Last weekend began one of the largest experiences that Wizard World had seen in its forty years of existence. In attendance were over 70,000 guests in its flagship Chicago convention and the largest amount of celebrities that Wizard World had ever organized. Guests of honor include entertainers such as Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Stan Lee, Bruce Campbell, Kevin Conroy, as well as the entire cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Organizing such a large event is no easy task, and much credit should be given to Wizard World, which prides itself on its fan-lead enthusiasm. Unlike bigger comic conventions such as San Diego Comic-Con, Wizard World isn’t just a showcase for the media to sell its products, it is a convention where fans get to enjoy interacting with each other, with their favorite celebrities, and showcasing their geek-cultured pride. Said Jason David Frank, of Power Rangers, “[Wizard World has] the best people showing up, the best celebrities, everyone loves doing what they’re doing, and at the end of the day, all that matters is the family’s happy.”
Wizard World Chicago’s four days of fandom began on Thursday, August 21st, and ended on Sunday, August 24th. Saturday had the biggest attendance, as fans lined up for hours to meet stars like Matt Smith and William Shatner. There was a Doctor Who panel with Matt Smith and Karen Gillan, a Next Generation reunion panel with the entire cast of TNG, a Guardians of the Galaxy panel with Michael Rooker and Dave Bautista, as well as con-favorite Bruce Campbell’s annual Q&A, where he gives out cheap money to the people with the best questions.
This year, Wizard World will be debuting its own television network ConTV and plans on airings its own original programming. In addition to Bruce Campbell’s Q&A, Campbell also debuted a new game show, Bruce Campbell’s Fanatics Face-Off, at Wizard World Chicago for ConTV where fans faced off against each other, answering questions from different fandoms, ranging from Star Trek to Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings to Evil Dead.
Wizard World Chicago is what conventions ought to be: a gathering of enthusiasm and love where fans can meet the people who’ve inspired them, and where celebrities can meet the fans that made them who they were. A place where customers and vendors can interact and physically buy items on the spot. A comic book convention where comic books are still relevant, and media only serves to supplement the ideas and concepts that comic books gave birth to. Everyone is approachable at Wizard World Chicago. If there isn’t much of a line at a celebrity’s booth, you’re allowed to go up and chit-chat with them. If you see a cosplay you like, the cosplayer will be more than happy to pose for you. Nobody has to snake through crowds in the convention hall or show up 8 hours prior to get into a panel, everything is accessible and manageable. If you turn around at a lightsaber booth, as I did, you may find Michael Rooker wielding a double-edged lightsaber and practicing his bō staff techniques.
When I asked Lou Ferrigno what is it that made Wizard World so special, he replied, “It’s about the fans connecting with the celebrities. When you go to this kind of convention, they make an exception for the fans. You can find a celebrity, take pictures with them, photo-ops, Q&A panels, and know that they can make a connection with their favorite celebrity.”