Role players rule at comic/entertainment expo

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The Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (C2E2) is aptly named. The three-day show demonstrates the convergence of graphic books, movies, and games that has made its indelible mark on industries ranging from media/entertainment to tourism.

From March 18-20, the 2011 C2E2 (self-described as “Chicago’s pop culture event”) brought together a loosely defined coalition of gamers, fantasy enthusiasts, artists, entertainers, comic book vendors, and graphic novelists for a series of activities such as a video presentation of The Vampire Diaries, huge Battlefield 3 interactive booth, a Q&A with The Walking Dead cast members, merchandise sales, and a lot of people watching. My impressions after exploring the show floor March 20:

1. C2E2 dispels the notion that fanboy males dominate the comic-book world. I saw a strong mix of men and women of many ages and races. For every guy dressed as Batman wandering the floor, I saw women adorned as Blaze and Supergirl. In fact, my highly unscientific survey suggested that Supergirl was the most popular character at C2E2 if you count the numerous girls and women adorned in Supergirl tees along with those dressed like her outright.

2. Apparently the Star Wars franchise is safe for the next 500 years. A contingent of storm troopers could not stop an ongoing stream of fans having their photos taken with Darth Vader, who lurked about the show for hours Sunday. And all this fuss despite the fact that there are no new Star Wars movies on the horizon (the Blu-Ray releases coming in October do not count.)

3. The comic book world is splintered among an interesting set of enthusiasts (many of whom probably bristle at the notion of being described in context of “the comic book world”). The fan groups include military gamers engrossed in the blood and guts of Battlefield 3, the brains-for-breakfast zombie and horror lovers (although not as many as I expected), fantasy gamers, and superhero lovers, to name a few. In the span of a few moments you could indulge in a game of Sphereplay or hang out with the folks promoting the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean movie. C2E2 shows just how hard it is for to pigeonhole this audience.

But one attribute they all share: passion. Only a pure, unbridled, joyous passion could motivate someone to wander inside a crowded convention hall dressed as a storm trooper or Superman complete with rubber foam chest muscles.

4. And yet I saw a fascinating convergence of content, too, centered around the overlapping worlds of marketing, entertainment, and make-believe. This convergence explains why The Walking Dead flourishes as both a graphic novel series and a television show or why it seemed perfectly logical to see a man decked out as one of the characters from Ghost Busters hanging out at the World of Warcraft gaming booth. For all the money that Warner Brothers will surely pour into the promotion of the 2012 Superman reboot Man of Steel, it’s interesting to note that there are perfectly ordinary people wandering around shows like C2E2 willing to do the marketing for the franchise by dressing up as Superman and enjoying a day of make-believe.

Surely the role player is the real star of this converging world — the person who wants to share his or her passion for Thor, the subject of an upcoming Kenneth Branagh movie, by dressing up. The role player is doing something more significant and personal than marketer for hire could ever do: creating an act of self-expression. Importantly, role players can be effective brand ambassadors when they share their passion with others — especially because theirs is a genuine and deeply felt source of excitement and energy.

Finally, it was nice to be at a show that celebrates the work of writers and artists who labor behind the scenes to depict the world of comics. Artists and writers had their own signing booths, and artists demonstrated their work at an area called Artists Alley. For me C2E2 was above all a celebration of the act of creation — whether in the form of writing, drawing, or self-expression through role playing.

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