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August 4, 2006

A Brief Guide To Wizard World: Chicago

Here's my much less impressive guide to Chicago and the Wizard World: Chicago show, taking place the next few days in what is certain to be insanely grotesque heat defeated at the convention center by powerful air conditioning of the crisp, freezing variety only Midwesterners know how to make. Those of us who have been around for several years can remember a time when there was no Wizard World in front of Chicago, you could buy your American Splendors from Harvey Pekar directly and the Chicago con was at least and obviously the second-biggest show in the country. But that was a long time ago, an era that no doubt began with a few phone calls to Larry's Comics on Devon and that saw its climax during the early-'90s Image Comics coming out party/sign-a-thon.

Wizard World: Chicago is still the second most important show for mainstream companies, and may be the most important show for Marvel. Big mainstream comics companies like the Chicago crowds and are used to working with Wizard's magazine division on the kind of announcements they'll be making all weekend. For other companies, though, BookExpo America and when added up a series of market-target shows like SPX have grown more important than Chicago, and the new New York show may get big enough quick enough to become a competitor in terms of attendance. Anyway, Chicago remains a well-attended show after being rescued by Wizard in the late '90s, and is much loved by many people. Here are some tips.

1. First of all, you're not in Chicago. You're in the village of Rosemont. Between O'Hare and Chicago proper, Rosemont is a hotel and convention hub that has hosted multiple Wrestlemanias in its stadium and has a semi-creepy reputation as a gated community. You won't experience any of that, though. You may not experience any sunshine, even. We used to call Chicago the Logan's Run show because 1) with the tubes connecting hotels and convention center you never had to go outside and 2) we're nerds. Anyway, adjust your expectations.

2. To say the same thing in a slightly different way, Chicago seems to be much more about the hotel bars, poker games and hanging out in someone's room than it is about heading out on the town or going to a party paid for with somebody's publicity budget.

3. Getting to the show is horrible, quite frankly. I used to work out there and a 25 minute commute in the morning became a 90 minute one at night in early rush traffic. It's better on the weekends. I believe you can take the El (you can get to Rosemont on the El, but I don't remember how far away the convention center is), but that's not exactly an easy journey, either. The best way to approach it is to make the journey part of the fun.

4. Chicago is the greatest American city in which to eat, doubly so if you value stuffing your gut more than experiencing a broad variety of subtle, delicate tastes. What you'll find in and around Rosemont is mostly a collecton of upscale chains. The Gino's and Giordano's chains both do okay stuffed pizza (most of my friends prefer Gino's; I like Giordano's better); stuffed pizza being a Great Chicago Food. Another Great Chicago Food is the Chicago hot dog, which you can get nearby at Gold Coast or Augie's Doggies. I lived in Chicago for a few years and I never made taste distinctions between hot dog locations, so you might not have to, either.

5. If you still want to eat cheaply but also hit an actual Chicago hipster landmark, try Arturo's at the Western elevated train stop. It's likely different now, and everything certainly costs more as I haven't been there in 13 years. But it should still do you right for pretty cheap. They have parking, accept credit cards and are open 24 hours.

6. Honestly, you can eat on just about any corner in Chicago and have a decent meal. The neighborhood bars are fantastic, too.

7. If you make it into Chicago, perhaps staying over a day or two, both Chicago Comics and Quimby's are worth a visit.

8. If you want to do something touristy, here's my personal pantheon of Chicago landmarks/experiences:
a) a Cubs game at Wrigley Field
b) a visit to the Art Institute to look at the Winslow Homers
c) a Sox game at Comiskey, making sure you stop by the old home plate and pay tribute
d) reading the Sun-Times in the lobby of the Palmer House Hilton followed by an alcohol-fueled early lunch of steak sandwiches at the bar in Miller's Pub, making sure to raise a glass to the signed photo of Dick the Bruiser
e) seeing a good small theater production
f) shopping at the amazing Jazz Record Mart
g) cocktails at the Green Mill

9. Blues bar of choice: Buddy Guy's Legends, but seeing some blues is not the requirement you'd think.

10. As for the show itself, Wizard World: Chicago is developing a quality reputation as that most retro of all things comics convention-related: a place to shop for old comics. Bring your want list and your wallet.

11. WWC is also a good place to have a slightly longer conversation with a small press artist you like or with whatever non-mainstream guys decided to attend; plan to take a longer walk around artist's alley than you might at other shows.

12. It may be limited in what comics it offers when compared to some of its rivals, but despite the thrust of some of its advertising Wizard World: Chicago still concerns itself with comics more than it does with movies or toys. You'll find many pros relaxed, in a good mood, and ready to socialize. Attend a panel and cheer for creative teams you know nothing about. Buy a cartoonist a drink. Look at some Charlie Biro comics. Be responsible, be safe, and have a good time.


Native Chicago Ivan adds and admonishes:

1. Getting to the show is not horrible. The El will leave you less than 2 city blocks from the convention center. If you stay at an O'Hare area or Rosemont hotel the commute will be less than 15 minutes.
2. At the risk of sounding like a hopeless mid-westerner, we do not eat stuffed pizza in Chicago. [Editor's Note: D'oh!] Chicago is the home of deep dish pizza -- Giordano's and Gino's are both good, but Pizzerria Uno is where they created the deep dish pizza.
3. Arturo's is still open, still decent food and still fairly cheap.
posted 6:30 am PST | Permalink

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