Yesterday marked the first of four days for Wizard World Chicago, and we were there as the gates opened. Since Thursday’s crowds are always a bit thinner, we had the opportunity to walk the floor in a leisurely manner and survey all the goodies that can be had. We also had a chance to check out the programming schedule to see what’s to see in the next three action-packed days. We’re happy to say that even though Wizard World produces cons all over the country, there’s plenty of local flavor that makes the Chicago event uniquely ours. If you’d like to “shop local” while you geek out, we’ve got some suggestions for acts to catch and vendors to visit below!
Panels and Performers: This year’s Wizard World is full of local talent, and we discovered some really neat things in perusing this year’s schedule. For example:
Chicago represents itself well as a comedy haven at Wizard World, with several local groups doing performances and panels. Second City makes an appearance with both a panel (An Inside Look at Second City) and a half hour show on Friday. Muscular Clown Comedy, another local comedy group, will be holding a screening of their web series, Street Wizards Apprentice on Friday afternoon. Later that evening, Wizards of the Windy City, a “group of comedians and tried and true geeks” will be hosting Dungeons & Dragons & Improv, which could make for some real silliness.
If you’re looking for something more literary, you can check out The Nerd Parodist, Paul Erickson, as he regales you with The Lost Star Wars Diary, his most recent nerdy parody book. You can also get spooked with the Chicago Ghost History panel Friday evening, which features comic book creator Scott Larson and ghost historian Amelia Cotter. For comic books come to life, we recommend the Chicago Babes With Blades Theatre Company, who’ll be giving a panel on Saturday at noon.
Those looking for performance art are in for a treat. We found some truly unique and exciting acts at Wizard World this year. First up is the delightful oddity that is Klingon Pop Warrior. Local to the Chicago area, Jen Usellis started off in her adventure as a Klingon chanteuse as a background singer for the Improvised Star Trek podcast, but the act took off. Now, she’s got viral videos and 2 EPs to her name and has been featured everywhere from Q101 to Buzzfeed and Conan. Key to this success is that she’s got a fantastic voice and a great sense of humor. Talent is something she shares with another recommendation we have for the con: Raks Geek. This group of world-class bellydancers differentiates themselves from the crowd with a geeky shtick that covers fandoms from Trek to Dr. Who and Portal. And again, they’re amazingly talented. If that’s not enough local excitement, check out Environmental Encroachment, a unique “magic circus band” that uses props and nerdery to excite.
Vendors: There are some great local shops that have booths at Wizard World, and you should seek them out both at the con and after. A few of our favorites:
First Aid Comics, which has outposts on Taylor and 55th, is a great comic book shop with all sorts of great events, from school supply drives where donors get free comics or graphic novels to tabletop gaming nights and beyond.
Harebrained! Meanwhile, are the Chicago based designers behind Period Panties- a tongue-in-cheek, super goofy and colorful array of dark colored panties that spoofs all sorts of pop culture favorites from Stranger Things (now Staining Things) to It (We All Bloat Down Here) for the sake of making the perfectly natural process over half of us humans go through once a month a little less taboo and a lot more fun (and comfy, since the aforementioned panties are also soft and stretchy.) If you’re not in need of underwear, though, they’ve also got some amazingly humorous T-shirts, tanks and even baby onesies.
Six Flags Great America makes an appearance with some fantastic makeup artists touting the upcoming Fright Fest, and though not strictly local anymore, anyone with the proper ID can enjoy some Goose Island Brews while they wander the floor.
Finally, though not in our metro area, we would be remiss not to mention Crumby Art Bakehouse and Cakery. We were having a chocolate deficiency and ran across these fun ladies just in time. They specialize in nerdy goodies, and their Timey Wimey cookie with fresh oats, M&Ms and chocolate chips was an absolute perfect blend of chewy, sweet and rich. There are a few other booths with cookies and confections, but none we’ve had have been on this level. Interesting flavor combos abound, and we’re thinking about taking a trip up to see these sweet creators in Elm Grove not too long from now.
Charity/Advocacy: One thing that’s fantastic to find are safe places. Cons are full of people and the resulting chaos can be overwhelming for anyone. In addition, any large group of people tends to have at least a few “bad apples.” So it’s nice to find safe spaces and friendly faces as you explore.
We chatted up the wonderful ladies at Geek Girl Brunch Chicago and discovered that we’re totally missing out on some amazing themed brunches with some awesomely friendly ladies. Upcoming for the group will be a Harry Potter themed fete, and all we can say is Accio some breakfast burritos or mimosas!
Another wonderful find was Queersplay, a group out of Chicago that supports the LGBTQ community not only at Chicago’s cons, but elsewhere. Their aim is simple- to help combat any air of misogyny, trans or homophobia that exists at these events and create a fun safe space for people to be themselves, whatever that looks like. They’ve got a pretty active youtube channel with some great tutorials and were amazing to talk to. They’ve also got some pretty interesting wares, from dapper kitty dresses to trans pride pins, which further support their mission as they travel to events all over the US. You can check out their Patreon here and their main website here.
Finally, we found a rare sense of unity with the group over at Unity Station. Originally founded as a Star Trek fan club, and true to their roots, since we had an in-depth conversation about the Trek universe, they decided they wanted to create a place for fans of all sorts of sci-fi to gather. So they did, and since founding, have shown up in costume to support events for charities like Autism Speaks and just generally make it ok to be the nerd you already were.
There are plenty more Chicago based groups peppered into the show floors and panels- these are just a few we wanted to point out. Exploration is the name of the game at Wizard World, so we’ll see you on the floor!