Baltimore Comic-Con - (Baltimore, Md.)
Held annually at the Baltimore Convention Center normally in late August, Baltimore Comic-Con is a two-day event of good size (a dealer’s room of roughly 300,000 square feet) that usually features some creators that are not always on the normal circuit (e.g., Grendel creator Matt Wagner, Starman creator James Robinson, etc.). The second and third-floor meeting rooms have been known to host some entertaining showings and panels (e.g., the famous 2008 Brian Michael Bendis vs. Robert Kirkman creator-owned work debate). Baltimore Comic-Con is also the host of the Harvey Awards, recognitions that are unique in the industry because the recipients are nominated and selected solely by varied comic book authorities. For those who need a break from the nerd-stink, the center is located downtown, a short drive or walk to a multitude of shops, restaurants, and bay-side attractions.
C2E2 - (Chicago, Ill.)
By far the newest convention of all listed here, the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) debuted this past spring with great success and is planned to return in April 2011. The first show hosted 170 special events, premieres and panels dealing with everything from film to comics to anime. Among the highlights of the con was The Sandman creator Neil Gaiman’s theatrical readings to benefit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, as well as the gathering of the cast of Kick-Ass before the film’s theatrical release. Don’t forget that C2E2 will be the only stop in Chicago for visiting the D.C. and Marvel booths, as they have reportedly abandoned their reservations at Wizard World Chicago. C2E2 is held by Reed Exhibitions downtown at McCormick Place at the Lakeside Center. And of course, being in Chicago, there will never be a lack of things to do and competitively priced hotels to book.
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HeroesCon - (Charlotte, N.C.)
Noted for its “family-friendly, laid-back” atmosphere, HeroesCon is held at the Charlotte Convention Center every year, usually in early summertime. Though the main hall gathers an estimated 14,000 to 18,000 people regularly, Indie Island is where size matters at HeroesCon. Akin to a 10,000+ square foot artists alley, Indie Island is a portion of the convention specifically reserved for alternative, indie publishers/creators. As far as independently owned comic book conventions go, this holds the title of being the oldest in America and is often referred to as one of the last with an almost entirely comic book focus. There are plenty of nearby lodgings to choose from just a stone’s throw away, and with a three-day pass being a mere $30, with kids 12 and younger free, you cannot beat the price for a convention weekend. Excelsior indeed!
Mid-Ohio Con - (Columbus, Ohio)
For those who get overwhelmed by the larger con-crowds, once a year a hall of the Greater Columbus Convention Center is the setting for a decent-sized comic convention, conveniently located right on the most entertaining street of Ohio’s capital. Celebrating its 30th anniversary this fall 2010, Mid-Ohio Con usually takes place annually and always makes up for guest quantity with quality by bringing names such as Kurt Busiek and Barry Kitson. The main floor normally comprises about 100 dealers’ booths and 60 tables for artists and featured guests. And stop before you buy that $5 slice of pizza from the con cafeteria; there are more than 20 restaurants within a short walking distance and plenty more a tiny drive away. If you run out of things to do by the end of the second day, don’t forget to take a walk down the street to get your Magnolia Thunderpussy fix.
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New York Comic Con - (New York City, N.Y.)
In 2009, New York Comic Con suddenly found itself rated the second biggest event in the whole of NYC—quite an achievement for a gathering of geeks. The direct competitor of Wizard World’s Big Apple Con, the annual NYCC has attracted more than 77,000 attendees to the glass entrance of Manhattan’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. From big names in comics (e.g., John Romita, Sr.) to miscellaneous genre megastars such as Takashi Miike, NYCC has featured some amazing guests since its premiere in 2006. Weekend passes are $50 and children younger than 12 are free on Sundays. Always make sure to do a little research before you arrive and a little program reading once you’re there—there are often nearby movie premieres and related events that visiting creators will attend. And don’t forget, you’re also in Manhattan… There is a plethora of things to do and places to go when the artists cover their tables for the night.
Pittsburgh Comicon - (Pittsburgh, Pa.)
A dream for any George Romero fan, attending Pittsburgh Comicon puts you a stone’s throw away from the Monroeville Mall, the setting of the original Dawn of the Dead and the home of the Time and Space Toys zombie museum. Sized similar to Mid-Ohio Con, Pittsburgh Comicon is held in April inside the Monroeville Convention Center, which is conveniently located right next to the Doubletree Hotel Pittsburgh. If dressing up is your bag, Pittsburgh Comicon features an entertaining costume contest on Sundays. For those with Gambit-level card skills, the con hosts Casino Night the first evening of the con, featuring games from poker to roulette and a low admission cost of $5. Like other comic book conventions, Pittsburgh Comicon offers a three-day pass for $45; however, also like other conventions, a two-day pass (at the most) is all that’s really necessary for this event.
San Diego Comic-Con International - (San Diego, Calif.)
The holy grail of American comic book conventions, Comic-Con is held in the heart of downtown in the three-level San Diego Convention Center, a building more than a mile long (a total of 2.6 million gross sq. ft.), which makes this con the biggest in the country. What’s even crazier is that the capacity of the building came into question in 2009 during Comic-Con’s 40th anniversary show, wherein roughly 126,000 people attended and tickets sold out in advance for the first time ever. Just as overwhelming as it sounds, the yearly Comic-Con is a four-day event that has become the heavily covered “must” that even the biggest names in all entertainment don’t want to miss. If watching G4 TV’s live coverage isn’t enough, this is the shindig for meeting A-list celebs, seeing the most hyped previews, sitting in on the high-profile panels, and buying the most exclusive figures. Comic-Con is also the host of the Eisner Awards, the highest honor in the comic industry. If this sounds expensive, it’s because it really is. The full pass (roughly $80) plus plane flights (usually falling in the $300 range from the East Coast), combined with the enormous crowd, make this a con requiring financial—and mental—planning way in advance. A word to the wise: Whatever you do, avoid taxis and rental cars by paying what’s necessary to stay within walking distance.
Wizard World Chicago - (Rosemont, Ill.)
Among the various Gareb Shamus/Wizard Entertainment con locations now strewn across the country is the annual Wizard World Chicago, set at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont. With an exhibitors floor stretching 250,000 sq. ft., WWC is a good starter for con-newbies looking for a show not too big and not too small. WWC is a four-day con that has gathered guests ranging from Sin City’s Frank Miller to Star Trek’s William Shatner and exhibitors such as CGC, which offers official on-site grading for any comics you tote along. From personal experience, avoid staying at the adjoining, overpriced Hyatt Regency O’Hare; it’s more cost-effective and of little imposition to stay at a nearby hotel for one-third of the price and just pay $10 to park each day. Also, be sure to pack your own lunch or else you’ll be savoring a $4 hot dog or a mile-long walk in the August heat to McDonald’s.
Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con - (Philadelphia, Pa.)
The City of Brotherly Love shows some comic book love too once a year at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con is a three-day show that takes over a section near Chinatown in the summer. A slightly smaller version of Wizard World Chicago, WWP features the ToyFare Hall of Fame Awards, which inducts both designers and specific toy lines alike. Weekend tickets center near $45-$50 depending upon time of purchase, but there are always various VIP packages to be purchased that include some special time with entertainment royalty such as The Evil Dead series icon Bruce Campbell. Don’t forget to take a lunch break and grab a cheesesteak at the Reading Terminal Market across the street, and be sure to visit The College of Physicians of Philadelphia’s amazing Mutter Museum, which showcases one of the leading collections of neat diseases and medical anomalies.
Chiller Theatre - (Parsippany, N.J.)
One of the most diverse horror conventions in the U.S., each year Chiller Theatre occupies the entirety of the Hilton Parsippany’s first floor for three days in April and three in October. Despite its sub-par setup and cramped signing areas, Chiller constantly offers a variation of guests ranging from straight-up horror magnates such as Elvira and Alice Cooper to the biggest names of yesterday from multiple genres (Richard Dreyfuss, Leslie Nielsen, Micky Dolenz, Peter Fonda, etc.). Once in 2009 and again in 2010 Chiller organized an outstanding Italian Invasion room featuring both actors and directors of Italian cinema, such as Cannibal Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato and I Spit on Your Grave star Camille Keaton. There is no argument that Chiller hosts the biggest Saturday-night after-party of any horror con, wherein the resident con-band, The Dead Elvi, is often joined on stage by musical guests who have just packed up their autograph tables for the night. Amazing tip: Forget staying at any of the host hotels at this one and book a room at the Residence Inn Parsippany a half-mile away. There’s an fantastic free continental breakfast and the rooms are not only much cheaper—they’re fancy extended-stay suites that include a kitchen and all its amenities.
Cinema Wasteland Movie and Memorabilia Expo - (Strongsville, Ohio)
The best horror convention in the U.S. hands down, the Cinema Wasteland Movie and Memorabilia Expo reanimates twice a year at the Royalton Road Holiday Inn just outside of Cleveland, offering convenient lodging and weekend admittance for a mere $35. Though small, Wasteland is unique among cons in its particular theme of exploitation and drive-in era films. This more obscure focus, in turn, brings the unusual guests fans are hungry for rather than the same old horror circuit regulars touring for the fifth season in a row. Among the guests of past shows are Ilsa: The She-Wolf of the S.S.’s Dyanne Thorne, legendary adult-film star Jamie Gillis, and “Godfather of Gore” Herschell Gordon Lewis. Wasteland managers continuously strive to provide impressive cast/crew reunions and were the first ever to host a near-complete gathering for the cast and crew of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The loyalty of regular attendees, the Saturday-night socializing, a highly friendly atmosphere, and static vendors such as Ultra Violent Magazine and Living Dead Dolls never fail to remind everyone, veteran or virgin, why “Wasteland is family.”
Horrorhound Weekend Indianapolis - (Indianapolis, Ind.)
In a Wizard-like fashion, Horrorhound Magazine has expanded its convention repertoire over the years to major cities ranging from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati. Stretching into the Midwest, Horrorhound Weekend Indianapolis at the Marriott East has become a very popular location for the publication’s circuit. The March 2010 show reflected this when passes sold out for all three days, there was more than an hour wait to enter the dealers room, and the local fire marshal threatened to shut the entire convention down due to crowding concerns. But with big-name guests such as George Romero and Clive Barker, in addition to the largest gathering of horror hosts in history and the world premiere of never-before-seen footage from Barker’s Nightbreed, it seems planners should have foreseen the turnout of more than 8,000 people. Here’s hoping Horrorhound Weekend Indianapolis will be better organized in the future, as its celebrity lineups, featured events, and easily accessible accommodations are definitely worth the travel.
Monster-Mania - (Cherry Hill, N.J.)
Right across the Ben Franklin Bridge from Philadelphia lies a horror convention not to be missed. The Monster-Mania in Cherry Hill, N.J., gathers in the first floor of the Crown Plaza Hotel, spread out normally to include two large signing rooms and a ballroom-sized dealers room that spills out into conjoining hallways. Always chock-full of highlighted get-togethers and notable genre stars, Monster-Mania has featured everything from a Friday the 13th Jasons panel to a reunion of The Lost Boys and has showcased industry professionals such as Italian horror master Dario Argento and original Gomez Addams John Astin (and just announced for fall 2010: John Carpenter). Decently organized and held twice a year (usually in March and August), Monster-Mania became successful enough to add a second yearly location in Hunt Valley, Md. Once again, avoid the overpriced host hotel! In this case there’s a decent Days Inn not even five minutes away for one-third the cost—just make sure you arrive at the Crown Plaza early on Saturday for a good parking spot!
Dragon*Con - (Atlanta, Ga.)
The self-proclaimed “biggest multi-media, popular culture convention…in the universe” is just as epic as it sounds. Every September, Dragon*Con totally dominates four of the largest hotels in downtown Atlanta. Three in particular are located conveniently side by side and harness all the action, normally one reserved for celebrity signings, one for dealers rooms, and one for comic books and costumes. And by costumes, we mean Dragon*Con is the costume convention of the U.S., gathering the most clever, original, and elaborate ever seen for any of the multiple categories of contests. Attendee costumes are so overwhelming that Dragon*Con shuts down blocks of Atlanta streets for an annual costume parade, a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade of geekery reported on by Dragon*ConTV, the official convention channel that broadcasts 24-hour coverage of featured panels, special events, YouTube videos, and Adult Swim-like bumps. At Dragon*Con, 24-hour is literal, as a.m. activities and concerts featuring acts such as Voltaire, The Cruxshadows, and MC Chris continue long after the dealers rooms have closed for the evening. Four days of constant events in every genre from sci-fi to horror to anime to steampunk, unmistakably hand Dragon*Con the reigns of being one of the most nonstop exciting, wild, and crowded cons in America.