11:00 am EDT, August 27, 2015

Wizard World Chicago 2015: Large convention, local feel

If you've never attended a Wizard World convention, you're missing out.

Wizard World Chicago, also known as Chicago Comic Con, is one of the biggest events in the Chicagoland area every year, if not the midwest. Despite its size, it has a really local and small convention feel.

What do I mean by “small feel”? Well, the atmosphere in the convention center was that of a sort of grassroots-like convention. A convention put on by people who are actually from Chicago instead of New York or Los Angeles.

Take C2E2 (Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo), Chicago’s other big convention, for example. C2E2 is huge. It’s held at the McCormick Place downtown and makes use of its vast amount of space. While it’s about the same size as Wizard World Chicago (if not sliiiiiiightly smaller) and put on by a large company, C2E2 doesn’t really incorporate the “Chicago” aspect into everything that it does. At least, it didn’t this past year.

However, despite its size, Wizard World incorporated Chicago into quite a bit of its programming and worked with the businesses and hotels around it to give its guests the best possible experience.

Related: Indy PopCon 2015: A how-to guide to creating female-friendly conventions (opinion)

For perspective, Wizard World puts on numerous conventions every year, all around the country. In the past year, they’ve put on about 20 events or so. That’s crazy. For a company like Wizard World to balance so many events and yet make each of those events feel so personal to the city they’re currently in is more than impressive. It’s amazing.

So how exactly did Wizard World Chicago 2015 celebrate the event’s location? Let’s see now…

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The programming

Jeremy Renner Wizard World panel

Throughout the weekend, there were very specific Chicago-themed panels including “Paranormal City: Chicago” and “Chicago’s Illustrious Comics History” (hosted in part by the fantastic Maggie Thompson, who those of you who listen to Pop Culture Happy Hour and know of Stephen Thompson will recognize). These panels connected the convention to the city, bringing it in as a sort of character in itself.

Even the bigger panels, though not Chicago-centric, had a really intimate sort of vibe to them. I think part of that came from the fact that the panelists (in the largest hall) were seated on the comfiest looking couches and just looked really relaxed. Their demeanor made the panels feel like more of a chat with a friend rather than a Q&A session or, given the size of some of the panels, like simply watching a YouTube video taken of a panel.

The smaller panels, while they didn’t include a couch, felt more personal as well. The guests and panelists would interact with the panel attendees, talking to them, joking with them, answering questions, etc. Brett Dalton hailed Hydra with a group of Hydra cosplayers seated at the back of the panel room and Milo Ventimiglia, after discussing his upbringing with a few audience members, actually called up his parents (who were adorable) for a quick chat during the panel.

No matter the panel size, the attendees always felt included in what’s going on instead of just feeling like we were watching from the outside.

The exhibitors

The Mystery Machine

In addition to the programming, there were a ton of local artists, comic book shops, and exhibitors in the halls. While that may not seem like a big deal, consider this: At other conventions, large companies like D.C. and Marvel have presences on the exhibition floor. There was none of that at Wizard World Chicago which really put the emphasis on supporting local artists and shops. My favorites? Carlations Art and Literary Alterations!

Two booths that I found myself constantly returning two were the booths for Wright Way Rescue and a booth for the Hall of Heroes Superhero Museum. The former is a local animal shelter who had a pen of puppies (NO JOKE!) and was taking donations to help with their relocation.

The Hall of Heroes is the only comic and superhero museum in the world (which is pretty awesome!) and it had rare comics on display as well as a car used in Iron Man and, my personal favorite, the original shield from Captain America: The First Avenger that’s autographed by the whole cast of The Winter Soldier and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. It was so beautiful, I cried. No joke.

The cosplayers

Spice Girls cosplay

While I enjoyed walking in and out of panels and exhibit halls, I always loved coming back into the main lobby of the convention center. It was here where cosplayers would meet and take pictures with each other. In other words, it was a giant hang out. A love fest of all things nerdy.

With the way that Wizard World Chicago has always been set up, you have to walk through the lobby to get to any other part of the convention, whether it be the exhibit halls, registration, or even panel rooms.It was in this central location where I met so many wonderful cosplayers and snapped a few awesome photos. It was also where I encountered familiar faces from my hometown or even previous Chicagoland area conventions.

I found myself constantly gravitating toward the main lobby to see what kind of amazing costumes I could find and if there were any cosplayers I’d like to snap a photo of (or with). After a while, I felt more of a draw to the space than the exhibit hall, which isn’t a knock on the exhibitors or Wizard World’s planning in any way. Wizard World Chicago simply cultivated such an open and friendly atmosphere for their convention and I felt compelled to return to where the atmosphere was most prevalent.

In essence, the lobby of Wizard World Chicago felt like a sort of home. A warm, inviting, and safe space filled with amazing people. That’s something that I never would have expected from a large convention. I loved every minute I spent in there.

Wizard World Chicago 2015 was one of the best weekends I’ve had so far this year and one of the best conventions I’ve ever attended. If you’ve never attended a Wizard World event and have a chance to do so, definitely go. It’s worth it.

Check out some of the photos I snapped throughout the weekend, including the Firefly, Stephen Amell, and Jeremy Renner panels, as well as some awesome cosplayers and the Captain America shield!

Original Captain America shieldCaptain America shield signatures

Lady Avengers cosplayers

Agent Carter Angie Cosplay

Wizard World Firefly panel

Brett Dalton photo op

Winter Soldier cosplay

Fred and George cosplay

Vacationing Stormtrooper

Stephen Amell Wizard World panel

Stephen Amell Wizard World panel

Phyllis Neffler Troop Beverly Hills cosplay

Ms. Frizzle Magic School Bus cosplay

Orphan Black Helena cosplay

Jeremy Renner Wizard World panel

Captain America Bucky rescue cosplay

Adventure Time cosplayers

Burt Reynolds Wizard World panel

(For some reason, my cameras decided to blur bits of pretty much every photo, so I apologize ahead of time for the photos not being as crisp as they should be!)


Have you ever attended a Wizard World event? What was your experience like?

Related: Wizard World Chicago recap: ‘Groot-ing’ is a thing

Wizard World logo

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