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Wizard World Chicago, 2006

By Bert Ehrmann
2006-08-21
On Saturday August 5, I once again had the opportunity to attend the Wizard World Convention held annually in Chicago. What used to be known simply as a “Comic Book Convention” has recently morphed into the “Comics, Cards, Games, Toys, Anime, Manga, Gaming, TV and Movies!” convention. (Now that’s a mouthful.)

But no matter what the convention owners choose to call this mass of humanity that sweats together for three days every summer off of the shores of Lake Michigan near the in-bound runways of the O’Hare Airport, the geeks always seem to find the place.

The convention started for my group on a bit of a down-note as everyone attending was forced to fill out long forms resembling those of a doctor’s office to gain entrance to the convention floor. But no matter what questions were asked the answers given by me were false – is there any reason to answer accurately when I’m about to pay my hard earned $25 for the privilege of walking through the convention doors?

At the front of the convention center is where enormous booths for companies like Marvel and DC comics were located. This year these convention mainstays were joined by the likes of Spike TV and the International Fighting League. In a moment of sheer class, with the bait of free t-shirts, Spike TV got the crowd into a frenzy shouting “TNA, TNA!” Which, of course, was for their Total Nonstop Action Wrestling program on Spike and not something else. Though I wonder why it’s called TNA and not TNAW?

Also at the front of the center was where the “B” and “C” list celebrities were seated. Celebrities like Lou Ferrigno, Priscilla Barnes and Joyce DeWitt all signed autographs for an eager crowd. But still, how eager can one be, waiting for an autograph from someone like DeWitt who hasn’t had a major role since the demise of Three’s Company?

Out on the main convention floor is where things got interesting. Fans clogged the isles looking for the best bargains of the day while ogling over other fans dressed in the costumes of their favorite fictional characters. It was hard to turn a corner without bumping into a Storm Trooper or Batman’s sidekick Robin. But let’s face it; if you look more like Lt. Dangle from Reno 911 in Robin’s “short shorts” than the “Boy Wonder,” perhaps it’s time to start dressing like someone else.

It’s funny that fans who’ve always strived for a bit of respectability (collecting comics won’t ever be as manly as catching a football) turn out in droves to play dress-up on a hot and humid Saturday afternoon in August.

Children of the 1980s take note; your childhood is on sale at places like the Wizard World Convention. All manner of GI Joe and He-Man were being sold next to stacks of original Transformers. Common loose GI Joe figures were going for around $20 while a mint in box Zartan on his Swamp Skier was going for nearly $1,000! Which makes me really, really regret the time I decided I was too old for my GI Joe collection, and massacred the lot one day via fireworks.

But the moment that will stick in my mind the longest, until Alzheimer’s that is, was the appearance of Veronica Mars herself, Kristen Bell. Here’s how it went down: my group was walking through the autograph area looking to catch a glimpse of whatever celeb was signing autographs that afternoon. I had heard over the P.A. that Thomas Jane (The Punisher) was there and wanted to see if I could catch a glimpse of Deep Blue Sea himself. As I walked beside a group of people obviously in line waiting for something, a convention official shouted at me, “Wait a minute, Bud!” I stopped, an outside door ahead of me swung open, and in walked Bell, just a few feet past me and over to the signing table.

Kristen, if you’re reading this I’m sure you feel as I do that we made a real connection in those few moments we shared together. Feel free to contact me via the Fort Wayne Reader – I’m waiting with baited breath.