Comic Relief

(Gil Jimanez)

About two hundred people gathered in an assembly room at McCormick Place Friday, April 16, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the guest speaker. The crowd began applauding before he was even introduced, and they erupted into a chorus of cheers as he grabbed the microphone and announced in a low and grim voice:

“I am the night! I am…Batman!”

The speaker is Kevin Conroy, a voice actor most famous for his role as Batman in “Batman: The Animated Series.” Since the show ended in 1995, he has done the Batman voice for a variety of straight-to-home-video movies, as well as for the recent critically acclaimed video game “Batman: Arkham Asylum.” Brown-haired and sharp-featured, Conroy spoke congenially. He seemed as honored to speak to his fans as they were to receive him. His normal voice was amicable and easy-going as he told stories about his work as a voice actor. At one point he asked for questions from the audience.

Several hands shot up, but one spectacled young man was chosen from the front row. He stood up and asked, “What was it like working with Two-Face on ‘Arkham Asylum 2’?”

Conroy paused for a moment. “You know, it’s not the Two-Face from the animated series.”

With a note of satisfaction the fan replied, “So there is a Two-Face in ‘Arkham Asylum 2’?” The response was so calculated that the audience began laughing and applauding. The kid bowed slightly before he took a seat. Tricked by a fan into leaking details from his latest project, Conroy looked ready to bury his face in his hands. Instead, he good-naturedly yelled out, “Security!” before taking the next question.

Conroy was only one of several panelists at the first annual Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2), a three-day event which took place April 16-18 at McCormick Place. Most speakers shared Conroy’s graciousness and energy, obviously pleased to work in an industry that promotes creativity and attracts so many fans. Billed for the past few months as “The con Chicago needs. The con you deserve!” C2E2 did not disappoint in attracting a wide array of guests from the comics and entertainment industries. The convention presented attendees with the opportunity to meet hundreds of special guests, from comic artists Alex Ross and Jeff Smith to “Star Wars” stars Carrie Fisher and Peter Mayhew.

In addition to the panels and guest stars, the main convention hall hosted several comics and toy vendors, including Hyde Park’s own First Aid Comics. Many of these vendors offered rare collectibles with prices reflecting their scarcity. Artists sold prints of their work, many of them inspired by mainstream comics. Several webcomic artists were also present selling sketches and compilations of their work.

Friday and Saturday evening were both devoted to special events after the main convention floor closed. BBC America broadcast the American premiere of “Doctor Who”’s fifth season on Friday night. On Saturday night the writer Neil Gaiman performed readings from his work as a fundraiser for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a non-profit organization specializing in the protection of First Amendment Rights in relation to the comics medium.

Curious about the future of C2E2, I interviewed some artists about how it compared to other major national cons. I spoke with the artist of web comic “Templar, Arizona,” a Chicago local and Art Institute dropout known only as Spike.

“Chicago is hurting for a great big entertainment expo,” she said. Spike compared C2E2 to Wizard World, Chicago’s established annual comics convention. “Wizard World is lacking,” she said, citing its shortage of attention from major comics labels as well as its emphasis on professional wrestlers for guest stars.

I also spoke with Eric Rampson, a young writer selling his independent comics “The Silver Bullet” and “Once Upon a Time.” I asked him how C2E2 compared to other conventions he had been to. “These guys are the nicest people,” he responded, stressing the importance of a pleasant attitude.

Kevin Conroy ended his panel with a phrase that accurately summarized the mood of the entire convention, a weekend marked by the excitement of thousands of people celebrating their interests together. “We should never, ever trivialize what we do,” said Conroy. “It makes people happy.”