I have attended NYCC in the past and knew that both NYCC and C2E2 were operated by Reed POP! So, when I had entered, I was not surprised by the familiar color scheme and font labeling of their aisles, but I was surprised by the size difference and layout.
Upon first glance, NYCC is massive, with their Artist Alley taking place in a completely separate wing and is a two-day trip on its own, if one chose to take their time admiring different works from various artists. While the convention layout of the McCormick Place - South Building for C2E2 was more of a larger square, C2E2 was able to dedicate almost one third of the floor just to Artist Alley.
As a firm believer of supporting Artist Alley and the creative endeavor of individuals, I loved it. Going through Artist Alley took me roughly 8 hours alone, and I didn’t even doddle at each table. While I understand that many can just walk through in an hour or two, they would be doing themselves a disservice, as they might miss an interesting piece here and there.
There was no dedicated space for Small Press; however, as most conventions have their aisles numbered 100 and up, the first half of row 100 of C2E2 would suffice as being called the “Small Press area.” There were less than twenty Small Press publishers (a few were located in Artist Alley). I do wish that there was more of a Small Press presence. I am glad that the show organizers have chosen to put them more or less in one row, as opposed to spreading them on the floor in various aisles. I was left curious as to whether the lack was due to not enough applicants, or a decision done on purpose by Reed POP!. Over the years, I understand that different conventions have chosen to concentrate on different areas of pop culture, and perhaps this was just not something C2E2 was interested in.
Although the area was tiny, every single Small Press publisher had the enthusiasm of a large publisher. The quality of books, and overall friendliness, had let time fly as I ended up spending more than 2 hours just making it down ten publishing companies.
The exhibitor floor is how I would feel the perfect size for a major pop culture convention should be. The size allows several days of walking through if an attendee feels up to it, even allowing enough time to double back and check out booths that they may have bookmarked for later. The issues of some larger conventions due to the sheer size would include: intimidation as a newcomer who wouldn’t know where to start, along with it only being open for a certain number of days. This will cause any fan to either rush through it or, sadly, pick the couple of rows of booths (retailers, toys, etc.) that they feel would suit them best, sacrificing the rest to a hope that perhaps, next year, they could plan out a better schedule to see everything.
Marvel had a wonderful booth, as always; however, one would be quick to notice that DC Comics was not there. As the big two don’t really need to promote themselves, it is still a comforting presence to see them there. It felt very odd walking around the floor and not seeing DC Comics/Entertainment as one of the highlighted booths, usually near Marvel, where fans can have playful banter of what they saw at each booth (and who had better free offerings).
When I had studied the floor layout, I noticed a Family HQ space labeled. The title is a no-brainer, but I still went to go and check out the area. While I do not have children, I have many friends who do, and one of the moments that I sympathize with is seeing the happiness of parents who want to expose their children to the wonderful world of pop culture, but are exasperated and exhausted. They are in desperate need of a safe place that they can just sit down and rest. The Family HQ center did just that. I saw many happy parents there . . . and sleepy children.
The BLOCK was a rectangular area highlighted in dark grey in the middle of the exhibitor floor map, and it was described by many repeat attendees and professionals as the area where art, designer toys, and urban vinyl came together. At San Diego Comic-Con, companies that fall under that category may not have a designed section, but they often are found near the back near the giant FUNKO booth; however, there is not always a clear indication of where the booths start and end. Here at C2E2, it is easily spotted by the con goers, as there is large black sign overhead cheerily announcing it as The BLOCK.
The carpet for the rest of the floor is red, but the carpet is black for this area. So, while walking through the floor, even if one is too busy to look up to see the sign, one will quickly notice when they look down and see that they are no longer on red carpet. They will quickly put together that they’ve entered another fun category of items that C2E2 has allowed companies to offer.
Restrooms were easily accessible, as the South Building of McCormick place has a layout of having them in the middle of the floor. Located downstairs, the lines were not too long, for men or women, and I had chosen to make a quick visit on a Saturday, during one of its busiest times. There isn’t much cell reception, so if one would like to meet up with a friend, please be sure to make arrangements before heading in.
Chicago is known for their baseball teams, the Gold Coast, architecture, culture, and excellent food. There was no shortage of food kiosks on the main floor, all from popular establishments from Chicago. Garrett Popcorn was one example, along with kosher hotdogs, and Chicago’s famous ribs. Yes, one can get beer and a full rack of ribs at C2E2. With plenty of places to sit, all the roundtables have allowed new friendships to be made over conversations of how their day is going, and what they were eating. I didn’t feel rushed while taking some time for myself.
Something that I really loved about C2E2 was the different meetups. At other conventions, one would have to scour Facebook events, groups, Twitter hashtags, and more to see where people would be proposing doing group meetups. Instead, I found that there was a dedicated room near the panels that were for meetups only.
On Friday, there was a Harry Potter meetup, and Saturday had one for Game of Thrones, etc. There were so many to choose from: Supernatural fans, Star Wars, Star Trek, to sci-fi bibliophiles. One was able to come together and discuss theories, shipping, annoyances, and hopes. I attended a few myself, and there was no shortage of joy and laughter. I made new friends, and everyone was open and welcoming.
As I stopped by from to time to pop my head in for other franchise meetups, I saw that there was no rudeness nor verbal disagreements breaking out, but only plenty of people complimenting each other's cosplay and providing a safe space for so many. I wish there was a PSA spot compiled of a montage of meetups in this room, shown around the convention and online, as a leading example of how fandom should be.
One of the many things attendees, professional, press, and exhibitors dread is the hired security of a convention. More often than not, they are lacking in organization, knowledge, and even simple communication skills. At C2E2 I did not find this to be the case. As I mentioned earlier, it had been a while since I last attended, and my memory was fuzzy on locations of restrooms, food, hotels, panels, and more. Each time I asked a security guard, they happily pointed to the direction that I needed to go, and to my surprise, each time it was correct. They even gave their names in case one felt more comfortable to come back with further questions.
Many of us are used to just entering the exhibit hall in a cluster, or opening any available door and walking right into the main convention floor. Since I had gotten accustomed to that over the years, I was a bit frustrated to find a very long single file line to get into C2E2, until I realized that there was a bag check.
It was not the same as a cosplay weapons check (That was at another area.), but rather to make sure that there was double effort to ensure con goers safety. I noticed that my hotel had a "No Gun" sign posted at various places, and upon asking hotel staff, was told that open carry is illegal, but concealed is not. With the exception of where a private owner in Illinois does not allow it, and public areas, and in this case, a convention would fall under a public area or event.
I felt a lot safer and understood that patience is key to entering C2E2. The security staff is not trying to make our lives difficult nor squash our joy, but rather provide safety, especially with recent events in the past years.
Frustrated brows, complaints, and unhappiness can often be the vibe of eager attendees or professionals that need to get going to a meeting inside the convention, but have yet to obtain their badge. I was delighted to find how swift and efficient it was to get mine and, upon observation, others as well.
As my badge was not mailed to me, since I was approved after the mailing cut off, I was able to bring my print-out and wait in a designated line. As I saw that a couple at the press booth was taking a bit longer than usual to sort out an issue, I turned to see a volunteer tell me that I can actually pick up my badge at Will Call (usually for general attendees), as their entire badge organization is all connected on one system. I quickly got into the line, and in less than 3 minutes, I had my badge in my hand, no questions asked.
The badge came with no lanyard nor program guide; however, as I have mentioned about the queue earlier, one can actually pick up a program guide or two in a large bin on the way to the queue. A free lanyard is obtained after a bag check; however, if one doesn’t clutch their badge tight, it might get lost in the shuffle of people. I would highly recommend bringing a lanyard with your favorite characters on it, so one can clip it on right away.
There is so much more to C2E2, as they offer a wide array of panels, celebrities doing autographs, a cosplay central, and areas dedicated to tabletop games, console games, and topping everything off with a Cosplay Masquerade judged competition.
Overall, I loved my time at C2E2, and I highly recommend it. I look forward to returning again, as there are so many fun things to do and see, and the city of Chicago is a beautiful backdrop to have it in.