C2E2 returns: How Chicago's comic con is evolving along with today's fans
C2E2, the long-running pop culture convention, has taken over McCormick Place this weekend as the definition of "fandom" continues to evolve.
Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo is evolving, too, with new programming to please convention-goers whose tastes go beyond superheroes and "Star Wars."
Don't worry, they've got those covered -- with Chris "Captain America" Evans leading a roster of Marvel actors in attendance, and multiple guests from the "Star Wars" animated universe -- but C2E2 is expanding further into the worlds of anime, K-pop and, with a "Boy Meets World" cast reunion, '90s nostalgia.
"What the pandemic did is dramatically change the landscape of who's going to shows," said Kristina Rogers, vice president of ReedPop, the convention's parent company. During lockdown, those guests "watched anime, and they never watched anime before. They read books that they never read before. What they're fans of ... has changed dramatically."
So after fans get autographs from their favorite "Supernatural" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" stars, they can also attend a K-pop dance contest, or play "Anime Name That Tune," or hear readings by authors from their newest books.
"Comic con can be literally anything," Rogers said. "It should be. What more can we play with?"
Dancers take the stage at last year's C2E2, which returns March 31 to Chicago. This year's event will feature a K-Pop dance contest and a beginners' belly dancing session on Friday, March 31, and a K-Pop dance game and choreography session on Sunday, April 2.
- Courtesy of ReedPop
Gen Y represent
Much in the vein of 2019's "Clueless" cast reunion, this year's C2E2 features six actors from the ABC sitcom "Boy Meets World," who will appear together for a 30th anniversary(!) panel at 2:30 p.m. Friday, March 31, on the show's main stage. Danielle Fishel, Will Friedle, Rider Strong, Trina McGee, Bonnie Bartlett and William Daniels -- yes, even Mr. Feeny! -- are scheduled to appear at the event included with regular admission. They will also separately be available for autographs and photo-ops for an extra fee. (Visit C2E2.com for times and pricing for all celebrity guest encounters.)
Another cast reunion happening Friday: the voice cast of "X-Men: The Animated Series," the '90s cartoon with the theme song you will now be humming for the rest of the day. A rebooted version of the series, "X-Men '97," is slated to premiere later this year on Disney+.
Teenage dirtbags (current and former) should wear their Keds and tube socks on Saturday, April 1, for a Q&A and acoustic performance by Wheatus, whose 2000 hit "Teenage Dirtbag" was all over MTV and Q101 at the turn of the century.
Artist Alley is where C2E2 attendees can meet and support artists, creators and authors from around the globe.
- Courtesy of ReedPop
Meet the creators
Artists and artisans will meet with fans and sell their wares at Artist Alley, where attendees can support small businesses, which is "so much at the heart of what we struggled with in the pandemic," Rogers said.
The booths on Artist Alley do include big-name comic creators like Kevin Eastman ("Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles"), Bill Amend ("Fox Trot") and Streamwood's Art Baltazar ("Tiny Titans"), but also independent artists who have built followings on Etsy and similar online marketplaces, artists whose appearances at conventions can support them throughout the year, according to Rogers.
Authors also have a big presence at this year's show, including Barrington native Veronica Roth ("Divergent"), "The Shadow Game" creator Amanda Foody and Candace Fleming, whose "Murder Among Friends" chronicles the infamous Leopold and Loeb case.
Cosplayers portraying Boba Fett and Din Djarin at last year's C2E2 dare to take off their Mandalorian helmets.
- Courtesy of ReedPop
ReedPop stages multiple events like C2E2 every year, including next month's Star Wars Celebration, the franchise's official convention, in London. (When it was here in 2019, J.J. Abrams and cast were on hand to reveal the first trailer for "The Rise of Skywalker.")
"We have seven events and they're all across the U.S. and the U.K., and every single show has its own identity," Rogers said. The C2E2 equivalent in Seattle, for instance, is called Emerald City Comic Con, and recycling "is a big deal" in that community. "If we don't have enough recycling containers, our fans get annoyed with us. That doesn't happen anywhere else," she said.
What sets C2E2 apart for its Midwest audience? For Rogers, it's the wide array of family content -- not necessarily stuff for kids, but offerings for "parents bringing their teenagers and teenagers bringing their parents."
C2E2 also aims to bring the NY/LA red carpet experience to Chicago, even if those red-carpeted floors won't be returning to the convention this year. That means big guests like Evans and his Marvel counterparts Tenoch Huerta ("Black Panther: Wakanda Forever") and Kathryn Newton ("Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania").
"Chicago is a massive, massive city that shouldn't be overlooked," Rogers said.
• Sean Stangland is an assistant news editor who has been known to sing "Teenage Dirtbag" on karaoke night.
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Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo
When: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 31-April 1, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, April 2
Where: McCormick Place South Building, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
General admission: $52.75 Friday; $62.75 Saturday and Sunday; $107.75 three-day pass; $22.75 digital pass
Kids' admission: $14.75 Sunday; $30.75 three-day pass
On-site parking: McCormick Place Lot A, $25
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C2E2 guests by franchise
Marvel Cinematic Universe
'Boy Meets World'
'Star Wars' animation
James Arnold Taylor
'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'
'Avatar: The Last Airbender'
Zach Tyler Eisen
• All appearances subject to change