My usual gig isn’t pop culture – I much prefer anime conventions in general, as my gig is video games. However, the pop culture convention Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) is available by public transit for me, so I decided to make an appearance.

Before c2e2: First impressions

I knew going into the convention that it would not be cheap. In fact, pop culture conventions are notoriously more expensive than anime conventions. It makes sense, considering that pop culture is much more mainstream than anime. As an example, in 2009, pop culture convention Wizard World Chicago pulled in about 8,000 attendees. However, the anime convention Anime Central had over 17,000.

Conversely, C2E2 cost $80 for one pass for the entire weekend. If you purchase your ticket early, you can get a ten dollar discount, but that’s still $70 for the weekend. Anime Central, abbreviated ACen, costs $70 at the door – and they sell tickets in advance for as low as $48. Considering that ACen has larger events for less money, it’s not a shock that it pulls more geeks in Chicago.

However, C2E2 does have its niche. If there’s anything nerds are good at, it’s complaining about other nerds. This is where C2E2 has its pull – many people don’t care for anime and Japanese culture and want just American based media. They will pay more money for a narrower target that interests them.

Stormtrooper Star Wars cosplay
Stormtroopers, as in the Galactic Empire, are everywhere at C2E2.

These crowds also tend to have less cosplayers (people who dress up as their favorite characters) and more interest in the guests. In fact, the guests a comic convention can bring is so much more important than those at an anime convention, where they mostly have voice actors from popular shows.

What to expect

As I said, I’m not usually at comic conventions, so I decided to take a look at the C2E2 website to see what they said. Among some other things not specific to C2E2 (such as shopping opportunities, artists, and people in costume) I found the one thing that seems to set it apart:

C2E2 gives Fans a chance to interact with their favorite Creators and Celebrities and delivers a weekend of pop culture and fandom in downtown Chicago.

This quote comes right out of “Answers to Fan Questions: What is C2E2?” on the official website.

What I can assume from this is that C2E2 focuses much more on fan interactions with celebrities than fan interactions with each other. Where anime conventions are about meeting other nerds, people at comic conventions are excited to meet the content creators.

Arrival

C2E2 intimidated me the minute I walked in. This could have been the effect of McCormick Place itself, which is a center I rarely go into. Still – I dressed up as Lillie, a character from Pokémon. The cornerstone of this convention is comics and superheroes, not wide-eyed game protagonists.

I wasn’t the only one, but certainly a minority there.

Bridget Burley Lillie Pokemon cosplay
Putting a ponytail clip on doesn’t make me look less like a six year old boy.

It took a while for me to find a restroom (hidden in the back, no signs to tell me where it was) and a cup of coffee (the Starbucks line went beyond the doors) before I was ready to explore.

The first thing I noticed was that I was able to get to the show floor without showing any form of a pass, just a bag check. For some, this is great. They have the opportunity to see the cosplays and dealers without paying $70 for a weekend. The convention itself, however, does not benefit from this. Thankfully, badge checks occurred later in the day.

atmosphere on the floor

It was certainly crowded that day, but this is usual for Saturdays at conventions. However, this was nearing overwhelming. There was no map at the front of the floor. Attendees are thrust into the center of Deadpool cosplays and vendors shoving business cards into their hands.

c2e2 convention
I hope you like people!

As I walked around the show floor, I noticed a large amount of vendors selling pre-owned comics. A comic person could possibly be interested in this, but unfortunately, I was not. This doesn’t mean the convention was bad, but simply not for me, vendor-wise. I did find some nice things in the Artist Alley.

Speaking of which, Artist Alley was similar to the rest of it. There was the bizarre realization that one or two artists I had seen at other anime conventions, but considering the general crowd at C2E2, they probably don’t have quite as much success there than at Anime Central.

Many other kinds of vendors saw an opportunity at C2E2, but unfortunately didn’t fit in very well with the comic and apparel vendors. For example, a humane society for reptiles had a booth, as well as a company selling melting rubbers and molds.

snake C2E2 bridget burley
A very convincing snake cosplay.
Meeting the guests

I am just a poor college student. Most of my money goes towards food and late-night Amazon purchases, and so I believed that $80 was enough to warrant me a meeting with one guest, at least.

I was wrong.

C2E2 charges $70 just to enter the convention. Want a selfie? $20, no checks accepted, and we hope you make it to the front of the line in time. If you want to watch your favorite creator answer some questions, you can cough up $210 to get guaranteed seating. Otherwise, you’re out of luck, try again next year.

Iron Man Captain America C2E2 cosplay
They’re not the real Tony and Steve, but it’s close enough to warrant the price.

This is my problem with these large, mainstream comic conventions: They see how much nerds will pay at an event and take advantage, making the experience underwhelming for those who can’t spend hundreds to hear Stan Lee cough into the mic. If you don’t spend this money, you are not guaranteed anything you were guaranteed before buying the badge.

What?

Not even a photo on your phone is free: Artists and writers were charging as much as $30 for a phone selfie. It’s $50 for the celebrity to write their name on a photo.

This kind of thing is common at Comic Con, known as the largest comic convention worldwide, but C2E2 is not quite at that level. In fact, if you really love Frank Miller‘s work, you can pay $995 (!!!!!) to see this guy on Saturday only.

past the price: how does c2e2 line up?

When C2E2 is a comic convention centralized around meeting your favorite creators, it can seem obnoxious that you have to pay extra to see them. If you pay the base $80 and want an autograph, you are paying over a hundred dollars to stand in line most of the day just to hope for your chance. You still might not get it!

That said, C2E2 has great guests. One of those included was the enigmatic Stan Lee – you may recognize him for his cameos in the Marvel movies – as someone any Marvel fan would love to meet. Additionally, Frank Miller may charge an arm and a leg, but his influence on the comic world is undeniable.

stan lee c2e2
This guy makes more money off geeks than a bully at lunchtime.

Additionally, C2E2 picked a fantastic center. Although at first confusing, the McCormick Place is easily the most streamlined convention center I have ever been in, and they made it easy to navigate (until the show floor) with signs at every escalator. Although the show floor was chaotic, I have to wonder if it is that way on purpose to create the feeling of being in a completely different world.

And if you were still wondering if I stuck out, I didn’t. I was recognizable enough by fans of Pokémon, and those who don’t play games complimented my costume as an artistic effort. (My seams were really bad, but it’s fine. They couldn’t see them anyway.)

Final thoughts

I’ve become spoiled by my own choice in conventions, even entitled. I thought that paying for a badge meant entry to all convention events and guests. Should this be the case? I believe so, because choosing not to pay “extra” would detract from the experience of those who are interested in the guest appearances.

This isn’t to say my experience was detracted from at all. As someone who goes to conventions to chat up other nerds and get a Nintendo Streetpass boost. If I went to meet Stan Lee, however, I’d be S.O.L.

Would I pay $80+ to attend this, even if I did care who Frank Miller is?

Well…. Not really. Frank has plenty of cash as is, and although it would be cool to meet the creator of something I care for, I’d need a much higher paycheck to justify that. As I’d rather spend my time at conventions exploring the sights and people, I’m not fond of the idea of waiting hours in a line for a chance to talk to one nerdy person.

Besides, I’d rather support freelance artists there than one who is 94 years old and long since made it. You’d think this would be the principle of comic book lovers, but I saw that line, and I did not envy them.

Overall, I’d go to C2E2 for a day again, but I certainly wouldn’t pay for it. It really just depends on what (or who) you’re there for.

C2E2 Convention Commentary: Expectations & Outcomes

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