The Chicago Comicon and Me
There has been a Chicago Comicon every year since 1976, and I have attended each one of them. Now it's known as WizardWorld Chicago and it convenes at a suburban convention center instead of at a downtown hotel, but so what.
I'm writing purely from memory, but I'm fairly certain that the first year there were exactly four pros as guests: Stan Lee, Jenette Kahn, Neal Adams, and Mike Grell. The panel programming didn't begin until late Friday afternoon, at 3:00 p.m. or it may even have been 5:00 p.m. I was VERY anxious for that panel to begin because I had never seen any comics pros before.
Then when it did begin, it was great. Stan Lee began spinning his yarns (and many of his tales I already knew from his writings in books like the Origins of Marvel Comics, but it was a whole 'nother realm to hear the Man weave it afresh). Jenette Kahn had recently been named publisher of DC and electrical bolts of energy emanated from her. (I specifically remember one of Ms. Kahn's comments where she praised Joe Kubert and the intensity that he imbued into every brick he drew; I was so impressed with Ms. Kahn that I wrote her a letter telling her so after the convention was over.) Mike Grell was the most low-key of the three (Neal Adams didn't show up until later in the convention, as an unannounced surprise guest if I recall correctly), but his folksy charm was also well-received by the audience. The audience, by the way, was really small, like maybe 40 people!
Later in the convention there was an original art auction for charity. All four of the pros served as auctioneers. I bid on and won a Mike Grell Superboy cover, which he personalized to me. Neal Adams startled everybody and pulled out about seven of his DC covers from the late 1960s and put them into the auction one at a time; they went for about $100 each and, as much as I wanted one, I didn't have the moolah. This first Chicago Comicon was a fabulous experience, one that is still in my mind 30 years after the fact.
Later years of the convention had many memorable moments also; please cue the swirling dream-sequence music while I do some serious time-compressing. In about 1978 I was side-by-side in an elevator with the legendary Harvey Kurtzman, one of the Masters of American Comics featured in the museum exhibit. At separate conventions in the 1980s, I was amazed at how Bernie Wrightson and Marshall Rogers and Howard Chaykin each looked in person just like characters they might have drawn. In the early 1990s I watched as a phalanx of unpaid Now Comics freelancers laid in wait for the arrival of the Now publisher at a panel. In the middle 1990s it was my pleasure to take a picture of Jeanette with Harlan Ellison, my favorite of all contemporary writers (and, not even giving you the chance to realize you wanted to ask, I'll reveal that my favorite writer of all time is Damon Runyon). Around the turn of the century I was enjoying the McLaughlin Group panels, and I wish those still ran. I always held out hope that Jack Kirby could be lured to Chicago, but that didn't happen.
For the last few years the highlight of the convention for me has been meeting up with Art Baltazar in the Artists Alley. He's a great guy with a really fun art style. He's in every issue of Disney Adventures digest magazine with his own characters; the next time you're in the grocery line and it's moving slowly, grab the Disney Adventures and take a look in the comics section for a real treat. Just as I was writing this I decided to open up an Art Baltazar Gallery Room over on ComicArtFans to show everyone the great little paintings we get from Art every year.
What will the 2007 Chicago Comicon hold in store for us? Nobody knows yet! But I'll be there.