A pair of fellow cosplayers help Brian Beech (center) prepar his costume, Atlas from the video game Portal 2, for the Crown Championships of Cosplay during C2E2 2014. Credit: Chandler West/For Sun-Times Media

T he Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) is Chicago’s biggest and most comics-focused comic con-much larger than the wonderful CAKE and much less celebrity-centric than Wizard World.

It’s easy to see C2E2 purely through the lens of capitalism run amok. No question it’s a wallet drainer, with endless opportunities to spend money-you’ll find everything from old Jack Kirby comics to that rare Transformers action figure your parents never got you.

But C2E2, for a lot of us, is more than just an excuse to geek out and spend money: it’s a chance to make connections that are difficult or impossible to recreate duringthe rest of the year. “The energy is crazy,” says comics fan Jimmy Taylor, who has attended multiple times, “and I felt like I was home with all my fellow nerds.”

I’m no chemist, but with the help of some fellow C2E2 veterans I’ve identified at least five types of C2E2 bonds that are built to last.

Bonding with fellow cosplayers

Selene Idell-co-owner of Alleycat Comics in Andersonville-loves cosplaying at C2E2: “It makes you feel like a celebrity for the day.” But C2E2 doesn’t just give ordinary civilians the chance to be Batman or Harley Quinn (or Elvira, one of Idell’s go-to costumes). The community of cosplayers becomes a massive team-up that could rival the cast of Avengers: Infinity War. Thanks to the cosplay area, which provides glue guns and other materials to repair costumes, cosplayers get to hang out and help out each other with broken straps and other costume snafus. Idell described “a community of cosplay,” much like the back stage of a play, where strangers becomes fellow cast members encouraging each other to shine on the “stage,” the main C2E2 floor.

The C2E2 Crown Championships of Cosplay, billed as “the largest and most prestigious cosplay competition in the world,” will be held Saturday.

Connecting with the next generation of nerds

Cosplayer Sarah Lane dressed up as Ahsoka Tano from Star Wars: The Clone Wars last year. “The response and the amount of attention I got was completely unlike anything I’d received from any cosplay before. However, the best part was on Sunday, the children’s day. There were a ton of kids that were so excited to see my cosplay, and there was even a young girl who was also Ahsoka! I think I was more excited than she was, honestly! I felt like a Disneyland character, getting to see kids react to something they love coming to life in front of them.”

Special kid-friendly events include “Acrobatica Infiniti: The Nerdy Circus” on all three days.

Sharing a moment with a comic creator that has nothing to do with comics

Last year I got to hear writer Jason Aaron and artist Jason Latour talk on Saturday about their crime comic Southern Bastards, which had been quite delayed. Latour explained that part of the delay was because he’d been mourning his father’s death. On Sunday, I bumped into Latour and told him how sorry I was and that his loss had hit me hard because my own dad had been having some health problems. He nodded in sympathy, and we both got a little choked up before my friend and fellow fan Ben lightened the mood with a football joke. That moment made me like Latour’s comics more than ever.

This year I’m most looking forward to seeing writer Christopher Priest, whose Black Panther comics are considered classics. He’ll appear on a panel on Saturday and have a table in Artist’s Alley.

Making the long hours of creating comics worthwhile

Tula Lotay, the brilliant artist behind Supreme Blue Rose and many striking comic covers, will be taking her first trip to C2E2 this year. She said, “Conventions are a fantastic way to get inspired. I see friends and they talk about projects and show art, and I always come away feeling great about being able to work in such a wonderful industry. It’s so nice when you meet people who enjoy your art too, makes you feel like it’s all worthwhile. The comic book profession can be solitary one, so it’s always good to get out of the studio/house.”

Two of the most successful comics writers of the past 20 years, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar, will have a one-on-one conversation about their lives and work on Saturday.

Solidifying a life-long bond forged in geek heaven

Plenty of people have found some special-edition comic or had a memorable encounter with a creator at C2E2. I’m still giddy at finding a copy of Archie Meets the Punisher minutes after learning the absurd crossover existed. But I can’t say that my life actually changed the way Jimmy Taylor’s did in 2016.

With the assistance of artist Locoduck-aka Michael Duron, caricaturist and creator of the comics Big Bad and Cupid Corps-Taylor used classic misdirection to surprise his girlfriend, Amy, with a marriage proposal. Taylor recalls, “The day started off with a lot of running around, finishing up my Dr. Mario cosplay, which I was debuting. So we are now running late, frustrating my [not-quite-yet] fiancee. We met with Locoduck, and he snaps some fake pictures and tells us to come back. We then hustle to the photo area for my fiancee’s birthday present to me, a photo with Stan Lee. We run back to Locoduck afterwards.”

The artist showed her this picture:

Credit: Locoduck

Taylor then got down on one knee and proposed; Amy accepted.

Taylor says, “I couldn’t have done it without the help of C2E2.”

All marriage proposals and other life-changing moments from this year’s event were unknown at press time.   v