The new version of the annual Chicago-area convention run by Wizard, Chicago Comic-Con, was held last weekend at the Rosemont Convention Center, and although the number of exhibiting comic publishers and the number of artists in Artist Alley was down significantly from recent years, floor traffic seemed equal to or up from a year ago, and dealers that we talked to were ahead of or even with last year’s take.  Much has been made of the absence of Marvel, DC, Top Cow, Dark Horse, and other major publishers from the floor, but it appeared to us that the show was getting on just fine without them. albeit with a different vibe than it used to have. 


The growth area for the show appears to be in the number of autograph booths, where celebrities hawk photos and autographs.  Key categories were wrestlers, movie and TV celebrities (new and old), models (nude and otherwise), and a couple of MMA dudes.  While the autograph booths may not generate show revenue directly, each of the autographing celebrities presumably has a fan base of some size that attends, and the cumulative impact on attendance is undoubtedly a positive for the show.


The largest area of the show floor is the dealer area, sandwiched between the autograph area and artist’s alley.  This gives the dealers a steady flow of fans passing through the middle of the floor, and helped contribute to what we heard were solid sales among the dealers at the show. 


After a weak Thursday night, Friday was a good day, with Jamie Graham of Graham Cracker’s Comics, probably the dealer with the most square footage at the show, telling us that he’d hit 50% of the previous year’s take at his booths by Friday afternoon, a milestone that’s usually not reached until Saturday.  Floor traffic on Saturday was brisk, and Sunday seemed at least as good as years past.


The cancellation by Twilight star Peter Facinelli still left three more minor Twilight:  New Moon stars, who were probably the media stars with the most heat at the show. 


The business model for the re-cast Chicago Comic-Con is different from the one that Wizard has pursued in the past.  Gone are most of the largest booths from publishers and toy companies. But for fans that are looking for a large dealer floor, with a plethora of toy and old comic dealers, along with the chance to interact with celebrities from various categories, this show does the trick.


There was a lot of talk at the show about the impact of reduced publisher participation in  the Wizard show, and about whether the new Reed show, C2E2 (see “Reed Announces C2E2”), will kill Chicago Comic-Con, but we see the opportunity for the two shows to co-exist.  They’re separated by geography, time, and offerings, and their overlap will be limited.  A show at McCormick Place is unlikely to have many booths hawking 50¢ comics, toys missing parts for $1.00, older non-sports card sets, or remaindered graphic novels at half price.  And it will also be more difficult for the smallest publishers or creators to do C2E2 because of the higher expenses.  Those elements are just what make Chicago Comic-Con the place to go for some fans. 


Chicago Comic-Con, on the other hand, will have difficulty attracting the major exhibitors that can afford the expenses at McCormick Place and are looking for a particular kind of environment in order to participate at a high level.  The same factors that keep costs low for dealers at the Rosemont show (no carpets in the aisles, the distance from downtown attractions) make the show less attractive to publisher exhibitors.  Reed has also shown an ability to attract much greater press coverage to its events and will probably spend more on marketing, both of which are appealing to publishers and major talent.


So while there’s definitely some competition between Reed and Wizard (which scheduled its new Anaheim show on the same weekend as C2E2, see “Wizard Returns to SoCal”), after seeing what Wizard’s Chicago-area show has become, we’re less convinced that it’s a zero sum game between these two shows; it appears that both may be able to survive and even thrive, doing very different things.