C2E2 2019: Freaks, Geeks, Gays and Cosplays

C2E2 The main signage at C2E2 in Chicago, Illinois (March 22-24, 2019). Photo C2E2

My first two days at the 10th Annual Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo were a whirlwind of cosplayers, oversized root beers, and TV stars in spangly outfits.

Con weekends are a strange, stressful, exhilarating animal – anyone who’s been to more than one will tell you that, if you’re not properly prepared, you can limp back home with a migraine and far too little money in your pocket. But if you go in with the right mindset (and the right company), you can get quite a lot out of it.

That’s the main takeaway from my first two days at C2E2 2019, the tenth-annual celebration of comics, movies, TV shows, and all manner of geekdom. While it doesn’t have the heft of coastal celebrations like NY and San Diego Comic-Con, Chicago does it up quite nicely when it comes to delivering a weekend where folks of all stripes can let their geek flag fly. Even with press credentials, it’s virtually impossible to cover more than a fraction of the goings-on, but Friday and Saturday contained more than their fair share of thrills. Let me share with you those experiences.


FRIDAY

Friday was a short day – my wife and I didn’t get to C2E2 until about 3, since we’re working adults with jobs to do, damnit. Even so, we managed to get our badges and nudge our way through eight-foot-tall Voltrons and a sea of Spider-Men (Into the Spider-Verse, I’m thrilled to say, gave plenty of people new cosplay opportunities, especially women and people of color) onto the show floor. It’d been a few years since I’d been to a comic convention – the last time I was at C2E2 was to promote a Doctor Who themed show I was doing with a theater company here in the city. This weekend, I was cosplay-less, but I was thrown back into that heady combo of claustrophobia and community that is a con show floor, rows on rows of companies hawking graphic novels, fancy dice, toys and more.

After setting about my first task of the day, interviewing Hugo-winning author Mary Robinette Kowal (look out for that interview next week!) about her Lady Astronaut novel series, the importance of busting preconceptions and expectations about women in STEM, and her time as a professional puppeteer on shows like LazyTown. I was nervous, having just gotten there and being a little less prepared than I perhaps should have been, but she was a good sport, patiently correcting me and clarifying points as needed. I can’t wait for you to hear it.

Following that, we made our way to the sprawling Main Stage, where Martin Starr and John Francis Daley were answering fan questions about Freaks and Geeks. Both were good sports, Starr particularly droll in his interactions with fans; they spoke about everything from Judd Apatow writing the show’s final episode as a finale in record time in anticipation of the show’s cancellation, and the connection the show had with fans of all ages.

While we only caught the tail end of that, our last quick stop of the day was at Shudder’s screening of their horror documentary Horror Noire, recounting the problematic history of African-American characters in horror movies, and the often-overlooked early contributions black filmmakers made to the horror genre. It’s a riveting primer on the ways horror films throughout film history have reflected the ways racism and white supremacy had demonstrated themselves in each era of the 20th century and beyond; if you’ve got Shudder, it’s a recommended watch.

Afterward, fellow Chicago critic Angelica Bastien moderated a brief, but impassioned panel on the state of black horror, the origins of the doc, and more with author/educator/executive producer Tananarive Due and science fiction author Steven Barnes. In each pointed question asked by Bastien, Due and Barnes offered tremendous expertise and intimate experience with how their blackness was influenced by horror movies and vice versa – they taught a class at UCLA on black horror called The Sunken Place, which you can actually purchase in webinar form now. Barnes, in particular, grew more spirited as the panel went on in his arguments for horror writers and filmmakers (especially POC) to use their pain as inspiration for writing thrilling, insightful horror stories.

According to Due, Horror Noire wasn’t greenlit at Shudder until Get Out broke box office records and won Jordan Peele an Oscar; with the success of that film (and the impending smash Us looks to become), the gates are swinging open for people of color to tell their own horror stories.

On that note, the panel ended, we took the long journey home to the North Side, and prepared for tomorrow.

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