In a galaxy far, far away…(from reality)

Jeremy Gordon

We’d wondered whether or not we could secure press credentials, armed with only a borrowed SLR and uncut clips dug from underneath our beds, but as we walked along the lakefront, passing the black, impenetrable walls we suspected to be McCormick Place-really, we’d pointed at the biggest building on the horizon and hoped that was it-a mild fever overtook us. This was a comic book convention! See the couple carrying a bag filled with freebies; gawk at the man dragging a luggage case filled with comics to be autographed; follow the baby stroller with a bundle of comic books wrapped underneath it until you reach the steep staircase, where a balding 30-something stands at the top smoking a cigarette, and you think, “We have arrived.” Nothing sums up the three-day experience at the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo like a group of retailers who have seen too many warehouse floors and strung-up banners to be excited anymore, instead craving the first break they can get, where, fleeing the geeky ennui inside, they can congregate among fellow down-*ss dudes to beg the eternal question: “So, what’s selling well for you guys?”

There were booths stocked with kitschy shirts carrying slogans like “What You Call Kinky, I Call A Plan” and “Cthulhu For President”; there was a stand selling katanas and other weaponry that the vendor would only refer to as the “Sexy *ss Booth”; there was the original Batmobile and a sign that said, “Three Photos-$25; Add Supermodel!”; there were rows of comic artists peddling their own merchandise; there were backpacks and luggage cases, black hoodies and Superman shirts; there was a booth selling corsets, two for one; there were girls dressed as elves, painted green, writhing on the floor while overeager photogs snapped away. A paunchy 20-something walked past us outside the bathroom, telling his friend, “I like girls who are kind of cute, I just don’t like when they know it,” and that was half the event-the division between nerd reality and the rest of the world.

This was profoundly exciting; we were buzzed and looking for a story. Was it the number of Star Wars costumes-my partner guessed we’d see 11, I estimated 34-that paced around the Carrie Fisher autograph booth? (Final count: 18.) Was it the 40-something decrepit Elvis look-alike Superman hovering from booth to booth, carrying himself with a resigned pride, prodigious codpiece and all, not even pausing if someone said, “Can I take a photo of you?” Perhaps the story was the convention itself, the first to compete with the annual Wizard World event held at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in nearby Rosemont, which comic dealers, retailers and companies have been attending for years-now, it had a challenger.

“The convention is going great,” said Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, who sat at a Marvel booth signing comics he’d written or drawn when he wasn’t an editor but a creative trying to pay the bills and meet his deadlines. Quesada had attracted his fair share of hatred over the years as the boss man in charge, whether it was the changes he’d made to the Spider-Man mythos, his failure to meet deadlines as he tried to dabble in artwork while still cutting the checks or blah blah blah-the numerous reasons less relevant than the sheer vitriol of the comments, online or otherwise, attacking his weight or his general intelligence. Though, of course, none of these naysayers had ever talked to him face to face. “I’ve never gotten any of that in person,” he reflected. “It’s just all silent snipers who do nothing in real life.”

For these comic fans, real life doesn’t mean Internet bitching. It means coming together to get excited about standing in line for two hours to meet Carrie Fisher. Where else can you find that level of devotion? It might be weird to mention at work how far you’ve gone to find a rare copy of this variant cover of some issue of Green Lantern, but here they were war stories. We didn’t buy any comics, but on the way out, we knew it had been a real good time.