I first attended Chicago’s Wizard World Comic-Con and Gaming expo twelve years ago. Wizard World is Chicagoland’s annual go-to event for all things pop culture.
During my 2004 Wizard World adventure, I was visibly pregnant with our oldest son.
As my husband and daughter walked around gleefully purchasing everything from comic books to Star Wars toys, I took a more leisurely pace through the expo, taking in all of the sights, sounds, and elaborately-costumed attendees.
A guy in a Green Lantern tee, who had to be at least ten years younger than me, approached me as I browsed a table selling DVDs of the extended cut of “Goonies.” We made small talk, and then he asked me to go to lunch with him. I was rather surprised that neither my wedding band nor my round baby belly poking through my Wonder Woman t-shirt deterred him from seeking a date..! I graciously declined and shared that I was at the convention with my daughter and husband. He said “Aww… that’s too bad.”
I’ve never forgotten the experience, because it epitomized the fact that anything can happen at Wizard World.
Last weekend, our family returned to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont with a group of friends for Wizard World 2016. Whether you’re a fan of cosplay, superheroes, horror, manga, anime, comics, video games, or simply the films and television shows that have cemented themselves as mainstays of American culture, you’ll find something fun to see and do at Wizard World.
In addition to the enormous expo hall offering a myriad of collectibles, costume pieces, movie memorabilia, and more, Wizard World 2016 also featured a video gaming floor with free gameplay stations from Namco, Geico and others. Of course, the prospect of unlimited free gaming appealed immensely to my sons.
Wizard World is also known for its celebrity guests, and the weekend brought everyone from WWE wrestlers to television and movie stars out for question-and-answer sessions, autograph signings and photo opportunities. The signings and photo ops can be purchased online ahead of the convention or on site.
One of the most popular photo ops of the convention was the “Back to the Future” cast photo on Saturday: You could have your photo taken with Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, and Lea Thompson in front of one of the Back to the Future DeLoreans. Talk about a blast from the past! Alas, with KISS in town on the same day as the Back to the Future cast, our family was not able to fit both events into our schedule.
However, on the Sunday we attended, another highly tempting photo opportunity was taking place: The X-Files’ Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. Our family hadn’t planned to purchase any celebrity photos, but my best friend was relentless: “How can you not do the X-Files photo? When will you ever have an opportunity to do this again? Never.”
I should add that I was, and remain, a huge fan of the X-Files. When the original series was in its heyday, we were often on the phone immediately after an episode ended to discuss everything from conspiracy theories to the show’s very good-looking stars. (We did the same during the 2016 mini-season!) This friend has a way of convincing me to open my wallet faster than my own family can, and soon, I was flashing an X-Files meet and greet ticket of my own.
As our family headed in to meet Mulder and Scully, I asked my husband, “Who do you want to stand with — Gillian or David?”
“Who do you think?” he replied.
I have to say, both Gillian and David look fantastic in person. She’s 48, he’s 56. Look at them — amazing!
(And yes, my friend was right — this photo really was worth having. It was so much fun to meet them!)
Well, once you’ve sprung for one photo op, what’s one more? As we browsed the rest of the available meet and greet opportunities, another star jumped out at us: The inimitable Bruce Campbell, star of the Evil Dead legacy, Burn Notice, and most recently, Ash vs. Evil Dead.
The Toledo Blade has called Bruce “the Laurence Olivier of bad movies.” Mental Floss says, “No actor has done more with questionable scripts than Bruce Campbell.” We just love him.
Meeting Bruce was delightful. We headed into our photo op, and Bruce said, “Hello, punks!” to our boys. As we positioned ourselves for the photo, (“Punks, in the front!”) he asked me if our boys actually knew who he was. (Admittedly, much of Bruce’s horror-genre catalog is not exactly child-friendly!) I explained that they don’t know him as the chainsaw-wielding Ash Williams yet — to our boys, he’s Sam Axe, former Navy SEAL pal and resident mojito-drinker on Burn Notice.
“That’s good, that’s good. Not yet…” he demurred.
I should add that the Wizard World photo opportunities run like well-oiled machines. As you exit the meet and greet, you follow a yellow line on the floor. At the end of the line, approximately 30 seconds after your photo is taken, a Wizard World staffer hands you an 8X10. It’s an incredibly efficient process.
We spent the rest of our day walking around and shopping. Truly, if you’re a fan of anything pop culture, you can probably find it here. One of my sons picked up a Pokemon Ash cap and was grinning as random convention-goers called him “Ash” throughout the day.
While there are plenty of high-end (and high-priced) collectibles at Wizard World, there are bargains to be had too. This booth was giving away free Skylanders and Pokemon posters, and my kids knew not to pass those up!
Quite a few booths were selling customized Lego Minifigs. Who could resist those Star Wars BB8s?
My husband and sons are big WWE fans too, but when the boys found out that a box of The New Day’s Booty-Os cereal cost $13, they were a bit shocked. (They know what their mama pays for cereal..!)
This booth was selling replica copies of the Hill Valley Telegraph from “Back to the Future.”
If you love seeing authentic movie and television props, there are plenty of those to be had too. Here, my son has fallen on and crushed Iron Man’s ’67 Shelby Cobra. (Yes, that was a million dollar car.)
How about Starsky & Hutch’s Gran Torino? Oh yes.
Here, my arm is being eaten by whatever’s lurking inside the authentic Evil Dead II workshed. A fan recovered it from the original film site almost 30 years after the movie was filmed. He painstakingly reconstructed the shed and now takes it on tours around the country to fan events like this one.
(This KISS knock-off shirt made me laugh — check out all the famous movie murderers in KISS makeup!)
While my husband and kids have attended Wizard World numerous times over the years, it was really eye-opening for me to see how much the event has grown compared to what it was on my last visit twelve years ago. The convention hall now spans several enormous rooms at the Stephens Center, and the upstairs loft area for both video gaming and celebrity photo ops provides a more relaxed environment for these attractions versus having them on the convention floor.
Will I return to Wizard World again? You bet. And this time, it won’t take me twelve years to re-visit.
Wizard World returns to Chicago in 2017 August 24-27th. Learn more about the event at WizardWorld.com.