We’re just coming off an incredibly jam-packed August here at Third Coast Review–full of music festivals, summer vacations abroad, indie games events, and more recently, the behemoth of pop culture that is Wizard World Chicago. Spanning four days and taking up plenty of floor space with its goodies, guests and entertainment schedule, Wizard World remains a huge fixture in our summer. Now that we’ve refreshed ourselves over the long weekend and gotten over the con crud (we hope), let’s take a look at what Wizard World had to offer this year.
As far as format and layout, nothing much changed. Wizard World Chicago remains a con that’s a little easier to get around, even when the crowds are pressing in. This is largely due to the two main show floors. While on some level, this causes confusion, it also adds space for people to be in when they’re not at panels, as do the generous lobby areas at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.
There was also room to breathe schedule-wise since the convention spans four days. If you shell out for the cost of a full weekend pass, this means you can strategize your comings and goings to make sure you see the things you want to see and avoid long lines and show floor congestion. We especially like the shorter Thursday night session for this, since it’s a great opportunity to get a first look at all the cool merchandise from various vendors both farflung and local without the crowds, and without missing any big panels, since the programming schedule is also light on Thursday.
Though the format and space remained the same, there were definitely some changes to the overall feel of Wizard World Chicago. The Chicago event is one of the biggest in Wizard World’s circuit, and it usually feels like it, with tons of big-name guests, big reveals and world premiere screenings. It’s true that Chicago’s con did have some big cancellations–Jason Momoa most notably, who we honestly couldn’t fault for fighting for the environment over signing autographs–but the overall list was a little different than we’d come to expect.
That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy the likes of John Travolta, Jeff Goldblum, Mark Sheppard, Melissa Joan Hart et al. In fact, there were two panels that stood out among them all for both of us–Henry Winkler was funny, sweet, and full of great stories, and Zachary Levi, fresh off the success of Shazam! was genuine, grateful, and turned out one of the most meaningful, honest and intimate conversations we’ve ever been privy to at a con, aside from perhaps Carrie Fisher back in 2016.
It’s just to say that it seems that with a few exceptions, Wizard World isn’t plucking from what’s trending as much as they used to be. Perhaps it’s to aim at different demographics, with the success of the Outlander panel last year bringing a whole new age group into the convention scene, or perhaps it’s simply not as much the focus. Certainly, there was great fun in seeing a Princess Bride reunion, talking to Melissa Joan Hart about Clarissa Explains It All and Sabrina and getting to talk turtle power with all of the original voice actors from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but it’d also be fun to see some more recent favorites represented–Game of Thrones actors, Stranger Things, etc.
In general, things seemed a little lower key. It seemed there were fewer attendees in general, and even things like the cosplay contest were less of a spectacle–no bands, video crews, or other such rigamarole, or any other evening events following, like Rocky Horror or Bruce Campbell as in past years.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment this year was the lack of video games at Wizard World 2019. There was a video game section, and a tabletop game section, as well as a few VR headsets, but there wasn’t much else. This was a stark contrast to last year’s glut of video games, livestreamers, etc. Razer even brought in a trailer last year with all the latest RGB wizardry and gaming equipment. There was even a lack of video game panels this year. We’re hoping next year Wizard World brings back the games. After all, as Kevin Conroy said, it’s a billion dollar industry, and one where, according to guest Zachary Levi, people are telling some of the best stories on any screen. That makes it reason enough.
Cosplay was fantastic as we have come to expect, and lots of great programming was available to those looking to get their feet wet with it or even to become a professional. The Artist’s Alley, too, continued to impress.
It’s our feeling that there’s room in the Chicago area for more than one great pop culture convention. It’s also our feeling that this year, both of our local conventions suffered some–C2E2 from mishandling its exponentially growing size and Wizard World for seeming to cut back in some key areas.
We’d love to see Wizard World Chicago come back next year with a bigger variety of guests from both recent and nostalgic pop culture properties, and add back some of the circuses it seemed to boast in earlier years–the random “con TV” that’d keep you entertained while you waited, the crazy rock concert preceding the cosplay contest, and last year’s substantial gaming section and panels. We’d also love to see a little more after dark programming for those that are staying nearby or just don’t feel like going home when the show floor closes, and a return to some of the more exciting exclusives we used to see there–like the first screening of Gotham or Supergirl that included cast members or the brand new announce trailers we all flock to Youtube for.
That said, Wizard World always has a place in our hearts. There’s never failed to be fantastic cosplay, and though we love the showstoppers in C2E2’s crown championships, we love the “come one, come all” appeal of Saturday night’s contest. Panels are easy access and generally well run, and its two rooms of show floor make it easier to navigate when looking for whatever Funko, collectible or custom made goody makes you happy.
If you missed any of the fun this year, don’t worry. We’ve got all the juicy panel tidbits and tons of great cosplay for you to see from this year, and of course, we’ll see you next year for Wizard World 2020!
Contributing author: Antal Bokor