because we took a booth. Being primarily a crime fiction magazine I wasn’t sure what to expect. We brought copies of the magazine, t shirts, and copies of my sister’s anthology, UNCAGE ME from Bleak House Books. We also had piles of freebies, comics from DC, books from medallion press and a whole lot of paperbacks that we had extra copies of. We sold a lot of magazines, a bunch of shirts and anthologies. We also gave away every book and comic we had.

We shared our booth with some great folks. Tim Broderick is a selling machine and he could convince me to buy a saddle and I don’t have a horse. He was selling copies of his graphic novel CASH AND CARRY, a really great crime fiction tale in a comic trade. Jack Kilborn was on hand giving away copies of his horror novel AFRAID. All he asked in return was an online review. He ran out of books early on Saturday. RD Hll was with us as well. He had copies of his comic American Wasteland and the second volume of the Heroes Trade with is work in it. RD was quite happy when he get ready to head home Sunday.

We had a number of guests as well. Raymond Benson brought a nice cross section of his back list. Bond Books and books about Bond, his mystery series and his Metal Gear Solid book. Marcus Sakey came by after the panel we did (more later) and gave out copies of his latest paperback. Twoo boxes emptied out in about an hour. Brian Azzarello signed twice and signed a lot of books, and also signed a baby. Mark Kidwell signed his Frazzetta book and comics along with copies of Bump and some other books he’s done. We also had the amazing B Clay Moore and Jason Aaron, two of my all time favorites.
Friday at 3:00 I moderated a panel on Crime fiction in comics. Brian Azzarello, Tim Broderick, Marcus Sakey, B Clay Moore and Jason Aaron were good enough to join me. I know I enjoyed doing it, and from what I heard the crowd enjoyed it as well. The answers were good and I think we accomplished what we set out to accomplish, basically getting people excited about crime fiction. I’d also take a bullet for anyone of these guys.

Kitty corner from us was the booth from Westfield comics service. I used them for years before I had a bump in my comics reading in the mid nineties. At rough guess, I’d say I spent at least the price of a nice car on comics from them. I loved there service and would recommend them in a heartbeat. The folks representing Westfield for the weekend were enthusiastic and well read. My kind of people.

Right next to us was a booth for Comix4Sight, a charity to help John Ostrander pay for Glaucoma treatments. Great folks at the booth and it was so cool to see so many people helping out.

My wife Ruth spent some time hanging with the Suicide Girls. They actually have a lot in common.
She also had people [posing with Joseph Finder’s latest novel, Vanished. Ruth did a nice job with photos and she really does great talking with people.

All in all we had a great show and was very happy we took a booth. This is the first year I saw people from Wizard out on the floor. They stopped by to make sure we were good and if we needed anything. They wanted us happy (and we were). Sure, there were some changes this year, but from what I saw the changes are going towards making this a better convention. Most bitching I heard was from people who were mis-informed about some facts or there for the wrong reason. (If you are pitching art, you don’t bring 4 foot pin ups to get a job) I think the Wizard staff did a great job. Putting on a show this size is no small task. There are a lot of things the fans never hear about. Things involved with having celebrities (which bring in people), reasons for wrist bands, and reasons why guests have to cancel. The sheer size of this makes me that much more impressed with what they did. Gillette had a booth. Fine by me, they were busy and by being there they helped support the show and keep costs to get in lower. Sam thing with the Venom energy drink. And seriously, free energy drinks at a comic convention, that’s management thinking in my book. (note, 8 concentrated energy drinks in 40 minutes is too many, yeah, I’m talking to you Joe!)

Will we take a booth next year. Hell yes.

Some highlights for me:

Talking to someone named Mike for a few hours at the booth next door and discovering it was Mike Gold. MIKE GOLD! The man is one of my heroes and it was probably just as well as I got to know him as a great fellow reader and saved me from being a drooling fanboy. Mike is a fellow fan of good stories, no matter what form they are in and I could talk to him for hours.

I met Howard Chaykin and got to be a drooling fanboy, and no, I’m not embarrassed. And as it turns out Howard Chaykin is a big reader and loves crime fiction. We love a lot of the same authors and that just makes me respect him even more. American Flagg was the first book I ever read that wasn’t from Marvel or DC. He changed my reading habits, because I soon bought everything else First Comics did. Badger, Nexus, Sable Freelance, and Grim Jack. Before long I was getting books from all sorts of other indy companies and continue to do so to this day. I’ve since followed his work and love everything Chaykin does.

We got a signature from Edward James Olmos. Very charming man and very good with his fans. Loved him in Miami Vice and everything since.

I had a chance to tell George Perez what a fan of his work I am. Yet another wonderful person.

I bought some really cool stuff from the Heroes Initiative booth. A nice print, a couple books and a shotglass. A great organization and really good place to give money.

Jason Latour is very cool and I loved talking with him. The man is well read. He also has a cool evil laugh.

Tony Moore is quite possibly too cool. His wife is also very cool as well. Anything with his art is worth reading.

I met Ande Parks briefly and hope to talk at him at length in the future. His book Capote in Kansas looks amazing.

Speaking of wives, mine was wonderful this weekend. Mark Kidwell’s wife and RD Hall’s wives were also great. He time we spent was, as always too brief, but a real highlight of the weekend. What’s cool is these gentlemen know, as I do , how lucky they are.

The Avatar booth was a great place to spend money I love everything they do.

Top Shelf also had some great books.

The people from In Stock Trades were my favorite place to buy books. I think I went back seven times. Great service at the con and through the website.

Dinner with a playmate, the writer of James Bond books and New York Times Best seller was damn cool. I also like the really big cake.

The real highlight was meeting and talking with John Ostrander. What a great person he is. Charming and wonderful to all the fans he met. We had a chance to compare items we had picked up. John bought a Dr. Who DVD set with John Pertwee, I found the Deadman Slip cased edition of the series.

We met a lot of people this past weekend and all of them were really great, except maybe for one waiter, who found out how I felt when he got his tip. If we met this weekend and I didn’t mention you, it’s only because it all happened so fast I have trouble remembering it all.

We are already talking about next year and making phone calls to see if we can up our game. And I know Wizard plans to up theirs.

So thank you everyone who came by the Crimespree Booth and everyone who came to the con

And a big thank you to all the folks at Wizard, you made us feel welcome.