CHICAGO On Friday afternoon at McCormick Place, a grown woman wearing silky blue cat ears squealed over a little girl sporting a mini Superwoman cape. A couple, both wearing white face makeup that recalled Heath Ledger's character from the last Batman movie, strolled past, and in another corner, a man hawking custom corsets asked passersby: “May I have the pleasure of tying you up?” In short, there were plenty of curiosities at the first Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo, held at the convention center from April 16 to 18.
The first-time event was produced by the Reed Exhibitions Pop Culture Group, the team that organizes New York's Comic Con. “Our customers, and particularly the big publishers like Marvel and DC and Dark Horse, really wanted to see a large-scale, broad-base, pop culture event that is professionally run take place in Chicago,” said Lance Fensterman, Reed's Connecticut-based vice president of publishing and pop culture. “When your customers tell you what to do, it makes it easy to make the decision to do it.”
Fensterman explained that Chicago has a “really strong comic retailer community. The Chicago area alone has about three times as many comic retailers as all of New York, and a really strong educational community. There are a number of graphic design schools, and a school that has game design in its curriculum. The city has a great mix of fans, students, and creators.”
Even with a seemingly built-in base of enthusiasts, Fensterman said that the greatest challenge of launching the new event was “trying to get market awareness, and getting our customers to support something that has never been done before.” He said that Reed's strategy was to “work the base and motivate the hard-core comic book fans,” including original content creators, comic book artists, and fans. “They're at the core of the event,” he said, “and our idea was to build an expo that appealed to those people. We wanted to motivate the base to come interact with us and let the show build from there.”
The show drew around 27,500 attendees and offered 200 exhibitors, 175 panels and screenings, and appearances from industry names such as Neil Gaiman, Chris Ware, and Alex Ross. Fensterman said that the show will return to McCormick Place next April, and will become an annual occurrence.