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Todd Allen on “A Pox on Rosemont”

Todd Allen is the author of “The Economics of Webcomics, 2nd Edition.” He consults on media and technology issues and is an adjunct professor with the Arts, Entertainment and Media Management Department at Columbia College Chicago. For more information, see www.BusinessOfContent.com. He writes a weekly column for Comic Book Resources called “Comic Book Publishing Follies.” You can read his column here.

A Pox on Rosemont – A Semi-Appreciation of Wizard World Chicago ’07

Wizard World Chicago ’07 was not as dire as the ’06 edition, but that’s not to say it was a roaring success. What you probably didn’t know was that there was a conspiracy of stupidity against the convention this year. Well, OK, two conspiracies of stupidity: we all know how dumb it was to schedule the show so close to the San Diego Comicon. What you probably didn’t realize was that the Chicago Transit Authority, a marvel of modern incompetence, had also conspired against the show: a large chunk of the train line to Rosemont was closed over the weekend. If you tried to board the “Blue Line” between the loop and about a third of the way to Rosemont, you found the stations closed and you had to take a bus to the Western Avenue station.

The Chicago transit system has been in freefall for a few years. Time was, living downtown near Water Tower, I could get out to Rosemont in under 45 minutes, no sweat – just take the train. These days, on a good day, if I take a short cut with the bus, and don’t wait an egregious amount of time for the bus, I might make it in an hour, but an hour and 15 minutes is more likely.

Friday afternoon, before the train was partially closed for construction, it took me 90 minutes to get to the convention, with a long wait for the bus. Sunday, having to switch buses to even get to a functioning train stop, it took 2 hours. Not only is that ridiculous for a local resident trying to get a local show, but it’s a huge inconvenience to a visitor that wants to experience a little of the city… especially when a cab downtown can cost in the neighborhood of $50.

Just to make it harder to get to the show as I experienced possibly the slowest train ride I’ve ever had on the Blue Line, as it stopped, started, and generally puttered like a jalopy on its last legs, I looked out the window and noticed I-90 had all 4 lanes headed towards Rosemont blocked off for an accident. It’s like a higher power wanted to keep people away. And I’m sick and tired of this venue, however, we’ll deal with that in a bit. First, the actual show:

Wizard World Chicago, from a retail stand-point is now a liquidation show. Normally, Sunday is the day you bargain shop at a convention. Not so at Wizard World. Well, perhaps some of the single issue bins didn’t start out at a quarter each, but they came down pretty fast. Still, starting on sneak peak opening Thursday night, most of the heavily discounted material was already at 35% – 50% off, and the bulk of that didn’t drop further. If you wanted trade paperbacks that were 1-2 years old, especially Marvel and DC, you could get them cheap. As low as $5 a pop. If you weren’t discounting, well, it sucked to be you. Who’s going to be paying retail when there’s a fire sale going on? And there continues to be attrition of retailers. A fellow at the Hyatt Bar rattled off 5 or 6 names to me Thursday night, but two names non-locals might recognize that I didn’t see were Chicago Comics and Forbidden Planet.

On the exhibitor side of things, there were a few noticeable absences. Slave Labor, Oni, TokyoPop, Viz, IDW, and the non-Top Cow branches of Image were all gone. (Though a few Image creators, including founding father, Jim Valentino, were in Artist’s Alley.) Dark Horse has a smaller booth than the Hero Initiative, make of the what you will. Has this been abandoned as a super hero-only show? Perhaps.

As for the programming, and this is where I’ve heard comparisons being made to Creation conventions, of late, it was once again largely company marketing presentations. Bob Wayne emcees so many panels, they should just break down and buy him a tuxedo.

Talking to locals, nobody who didn’t have a free pass or a booth attended more than one day. Just not that much to do, was the common complaint, usually accompanied by a longing for the programming choices from before Wizard bought the show. One fellow who only showed up Sunday, bought a pass off someone in the CTA parking lot for $10 and was glad to have only paid that, since he almost exclusively coming to shop. Can’t blame a guy for not wanting to pay at the door for the privilege of spending money. I feel the same way about paying a cover charge at a bar, when I’m going there to drink and all they don’t even have a band.

This wasn’t a total loser show, despite my general apathy. I wasn’t sure attendance was any better than last year on Thursday or Friday, which is to say, pretty quiet, but others have said that it was. Saturday, which I didn’t bother attending was decent by all accounts. Now Sunday, was the most interesting to me. When I finally arrived at 2:30pm, the publisher area just inside the main door was a ghost town. Jaw-droppingly empty. Thing was, the further towards the back of the hall I went, the busier it got, and Artist’s Alley was as busy as I’d ever seen it. The retailers, at least the ones with deep discounts, seemed to be doing OK, too. A healthy Artist’s Alley is good for the show, especially since space there doesn’t come cheap. I suspect more people made their table fee back than at the last few shows.

Now back to the subject of Rosemont. I am sick to death of Rosemont. Rosemont is increasingly a pain to get to, owing in a large part to the decline of Chicago’s transit system. Moreover, there isn’t just a whole lot to do there. You have 2 good, high-end steak joints, Giordano’s, McDonald’s and some hotel venues. You’ve got the Hyatt Bar and the dinky bar at Sofitel. At least the Hyatt Bar isn’t incredibly overpriced. For the drink I had there, I’d consider $5.50 about right for a glass of Fat Tire in Chicago, but my friend’s Blue Moon should have been $5.00, not $5.50. Still, a fifty-cent mark-up at a hotel bar in convention season isn’t horrible.

As an aside, it was a little odd sharing the bar with the “Stitching” convention. That Thursday night, a friend of mine and I noticed a couple of 50-something women from that show in the Hyatt Bar gazing around the bar with obvious intent. Our conversation about it went something like this:

“They look hungry.”
“For you, not me. I have a wedding ring.”
“I don’t think they care about that.”
“I think you’re right.”
“Should we move over there?”
“Let’s.”

And we got out of their line of sight.

Now if you wanted to do something else in the evening, besides the Hyatt or Sofitel, the nearest point I’d recommend to somebody heading into the city would probably be Wicker Park, which I’d guess at around a 45 minute trip with the dilapidated train, except… oops, that section of the track was closed for the weekend. I guess it sucked to be you if you were trying to get to those drink-ups on West Chicago Avenue Saturday… or trying to get back Friday night.

That’s why I’m saying its time to move the convention to Navy Pier. There’s a little less space, but those aisles are awful wide and empty-looking if you peer down from the Sky-Bridge after the show has closed. It would not be hard to make it work, given the reoccurring theme of exhibitor shrinkage. With Navy Pier, you have a few more food options adjacent to the show and a whole lot more options, period, within a quick cab ride. If you’re bringing children to the show, there are alternate activities for them, and/or your spouse, right there on site. You aren’t limited to 2 bars, though you probably would still want to hop a few blocks for that, at least there are options. A greater selection of hotels, as well. Plus, if you want to see Chicago when you’re at the show, you’re actually in Chicago. It just a better setting than convention oasis amidst a suburban wasteland that is Rosemont: that’s like holding the New York ComicCon in Jersey City.

Comic Publishing Follies.

19 Comments

FunkyGreenJerusalem

August 16, 2007 at 7:30 pm

I misread that as ’50 women looking around with obvious intent’ and couldn’t understand the want to move (figuring there had to be one bit of alright in there).
After re-reading, I’m shocked you even stopped to talk about moving.

Are the hotel rates downtown not significantly higher than Rosemont’s?

I’ve been the last three years and hopefully this was the last. I’m hoping I can convince my friends to go to Charlotte next year.

Navy Pier WOULD be much better. Although parking is considerably more expensive, I’m sure that the convention’s organizers would be able to arrange a discount for attendees.

Hotels might be more of an issue, but there are some good hotels on the north side that are cheaper and are no more than a half hour away from downtown, even on the red line. Plus, there’s always parking on lowest Wacker, which would, of course, be free on Sundays.

There are also some legacy hotels in the downtown area that haven’t yet been razed or taken over by major chains that still have affordable rates.

And it’s downtown!! Chicago is a beautiful city to just walk around in. In fact, I’m sure that the convention’s organizers would be able to arrange some funding from the city’s tourism bureau.

Great idea, and I’m surprised that nobody ever thought about it before.

half an hour? Half an hour isn’t a convention hotel. Especially not if this has turned into a buyers’ con, and you’re traveling with piles of tpbs and other goodies.

however, if Chicago would embrace Wizard World the way San Diego embraced CCI, it might work. Special parking rates, huge blocks of affordable rooms that don’t require driving to East Chicago or Gary…

Woohoo Columbia College! Class of ’99 here.

Never been to WW – I’m always too busy or too poor (this year it was both). I’d only go for shopping anyway, so I’m with the $10 entry guy. I heard a rumor-of-a-rumor that it would be moving to Schaumburg next year. SCHAUMBURG?! There isn’t ANY convineint public transit out to there, except maybe Metra.

But driving there is actually much easier than getting to Rosemont. You don’t have to muck about in traffic.

Also, free parking! I hate that they try to gouge you on the parking after you’re paying so much for entry to what is basically an opportunity to spend more money.

The only time I ever went, someone paid my entrance fee in order to have me find a buyer for his longboxes. I did, and I found some good deals of my own, as well. A nearly complete run of the early issues of the previous volume of Green Lantern? Oh, yeah!

I also met Peter David.

Also, it’s true: if you know somebody there, you WILL run into them, regardless of how many thousands of other people are there.

What about Merchandise Mart? Isn’t there a train that basically goes right up to Merchandise Mart?

Navy Pier’s just kinda…out there. Public transit really isn’t convenient to get there, so unless you drive, it’s a haul. I always ended up walking down there when I took the El–probably could have taken a bus, I guess.

(sorry–I meant McCormick Place–but Merchandise Mart would be cool if there were any kind of convention space within it, which I think there is…)

No, I think you did mean Merchandise Mart – the Brown and Purple lines have a stop directly attached to the MM. Don’t know about conventionability. McCormick Place is served by buses, no rail.

It took three hours to get to Wizard World on Saturday thanks to the rail shutdown. Dozens of passengers were crammed on to a free shuttle bus, standing room only. The bus jerked to a stop several times, nearly sending us flying (lawsuit waiting to happen if someone had gotten hurt!)

BTW, I took the South Shore to get to downtown in the first place – total professionalism. It’s only when you got there and had to deal with the CTA that things got bad.

Plus, it’s ridiculous how early the last CTA leaves from Rosemont on weekends. I had to catch a lift downtown just because I went to a dinner.

Still, I should be grateful – public transportation in Indiana sucks. Totally a car culture.

Where in IN, Steve? Can’t be too far into the state if you’re catching the South Shore line…

Moving Wizard World to Navy Pier is a good idea in theory, but not in practice. I have attended and helped organize conventions for a few other hobbies in the downtown area and trust me when I say that the hotels are significantly more expensive. Having more food options is nice, but it isn’t worth having to pay to park everywhere for everything. Ultimately, it’s more expensive to put the convention on in Chicago, especially given the size of Wizard World. Rosemont is a better location because of it’s proximity to the airport as well. It is unfortunate that the blue line was under construction, but as any Chicagoland area commuter already knows, relying on the CTA is a crapshoot in and of itself. You just have to cross your fingers and hope that they aren’t working on the line you’re using. As far as scheduling goes, I think Wizard World Chicago being moved to June next year might help with a few of the problems with attendance and programming. What I don’t understand, though, is why people are complaining that vendors had such low prices. That’s like complaining that you won too much money in Las Vegas.

Wizardworld Universe Conventions
Category: Blogging

Please see my email which was sent to the President of Wizard magazine which sponsers the Chicago Comic Con. Please post a response and your thought about the convention.

I’m sending this email in regards to this past weekend’s convention in Chicago, I had to send numerous emails in regards to the ticket I purchased in advance for the convention. Which I never received, I had to pick it up at the convention center. Please see emails listed below. Also on purchasing the premier tickets we were supose to get into the convention at 4:00 pm on Thursday we did not get in until 4:30 pm and on Friday were suppose to be let in at 9:00 am we got in at 9:30 am and so on for Friday, Saturday and even Sunday. There was delay every day to enter the convention. I was extremely disappointed in the convention it was poorly organized, and some of the staff were rude to the guest. Not to mentioned that the booths for Marvel and DC and all comic book publishers had nothing for the fans it seems everything gets displayed at the other conventions but not the Chicago conventions. And how come some of the other publishers for instance Dark Horse get no panels to discuss their books and upcoming projects. I just think that the last few years the convention has seriously dropped off from being a good conventions and I would be surprised that it’s still around in a few more years. The conventions use too be fun and offered a lot to their guest and living in the midwest the was the perfect convention to come too. I could drive to Chicago from Michigan. But now I’m thinking of either going to the San Diego or even the New York conventions. Also I will posting this on my blog on myspace. It’s kind of bad when you go to a conventions and you only stay for about 2 hours a day and would rather hang at the hotel then the Wizard Universe Convention in Chicago.

Terry Trammell

Bob Wayne hosts so many panels because it is the only place he can get people to talk to him. lol
—–
Friday seemed slightly busier to me than last year. (I only went on Friday last year; didn’t stay for Sunday this year.) The biggest reason might be that the wrestling crap was gone and people could stay in the room without all the noise and distraction that wrestling was.
—–
Rosemont—I like the setting, but would not care if they moved it. Parking for the con was $11 per day this year. I remember $6 from several years ago, but can’t remember last year’s charge. The hotels were outrageous. 2003, I stayed at the Doubletree (directly across the street) for $129 a night. This year, they had no rooms left, and the hotel south of the Doubletree was asking $189 a night. This is without taxes and all the surcharges from the city, the state, and the governor’s flower fund. I found a room down the street for $139, but that was before the $20 (per night) parking fee and all the taxes and surcharges. Next year, I’ll stay 30-40 miles away and save a bundle of cash.
—–
#5—Chicago isn’t going to support a comics convention. A comics convention means nothing to Chicago compared to a yarn convention. Do you know how much money those old ladies spend?
—–
#14—a good point about the panels. If you are not interested in going to a Marvel or DC related panel, there are virtually no panels for you.

Please see my email which was sent to the President of Wizard magazine which sponsers the Chicago Comic Con. Please post a response and your thought about the convention.

You realize most of that has nothing to do with the convention organizers you’re writing to, right? And that if you sent them a huge block of text looking like that, it probably didn’t even get past the first assistant who had to read it?

I’m not saying you shouldn’t send them your complaints, but that you need to focus and you need to be a bit more professional – otherwise they have too many excuses to ignore you…

Do most of you not realize you are complaining things that Wizard has no control over. It is not Wizards fault that the CTA shut down lines. Its unfortunate, but not tragic, nor life threatning. I was with the convention crew from Tuesday to Sunday night and I can tell you that they want to put on the best show they can. Wizard has no aspirations to be San Diego. They want to put on Wizard World. Now, with that said, do they not have certain people or companies, sure, ofcourse they dont. Its not up to them. If Oni, for whatever reason, decides not to be there, what should Wizard do? Offer them a ton of cash? Then what, get pegged for being sell outs and ruining comics by offering cash. Come off it.
Keep in mind CBR is funded in part by San Diego, so ofcourse they LOVE San Diego over WW Chicago, its their bread and butter. Nothing wrong with that, but stop with these sniper attacks. The Wizard people are all above and beyond nice and if they were rude, you probably earned it.

Peace out.

I’m so glad you wrote this and dissapointed I found it so late because I feel almost exactly the same way. I’ve been going to the Chicago Comicon (I refuse to call it by its new name) for 20 years now and this last one has been the worst. I didn’t think about it at the time but it does feel like a regional con now when it used to be the 2nd largest in the country next to San Diego. Wizard has destroyed a truly great con but scheduling so many others throughout the summer and putting us so close to San Diego. The panels were incredibly boring and repetitious this year. The only reason I came back on Saturday was because I had already purchased a 3 day pass and I wanted to see the Dark Knight panel. I ended up having to show up a little early and then kill 8 hours while I waited for 1 panel to start.

And in response to the above poster, yes Wizard does have control in a situation like this. They choose the date and they choose the site and if they deliberately schedule the con 2 weeks out from San Diego during a time when the CTA will be closing down the blue line (and yes that information is available a year in advance) then it’s their fault that the pros don’t show and that it’s hard for people to get there.

That said, I think Navy Pier would be a terrible idea. If you think it’s hard to get to Rosemont on the CTA, why would Navy Pier be any better. Parking is far more limitted and much more expensive. I’m going to guess that most of the people who attend the con don’t live in the city proper and drive in from out of town or the suburbs. As one of those commuters, one of the things I like about Rosemont is the cheap parking at the blue line commuter lot. $3 versus whatever the big covered lot is charging ($20?). It’s a short walk (only a little longer than the walk from the big lot) to the con hall and saves me a TPB a day.

Someone earlier mentioned Schaumburg which I think would be a good idea. Not nearly as much congestion although it’s not close to the airport so out of towners would need to take a cab.

Dan (other Dan)

August 27, 2007 at 12:20 pm

This whole thing sounds like Conan O’Brien’s “Late Night Chicago Small Talk Moment”.

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