Last week, Chicago area comic fans earned one last taste of the summer convention season as the Windy City Comicon blew into town with a sunny, Saturday-only venue of retail sales, up-close programming and most of all creative talent. In this, its second year, the con took place on the third-floor basketball court of the Center on Halsted Community Center, just blocks shy of Wrigley Field, and by all accounts, the day was a success with solid crowds moving in and out of the space and plenty of comics finding their way into new hands.
"I can already say that we're up in attendance over last year. It's been pretty good growth, and it's a real testament to the Chicago comic book community for creating some buzz about it," con co-promoter Chris Neseman told CBR outside the show floor. Expanding from an opening year with over 50 creators and 16 exhibitors, this year's Windy City con boasted 75 creators and 20 exhibitors, with book shops and publishers like Moonstone and Top Shelf Productions lining the outside edge while the main show floor consisted entirely of creator tables which, rather than carrying the traditional Artist's Alley monicker, Neseman called "Artist's Main Street." "Creators should be the draw. You go to enough small hotel shows that are very retailer driven with maybe a few creators there. We felt that a lot of people want to come to shows to get some face-to-face interaction with the creators that make the books that they love."
On hand down Main Street was a healthy mix of talent from across the comics industry, including mainstream genre creators like Gene Ha, Skottie Young and Pfeifer (who teased an incoming graphic novel) shouldering up with A-list indie talent including David Petersen and a "murder's row" of Top Shelf creators set up at the entrance, including Jeffrey Brown (who debuted his "Sulk" #3), Jeff Lemire, Nate Powell and Matt Kindt. Guest of honor Richard Starkings was also on hand with his artistic collaborators on Image's ongoing "Elephentmen" series. Starkings explained that he unwittingly played the roll of inspiration for how the Windy City con launched from Neseman and Brian Salazar's "Around Comics" podcast. "They've been extremely generous to us. I've been on the 'Around Comics' podcast three times, now I think – once at Emerald City – and they've just been supportive of the book. I wanted to show respect for that," Starkings said, describing the Elephentmen booth as "very busy."
"I was on a panel at lunchtime, and we sold a lot of books in the hour after that panel, and it's been a pretty brisk day. I really wanted to encourage the growth of an alternative show in Chicago. I can easily see this show becoming a two-day show, because the guys that organize it care about the people who are here and really respect the artists. I was actually talking to Chris on the podcast a few years ago, when I aired my view that the artists should be the focus of the show, that no artist should have to pay for a table. They should be there to draw people in, and Chris ran with that. I think that's an essential part of the growth of any new show."
The intimate feel of the floor layout carried over to the programming for the show, as the Center on Halsted space included a 150-seat auditorium the organizers used to host in-depth panel discussions. Aside from the "Starkings Raving Mad" spotlight panel, Windy City hosted a sketch jam to benefit the HERO Initiative, a spotlight on Skottie Young's "Oz" comics, and panel discussions focusing on the comics creative process from soup to nuts, including the craft of inking and a writer's panel that included Pfeifer, Sean McKeever, B. Clay Moore and surprise guest (and Chicagoan) Brian Azzarello.
Neseman said that beyond their marching orders of putting talent first with the show's free first come, first served tables, the Windy City crew wanted to place the focus squarely on comics, unlike many of the bigger, pop culture-focused national shows. "We're comic book fans, and we really, really wanted to go to a comic book convention," he explained, noting that his show provides an alternative to both Wizard Entertainment's suburb-based Chicago Comic-Con and the upcoming downtown C2E2 show put on by Reed Exhibitions.
"C2E2 is a completely different creature than our show," Neseman noted. "We have a great relationship with the people at Reed. They're a sponsor of this show. I think C2E2 is really going to solidify Chicago on the map as a major national power – that sounds silly – but it's going to be a destination show with a very national feel to it. Chicago has a very rich history of being a comic convention hot spot until probably about five years ago.
"Chicago has an amazing comic book community and fantastic fans. I think C2E2 is going to highlight that...the Wizard show was a very good show this year and a really nice regional show. That's a niche I see them fitting into, and if you look at their guest list, they're really pushing media guests and 'geek culture' even more than just comics. And I think there's room in this market [for all the shows.] There's over ten million people that live in the Chicago-land area, and a lot of them are comic book fans. And the ones that aren't have a real interest in those media guests, and I think Wizard can continue to hammer out that niche."
On the other hand, Neseman believes that Windy City with its one-day (for now) format and $10.00 entry fee makes it work for a casual fan. "I think C2E2 by the time it's done will be very firmly the third or maybe even the second convention in the country. We're never going to top the big shows in awe and shock factor, but I think we're going to get them on charm. This is a very charming show for people that get intimidated going to a 3-Day, 50 to 100,000 people show. I think will be a great introductory show for some folks."